North America Travel Scholar reports from across the pond
The North America Travel Scholarship, by Aideen Carroll (2009, Medical Sciences)
Over the years, life at Exeter has allowed me to accumulate a number of remarkable memories: from wonderful black-tie dinners and dancing at dawn at our recent white tie ball, to listening to J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman speak, and watching the general election results on a massive screen in the Dining Hall. Even some of everyday college life has a certain tinge of glamour to it when I look back – congregating for Sunday dinner in Hall, or handing in essays to understanding porters at 2am. The North American Travel Scholarship, however, must rank as one of my favourite life experiences to date.
As someone studying medicine, I’ve always been very interested in mental health: thus, I applied to the scholarship with the intent of exploring mental health law and provision of services in North America (specifically Texas, Colorado, California, Vancouver and Toronto). The theme was deliberately broad as I wanted to use the local knowledge and contacts of each alumnus to help shape where I would spend my time.
Despite there only being a couple of alumni in my chosen destinations who worked in healthcare, the response was amazing. As well as generously offering accommodation, alumni went out of their way to organise meetings with relevant individuals, often through friends, family and work colleagues; and took time to teach me about the local mental health charities, healthcare services and advocacy groups in their towns and cities. This meant that, for the few days I spent with each host, I was lucky enough to see the North American healthcare system through their eyes.
During my four weeks of travelling, I shadowed clinicians in hospitals, participated in a ‘Healthy Eating’ class for individuals with chronic mental illness, met with patient advocacy groups, accessed the Texan state mental health law, sat in on a research group, visited a homeless shelter, dropped in on outreach clinics and asked numerous awkward questions about the funding of services (which led to me being accused of being a state spy!). Throughout, I talked to brave, wonderful people about their experiences accessing mental health services, and also to those striving to provide high quality care. It has been both a motivating and humbling experience.
Of course, like most of my time at Oxford, I took an attitude of ‘work hard, play hard’ throughout my travelling. Thanks to my hosts, I managed to cram in as much of life in each state as I could manage. For a week, I lived life as a quintessential Texan: shooting rifles on a ranch, eating Tex-Mex burritos and southern fried chicken, and going shopping for cowboy boots. Then it was on to see the beautiful scenery of Colorado: afternoons in the small town of Breckenridge and the beautiful ‘Garden of the Gods’, with a dusk trip to the ‘Red Rocks’ natural amphitheatre. In California, I travelled on a wonderfully scenic train trip from the small city of Merced in the San Joaquin Valley to the ‘bright lights’ of San Francisco. Then onto Vancouver, to learn about the dietary Canadian staple of ‘poutine’ and the Vancouver signature ‘Caesar’ cocktail. Finally, I travelled to Toronto where, in between meeting the Rector-elect, Sir Rick Trainor, and visiting Niagara Falls, I found time to relax in a wonderful little guest cottage owned by my hosts… and even managed to spot some moose.
As I write this article, flying home to London, I am full of gratitude for all those who help facilitate the scholarship, not only in terms of funding it, but all those alumni who reached out to host me. The North American Travel Scholarship is a gift and will always remain one of my most valued Exeter memories.
With sincere thanks to:
The Szekely Family, John Bennett, Nathan Hale, David Maren, the Mickus Family, The Sapsin Family, Tony Lai, Susan Amussen, the Weinberger Family, the Harris Family, Phillip Hewett, Derek and Norma Jenkin, Rex Williams