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September 23, 2009

3 Drunks and a Handshake

After the DIS welcome party, several Friday nights ago, I enjoyed losing and finding myself in the clean streets of Copenhagen for maybe fifteen minutes, until I recognized a row of stone busts of famous Danes by a church not too far from my school. Taking the next right would lead me down Nørregade, a straight shot to the train station. Halfway down said street, a guy in his mid-twenties, who'd been walking his bike along with two friends in tow, stuck out his hand to me.
"Hvad hedder du?"
If a stranger approaches me in a city street at night, I typically ignore her or him and hurry away. But the streets were so cozily-lit and safe-feeling, and he didn't look dangerous...
So I stuck out my hand.
Uncertainly, I replied, "Jeg hedder Angie."
The initiator, whose name was Ness, shook my hand vigorously and held onto it for what felt like the next five minutes, as he introduced himself and his friends. Upon being introduced, the second guy, whose name I didn't catch, started to bend over, reaching a hand toward the base of my knee-length rain jacket. I didn't even have time to react.
But, I didn't need to. The fellow reached down, patted the top of my nearest high-top, and righted himself.
It was then that I realized how very drunk they all were. I'm a bit slow when it comes to such things.

They spoke in English after hearing my broken beginner's Danish.
"I like your accent," Ness told me. "American accents are much better than English accents. So, do you like the Backstreet Boys?"
The conversation continued in this manner for a solid half-hour, during which time I answered questions about my studies, touched on certain aspects of American politics, and reintroduced the trio to the phrase 'full of yourself,' which I allowed myself to use when Ness went on for five minutes about how much better he was at English than either of his companions.
When we finally parted, Ness and the others gave me the sincerest of farewells, wishing me a splendid stay in Denmark.
"Take good care of yourself!" was the last thing I heard from him before he commenced pushing his bike along once more.
Copenhagen is a big city, and I've not been out 'late' on a Friday night since, and I doubt I will ever see even one of the three of these guys again. I don't expect they'll recall much of the encounter, really; they were so far gone. But I'm sure I'll never forget the half-hour we shared in the well-lit streets of Copenhagen.

"I love that expression! Full of yourself! Did you hear that? HAHAHA!!"

Jeg Elsker Morgenmad (I Love Breakfast)

IMG_2153.JPGI've no idea why, but in both countries I've visited, the locals seem to believe that all Americans eat cornflakes. Say what? I don't even remember having cornflakes in the house when I was little--though occasionally we'd have Frosted Flakes, and I guess those count for something. I suppose my family never had all the traditional cereals around anyway (for which I'm grateful), but I don't recall anticipating having cornflakes for breakfast after sleepovers at other girls' houses, either. Now, doughnuts were highly anticipated, as were Lucky Charms, which my family didn't buy, but cornflakes made no appearance on the breakfast table.

In India this summer, one of my accomodating employers remarked upon how many varieties of this popular cereal we had back in the states, in comparison to India. But, wait a minute...India has banana-flavored cornflakes...not to mention four other flavors I'd never even imagined going along with such an ordinary cereal. I guess you have to spice it up somehow, but sugar's the only topping I've ever had with cornflakes.

During breakfast my first morning in Denmark, my hostmom, seeing me chomping on whatever their odd, puffy bran cereal is, said she could buy some cornflakes soon, and that they could get whatever else I liked. Um...okay? I had, as a matter of fact, become rather addicted to cornflakes with hot milk, whilst in India, but, yeah....okay. All I said was, "Great! Sure. Okay."

And now there sits, atop the refrigerator, a mongo box of Kelloggs Cornflakes: Original and the best! Only, here, I eat them with strawberry yoghurt that comes in a milk carton.

September 7, 2009

Greetings from Costa Rica

As a matter of introduction, I'm Andrea Lund, a senior biology and Spanish major at UMM. I will not be graduating this spring, but will have to complete an extra semester or two to finish my two majors. I am spending this semester in Costa Rica studying global health and tropical medicine with Duke University and the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). I have always had an interest in the health sciences, but have only in the last year stumbled upon a passion for public health. My current post-graduation plans are to continue my studies in epidemiology working toward a Masters of Public Health. From what I've learned so far, epidemiology uses science in really cool ways to control the spread of disease through populations all the while taking important contextual factors like socioeconomics and culture into account. It's cool stuff - which is why I'm really excited to be here studying this stuff this semester!

OTS is a biological research consortium that maintains three field stations in Costa Rica and is internationally renown for its tropical ecology research and resources. OTS offers undergraduate and graduate courses as well as facilities for conducting research, and only in the recent past have they decided to expand their courses to include curricula in applied fields like global health and tropical medicine. The Global Health Semester is only in its second semester of existence, but it has recruited an incredibly intelligent and talented group of students this semester. There are 19 of us studying and living together this semester, and I am thrilled to be in the company of such people who are so passionate about the same things I am. Most of our time will be spent at OTS' field stations, but currently, we are staying with Costa Rican families and attending language school in San Pedro, a suburb of San Jose.

We have been in Costa Rica for three weeks, since August 17th. We spent our first week of class time at Las Cruces Biological Station & Wilson Botanical Garden near the town of San Vito in the southwest corner of country really close to the Panamanian border. Our accommodations at Las Cruces are the Wilson house, the house that was constructed by (you guessed it) Robert and Catherine Wilson, the couple that bought the property and started the garden back in the 1940s. They built up the garden with plants from all over the world, including a huge collection of palms and bromeliads. Since acquiring the house and garden in the 1960s, OTS has converted it into a student residence with bunks - so we're the lucky ones that walk out the front door into tropical paradise rife with heliconias, bromeliads, palms, banana trees, orchids, birds, frogs, and large insects and arthropods.

We spent our first week before language school learning about the socialized health care system in Costa Rica, its strengths and weaknesses, making comparisons with current health care issues in the United States, and disparities in health between Tico (Costa Rican) and indigenous populations. We have spent time talking with and receiving instruction from Dr. Pablo Ortiz, who is the director of the Area Salud Coto Brus (the public health authority in Coto Brus, the county where San Vito is found). Dr. Ortiz is an extraordinary individual who has worked on behalf of the marginalized indigenous Ngobe (no-bay) population in this region of Costa Rica. Public health issues with respect to indigenous communities are so interesting and so complex. There is so much at work within these issues - cultural differences, economic motivations, lack of political accountability. All of these factors carry a lot of weight in terms of public health impact especially with current concerns for controlling H1N1 flu.

In the future, I will be sure to go into more detail about how I am processing what I am learning here in Costa Rica. It's difficult to summarize three weeks of experience into one succinct entry, but we will continue this journey together as the semester wears on. It's sure to get interesting especially as we return to Las Cruces next week to start designing and implementing our first set of research projects and going beyond introductory lectures to the subjects we're studying.

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