BY SUSAN ODGERS
---- — On her very first day in the United States, Wendy, 22, my psychology summer intern from London, was at Cambria Suites in Traverse City listening to pianist Michael Coonrod and a string quintet.
“The opening piece they performed sounded exactly how I felt,” she said. “It was my first classical music concert. I sensed someone understood where I’d come from and where I’d come to. I was feeling lost, sad and afraid. I was even angry with myself for thinking I could come to the U.S. without my partner, an aviation guest student at NMC. His visa wasn’t ready by the time of my departure. Everything seemed alien and unfamiliar — the food, money, time, weather and even the language. By connecting deeply with the performance, it made me want to give northern Michigan a chance.”
As part of my preparation for Wendy’s arrival, I’d been engaged in anticipatory guidance. Anticipatory guidance is the psychological preparation of a person to help relieve the fear and anxiety of an event expected to be stressful. I’ve lived abroad and known the disorientation, ambiguity and need for self-soothing that she described. I had a hunch that music might soften her landing.
Now that she’s at week three, she’s done plenty of reading, research, traditional assignments and shadowed me everywhere. She’s toured many non-profit agencies and facilities, watched court proceedings, attended and given public comment at environmental/political/community/educational meetings and conferences and met candidates running for office. Her key areas of interest are forensic psychology and criminal rehabilitation.
As part of her daily experience, she’s journaled and created a photo psychological map. At the end of each day, we’ve debriefed about her experience. She’s not used to people staring at her because she’s a woman of color and not understanding her speech because of her accent. Nonetheless, she’s found people in northern Michigan very friendly and generous. She’s marveled at our volunteerism spirit, fundraising for causes and willingness to advocate for what we want. She says she doesn’t see this as much in England.
As a way to balance her academics, my family and I have introduced her to many of our highly regarded visitor and local spots.
At dinner one evening, she described lightning and thunder storms, the State and Cherry Bowl movie theaters, ’50s classic cars and drive-in restaurants, large waterfront homes, lighthouses and s’mores. She says she thought all of these things only existed in the movies.
The beauty and calm of the area has impressed her. She loves the quiet and space to think.
Wendy and I have discussed health and disability a great deal. She thinks that older adults in our community appear more relaxed and enjoying life more than in England. She explored the GT Pavilions and Commons and appreciated the intergenerational living. She respected the older adults who were walking with ski poles.
She said that in England there are lots of curb cuts, lifts on busses, accessible restrooms, sound instructions on traffic signals and transportation and other discounts. Portable entrance ramps are used a great deal by businesses. Persons with disabilities are encouraged to be employed with programs for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities have automatic assistance in school and many after school programs. The government has also made the criteria more stringent for receiving services. Wendy added that everyone under 18 years of age, students, job seekers and people over 65 years have eye, dental, medical and medicine insurance. If citizens want to add private pay insurance coverage, they can.
In England, she added, the government has worked hard to educate citizens on the role of unhealthy eating and disease. The “5 a day” fruit and vegetable information is on all foods. Foods aren’t sold in gigantic portions and foods with high concentrations of sugar and fat aren’t readily available. Parents are shown how to feed their children healthy foods and if they’re challenged by this, child welfare is called for assistance.
Prevention is also applied to youth wellness — including sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and alcohol use. Letters concerning STI testing are sent by the government to the homes of young people and the families must respond. Because all traffic is monitored by cameras, drinking and driving laws are enforced. All students ages 4-18 have mandatory physical education and are required to remain in school until age 18.
On a personal level, without extensively knowing her background, I’ve been awed by Wendy’s ease with being with me. She’s skilled at navigating my wheelchair, anticipating needs and obstacles and is emotionally intelligent.
Her parents have been employed working with people with health issues and her older brother has had several orthopedic surgeries. Her paternal grandparents from the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius have lived with the family for part of the year. Wendy’s the middle child of five. She seems to have thrived being in the middle of all of the generations and situations.
Yesterday, I asked Wendy how she thinks she’ll feel when she leaves northern Michigan in August.
“I’ll feel settled,” she said. “I’ve found space here and peace of mind. I look forward to coming back. I sense I’ve become my own person. I’ve learned I have many gifts to give to myself and others.”