American University of the Caribbean knows how to say goodbye in style. Dr. Testa, the senior associate dean, is moving on to a new place and a new position. So, the school threw him a tropical party for the staff and students to enjoy!
The funniest part of the celebration was the Dean Testa bobble-heads that faculty members auctioned off. The best part was the yummy food. There were so many things to taste! Fruit juice, ice cream from Carousel, fresh fruit, coconuts… yes please!
One of the tables was made to look like a traditional Caribbean dress, complete with someone wearing it.
We managed to get one of the last coconuts from the coconut man.
To top it off, a local youth drumming group came and played a few songs. It doesn’t get better than tropical fruit and steel drums! Happy trails, Dr. Testa.
It’s hard to believe that we only have a year left on this island. Equally hard to believe is that a year ago, we were at Disney land! Looking back to our trip to Disney puts time in perspective for me. Sometimes if feels like our time on Sint Maarten is an eternal summer that can never end, but our time here is not so very long after all. I don’t know if that makes me happy or sad. I do look forward to a new season and actually being able to have a job, but I don’t want to leave the friends and the life I’ve made here. Time just keeps ticking on.
The reason we went to California was because of Ben’s interview for American University of the Caribbean. We drove six hours to LA (and then another three through LA for the last twenty miles to the interview location) from Phoenix for the interview and a getaway weekend. At first, we weren’t sure if Disney tickets were a wise financial decision, since our med school location was still up in the air at that point. But my parents decided that we needed to go– especially since Ben had never been to a Disney park. So they gave us tickets!
Of course, we had an awesome time at Disney Land. It had been a decade since I’d been, so we discovered it together. I had the layout of Minnie Mouse’s house memorized, but I didn’t even remember that Frontierland exists! The fireworks were rained out, but we were able to see something better– the Abe Lincoln show. Seriously, that’s the best part of Disneyland. After Rapunzel, of course.
Ben nailed his interview. A few weeks later, we knew where we were going to go for med school: some faraway island called Sint Maarten where people stood on the beach and let airplanes fly a few hundred feet above their heads.
We started planning. We had no idea what life would look like. No idea what our home would be, who our community would be, what we’d do in our free time. Everything was behind the next door, and we couldn’t wait to step through it.
We’re kind of in the same boat now. In a year, we’ll leave again. We don’t know what life will look like or where we’ll be headed.
A year ago, we were at Disney. A year from now, we’ll be getting ready to move again. Life changes fast. I don’t want to miss the moment I’m in now. Sometimes, I just wish away time so I can get to the next new and exciting thing. But I know I need to hold on to each precious season and moment. There are so many years of change and adventure ahead, but I’ll never get this day back! So I’ll make the most of it.
I believe that every bad quality can become something positive. Stubborn people know how to stand their ground. Argumentative people make great lawyers. Messy kids grow up to be creative adults.
I always thought I was discontent. My parents gave me the opportunity to travel the United States (the plan is to visit every state before we die; I still have ten to go). Every time we went somewhere, I’d leave begging my dad from the back seat, “Can’t we just move here? Why can’t we live here? Wouldn’t it be cool to live by Such and Such National Park? Wouldn’t it be cool to get RAIN sometimes? The baseball team here is so much better than the Diamondbacks! Can we move here? Why not?” There was nothing wrong with living in Phoenix. I had a great house and a great community. I just wanted something… different. I thought I was ridiculously discontent, and I probably was. It was something I had to pray about and work through. But maybe the root of my interest in moving somewhere else wasn’t really a contentment problem. Maybe the root of it all was my wanderlust, and I just didn’t know how to productively channel it yet.
I still feel that wanderlust. I still feel restless and look forward to going somewhere new. According to my college psychology textbooks, I’m going to outgrow it in about five years. Despite what the experts say, I doubt that it will ever leave me. I’ve tasted the expat life, and I don’t know if I can ever go back and put down roots. Even here, on the tropical island of Saint Martin, I feel a restlessness. I want to peek behind the curtain and find out what comes next. I want to sell stuff, pack, and move again. I want to discover someplace new.
Some of my most breathtaking moments are sunsets after surfing. I like to paddle out away from the waves, sit on my board, and watch the golden highlights play over the azure surface of the water. I love to watch the blue sky turn slowly cotton-candy pink, reflecting in pastel colors on the waves. Yesterday, as I watched the sun set behind the hills of the island, I couldn’t help but realize how lucky I am to be able to experience such a moment. I felt like God was painting a watercolor masterpiece just for me. How many times will I surf at sunset over our two years here? Fifty, maybe? A hundred? I wonder what it will be like to say goodbye to these tropical evenings.
