It was a cold and windy December morning as I left my beloved, snowy Latvia and landed in the sunny Texas. Houston greeted me with skyscrapers, palm trees with Christmas lights and a swimming pool in my backyard. This was the range of my emotions on the first day of arriving in Houston – my future Home for one year.
What surprised you the most about U.S. life, society, or culture?
In the so called Lone Star State Texas you can find surprises on every corner. At the beginning for me: a person who comes from a country of 2-million people getting used to Houston was pretty hard. Understanding people, their culture, the size of life, city and food portions was quite a challenge. At the beginning I stubbornly did not want to admit that I have the cultural shock, but now looking back I realize I had it.
Not only me, but also other exchange students come across simple everyday troubles, like finding a regular milk from a cow (not almonds, coconuts, soy beans or just magic) in the big assortment of the supermarkets here. The food is another story here. Also, small talk in the elevators and the fake-smile "how-are-you" culture. To be honest, this positive attitude sticks, and now after a year I can say that I will miss saying "Hi" to complete strangers on the street. The Southern hospitality in Texas is something that a very Nordic person like me will never forget. That is one thing I could not understand at the beginning, but now I like it! That is one of the factors that really made me love Texans: being polite, and really mean it, opening the doors for each other, saying "ma'am" and "sir" to everyone regardless the age. I fell in love with Houston only after two trips away from it. I had to leave it and come back to realize that I love it. The value and magic at the same time is the Texan people. Also the fact that Houston is the Most Diverse In Nation brings in a lot of cultural experience, starting with food, art and music, ending with innovations and ideas.
What does your international exchange experience mean to you?
International experience enriches someone who has lived abroad, especially if you are in close contact with the locals and other foreigners. Tasting the culture, enjoying the adventure of something unknown. Then, leaving the place that has been your home for several months or years, you always leave and take something, so at the end your Home is everywhere. That is what the international exchange means to me: the inspiring people I meet and the feeling that I can find something to relate with, to feel like at Home in every place I visit. It feels like being a migrant bird that flies forth and back every season.
Why did you decide to come to the United States for your exchange program?
The appetite grows with eating. After enjoying several internships and cultural exchanges in Europe I decided that it is the right time to catch the "train to America". Also, professionally I felt that this is the right push for my career or at least a catalyst for the future professional reactions and inductions in the networking and meeting the professionals in the field of medical technologies.
What was the single most influential and meaningful experience of your J-1 Exchange Visitor Program?
The whole J-1 Exchange Visitor Program experience is like a patchwork, a puzzle that consists of different important pieces. Still, I have to note one wonderful event: the Intern Leadership Enrichment and Development program "I-LEAD" in Washington, DC. In that week of training the most valuable were the intercultural discussions and connections between the wonderful 60 young leaders from 28 different countries. These people and stories inspired me the most. Still, looking back to the whole Program, I would like to mention my work place and the city within the city: Texas Medical Center and the innovative, motivated, skilled and great colleagues from Houston Methodist Hospital where I spent my internship at.
How do you plan to use the skills and knowledge you gained from your exchange program when you return home?
The internship took place in Cardiovascular Surgery Department of Houston Methodist Hospital. The main fields of research included radiation safety, robotic tele-presence systems and ultrasound diagnostics. Also, there is a whole lot more skills and strengths that can not be measured, but have significantly improved, like leadership, management, language and networking skills that will help to develop my ideas in the future.
When I return home in Latvia, I would like to continue my work in the field of Medical Devices, innovations and research. Also, our current Healthcare system is about to experience a lot of changes, and I would like to give my input, cause we have to remember the simple things, the simple truth: that the priority is the patient and only healthy and happy, satisfied people can build a strong society in a country. Last but not least, my dream would be to improve the conditions, environment, the system and funding for the Nursing homes and Hospices in Latvia.
I strongly believe that the young professionals from programs, like BAFF, HAESF and and other organizations have the capabilities and the necessary skill set to become leaders and make a change for a better future!
There is no advice I can give, our life is a mirror of our choices, but surely I can tell one thing: I believe that life is a journey and that all the possibilities come to the person, and it depends on each and every one of you if you take it or not. If you stay, or if you go.
The J-1 Visitor Exchange Program is a wonderful possibility to experience The United States, immersing yourself into the life, the culture, the work, what is most important – the people. For sure, this program gives great opportunities for your chosen career path and even greater possibilities to network and share ideas!
Testing the features of Microsoft HoloLens for medical education applications with Brandon Elliott (Infusion) and Daniel Santirso (Research fellow at HMH)