Now I’m not going to tell you that ever since I was 5 years old, I knew exactly that I wanted to be a doctor, but I wouldn’t deny that my fascination with medicine started at a very young age. During elementary school and high school, I was always one of the top students in my classes. Always sat in the front of the classroom and stayed after school for tutoring/extra curricular activities. I volunteered, I shadowed a physician and I organized fundraising campaigns for health causes. I thought I had it all figured out, I knew exactly what I wanted to be and I realized what it took to get there.
Hard work always pays off. I graduated from high school with a pretty good scholarship from a very prestigious university in Canada. I was so excited to start. My first few days as an undergraduate “pre-med” student were very overwhelming. I had signed up for a full course load (I had to have a 100% course load to main the scholarship). I was taking Biology 101, Chemistry 101, Physics 101, Calculus 101 and Health & Disease (a social science course). Boy was that a full load!
Just like any other “Pre-med” student, I realized that doing “good” in your premed courses was very important but I also knew that just having a 4.0 GPA was not going to cut the cake. I had to be a well-rounded applicant. I had to be involved on campus, join different clubs and attend conferences to expand my network. I kept a lookout for any posters/ads around campus that required volunteers, any events that were taking place, I was just so eager to start.
One day while waiting in line at the registrar’s office to drop off applications for a scholarship, a little ad on the bulletin board caught my attention. It said: “Do you ever ask yourself what the purpose of life is? Why we are here? Who creased us? Who’s God? If so, come join us on Wednesday for an enlightening evening of interfaith dialogue” How did the ad know exactly what I was thinking at that very moment in time? I wondered…I had been struggling with the concept of “God” for a long time. I come from a somewhat traditional family. I knew what religion I belonged to (by default) and I never questioned it. I just kind of took it for granted. My parents always thought that my siblings and I should put 100% of our concentration and effort into school and academic activities so they never bothered with religion either.
I have a very curious mind. I always wondered about our existence…Why? How? Who? Those questions were definitely not new. In fact, they were a great source of anxiety to a point where I just had to suppress them. I locked them up downstairs in the basement if you know what I mean. Eventually, there came a time when I had to deal with those questions and emotions. I had to come to terms with them. I didn’t want to just “accept” what people told me. God gave me a brain for a reason. I took out a piece of paper and wrote down the location of where the interfaith dialogue was going to take place.
Wednesday came and I was excited to see what those guys were up to. I didn’t know what to expect so I was a little intimidated at first but to my surprise, the lecture hall was so huge and it quickly got filled with confused students who, like me, were trying to figure out their purpose in life. They had three religious figures: A Rabbi, a Priest and an Imam. The conversation was very interesting and the speakers were very eloquent. We were given a 10 minute break before we were asked to gather again for the Q&A part of the evening. Siting next to me was a guy wearing a Kippah, the cap worn by Jewish men. I was busy making my notes after the speakers finished talking when he asked if I wanted him to grab me something from the refreshment table as “he was going there anyways”. I quickly said “No thanks” and went back to making my notes. He came back and kept looking at what I was writing…I guess he was a regular at those meetings so he was a little interested in why I was in such a rush to write down all the questions I was going to ask in the Q&A part. He knew I was writing questions for the speakers but he didn’t know what they were. I ignored him. The break was over and the speakers came back to their seats to take up our questions. About 5 minutes into the session, the fire alarm went off, just when I was going to ask my questions. How nice! But everything happens for a reason.
People who know me say that I’m not good at hiding my emotions, I wear my heart on my sleeves. I was disappointed and it was obvious. Seeing the disappointment on my face, Mr. Nosy approached me and asked if I needed any “help” with my questions. Before I could even say anything, he gave me his number and email on a piece of paper. Part of me wanted to take his number and email and the other part said no. I didn’t know what to do, I just stood there looking all confused. “Don’t get me wrong” He said, “I only wanna help”. I took the number. We shook hands and he introduced himself at which point I was compelled to do the same.
Two weeks went by and the course load was getting very intense. School had just started and we already had midterms and assignments to worry about. The last thing I had on my mind was religion. Well, at least up until reading week. I got a facebook add request from the very same guy I had met at the interfaith conference. I thought it was a little creepy but I won’t deny that I was curious to find out why he was so interested. I added him. I knew that nothing was going to happen. “You are a strong woman” I told myself, “you won’t let this distract you”. I confirmed his friend request but we never really talked for a good month or so. Although he was Jewish, he never once mentioned Judiasm in the many posts he made on his facebook page. They were all strictly monotheistic in nature, with no mention of any organized religion. This was exactly what I was looking for. I had no problem with religion but I figured that if I was going to work on this aspect of my life, I need to first establish a good relationship with God before I decide what religion I want to follow as a way of life, if any.
