The obligatory start-of-travel blog post…

Hello friend(s)!

As many of you may know, I will be leaving tomorrow for Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in India. And being the enormous narcissist that I am, I have decided to write about it here, and then bombard you all with Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr updates and reminders to read about me.

Chennai is the capital city of Tamil Nadu, a southern state in India. It’s big, with a population of a little over 4.6 million. For a plethora of other information, please click for a link to the wikipedia page. ‘Cuz that’s how I roll.

I’ll be going over with my family for my cousin’s wedding in Sri Lanka (the island off the tip of the Indian peninsula). After the festivities, my family will be coming back to the U.S. Starting in June, I will be working with the Environmental Health and Engineering Department at Sri Ramachandra Medical University. I will be helping out with a field study, assessing environmental risk factors and figuring out how they relate to different maternal and child health outcomes. I’m really excited to be getting the opportunity to work in the public health field, on a global scale.

I really hope this can be kind of a regular thing, and that you all can count on it to fill the void I have left in your hearts by traipsing off to another continent. I’ll probably talk about the work that I’m doing, but I’m also definitely going to post about any (if any) adventures I may have, as well as pictures from different mini-trips, the wedding, and any other requested info/pics (within reason).

So, tomorrow my family is stopping by the County Clerk’s office to fill out our absentee ballots for the June election (can you believe they didn’t have absentee ballots ready until TOMORROW? Ridiculous.), and heading down to O’Hare International. We’ll have a 14hr flight from O’Hare to Abu Dhabi (so excited for that one, you guys), and then a 3.5hr flight from Abu Dhabi to Chennai. We leave Chicago

Stuff is packed and ready to go, things are  happening.

Talk to you in a couple days, kids.

Pratha

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The Road to March 2012, Abridged

A lot has happened in the last 5ish months, so here’s a recap of my life.

I finished up my first semester at University of Minnesota in the School of Public Health successfully and have started my second semester, which not only feels easier, but also is more interesting. I’m taking classes that seem more in line with my interests and passions (more on that later). One class in particular is especially inspiring (and terrifying), and I’ll be sharing a lot of what we talk about there, here. 

I turned 23, which was an insanely uneventful and mundane experience. I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s pretty dull, especially in a city where you barely know anyone.

I got a job! I now work at the Minnesota Department of Health in the Vaccine Preventable Diseases unit, as a “Senior Paraprofessional” doing hepatitis surveillance. We monitor every hepatitis case in Minnesota, acute and chronic, and report the cases to the CDC. The unit also goes out in the field in the case of an outbreak (I think. This hasn’t happened while I’ve been there, and I definitely hope it stays that way.). It’s going well! I alternate between really liking it and really not liking it. I think I’ve decided that I don’t mind the work, and I know it’s important to do, so I find it rewarding, but it’s certainly not what I want to do for the rest of my life. 

Christmas happened. Things to note: I read the Hunger Games, parents got me “The West Wing” (the complete series!)

Got back to Minnesota, watched “The West Wing” (the complete series!).

Second semester started! I’m taking Community Health Theory in Practice, Biostats II, Infectious Disease (more of a global health issues course), Genetics (don’t ask), and Skills for Policy Development (this one just started). I’m really enjoying the semester so far, though I feel like I see the few friends I’ve made even less.

I just got back from spring break in North Carolina, where I got to see TWO bears, which was very exciting.

And that brings us to this week, where I finalized some plans to go to India this summer for my masters field experience, and we talked about utilizing social media in public health and I realized I had yet to start this up again.

Which brings us to today!

And THAT, my friends(?) is my journey to today, abridged.

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Every blog I’ve ever had has failed.

It’s true–and I’ve had quite a few. Writing for fun is something that’s so easy to put off, to say I don’t have time for. Even though I totally do. So let’s try this again, shall we?

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Teachers vs. Snookie: How far can we go in our classrooms?

This is an “editorial” about sex ed I wrote for one of my classes. The first paragraph is a summary. Just thought I’d share, since I had to write it in a blog-ish voice.