Do you want to know the truth? I’m OK with knowing that this won’t last for the rest of my life. I’m OK knowing that I’ll have to sell my board in a few months. I don’t mind that I probably will never live on an island again. I’m OK with a limited number of ocean sunsets. I can’t imagine a more wonderful place to live than Saint Martin, and I love being here. But there’s so much more out there to discover. I want to spend as many days as possible watching the sun set over the waves while I live here, but I also want to watch it set over the buildings of Prague someday. I want to stargaze from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I want to reach the top of Kilimanjaro. I want to ride a train in Toronto with my friends and a whole passel of Little League boys. I want to go to a K-Pop concert, a Sydney opera, and a Broadway show. I want to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.
In a year and a half, Ben’s medical school basic science classes will end and we’ll move again, this time for his clinical rotations. According to those who have gone before, we have virtually zero control over where we go, and we won’t know where we’re going until it’s almost time to leave. We could be moving states every month or so for two years. You know what? I think I’m OK with that. I might even be looking forward to it. There’s so much to experience in this great big world of ours, and I’m ready to take it on.
Med school is a beast. Last semester, Ben spent ten to twelve hours daily on medical school activities: lecture, studying, practice problems, tests. He worked hard, and it paid off. He finished the semester with a 93% average, honoring all his classes.
American University of the Caribbean recognizes its honor students each semester with a ceremony and dinner reception. It was awesome to watch my smart, handsome man walk across the stage and receive his Dean’s List certificate!
A few other awards and honors were recognized during the ceremony. One of these is the community engagement award. Ben G. (not my Ben) and Kyle M. received this award for their work with the SXM Little League Player Development Program, the tutoring and baseball program I volunteer with. One of the faculty members read a speech written by each of them. Hopefully, a few other AUC students had their interest piqued at the ceremony and will start volunteering with us, now that Kyle and his wife, Andrea, are leaving the island.
After the ceremony and my enthusiastic admiration of Ben’s certificate, we headed to the student lounge for some free food and conversation. I was impressed to see prestigious faculty helping to serve the food. That shows what kind of community we enjoy here at American University of the Caribbean.
Hopefully, we’ll be here again at this time next semester! Please keep Ben in your prayers as he works hard toward his goal of becoming a medical missionary and hospital founder in East Africa.
Island jeep, surfboards, tropical French countryside. This is the Caribbean life, and we love living it.
Most days are filled with studying for my husband, Ben and his friend Matt. They work hard at medical school, and were both selected as teacher’s assistants in Anatomy for good grades. Their life mainly consists of flashcards, lectures, and tests. But there are days, the best days, when they have a free afternoon.
This is one of those days. As we usually do when Ben and Matt have a break, we wax down our surfboards and get ready to ride the waves.
We’re rolling down the road with the Caribbean trade winds tousling our hair. Matt’s new (make that old– really, really old) jeep is topless, and I’m amazed to realize how much more I notice without walls and windows to restrict my view of the sights around me. I’m feeling a little squished in the back seat with the surfboards taking up most of the space, but there’s no way to feel claustrophobic in this open jeep. I cling to the side for dear life and lean out of the car a little, enjoying the breeze and the floral scents around me. I jump back a little as a motorcyclist, breaking the world record for the longest wheelie ever held, goes zipping by us on the center line.
I look behind me, where the wall of foaming water is raging toward me. I feel a little vulnerable way out here in the middle of the water on my board, but my nervousness turns to adrenaline as I face front and paddle like a maniac. I feel the foam first, hear the roar of energized water, and then I’m shooting forward like a rocket. I gather my wits and push myself up to my feet. I balance myself and smile. The reef below me seems to rush below my board. The wave slows suddenly, and the board drops away beneath my feet. I’m plunged into the warm tropical waters below, and I come up coughing and gasping and ready for more.
I’m in the back seat of the jeep again. It’s a terrifying yet exhilarating experience, sitting in this little island car with no seat belt and barely any seat, for that matter. But I love it. Up the road we go– people, houses, and animals seem to fly by. Ben and Matt joke that driving here is like a video game; you have to dodge the pedestrians, potholes, cars and animals that jump out in front of you at every turn. I watch as the scenery around us changes. We go through the hills, where the goats and cows chew lazily, watching the flurry of human activity on the road. We go past little houses, painted powder blue and pink with neat, white trim. We zip through Grand Case, where women in bright dresses and men with dreads chat in French on the porches of stores and cafes. We crawl through the traffic of Marigot, inching past quaint 19th-century storefronts. Ahead, we’ll pass the oceanfront neighborhoods of the rich and famous.
