Can you believe a week has gone by in Chile?! I can’t, but I can tell you I am loving it. I want to share a post with you all that differs a bit from the style of many of my past posts. The Watson Foundation asks that we report back to them every quarter of the year. They ask that we think of these reports, “as a long letter home reflecting on the successes [we’ve] enjoyed, obstacles [we] have faced, and questions that have arisen, in the previous three months.” Last Sunday, I submitted the first of three quarterly reports. I will do so again on January 8th and April 8th. The last report will be submitted as a final response in September upon my return.
Many of you who know me well, know that I am a pretty open book. I often don’t shy away from talking and I enjoy being open with people; today, I want to do the same here and share with you the report, or rather, the long letter home, I sent to Watson. In it you will find a recap of my first three months and a rather vulnerable reflection on what I have learned, and how I think I am growing.
Watson, where do I start? Hi committee! As I write to you, I am enroute across the Atlantic: having said goodbye to Denmark, I am destined towards Chile! I figured I’d address this letter to “Watson,” because I often in these first three months have felt I have developed a personal relationship with “Watson.” That is, “Watson,” the person, “Watson,” the year, and “Watson,” the Fellowship. I’ll start here…hi, Watson; thank you.
An update to where I have been, and what I have been doing: Three months in Denmark, and mostly Copenhagen have been a whirlwind. I have ebbed and flowed between feeling extremely productive and feeling like I have completely failed, but I am happy to say that in leaving, I feel content with how this first quarter went, but I leave knowing that there is more to be done, more that I can do, more that I am capable of. A highlight reel of my first three months: I spent my first six weeks in Copenhagen, mostly trying to create a network and often trying to figure out exactly how to “do” a Watson Year. I often found what felt like leads, only to hit another road block. Danish medical regulations were a challenge. By the start of Week 5, I managed a day of observation in the Emergency Room, and I had been able to talk to a small handful of doctors and medics involved in pre-hospital care. I took an extended three night weekend in Prague at the end of Week 7 to explore a new part of Europe, and returned to experience my first Ride-Along in a Danish Ambulance with a 24-hr shift at the start of Week 8. I took a day in Malmö, Sweden over the weekend and during Week 9, I returned to work another 24-hrs with medics. During the end of Week 9 and during Week 10, I headed out of Copenhagen, three nights in Aarhus, three nights in Aalborg, including a 12-hr day shift in Northern Denmark, and two days in Esbjerg. I returned to Copenhagen for the weekend and ran the Copenhagen Half Marathon! At the start of Week 11, I traveled to the Faroe Islands, took part in two 12-hr night shifts, toured the hospital systems, rescue boats, and helicopters. I spent an evening training with Fire, EMS, and Police and a day in the Hospital learning. Returning for Week 12 I spent one more 24-hr shift with the medics outside of Copenhagen, and traveled to Bergen Norway for three nights as one last “trip.” I spent Week 13 packing up and traveling to Madrid where the best flight out of Europe was. I caught a glimpse of my Brother and Sister-in-law for a short, but wonderful two days, and now I am here, in Santiago, Chile, at the end of Week 13.
Now that is a very schedule-oriented description of this quarter, but I think it describes much of how I have felt my “project” has gone. My project has felt very structured and detail-oriented. It has felt less people-oriented than I originally thought (and still want!) it to be. Original intentions and ideas put me in the back of an ambulance to experience pre-hospital care first hand abroad, but I kept being denied access due to regional regulations in Denmark. I felt lost. I continued to search different routes and eventually found a way in, and this really helped me in my feelings of accomplishment. My travel in mainland Denmark helped me better understand systemic differences in the five Health Regions of Denmark, but what it lacked was a better understanding of distinct cultural differences from place to place, and this is where I feel like I faltered a bit in my project. English was so accessible in Denmark, and it likely will be the place I can communicate with the most ease, but finding outlets to get to know Danes was incredibly hard. Living with a Host Family was of extreme benefit, but at the same time it was limited in who I got to know – other families of like type with younger children: not bad, just a similar demographic to what I already had gotten to know!
If you had to ask what my greatest battle was, it would be approaching people and engaging in conversation. Beyond the set-backs I felt in gaining visual access to ambulance care, I was most frustrated with myself for this. Generally feeling confident about my ability to engage in conversation with both people I know and with those I don’t, I wrestled with myself as to why I couldn’t do it in Denmark. For a long time, it controlled me. I spent my days out in the city, saying to myself, “Alright Mark, today is the day, you’re going to meet someone new, its going to be great.” I would bike home mad and disappointed in myself at my inability to engage in just one. So here is where I began to experience the instersection between my project and my personal self: where I am growing and what I have learned. I guess you knew that would happen though, right Watson? It all seems so intricately designed. This is where I kind of clearly separate my first half of this quarter and the second. At the end of Week 5, I found myself crying in a church, messaging my sister saying I had no idea what in the world I was doing. By the end of Week 11, I found myself weeping in joy and awe at arguably the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen. I had sat in a church, with a lack of faith, and a few short weeks later I was out in the wild, having a moment of pure peace, grace, and confidence about where I am. Learning Danish Culture was difficult to understand or accept, but I began to learn that small talk and conversation wasn’t quite their style, so I began to figure out other ways to feel fulfilled and engaged. I began watching more, observing interactions between others and reflecting on them – Yes, I do wish I cuold have been part of many of the interactions I saw, but I appreciated the new eye I had gained.
