Cindy Emenalo graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2021 with a major in Preprofessional studies and Spanish. While at Notre Dame, Emenalo studied abroad in Puebla during the fall of 2019. She also was part of the Kellogg International Scholars Program and a member of the Senior Fellows for Internationalization and African Student Association. Emenalo is currently doing a year of service at Providence St. Joseph Mission Hospital, where she is working, among many other things, with her colleagues on a series of activities and presentations about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare. She reflects on her time abroad in Puebla and how understanding another culture makes her a better person and eventually a better doctor.
It is funny how much like a labyrinth life can be sometimes and how you can end up right where you need to be right when you begin to feel the most lost. Before I applied to Notre Dame, I did not know that the Puebla study abroad program existed. I did not know what beauty, amazing experiences, and precious people would await me. I began studying Spanish so that one day I would be able to go to visit a Spanish speaking country and simply have the ability to interact with people who lived and looked differently from myself. I also studied Spanish with the hope that it would help me as a future physician. The Puebla program gave me so much more. It helped me see that I was right where I needed to be.
One of the most impactful experiences during my time in Puebla was shadowing the health care professionals in the hospitals and smaller clinics. This was because I was not only exposed to different people, stories, and environments, I was reminded of what the path I was going on truly entailed.
I remember a picturesque scene where my group walked down the side of a hill where corn was growing to find a patient that had missed her appointment. The town was quiet, surrounded by nature and had a few stray dogs. The people were inviting and warm. When we reached the patient, she came out with a kind smile and answered questions the office had for her. She was then asked to sign her name. The rose-colored glasses I was wearing came off at that moment when the patient told us that she could not read or write. I was instantly reminded that medicine is not perfectly beautiful. It is not a TV show. It is very similar to life in that it can be hard, funny, confusing, and in that moment, humbling. I was able to look beyond the beautiful scenery of the town and more clearly see the lack of resources and the disconnect from the more affluent areas. I remembered why I was there: to listen and learn about what it requires to be a responsible physician and how to serve the underserved.
I was not only reminded of what my journey was, but my experience also helped me see who I wanted my journey to be with. I felt this the most during my stay at my host mother’s house. I met her family, she kissed me goodbye each morning, and she welcomed me home after classes every evening. She warmed my stomach with delicious meals and held my attention with her wise and funny stories. A funny memory I have of my host mom is from one night when I wanted to go to the neighborhood tiendita for some snacks. She made me put on a rain jacket because it was drizzling outside to avoid getting a cold. I was shocked that she cared that much. Experiencing all of this in Spanish was very formative as I realized that I wanted to continue to surround myself with Latin culture and serve in Spanish speaking populations. This is important to me, as medicine is not just helping people. It is a relationship. Just like in any relationship, it is richer when you have a better understanding of the other’s culture. I still have many great relationships from my time in Puebla that I hope to carry with me. They made me a better person and hopefully they will make me a better doctor.
Coming back to Indiana after a semester in Puebla was hard in some ways. It felt like I was in the labyrinth again. I missed the language. I missed my host family. I missed my friends. I missed rotating in the hospital. The experience led me to pursue a year of service in California where I am able to serve a large Latino community and utilize my Spanish speaking skills in a clinical setting. It is not exactly Puebla, but it reminds me of it at times and it makes me smile. I now know that should I feel like I am in a “labyrinth” again, I should not worry because I will surely end up in the right place. I would not have come to this realization or had such a great experience without the work of my amazing program coordinator Lisette, my host mother Patricia, and all of my friends at Notre Dame (or as my cinema teacher referred to us: “los chicos de Notre Dame”). All I can say is thank you for everything. Les mando un abrazo.
Learn more about programs in Puebla.