Oswego School District is one of the only school districts in Kendall County, IL that still utilizes abstinence-only sexual education. While the county has steadily increasing teen birth rates and incidence of Chlamydia, and other cities have chosen to adopt “abstinence-plus” curricula, Oswego has remained abstinence-only. The community seems to realize the need for change. Approximately 80% of Oswego parents responded in an online poll that they agree there is a need for more comprehensive sex ed. However, the school board still needs to agree to adopt a new curricula. Health teachers from two high schools in Oswego presented a sample abstinence-plus lesson for discussion this week. This editorial is written preemptively against the opposition to the adoption of the new curricula that is certain to spring up as the school board begins the decision making process.

Sturges, Jenette. “Oswego schools to consider sex ed beyond abstinence-only.” The Beacon-News: A Chicago Sun-Times Publication on-line 10 Oct. 2011. 11 Oct.2011. <http://beaconnews.suntimes.com/news/8134532-418/oswego-schools-to-consider-sex-ed-beyond-abstinence-only.html&gt;.

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The age-old battle: just how far can we go in our classrooms? Parents and teachers alike have struggled with the uncomfortable task of talking about sex. But it’s now, more than ever, becoming increasingly important to discuss safe sex with our teens. With an increasing number of culturally embarrassing reality and pseudo-reality programs available for guilty-pleasure viewing, the notion of sex is not as much of an enigma to middle- and high- schoolers as it may have been 10 or 20 years ago. An increasing number of our nation’s youth is learning about sex from television, from their friends, from the internet, and even from pornography. Is this where we want them to be getting their information from? Do we take a stand and start teaching our kids about safe sex, or do we rely on Snookie, the Kardashians, or the latest starlet featured on “Teen Mom” to convey the importance of safe sexual behavior?

I commend Oswego high school health teachers for taking the initiative and bringing this issue to their school board’s attention. Oswego’s current method of teaching abstinence-only is outdated and ignoring a serious problem. According to the Kendall County Health Department, Chlamydia was the most common communicable disease reported in the county at 111 cases, with the second most reported disease being chicken pox, at only 36 cases. Incidence of Hepatitis B and C has also been increasing, and in 2010 there were four new cases of HIV infection reported in the county. The number of teen pregnancies has also been increasing—21 teen births for every 1000 girls aged 15-19 were reported in 2010. The Oswego School District is not doing their youth any favors by avoiding important information about preventing sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.

There is no evidence to support the common misconception that abstinence-only programs delay the initiation of sex or reduces the number of sexual partners among teens. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy Emerging Answers Summary, studies show that, in fact, some abstinence programs have no impact on teen sexual behavior at all. Comprehensive programs such as the one being considered in Oswego have resulted in positive behavioral effects among teens. 40% of programs surveyed delayed initiation of sex and increased condom or contraceptive use, 30% of the programs reduced the frequency of sex, and 60% reduced unprotected sex.

To the parents or community members concerned about the content of comprehensive sex ed: it’s important to understand that this program will still emphasize abstinence, but will address contraception and condoms for the benefit of those who ARE sexually active. While the promotion of abstinence among teens is important, it is even more important to provide teens that are engaging in sexual behaviors with the proper knowledge and tools to do so safely. Additionally, parents will have the option of opting their kids out of the class, (though I wouldn’t recommend it…)

Unplanned teen births and the unruly spread of sexually transmitted disease place a burden not only on the teen and his or her family, but also on the healthcare system of the community, at the city, county, and state level. Surrounding school districts have opted for more comprehensive education in the past. With the recent trends in Kendall county, it’s about time that something is being done about the lack of comprehensive sex ed in Oswego as well. While it seems most parents in the district seem to agree that there is a need for an abstinence-plus curriculum, the change still needs to be approved by the school board— and there will be opposition. Community members and parents need to step up and join forces with health teachers to make sure this switch to more comprehensive sex ed actually happens.

After all, wouldn’t you rather have your child learning about sex from a certified teacher rather than a supposed reality star named Snookie?

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Public Health is…important…and stuff

Well, that was a longer hiatus than I expected it to be…Things have picked up a bit (emphasis on the word “bit”), though it still hasn’t really hit me that I’m in school. It actually just kind of feels like I’m at a learning camp of some kind. If that makes any sense.

