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.
Every day, Ben wakes up at 6:00 AM to study before classes. I prepare breakfast while he studies the Bible and then sets up his laptop to read about anatomy.
A little after 7:00, Ben kisses me goodbye and heads to the auditorium at school to get a good seat and study more. The auditorium is a silent zone when not in use for classes.
At 8:00, classes begin. First is Molecular and Cellular Biology with Dr. van Oost. At 9:30 is Anatomy and at 10:30 Histology begins with Dr. Beveridge.
At 11:20, Ben comes home for lunch. After lunch, Ben studies at home for a while and returns to school by 1:00 for lab.
Lab alternates every day between wet lab and dry lab. Wet lab is cadaver lab. Ben is part of a group of nine students who work together on the same body all semester. There are a couple dozen different groups of students. Dry lab is in another room, where students study bones and other things that do not include body juices and formaldehyde.
After lab, Ben usually stays at school to study with friends.
Ben comes home around 6:00 for dinner. After dinner is–you guessed it!– more studying. Usually, Ben goes back to the auditorium for quiet study.
Late in the evening, after a loud and exciting game of ping-pong, Ben comes home again. We have a little time to talk and then we do devotions together–worship songs, prayer, and reading a Christian marriage book.
Ben does the last of his studying and then turns of the light around 10:30 or 11:00.
For a medical student, college graduation is just one ceremony in a series of celebrations. One of the most memorable events for a doctor-hopeful is the white coat ceremony. At this ceremony, the brand-new, straight-from-the box medical school student takes the Hippocratic Oath and his or her white coat.
The Hippocratic Oath is as follows:
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow. I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism. I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug. I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery. I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God. I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick. I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure. I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm. If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.
The Oath has been used for many centuries and in many places around the world. It originated in ancient Greece and was named after Hippocrates. You can read the original version of the Oath here if you are interested.
Every incoming student at American University of the Caribbean participates in the white coat ceremony. New classes enter the school each trimester. Ben’s class has about 250 students. After a welcome address from the president of the student government association, the introduction of faculty and staff, a few award presentations, the introduction of the honor society, and keynote address, the students stood to take their pledge.
After the pledge, each student was called up to the stage, one by one, to receive his or her white coat and shake hands with the M.D. Chair and Assistant M.D. Chair.
You may notice from the photo that Ben’s coat is much shorter than Dr. McCarty’s coat. The student coat is, in fact, called the “short white coat.” Traditionally, medical students wear a short coat until they earn the title of Doctor. During medical school, Ben will wear his coat daily during lab period, when learning how to interact in a clinical setting, and when doing medical service in the community with the school.
After the ceremony, we were all shuttled to a classy catered dinner at Puerto Cupecoy, a shopping/dining area at the edge of Simpson Bay Lagoon.
I’m so proud of Ben! This is a big step. The next milestone is far down the road, and it’s time to work hard and study.
We are officially set to move to St. Maarten! We have plane tickets for August 18, Ben’s medical tests are done, our letters of good standing are filed away with the school, and all the little checklist items have been completed. Our move itself is relatively inexpensive. Our total cost for two one-way tickets is under $500. Since we can’t take a moving van with us, we won’t have that expense, and we decided to leave our car here rather than take it with us. We get to bring two 50-lb suitcases each, so anything we want will have to fit in those and in our carry-ons and personal items.
The last two or three weeks have been filled with sorting, planning, purchasing and preparing. We only owned one large suitcase, so we went to Goodwill (actually, four Goodwills) and bought three more. Our total was about $45 for all three, and they are strong and in good shape. I love second-hand stores.