I learned that time off is important, that you can’t do your project 24/7, at least you can’t have the mindset that you are seeking out projectrelated work nonstop. I learned that running is as much a part of my life as anything else, and I learned that I feel better when I am treating my body well – when I allow time in my day to also focus on my running and my strength. I learned that my faith is less firm than I liked to think it was or admit. I learned that there are people I really, truly care about, that there are people in my life that I will always have and that I never want to let go of. I learned that I am more tied to technology than I would like to admit. I learned that I long for beautiful landscapes and that I am fulfilled by them. I learned how easy it is to settle into what is comfortable, and I learned how much better I felt when I was putting myself out there in the uncomfortable regions. I learned that sometimes weeks of planning last you only a week, and I learned that sometimes its better to enter without plans. I learned that approaching someone in person often goes farther than an email does, and I learned that I set incredibly high expectations for myself. I learned that this is my greatest pitfall. Goals are good, but expectations I make that I know I cannot meet are harmful. I am learning to recognize those irrational expectations and to allow myself some space for failure. I am learning to reflect more often, in writing and in thought, and I am learning to give thanks more often. I feel over conscious about what is appropriate to spend money on, and I find that it often adds stress to my day – that I am still learning how to handle better.
As I sat on the plane from Denmark to Spain, I wrote out the biggest question(s), truth(s), and hope(s) I have as I end of this first leg along a wild and crazy year. So I will end here.
Question: Have I done it right? Have I truly learned? Are there ways to do this project/this year that I havent even considered yet?
Truth: This year is wild. It is like nothing you can prepare yourself for and you must accept that. You must accept the shortcomings of your often too high expectations – it does not mean you will not get there or reach them in their own time.
Hope: A return to faith. My Sunday in Bergen, the feeling I received taking part in the Eucharist, the welcome I felt. It was sacred. The feeling I felt looking at the Fjords, the waterfalls, the feelings felt hiking 20+ miles solo in Vágar, the feelings that swept over me while watching the sunset outside of Torshavn…those were sacred feelings. I have had many sacred moments, but I haven’t often turned towards God and to my faith when I have had them. I rather have let them come and let them go. I want to hold onto them more and onto my phone less. I want be more flexible and let the days carry me instead of trying to carry the days. I want to celebrate conversation and I want to experience, the culture, the health, and the people within and beyond Santiago: in the cities, and the landscapes.
For now I can say I have housing in Chile, I anticipate it being for about two weeks or so as I get my feet on the ground, and I have accommodations in mid November, so I’m searching for space during that interim month. I am living in Las Condes, a nice area of Santiago at Calle Hamlet 4145, Las Condes, Santiago de Chile. I am living temporarily through a connection I made back home, and will move to a neighborhood called La Providencia in November. I plan in this week to grab coffee with some people I have reached out to through AirBnB and other homestay/accommodation websites – I am aiming to live in a place with people, as I have found it to be an excellent way to get to know people. What is both a result of the busy-ness of my final six weeks and a reflection of what worked and what did not in Denmark, my plans are much more open for Chile, and that excites me. Santiago has multiple EMS agencies; I have some initial contacts and addresses. Short term, I plan to make further contacts with these organizations and meet them in person. I hope to acquaint myself with the larger city of Santiago as well – the neighborhoods and the people. I have already seen how much I have enjoyed using the Spanish I know and it excites me to improve. It also gives me confidence in approaching people to have conversation. Long term, I aim to begin working with the EMS agencies, and hope to find other locations around Chile where they work. Once I do, I plan to head there – to see different landscapes, cities, and people. As this year continues to be an experiment, I am trying out a new mode of exploration. It is one that revels a little more in the unknown than before, and that excites me.
Watson, you are an incredible thing, and words cannot express my gratitude towards you. You have blown me away, and I suspect you have only just begun to do so. My blog has plenty of photos from my time in Denmark, but I am going to try and upload a video along with this report. Bear with the wind as I try to talk over it, but I believe it is a rare moment where I captured myself at my best.
Again, bear with the wind if you can, and enjoy a good laugh at it’s silliness. I sure do when I watch it again, but know how real these feelings of gratitude are, today and everyday. A suggestion for you in these next three months: find a sunset, run off into it, and be grateful for the beautiful world we are given.
Take care, nos vemos, saludos,