Lifelong Michigander Treks to Texas


Izzy Simakas

Senior in the Undergraduate School of Public Health

As our trip to San Antonio, Texas, creeps closer, I begin to experience a mix of feelings. For one, I’m nervous. Born and raised in Michigan, I’ve never traveled to another state to carry out my work and education - I’ve always had some sort of home base here in the Mitten. Beyond that, I’m not particularly familiar with the South in general; the last time I went was when I was six years old, and my parents took my little sister and me to Disney World. Will spending a prolonged amount of time here present me with a culture shock? Will I be able to withstand the heat of early summer in Texas? Will I be immediately pegged as a “Yankee”, getting me labeled as an outsider? 

While these questions continuously stir in my mind with increasing frequency as May 12th comes nearer and nearer, I am also met with a flurry of excitement. I’ll be able to see new things, meet new people, try new foods - and most importantly, I will conduct tangible public health work with local community members. No longer will I be forced to confine the knowledge and theories I learn in my classes to imaginary situations and pretend scenarios; I will now have the chance to apply what I’ve been taught to bring about improvements in the lives of real people. While this is something I’ve perhaps had indirect experience with through my advocacy and volunteer work, it is not something I’ve done on such a targeted and personal level, and I am eager about the opportunity this trip gives me to do just that. 

As I continue to reflect on this impending experience, I find more and more things that I believe I will learn about both public health practice and myself. While organizing community health work and conducting focus groups is something I’ve been exposed to in previous classes and are topics I’ve written about for various assignments, I have yet to partake in them out in real communities. I cannot attest to what this type of work is like because I have yet to experience it for myself, and thus, I am excited to know once and for all what this hands-on working modality is truly all about. Further, working with others is something that I find to be reviving; I love asking questions, learning more about others’ lives, and discovering their opinions and passions, and I am confident that the work we will do on this trip will allow me to experience this type of fulfillment to the fullest extent. 

On a more personal level, I believe I will learn more about my own style of working with others through our week in Texas. For much of my undergraduate time in public health, I have primarily been surrounded by the same cohort of classmates. We’ve become familiar and comfortable with each other, making working together on group projects easy yet predictable. Even in my part-time job, I have been with the same coworkers for the past two years, and thus, we all have a general grasp on how everyone operates. I have yet to see how I adapt and function in a group setting where I know little to few of the people I’m working with. The community members of San Antonio are of course unknown to me, but even my fellow classmates are somewhat new - only a couple of them are in the undergraduate program with me while the rest are Masters students, and considering we’ve only been in class together for the last 6 weeks or so, we haven’t had much time to learn about each other as students and as people. I think this

aspect of the experience will force me to stretch outside of my comfort zone, which is something I occasionally struggle with. I will need to push past any nerves I have about working with people I’m not so familiar with to ensure that we are able to have the most successful outcome possible, and I trust that this will serve me well in the future as an employee, colleague, and friend. 

Overall, while I am still nervous about surviving the scorching Texas heat I always hear about and am positive I’ll miss the refreshing breeze of the Great Lake state, I am excited to see how I will have developed both professionally and personally by the end of our week-long voyage.