I’ve settled into a routine, going to class, studying…watching tv. I still have a lot of time on my hands, compared to the last couple of years. It’s unsettling, and I don’t know what to do with all of it. So, I’ve joined a non-audition orchestra (which is meh), signed up to be a mentee in the SPH Mentoring program, sent in a volunteer application to the UMN hospital, and have continued my quest to find a JOB (which has been a pitiful, pitiful, endeavor). I’ve started exploring the Cities: hit up a couple of farmers markets, visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Como Zoo (with Rajitha! when she visited me!), and have started to kind of know where I am going some of the time. Although, I DID get lost on my way to orchestra rehearsal tonight (<2miles)…and on the way back. It’s a work in progress.

I’ve also met some really great people in my program, all of whom seem really excited and happy to be here, which definitely rubs off on me. And it’s really awesome to see so many people who want to go into public health, with such varying interests.

Which brings me to my main point. Public health is…important. I’m not going to lie and say I knew exactly what I was getting into when I decided I wanted to pursue an MPH. I knew I was interested in learning how to help people not get sick, I knew I was interested in learning more about and improving healthcare policy…I was interested in a lot of things. But the more I’m here, and the more I’m learning in my classes and from my peers, the easier it is for me to understand what “public health” really is, and why it’s important to be interested in all this…stuff.

“Public Health” quite literally means, the health of the public. The health of the people, of the country, of the world…it’s the health of our civilization. It started way back when with trying to stay alive by nourishing ourselves, preventing injury with built homes and defense tools like shields. Then once we somewhat understood infectious disease, public health initiatives brought sanitation and regulation to our water supplies, and our food. Now we’ve moved on to more chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, etc) and cancer — trying to learn what causes these diseases, what we can do to prevent them, what are the risk factors, etc. Public health is learning about what kinds of toxins are in our environments, what those toxins do, and how we can minimize toxins to minimize exposure. The point is, public health is all about healthy people living in a healthier world.

Public health is spreading the word that an HPV vaccine is not going to give you some rare disease, that it’s not going to make your 10 year old decide it’s okay to be sexually active, that it’s NOT some crazy, unnecessary evil being pushed on us by the media. Public health is telling people what HPV is, how it can be contracted without being sexually active, why the vaccine is important, and how not getting the vaccine could not only negatively impact your life, but the lives of others.

When crazy-pants Michelle Bachmann got on her crazy-ass soapbox last week (or two weeks ago? time is confusing) to preach to the world about the evils about HPV vaccine, I couldn’t even believe it. And when people listened to her, took her word as the gospel truth, I almost died. A politician, who clearly knows nothing about the actual science behind immunization, viruses, or cancer, can have such a huge impact on people, just because the people don’t know any better.

Which is why I think that every college should require a public health class. Every college graduate should know why preventative health care is important. Every college graduate should understand the burden of healthcare and health costs that is placed upon society by every person who decides not to vaccinate. Every college student should be forced to think about their own health decisions, and how they impact other people. And every college student should understand the healthcare disparities that exist within the U.S. and all over the world. Because the Bachmanns are always going to be around, and it’d be nice to have some knowledge about the importance of public health floating around in our general population to take those crazies down.

And let’s face it, it’s probably going to be a far more useful class than African Storytelling, right?

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Internet, John Snow, etc.

I have internet now! Not to mention cable! It’s all very exciting.

I have now completed one week of grad school. And here’s my grand epiphany: it’s basically the same as any other level of school. I’m hoping that’s because it’s just been a week, but I guess a part of me was hoping the professors would finally trust their students to be capable of reading through the syllabus on their own. Additionally, I’ve been doing an absolutely ridiculous assignment for Epidemiology that involves reading through journal entries made by John Snow about his epidemiological study on the cholera outbreak in London c. 1800s, and then answering some questions about it. Like a worksheet.  So tedious, so elementary, so unnecessary.

