Building Community


Izzy Simakas

Senior in the Undergraduate School of Public Health

Going into our week-long excursion in Texas, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was nervous,
excited, and anticipatory all at the same time. But, as the trip progressed, I found myself
becoming more comfortable with myself and those around me.

At the start of the week, we immediately jumped into interviewing first our focus group
participants and then our key informant. Leading up to those interviews, I was unsure of what to
expect. Would they be willing to answer all of our questions? Would we have enough time to
cover every topic that we wanted to discuss with them? Would my classmates and I be able to
make them comfortable enough to share personal experiences with us? While I was initially
apprehensive, my qualms dissipated as soon as the participants began to walk through the door of
our first interview. I was instantly reminded of the joy that I get from interacting with new people
in ways that allow me to learn more about their life stories. I was grateful that I had gotten to be
one of the people in charge of asking the participants questions, as this let me feel as though I
could make a closer connection with them through this conversation. We ended up speaking with
the participants for nearly a full two hours, and I was left feeling invigorated and ready to really
dive into the rest of our work for the week, eager to help those that we had just talked to. These
experiences with community members made me more aware of my passion for working directly
with other people, and I’m hoping to use this information to guide my future career decisions.
For quite some time I’ve always envisioned myself in a more administrative role, but now I’m
considering positions that would allow me to be more closely involved with community

The rest of the week in Texas flew by, and was spent listening to various presentations
from community organizations, driving throughout the city, and exploring the neighborhood. As
we got to know the area a bit better, we grew closer as a group as well. I’ve never been a person
to quickly bond with people that I don’t know well or that I haven’t yet spent much time with,
but this group was easy to feel comfortable with. Instead of feeling drained after spending so
long with the same group of people, I felt relaxed and calm, and looked forward to spending
even more time with them as the days went by. I’m happy to say that leaving this group will
make me sad, for, as Winnie the Pooh says, “how lucky I am to have something so special, that
makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Coming out of this trip, I feel that I have grown as both an individual and a public health
professional. I now better understand the importance of hearing directly from community
members themselves, and I now have a better idea of the types of pursuits that make me the
happiest. I will be sure to take both the lessons and relationships I’ve gained from this trip into
my future endeavors, and I can’t wait to see what more they teach me down the road.