While most of you are probably already on or about to begin your summer vacation, we here at Boonshoft are still reminiscing over our spring break. About a month ago, over half of my class (about sixty students) went on a spring break road trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.
The timing of our spring break and vacation was impeccable: we had just finished a two and a half month class called Cells, Tissues, and Organ Systems (CaTOS for short). This class was…brutal. Our second exam covered over 1100 pages of material and the final (yes, cumulative, FML) was over almost 2000 pages. Needless to say, we all basically looked like pale, unhappy zombies walking out of that final: some fun in the sun (and on Bourbon Street) was exactly what we needed.
The NOLA trip is one that is organized entirely by our school. It’s a service trip that runs Monday-Friday of our spring break. Our class is split into groups of three and put into three different service projects on a first-come, first-served basis. I was lucky* enough to get into the smallest service group, at a site just outside the French Quarter called Project Lazarus. Project Laz is a halfway-home for people who are HIV+. Basically, if you are living in New Orleans with HIV and find yourself with nowhere safe to live, you can be accepted into this house (I believe there is a sort of referral/application process). While the residents live in the house, they participate in programming like book clubs, therapy groups, addiction counseling if they need it, and earn an income that is put into a savings account. While no residents are ever forced to leave the house, most spend a few months there, then move out on their own. It’s a really cool project, and the residents and workers there are super incredible and kind.
*When I say lucky, I mean incredibly well-planned. There were only twelve slots to be in this group and sixty med students trying to get into it. I refreshed my email every thirty seconds for, like, ten minutes and had “Project Lazarus” saved into my copy-paste. Sorry for being such a nerd but this project was too cool to act calm and collected.
While working at Project Lazarus, our group helped create a composting system for the house, tore down an old shed, cleaned one of their facilities and socialized with the residents. Obvi, socializing with the residents was the best part (but it was definitely nice to be outside in warm weather no matter what we were doing). The residents loved talking to us about our career aspirations, telling us about their past, and discussing their favorite festivals and Bourbon Street memories. They also gave us tons of food, restaurant, band, and drink recommendations and begged us to tell them if anything embarrassing had happened the night prior. They were so great.
The service work was definitely a highlight of the trip, but it was also nice that we had every evening to spend doing whatever we wanted. My group ate so much good food-like, SO MUCH FOOD-and spent a lot of our evenings at jazz clubs on Frenchman Street. (I loved the oysters and the gumbo, but my favorite meals were at a West African/Nigerian restaurant. If you have never eaten West African food, go get some. STAT. You’re welcome in advance.) I also got to go on a haunted tour which was awesome and definitely terrifying.
It was wonderful that our school planned such a cool, fun, but relaxing service trip for us after the most intense medical school class so far. Spending so much time with so many of my classmates was incredible: I loved getting to hang out with people I usually only see in class. And of course, being in one of the most fun cities in America doing work for an amazing project made it all even better.