Senior Reflections: The Reckoning.

[[I wrote this as a closing column my senior year at Yale. Really interesting to see where I have changed… and where I am still working through the same questions.]]

The Reckoning

Some people go out to East Rock to think about their place in the world. Some wander through cities, enjoying the feeling of being anonymous in a crowd where no one knows your name. Wherever you found that space of solace, there was probably a moment or two, at least, when you experienced a moment of reckoning.

Some of us came to Yale with neatly constructed narratives about our lives and our goals. We handed out neat, packaged descriptions of our “purpose,” much like the mission statements we used when fundraising for our conferences and events. Maybe it felt like we could package our lives into these descriptions, just like we packaged these one-time events into neat paragraphs on a single typed page. I found myself doing this.

But Yale taught me something important. My moment of reckoning came my sophomore year, at the end of what I would call my slump. I was desperate to get away: This campus felt too small. I felt trapped by my “purpose” — the type- cast I had written for myself on that single typed page. I needed some clarity and space; I even considered studying abroad.

As it turns out, I did not need to go far to find my solace. I left my room in Saybrook and went to meet Miles Grimshaw ’13 to talk about launching TEDxYale. As we worked to bring TEDx to campus, I found a new space to grow in and to ask questions, instead of just jumping directly to answers.

I spent so much time my first two years here conforming to the definition of “Diana” I had built for myself. I had stopped looking for new ways to learn and be pushed. I had found a comfortable place, but it was smothering me. My mission statement was written by a younger me who didn’t understand what I would come to see after more exposure to the world.

So I tossed it out. I gave up my 10-year plan, and opened my eyes to the other opportunities around me.

The rest of college was defined by new projects and people who pushed me to redefine my conditions for “success.” I found friends who were patient enough to tell me and correct me when I was making mistakes. I went to events and sought out students whose passions for different subjects made me excited to learn more about their talents and research. I spent more time writing and trying to understand what Yale, as a community, was teaching me about my values, my prejudices and my goals for the world. I found happiness in seeing how many different ways people were thinking and doing things all around me.

It was easy to fall into a routine, to settle with a group and stick it out, even when some of these relationships and projects weren’t working. I made the active decision to leave my corner and look for other places I wanted to be on campus. It was the best decision that I ever made.

I still think I have a sense of purpose, though its direction is far less concrete than it was four years ago. I am excited to see what I find along the way, and I know I can trust myself to take on new challenges that fit within that sense of purpose.

I have not given up. I have come to understand that sometimes the best route is not always preplanned. The people that I found at Yale helped me understand that would never be happy on a straightforward path, even if the path was my own design.

Sometimes I still struggle with questions. What will success feel like for me? Do I need to meet a more widely accepted definition of success to be happy?

I realized that I, at least personally, do not. I want my projects to be challenging and give me interesting problems to solve more than anytime else.

Yale was a safe space for me to test my ideas, plan new projects and reach out to professors who became my mentors and confidants throughout the challenges. My reckoning came from the access to different worlds and opinions that I found all around me. I am grateful for the rigor and thoughtfulness of my classmates, the friends who pushed me and the ideas that I could turn into realities while I was here. I leave now with a sense of purpose, however abstract, and know that I am better for my time here.

DIANA ENRIQUEZ is a senior in Saybrook College.

Language as a Door

I am in DC this weekend for a meeting that I had today with a research collaborator and a potential project lead at the World Bank. It was a really interesting conversation — it turned out we were all thinking about similar layers of cities and factors that drive tech ecosystems… in New York, as it turns out. I was thinking about it a lot of this past summer and wrote a grant proposal for further research.

But the piece that I want to write about today just happened.

I am sitting in the AirBnB I rented for the weekend when the housekeeper hired to maintain the space appeared in the doorway. He seemed really nervous, like he was hoping I would be out while he was working. He asked me what I needed and rushed through the closet, asking me in English if I needed this or that. I took a chance, he looked like he could be from my neck of the woods, and switched to Spanish.

He visibly paused and relaxed. Visibly. His shoulders came down from their hiding place up by his ears and he grinned.

He eventually asked me, where did you learn to speak spanish? Your accent…

So we talked about it. How I am from Mexico City and grew up around Spanish speakers with DF accents. I told him about how I was at a bar last night with a number of Latino servers and they were talking about me in Spanish next to me. I pretended to ignore them to see what they would say. They were guessing my age and where I came from, making up back stories for me. It was all in good fun — they were having a laugh.

But the best part, was when I closed my bill and said, Thank you and have a lovely evening, in perfect Spanish. The looks over their faces told me, “oh! She speaks Spanish! Cool!” followed immediately by “oh wait that means she totally understood everything we were saying… oops.”

My visitor thought this was all very funny — he laughed with his whole heart.

