Justin Yeh | Auburn, AL — Molecular and Cellular Biology, 2016
Justin Yeh is a senior from Auburn, AL. He is majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology and will attend medical school in the fall. Justin will be participating in the OACS Global Service Project to London, where he will work to address community health and health education issues among minority populations.
Blog Post One:
First, I’d like to give a special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Nichols and the Nichols Humanitarian Fund. These experiences and lessons that I’ve encountered so far will stay with me for a lifetime and I am grateful for the funding I have received to make this all possible.
I started my service with Limehouse Project earlier this week. Limehouse Project is a nonprofit organization in the Tower Hamlets borough helps connect members of the community to the resources they need. As stated on their website, their mission is to “alleviate the difficulties and help realise the aspirations of the most disadvantaged members of local communities.” My project for the summer with LP actually focuses specifically on the website.
In my four weeks with LP, I will be coordinating with a web designer to help implement a new website for the organization. I have started developing new content for the website that will more effectively communicate with Tower Hamlets residents and encourage new volunteers to join the team. My work involves discussing all of the projects that various staff members are working on, and I look forward to gaining an in-depth view of LP. In my conversations with staff members thus far, I have learned much about the importance of LP in relation to the community and its needs.
I had a short week at LP due to Eid-al-Fitr, but I am excited to continue talking with the staff and making headway on the website!
In other news, the cohort took a trip to Parliament and Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre. We talked with MP Stephen Timms and observed a session of the House of Commons. Having an inside perspective about British politics and current events from MP Timms was but insightful and interesting. At NCS, I had the opportunity to talk with many brilliant kids and an experienced teacher. We compared the UK and US education systems and all felt a source of amazement at the other’s education structure. Overall, both visits were special experiences that were also extremely informative.
Next week’s schedule includes more LP, more exploration, and moving in with a host family!
Blog Post Two:
I arrived in London a month ago, and it’s hard to believe that I will soon be back in the States. This trip has flown by, and my first experience in Europe has not disappointed. I have taken in as much as I could about the people, cultures, and lifestyles that I encountered. It’s hard to draw conclusions the sights that I’ve seen without generalizing – after all, I was only in London for a month and have only begun to uncover the many different meanings of being a Londoner. Through my service at Limehouse Project, enrichment activities with the cohort, and independent exploration, a couple of themes popped out and continue to stick with me.
A US-centric View
“What part of America are you from?” I received this question with every new person that I talked to, and almost all of them knew where Georgia and Tennessee were. At the very least, they were much more familiar with American geography, politics, and pop culture than the average American is with the British and European versions of the same topics. One person that I talked to reasoned that the U.S., as a global powerhouse, has a lot of influence over current events in the U.K., so it is important that they are attentive to U.S. news. While this line of reasoning holds up when comparing the U.S. and U.K. directly, it doesn’t explain why Americans are less informed about international issues as a whole – surely the U.S. doesn’t out prioritize the conglomerate of all of the other countries in the world. However, the current political rhetoric and the U.S. History taught in schools heavily suggest that. When we’re told that American ideals, values, and the country itself are the greatest things in the world, we have less incentive to learn about international issues and more incentive to blindly shape the world around us to our liking, rather than shape ourselves within the global sphere.
Independent of differences in global awareness, other differences that I have encountered during my stay in the U.K. all seem surface-level. Yes, we drive on opposite sides of the road and have different vocabulary, but the feel of both places is similar. Each setting has its own unique qualities, but everything contained within it is set from a concretely Western perspective. My wanderings about the British, Natural History, and V&A museums reinforced this Western point of view. The explanations of many exhibits described a similar story: how Western explorers brought back these valuable items or how they were gifted to the British government. I bring this up not to create a dichotomy between the West and the rest of the world, but to highlight that many of our impressions of life are simply Western values that we accept as the norm. The dominance of the Western world in the global sphere causes us to not critique our own actions as frequently as we should.
The Spirit of Service
The U.S. has issues – looking at any news source will confirm that. However, many of these issues are not specific to the US. Polarizing and petty politics, for example, has also affected the U.K. government. Being in London in the post-Brexit aftermath was an insightful and unique experience. Skimming The Evening Standard during the Tube ride gave me more than enough information about the potential consequences of Brexit, political drama, and all of the other negative newsworthy events for the day. While reading, I realized that even though many of the issues in the U.K. were different than those in the U.S., the sources of these issues were similar. There wasn’t anything in the paper about gun control, but there was still the struggle to reduce violence. The price of housing in London is a much larger problem than it is in the U.S., but the lack of understanding between older and younger generations about the current costs of living and education is a commonality between the two countries.
Every nation has its issues. For the U.S. and U.K., many of these problems may be similar due to similar cultures and a shared heritage. The fact that these issues exist is a call to serve. I wrestled with the idea of my service impact in a city that is responsible for 22% of the U.K. GDP – after all, the buildings, shops, and facilities that I passed by when I went to Wimbledon or walked down Oxford Street were nicer than the ones I find myself in on a regular basis in the States. How much help do they need?
As it turns out, the people who need help often don’t have their voices heard. Moving my gaze away from the tourist traps and extravagance of central London allowed me to see the need of the underserved populations in London. In the cohort’s meetings with the Newham local government, they reassured us that these populations are not overlooked: they are committed to improving the quality of life and health outcomes of disadvantaged people in Newham despite substantial cuts to their budget. In addition to government efforts, nonprofit organizations such as Limehouse Project are working to connect underserved members of the community to the resources they need. I realized during my time at LP that it is an endless fight and that the need for this fight continues to exist in both the U.S. and the U.K. It is within the similarities and differences between the U.S. and U.K. that a solution to these issues may be found – policies or solutions that work in one country might also succeed when applied to the other, and it’s this collaboration that could drive progress. As I head into a career of medicine and health care, I hope for the opportunity to apply the experiences I have gained over the past month to my work, not only for the next four years, but for a lifetime.