In early October, I took off from school to fly down to Guatemala. I was one of 5 “prodigies” invited down to speak at the business and medicals schools of Universidad Francisco Marroquin, and then attend a forum to improve medical education. My parents waited anxiously by the phone, convinced that I would get myself murdered or lost (Ok, I did get lost multiple times. Blocks away from the hotel…)
I was flying in with my friend David Darymple, the youngest person to attend the MIT graduate student, and who is mapping the brain of a nematode with grant money from Peter Thiel. At the airport we met up with two of the other “young people”. As we waited for the caffeine to hit our bloodstream, I frantically tried to read the ebook they sent us on my phone. (I actually read the wrong chapter. Oops)
Possibly as a side effect of overcorrecting on the caffeine, I paced the plane isles. As I stepped into an empty row to avoid the glaring flight attendant, the boy asked me, “Are you going to the forum? You seem weird enough to be on of the five.” That was how I met Daniel Himmelstein (who I am apparently in a blog war with right now). Daniel is a 23-year-old graduate student in bioinformatics at USF. Also attending was Riley Drake, a Thiel Fellow, and Juan Batiz Bennet, the founder of Athena. It seemed a good omen when I bitched about the overrating of Aristotle with Juan.
We began the next day at 7:30 AM! As any young scientists, we all arrived at breakfast minutes before 7:30, quickly stuffing our faces with pineapple and black beans. Because of the gang violence in Guatemala City, we were driven eight blocks to the university, passing gates with armed guards on the way out of the hotel, and into the university. The campus was stunning. Situated in a ravine, it felt like living in the rain forest. Fruit trees, birds, flowers, the campus bloomed with energy. Consuming some more caffeine on the way, we headed off to speak to the medical students. We decided to introduce our selves, and then do a Q&A session forum style. The students were amazingly attentive, and asked excellent questions. We were then whisked away to meet the retired president of UFM, Juan Carlos, before eating lunch with the current president and high up faculty.
Talking to Juan Carlos felt movielike. It was both humbling and inspiring to meet with someone of such jaw dropping intelligence and eloquence. When I asked what we could do to help, he told me, “Teach the students to ask the right questions…”. His speech was halting from his advanced ALS, but no less wise. As we walked to lunch, I remained silence, trying to preserve the imprint of his words onto my brain.
At lunch, we alternated by gulping down food, and talking about our views on education. We more or less agreed that dynamic group learning was a key to education. It was so disconcerting to be filmed while eating! After looking through some pictures that friends took, I reaffirmed my particular skill to be captured with my mouth wide open and mouth closed.
Then we had some free time before our personal interviews (Find mine here). We spoke to the business students that afternoon, and one of them later sent me a really interesting essay on citizen science. We rushed off to an amazing dinner, before the “prodigies” stayed up until 4 AM talking.
Then next day, waaaaaaay too early in the morning, we headed on a bus to Antigua. On the way there we discussed the drug war and violence in Guatemala City. We parked our stuff in the hotel, and then Matthew Scholz (my uber mentor/friend) rushed off to the market before dinner. We walked through the crowded stalls as Matt butchered Spanish and I explained what he was trying to say. We got some weird some weird fruit, and then ran back in the rain. Matt really wanted to try the little taxis called tuk-tuks, so we hopped one back to the hotel. I started getting worried and more worried, we were heading out of the city! I frantically glanced around, trying to find a way to get out, WE WERE BEING KIDNAPPED. I tapped Matt and whispered my concerns, “Matt. Matt. I think we need to jump out here”. He calmly pointed out the hotel around the corner, and I sheepishly got out.
(To be continued…)