He told me where I can go in DC for real Mexican and El Salvadorian food, where to find cheaper groceries, and where I can find a community I would find interesting. It was wonderful.

So, today I confirm that language is my favorite door. The sound, the experience of it, really, makes it much easier to engage with someone when it feels familiar. Spanish, in particular, has always felt like a gentle purr in my throat. I prefer the syllables to English ones. It feels and hits me like laughter.  It will always be a place of warmth for me.

And I was glad to share that with someone else on this cold winter day.

Public Health Spending vs. Infectious Disease Rates

Some food for thought, from a really interesting piece on the World Mapper website.

This is a map comparing public health spending around the world. Countries that spend more money are exaggerated to show their spending size compared to their neighboring countries and other continents.

World Map by Public Health Spending

Nothing too surprising here, I think. We see that the United States and Europe spend the most, relative to their size. Look at Germany up there! And France! Kind of nuts.

Compare this public health spending map to the map of infectious Disease Outbreaks.

World Map by Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Nearly the opposite map in terms of perspective/size of countries, no? The Western Hemisphere is tiny tiny in this case, and India and Nigeria are MASSIVE.

Again, nothing here is too surprising. But it is really striking to see and compare these contracts in a similar format of distortion.

Based on this information, consider where we find ourselves in the Ebola crisis. We have a highly infectious disease that travels through social networks, tearing apart families and communities while also presenting truly horrifying symptoms. The disease also presents itself in some of the hardest to reach communities on the planet. I have learned, throughout our efforts to improve tech opportunities for doctors and field workers in Liberia and Sierra Leone, that there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to public health data collection and/or patient follow up. What worked for the US to run in its contact tracing programs are not necessarily a good fit for the communities that we work with in West Africa or the West African Diaspora Community.

This version of public health, especially in the face of a disease as challenging as Ebola, requires a mix of practical applications and rethinking models to fit limited infrastructure, and compassion for the communities that we are trying to reach. The tools we provide, on their own, are worthless if we cannot convince our communities to adopt and engage with them. This seems to be the missing piece in a number of the programs and efforts we see on the ground. But, I am hopeful that we will continue learning from our mistakes and improving our methods and outreach.

Leave-Your-Shell-At-The-Door Spaces

When I was a senior at Yale, I met a girl who seemed to understand and articulate all of my thoughts on feminism and independence and what I wanted for myself in terms of self respect and adhering to my personal value system in the same language that I was using in my journal. It was strange. Like having my mind read for 3 hours. Obviously, we clicked and, as I usually do, we decided to build something together.

Now, nearly two years later, the salon series we built for our friends and growing communities in New York have expanded into several cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, DC, Miami and soon, hopefully, Minneapolis and abroad). The salons grow organically — what started as one salon based in NYC turned into four of them running independently in NYC and several others sprouting up because people are generally interested in what we have created.

For me, the real value add of these salon spaces is that people come to have coffee/brunch in my apartment and agree to “leave their shells at the door.” While New York and certainly other cities value carefully curated public personas and responses, we value honesty and kindness to yourself and others, self respect, and the bravery it takes to dig into the soft, uncomfortable, not fully formed pieces of thoughts and values and goals that we all hide in our mental closets for a while longer than we should.

I love meeting new, cool, badass, creative ladies across cities and inviting them to join the salon space. I naturally have found a series of close friends through these spaces. Because I’ll explain something raw in my head and they will engage with me about it, seriously. They listen. They value the ideas and person that you introduce to a space. Because that is what it is — showing up and being fully present and engaged with a stranger, but promising to listen and be present throughout the conversation, is a sign of respect. It is what builds strong communities.

I am excited to see how we grow and change this year. It has been such a pleasure to organize and attend these salons for a few hours every few weekends. I leave feeling raw and open and reminded of my own values and personal growth goals. I am grateful to have a space where I am required to leave my shell at the door. It gets heavy and unpleasant to carry around all the time.

Most importantly, I am grateful to the women who have pushed me and challenged me and listened to me when I sometimes feel lost and unable to full express myself. Thank you, Tiffany, Sharone, Camilla, Joanna, Molly and our other organizers. You have changed me for the better.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

2014 was a really fantastic year full of adventure for me.

I switched jobs, started studying a new continent (!!), worked with a series of different researchers that I really admire and find myself learning a lot from, gave a talk at the TEDUniversity session at TEDGlobal in Rio, gave a different version of the talk at TEDxMunich in November, started learning to program in Python, returned to some of the data I was working with from international remittances transfers… and used my python codes to do cool things with it, returned to Mexico purely for fun instead of work (it has been a while), and started to be able to answer the question: What do you want from this one precious life?

I have a lot of things I want to work on and learn this year, but 2014 was a great start to this chapter of life. Thank you to everyone who offered me their time, thoughts, feedback and patience. Really excited to cross paths with all of you again soon.