The first semester ended and I did really well in all of my courses. Second semester started and I had some room for electives so I decided to take religious philosophy and religious studies along with the second halves of my science courses. The more I learned about religion and God, the more confused I became and being the perfectionist that I’ve always been, the more I wanted to understand God. I developed this obsession with religion. I started buying a lot of books on religion and the philosophy of God and again, the more I read the more I wanted to know. It felt like I was finally understanding things and yet I was so far away. I don’t know how to explain it but it was powerful..the obsession was so bad that I started skipping classes so that I could do more research on religion. I was confused, I was desparate. I wanted to know God, I wanted to get closer to Him but I didn’t know how. The books weren’t helping and I knew better than to talk to a rabbi, priest or imam. I knew that these people would be biased. I didn’t have anyone to turn to…
When all of this was happening, my grades were being my murdered by my very own hands. My GPA had dropped from a 3.85 in my first semester to a 3.0. How? Well, turns out that if you missed more than 2 out of 5 chemistry labs you were automatically kicked out of the lab portion of the course. The lab portion of the course was worth 50% of our overall grade in the course. So if I wanted to pass the course, I had to get 100% on the lecture component to get an overall 50%—a pass. That was obviously impossible considering that I had skipped a lot of lectures and so I already lost marks on class participation (it was a huge class but participation still counted through iClickers). It was way too late to drop the course without having it show up on my transcript and as you can imagine, no student with such poor behavior deserves a scholarship, so my scholarship was withdrawn.
I was one of those people who were not used to “failing”. It sounds kind of funny as I write this but it was true enough. Things had been pretty smooth sailing up to that point. Sure it was a lot of hard work, countless sleepless nights and sure I missed out on all the fun that people my age were having, but it was always fruitful. Deep inside, I always knew that it was going to pay off. I never for a second thought that I would be put in a situation like this. I guess I always thought that I was strong enough to have control over my “desires” in life…I didn’t know how to deal with failure, I didn’t know how to deal with the disappointment. So what did I do? I gave up. I stopped going to classes, I deferred exams, I went from an A student to a D student. I didn’t know how to cope and I didn’t have a good support system. I couldn’t tell my parents what was going on with me for reasons beyond the scope of this story or this blog.
I got depressed.
Right when I was at my most vulnerable period of my life, my facebook friend was back in the picture. He messaged me on facebook and asked to meet on campus. I was pretty much an emotional wreck at the time. I remember just sitting there and crying without saying a word. He offered to introduce me to a girl who went through a very similar situation during her journey to discovering God.
As the days went by, this girl and I became really good friends and I became part of her circle of friends which pretty much consisted of a bunch of very intelligent religion and philosophy graduate students…we would sit in the library for hours and hours discussing religious topics and philosophical concepts. They were the type of people that knew so much but were so humble about it….you just wanted to listen to them. Everything made sense. I was so interested in religion that I actually changed my major from “science” to “religious studies”.
But you know how in movies they show someone making very risky, life-changing decisions and everyone around tells them that “this is just a phase, you’ll grow out of it and regret everything you’ve done” and in the end, s/he proves everyone wrong and leads a very happy life thereafter? Well that’s not how it went down for me…
I don’t want to bore you too much with details, but around the end of third year when my friends were hearing back from medical schools, I finally woke up and smelled the coffee. There were way too many things that just didn’t add up and I was starting to realize that religion doesn’t and shouldn’t get in the way of where you wanna go. But alas, it was too late. All that hard work, everything I’ve done to get me to where I was, all the effort that my parents, who were beyond disappointed, put in, all the hopes they had for me, the hopes I had for myself and my future…Everything was going down the drain. Now you might be thinking so what? as long as you’re happy. True, being happy is important and sometimes it upsets some people, but I wasn’t happy. I was disappointed in myself. I watched my friends graduate and get their med school acceptance letters. I watch them celebrate that day and update their facebook profiles. I watched other people congratulating them. I wanted that, I wanted it so badly. I could have been there but I chose otherwise and I have no one to blame but myself.
Two years went by during which I took a full course load, aced my courses and worked very hard on my resume. I was on the dean’s list, I volunteered at a hospital and I shadowed my family doctor at her clinic. But as you know, that was not going to help. My GPA was ruined beyond repair. There was nothing I could do or say in my personal statement that would make up for my horrible first three years. No one was going to take me seriously or even hear my story. I had a horrible GPA and when it comes to applying for medical schools, your GPA is pretty much your price tag.
I realized that my chances of getting into a Canadian medical school were non-existent. I still applied and of course I got rejected but this time I knew how to deal with failure. And that, my dear patient reader, is how I found out about Caribbean Medical schools.
The journey thus far has been very very interesting. I don’t know if I can proudly say that I have made the right decision by joining an offshore school, I guess I’ll find out in July after the USMLE, but I certainly wouldn’t have known what to do had I stayed back in Canada.
So that’s my story.
Nice to meet you too!