As I prepare for my final semester at Hopkins, I realize that this trip represents a pretty radical departure from my career as an undergraduate. I've had an interesting mixture of science, public health, and film studies courses, but I've stayed geographically close to home. As I choose a place for each gift for my host family members (sisters, brothers, parents?), try to find a spot for an oversized sleeping bag, and stash anti-malarials and a CDC yellow fever card, the enormity of the journey strikes me. I have looked forward to this trip for a long time, as it will be my first to a developing country and last opportunity to study abroad as an undergraduate. What I had not expected was to feel such a deep connection to my peers and collaborators so early in the program. I'm really impressed by the thoughts, insights and reactions articulated by everybody today. I think that this trip has attracted a really fascinating mix of people — those who are analytical and diligent, yet empathetic and appreciative, interested in understanding peoples, behaviors, and cultures in context.
My dad is watching the Iowa caucus on C-SPAN now. He's infuriated by the lack of "substantive conversation." My obese cat Boots threatens to scale the table and devour leftovers. My suitcase is heavier than I had hoped. The amount of stuff seems excessive, even though I've boiled it down to the essentials. Today was kind of dream-like, maybe because of the brief snow, or maybe because this is like the vigil before a great pilgrimage. There will undoubtedly be much substantive conversation, which will hopefully get us through the challenges.