I bite into the heavenly sweetness of a peach brioche. Stopping at Seraphina’s, our favorite French patisserie, is a surf day tradition for the three of us. Ben and Matt opted for chocolate twists, their usual favorite. We watch the boats on Marigot’s docks bob up and down in the water. In the distance, Anguilla’s long coastline hides the horizon, where the sun will soon set on our afternoon of freedom.
Block week is the week before blocks, which are a set of important tests that happen four times per semester at American University of the Caribbean. It’s the time when many pizzas are consumed, many blank stares are met with, and many Netflix shows are ignored.
I am always glad to not be a student during block week, but I admit that it’s a little rough on the spouses, too, especially the first time around. I last semester, when we were experiencing our very first block week ever, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. I can’t go to sleep unless Ben is there, so I stayed up late every night waiting for him to get home. There was a night he never came back from the study rooms, and I finally fell asleep at 2:00 AM. Those of you who know me well will understand what a struggle it was to go to bed that late! Now, I’m more used to it and it’s a lot less stressful to Ben. It’s just a part of life.
But block week isn’t all bad– at least for us spouses! One thing we all look forward to is bake sale. During the weekend before block, the AUC spouses organization holds a bake sale in the main building of campus to feed hungry students and spend time with each other. We sell nachos, drinks, and desserts to make money for our group activities. Last semester, we made enough for us to go to the zoo, do craft nights, and spend a day at an all-inclusive resort.
Bake sale is great because we get to meet and encourage hundreds of students. I love talking to them as they pass through the line. Another great thing about bake sale is eating the dregs of the chocolate frosting out of the container with a spatula and not being judged. And of course, getting free nachos is always awesome. But the best part is spending time with friends and making new ones!
Happy Thanksgiving weekend from the Johnsons! This was my first Thanksgiving outside the United States. Here’s how we celebrated it, expat-style.
Since Thanksgiving is strictly a U.S. holiday, nobody on Sint Maarten got the day off work or school. We weren’t too bothered by this; two of Ben’s classes have ended, so he only had to be at school for three hours. We spent the extra two hours in the morning catching some waves at the beach.
Usually, we run in a Turkey Trot (Thanksgiving 5K) on Thanksgiving morning. I have to admit that I felt a little guilty for not running on our family’s annual race day! Between my bad knees, the humidity, and the lack of Thanksgiving festivities, though, I was definitely happy to “settle” for boogie boarding to earn my extra Thanksgiving dinner calories.
Another tradition that I missed was the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Instead of that, I watched Phineas and Ferb in Spanish while Ben was in lab. Maybe I’ll be able to catch some parade clips on YouTube later.
The one traditional thing that I definitely did for Thanksgiving was cook! It was a little lonely to be in the kitchen by myself– usually, my mom, dad, sister, and I all work together to make Thanksgiving dinner. This year, we went to a Thanksgiving potluck with our church group, AUC’s Christian Medical and Dental Association. I made bread rolls and pumpkin pie. I didn’t have a pie pan, so Ben put a sign next to my casserole-dish pie that said ” πr2 .” I don’t know if anyone got it, but we thought it was funny.
Since there were three other people also making pumpkin pie (Thanksgiving calls for a LOT of pie, people!), I decided to make pumpkin spiced latte pie with chocolate swirls. You’re welcome, Starbucks lovers!
I actually got to enjoy three Thanksgiving dinners! It would have been four, but I missed the one put on my the AUC spouses organization because we rented a car that day and needed to get all our shopping done.
The first Thanksgiving dinner I had was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. My friend Stacy invited us to share in their holiday celebrations with their visiting family. She and her future mother-in-law made a delicious, home-cooked, Southern-style feast!
The second Thanksgiving meal I had was at lunch on Thanksgiving Day. American University of the Caribbean doesn’t give students the day off school, but they do give a free lunch with turkey, potatoes and all the traditional fixings!
The last Thanksgiving feast we had was the potluck with CMDA. There were about 30 people there– friends, neighbors, classmates, and people we’ve never seen before. There was a row of tables filled with aromatic dishes, and more dessert than anyone could handle. Yum! CMDA president Blake carved the turkey, Ben carved the ham, we said a prayer of thanks, and then we all sat down to enjoy the meal and the beautiful ocean view from the porch.