I’m taking a few classes this semester: Biostats 1, Epidemiologic Methods, Community Health Theory and Practice, Environmental Health, Principles of Management in Helath Services, and Sexuality Education: Criteria, Curricula, and Controversy. It sounds like a heavy load, but it honestly doesn’t feel like it. Two classes are only half a semester long, and the Sex Ed class is just two Saturdays in October. While I hope things pick up, I’m also a little nervous that I’m getting a false sense of security right now, and all of a sudden, two weeks from now, grad school will kill me. It’ll be very sad.

I still don’t have a job, despite my positive feelings about my interview last week. I’m relieved in a way: it seemed really interesting, but didn’t really have anything to do with my field of study. BUT, it paid well, and I definitely need some sort of income…I’m  meeting with a professor tomorrow and hopefully I can get a job working for her!

She does research in prevention of infectious diseases, which is EXACTLY what I’m interested in (disclaimer: right now). I’m actually really surprised that more people aren’t interested in this field, as I find it super fascinating. But I’m not complaining…for the first time, I’m not getting a super competitive vibe from people in my classes…I think it’s because we’re all at a stage in our education where we want different things. Which I LOVE. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are definitely competitive people here, and there are people that feel the need to constantly impress everyone else, but I don’t feel like anyone is competing against me. Which is a very nice feeling.

Anyway, the professor works in prevention of infectious disease, and has done work in the past specifically on Hispanic populations here in the Cities, as well as communities in Latin America! Which I think is way cool, and want to get involved with! We’ll see how it goes.

I’ve made a couple of friend-types. Some peeps in my cohort are really growing on me, and everyone is really nice so far. Today I even went to the St. Paul Farmers Market with a girl from the Epi program who also happens to be from (surprise, surprise) Appleton.

Alright, back to this John Snow assignment I keep putting off [so, so dumb].

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Moving update!

I have no internet, but I feel like playing catch-up now instead of in a week when there’s too much to type. SO, I’m writing this now, but YOU (whoever YOU are) aren’t going to see it until a few days from now. WHICH, by the way, is NOW for YOU.

It’s all very confusing, I know.

It has seriously been a crazy couple of days. I got into Minneapolis on Tuesday, orientation on Wednesday and Thursday, moving in on Thursday, and I feel like I’ve been moving in since then. I’m still not done settling in! It’s driving me up the wall, and I’m always sleepy, and my feet hurt, and I still don’t have a garbage can for my bathroom, a place to sit in the living room, a working light in my fridge, internet, cable, an electricity account, groceries, or plates.

Oh yeah, and surprise, classes start on Tuesday and I barely have a clue as to what I’ve signed up for this semester. So you can imagine, I hadn’t even THOUGHT about getting textbooks until yesterday. Whoops. So there’s that whole mess of things I need to get done. My feet hurt just thinking about the bookstore…

Other than that, things are alright. I wouldn’t say I’m excited or eager to start my program at the UMN, but I definitely think I can get a lot out of it. I’ll be beginning the Community Health Education (CHE) Master of Public Health (MPH) program. There are probably about 150 MPH students, 250-300 if you count all the PhD and certificate people. Out of those, about one-third are part of the “Epidemiology” category. And out of those, about 30ish are CHE.

I barely got to meet my CHE ‘cohort’ (I’m not entirely sure that’s the word I’m supposed to use, but “pals” just seemed silly),  but I think there may be a couple of friends to be made. One thing that was a little unsettling about meeting them was that I’m definitely the youngest by at least 2-3 years. There’s a good mix of ages, ranging from 22-40s?, and a good range of backgrounds: Peace Corps volunteers to a pediatrician, etc. But there are already a couple people I can see myself really getting along with, including a guy who went to my high school 5 years before me, and then graduated from UW!

Besides orientation and moving in, I also had an interview Friday. I think it went really well, I will hopefully hear back from her in the next couple of days. More on that later.

I’m too exhausted to think of much else to write. I’ve been to Target, Walmart, Home Depot, IKEA, Sams Club, Applebees (ha), an Indian grocery store, and even a Dollar General. I feel that the consumerism I have demonstrated in line with the true American Spirit, in conjunction with my aching feet (it’s a serious injury, trust me), have qualified me for at least a Purple Heart.

I’m going to go chat it up with someone at the White House now, I’ll get back to you about how it goes.

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