My name is VyVy Trinh. At twenty-two years of age, I am taking a "gap year" before medical school and spending the first half of this incredible blessing of a year traveling the world. As a way of finishing the final dregs of my undergraduate credits (having had a complex college experience during which I took a semester off) and as a way to see the world and to develop a sense of how I wish to practice medicine, I am on a study abroad program that takes me to India, China, and South Africa over the course of four months. The Huffington Post invited me to share my observations via blog. I hope to write a few posts per country -- some pertaining to systems-level lessons that I feel we can learn from each place I visit (for example, the fascinating emphasis on primary health care here in Kerala, India); and some that document the things I learn on a more personal level, just from having the opportunity to meet all the deeply inspiring and yet utterly average individuals one gets to meet while trotting the globe.
A brief explanation of where I am: the city of Trivandrum (or Thiruvananthapuram, its original name, reclaimed post-Independence), in the state of Kerala which is nestled in the deep southwest corner of India's tip. The world -- both developed and developing -- has so, so much to learn from Kerala. Leading India by far in literacy rates, health indicators, and gender equality, Kerala's success story has no simple explanation. Part of it can be explained by Kerala's fierce history of community organizing and decentralization of power; the first government it elected after statehood was a Communist government, the first democratically elected Communist government in the world. Even though the current political term (which lasts five years) is being administered by the non-Communist Congress party, the value of social equity is deeply embedded in the culture and can help explain why Trivandrum does not look like many of the world's bustling and deeply unequal metropolises that tend to enjoy these high education and health indicators; rather, Kerala has a "much more uniform dispersal of industries and population leading to the usual exclamation of tourists that Kerala is just one continuous village or town... there [is] no London or New York" (MP Parameswaran. "Kerala: Experiments with Socialism." Kerala: Fifty Years and Beyond, 2007). To many, this fact rightfully deserves critique: juxtaposed with Kerala's educated population and high health indicators (many of which rival those of the US) is strikingly low macroeconomic development. 25% of Kerala's income comes from Keralans working abroad in the Middle East, Europe, and North America, and sending money back home; clearly, Kerala lacks job opportunities for its graduates.
Zooming in a bit, I am staying in a homestay with the second most beautiful family on earth (the first being my own -- hi mom!). Some adjectives to describe this three-generation cluster of people: down-to-earth, wise, generous beyond reason, educated, humble, community-oriented, hardworking, Muslim, modern, traditional, conscientious, adorable (three children under eight years old!), curious, fun, close-knit, and completely inspiring. I will be writing a post about my experience with them. After all, what better way to learn about a place than through its people?
With very limited internet access, I look forward to documenting my journey around the world, comparing the cities I visit with each other and with my own home of California, USA. The places I will be visiting have such ancient histories, with so much to teach me; I hope to share a bit of what I learn with you. Thanks for reading :)