When we got home later, we Skyped my parents. Even though we missed them, my sister,who was in Wyoming for the holiday, and Ben’s family who are in various parts of the world, it was good to be able to talk to family and share a part of day with them, even if we could not share a meal.
What an amazing sunset. What a great day. We have so much to be thankful for: food, friends, family, video chat and email, the kids and coaches on the baseball team, our island paradise, school, church, and so much more… most of all, the saving grace of God. He is so good to us, and has blessed us more than we could ever imagine.
Here’s a special post written by my husband, Ben. This is his story.
A single set of car headlights could be seen bobbing up and down on a remote dirt road at midnight. Our jeep jolted over every bump as it raced through the night. My parents were driving me to Heri Adventist Hospital in remote Tanzania. I had appendicitis and needed immediate attention. My only hope was a surgeon named Dr. Alvin Rocero, the only person within hundreds of miles that could perform such a surgery. The journey was not a comfortable one, and each bump caused a sharp pain in my lower abdomen.
After several hours, we arrived and Dr. Rocero was there to meet us. We were so grateful that he and his team were willing to receive us so late at night. The staff performed the necessary blood tests and confirmed that I had an elevated white blood cell count. I remember being wheeled into the operating room and after the anesthetic, blackness.
I awoke the next morning, blurry eyed and confused, but grateful to be alive. The appendectomy had been successful. A four inch incision, complete with stitches, marked the lower right side of my abdomen, since the materials for a laparoscopic appendectomy were not available in rural Tanzania. As I lay there in the hospital, I watched the medical staff come and go. I saw the incredible needs that they met with limited personnel and equipment. I saw the love with which they served people they did not even know, treating each patient with the utmost care.
Five months later, I injured my knee while playing rugby at my boarding school in Kijabe, Kenya. I underwent a successful arthroscopic surgery at Kijabe Mission Hospital. Unfortunately, thirty minutes after the operation, I began to get a severe headache. The pain escalated until it was unbearable. I do not remember what happened after that, but the hospital staff said that my fever spiked and I slipped into a coma. My condition worsened by the minute, and the doctors thought that I was going to die. They called my parents, telling them to get on the next flight from Tanzania to Kenya because they did not think that I was going to survive. However, they performed a spinal tap and discovered that my cerebral spinal fluid was a milky color. Doctor Myrick immediately suspected meningitis and started me on intravenous antibiotics. His quick decision saved my life. Thirty minutes after they administered the antibiotics, I snapped out of the coma and began to recover.
In the span of six months, I had endured much pain and suffering and almost died twice. It had not only affected me physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I realized how fragile life is and how quickly it can be lost. As I recovered in those mission hospitals, I had ample time to reflect on this and to observe the personnel who worked there. They had not only administered to me with loving care but also to everyone else. These people dealt with stressful situations every day. They were either paid too little or not at all. Many of them had sacrificed lucrative practices in the United States to come and voluntarily serve thousands of medically underprivileged people. Yet, they treated each patient with the dignity and respect that every human life deserves. Just because the services were free or at expense costs did not mean that they did the bare minimum. These people went above and beyond. They saw me. Not just whether I needed another antibiotic injection, or an IV bag, but they saw the trauma that I had gone through. They took compassion on me. They would talk to me to make sure that I was doing OK. They noticed when I was confused about something and clarified it until I understood. They exhibited the often-forgotten part of caring for people—to actually care about them. Many medical professionals can easily give a good first impression based on their physical appearance. However, all of that can be quickly forgotten if they are aloof, uncaring, and insensitive. People want to know that doctors care. They want to see it in tangible ways. It is a life-long journey of learning how to become a more compassionate and caring healthcare provider. I believe that is what separates the great doctors from the mediocre doctors.
Living through these experiences inspired me to become a doctor, a compassionate and caring doctor. I want to be a physician who can care for physical ailments and conditions, but also someone who can empathize with the hurt, the confusion, the pain, the stress, the unknown, the chaos, the unfair, and the loss that patients in hospitals experience every single day. There will be many tough cases that I will face daily. There will be many demands that are placed on me. People will be difficult. Patients will be ungrateful. Technology will become frustrating. Co-workers will not cooperate. Even though all of these things will happen, I will choose every single day to see the needs of people, not just their physical needs, but their emotional and spiritual needs as well. I want to comfort the person who is crying, to acknowledge the one who feels lonely, and to clarify when I see confusion in someone’s eyes. I want to be there when someone’s world is falling apart. Being a compassionate and caring doctor is a lifelong process. It is part of being a true professional; a professional who cares.