Our first course of action in preparing to leave our apartment was to declutter it entirely. Don’t you hate moving and sorting through unused junk at the same time? I thought I had decluttered my stuff when we got married and moved in to this apartment a year ago. Turns out I was wrong. Apparently, I have saved every single bank receipt since I was seven–and categorized them by month in envelopes. Same with pay stubs since I started a regular job as a college freshman. I also saved and organized all my college notes, assignments, and syllabuses by class and semester. By the time I went through all of that and all the random papers stuffed in between books on the bookshelf, our trash and shred piles were enormous. We managed to condense our giant accordion folder into one and a half tiny ones. Fortunately, we also found some long-lost important paperwork that we needed.
After we went through our papers, we went through the rest of our random stuff- you know, the kind of stuff that ends up being shifted from the bookshelf to the table to under the bed to the closet and back to the bookshelf? That stuff you can’t do anything with but can’t get rid of? As it turns out, we actually could get rid of most of it. It’s amazing how much stuff I thought I needed until I started planning to move overseas. We also wrote down everything that was left and decided what we would do with it– sell it, give it or donate it, store it at my parents’ house, or take it with us. The list of what we’ll actually need to take is quite short. It mostly consists of books and clothing. The stuff we’re storing is the stuff we can’t take, but will use to set up house again when we return to the States, such as our dishes, bedding, and that kind of thing, as well as things we got as wedding gifts that are too big or too heavy to take with us.
Speaking of books, we also went through those. My books are my friends, so it was hard to say goodbye to so many of them (but not nearly as hard as it will be to say goodbye to our human friends). We packed up about half our books to sell or give away (I kid you not- half of our books). I think I also still have a nice collection of Bible commentaries at my parents’ house, but I don’t count that because it hasn’t been in our apartment. Besides, Ben has Logos software, which contains most of the best scholarly Bible study materials anyway, so print books aren’t really necessary. They’re too heavy to move, and an iPad isn’t (I hate to write that– I’m still a supporter of pages. I love pages far more than screens). Perhaps there also comes a point when a book may be good, but if I’m really not going to read it again, and probably won’t loan it to anyone because it’s not quite that good, then I really don’t need it anymore. Share the love; sell it and let someone else enjoy it. Maybe that’s my attitude because I know I really don’t have a choice at this point; maybe I’ll be a book hoarder again when (if) we settle down and stay somewhere for a long while someday.
I had already gone through my clothing once, so I had (for the first time ever!) fewer clothes than Ben did. I had already sold or donated about 1/3 of my clothes, and I think that yesterday we probably got rid of half of what was left between his clothes and mine. We stuffed them all in a giant laundry bag, which Ben says weighs more than I do. According to minimalist websites and my own findings, all you really need for clothing is seven T-shirts, five nice shirts, a handful of dresses (unless you’re a guy… switch this for button-ups), a blazer and business skirt/dress pants, a sets of workout shorts, a pair of denim shorts, a pair of denim capris (or your favorite substitute), two pairs of jeans (one dark pair for dressing nice and one work pair), a few skirts if you’re a girl, one or two jackets, some warm things for cold climates (not sure what that entails, because I live in Phoenix) and enough socks and underwear to last a week or two. I actually kept a few more skirts and dresses than I need because I like them and they fit in the suitcase. In reality, what one REALLY needs for clothing looks nothing like this. You can survive on a lot less clothing, and most people in the world do.
If you are not interested in cutting down your wardrobe, come to our garage sale in July and take some of those clothes off our hands at a great price…
We packed our clothing suitcases yesterday, just to see what we could fit. All our clothes, plus shoes, cosmetics, and nail polish, fit into two suitcases weighing exactly 49 pounds each. Now we have two remaining suitcases, two carry-on bags, and two personal items to fill. We’re taking about 20-25 books, including some of Ben’s science textbooks, and I suppose we’ll decide later what things are most important to fill the last the space in our luggage.
Thanks for reading this long post! Maybe I’ve inspired some of you to take a weekend or two and declutter a bit. It’s amazing what we keep in our closets, bookshelves, and bedrooms that we really don’t need. Cleaning out the clutter is making our home more peaceful and our lives more simple. That is a great reward. Oh, and did I mention that we found almost $100 in the process? Now, if that doesn’t motivate you…