Bryn Myers is an Iowa State Senior studying genetics and Spanish, and you’re about to hear the story of what happens when everything clicks during a semester abroad.
Before you read on, here’s a bit of backstory. Bryn is from Cedar Rapids, and she went to Linn-Mar High School. She’s the child of two parents in the medical field, and she’s deeply motivated to become an addition to their family of practitioners. She ended up at ISU after she visited with her dad (an ISU alumnus, Biology ’86) and fell in love with the campus.
After starting Spanish in the seventh grade, Bryn found herself in love with the language and culture she was learning. She was nervous about how Spanish would fit in with her degree in genetics, even though she was bringing along 10 college credits from a community college near home. She met with a WLC adviser and realized that a minor would be easy, and a major would make her stand out on medical school applications. All she needed to do was take one class one summer and a study abroad experience.
We’ll let Bryn take it from here.
If I was going to pursue Spanish, I wanted to become bilingual. I’m sort of an all-or-nothing kind of person, if I’m going to commit to something, I have to know that I’m going to be able to use the skill. When I was trying to decide on a program, I noticed that when I visited Barcelona, I didn’t really have to use that much Spanish when we while traveling around. When I went to Sevilla, there wasn’t a lot of English. Living in a homestay was [essential] for me, too. I had a friend in high school who was a foreign exchange student from Sevilla, Spain, and that was basically my reasoning for my choice. I didn’t have any idea how big of a choice that would be then, and she was the main reason I decided to go to Sevilla. The small things that ended up making my study abroad what it was just amaze me.
“The odds of me being in that situation were just a series of “yes, yes, yes” opportunities. It’s crazy.”
I had to take the MCAT the day before I left for my semester in Sevilla because I didn’t want to ruin my semester abroad with studying for it the whole time, and I needed to take it before applications were due that summer. I realized right before I went to Spain that I needed some shadowing experience before I could apply to medical schools, and deadlines were in June. I realized I was going to have to shadow someone in Spain. I thought that would be really great, but I was worried about finding opportunities.
(Editor’s note: this portion was briefly covered in this “Humans of WLC” post this Spring semester. Follow us on social media so that you don’t miss great student stories like Bryn’s!)
That first night in Sevilla, we went downtown, and [my host family] showed me and the other girl at my homestay the best places in the city. I was so overwhelmed, but it was fun! They’re very seasoned host parents, so they had an idea of what we were going through and knew that we probably wouldn’t be able to communicate very well.
We were just getting the basics down, and my host dad, Juan Carlos, asked us what we study in school. I told him I want to be a doctor, and he told me he’s a surgeon, and I was just blown away. I figured I could at least talk to him about getting shadowing experience, and that would be a good start. He said, “If you want, you can come and shadow me.” That was the first thing that made me realize I was on the right path. Who would have guessed!
I shadowed him for the first time that first weekend, and he took me to the hospital with him in the morning on his motorcycle. I had never been on a motorcycle before, and I was so overwhelmed by what was happening. We got to the hospital, and he had me scrub in for a surgery. I got to go into the OR (this would never happen in the U.S., there are so many restrictions). There were other medical students there so I wasn’t super alone, and he walked us through everything.
I did that every week for my whole study abroad. By the end, he asked me to help him in the OR. He had me wash my hands with iodine and get scrubbed up like I was going to touch some equipment. In my head, I was in total denial. He [had me stand] up by the table. Normally, the surgeries I watched were big, open stomach, cutting out parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Very serious stuff. I was convinced I’d be in over my head. The man on the table was not anesthetized, and he had a mole, so I knew we were just going to excise a carcinoma, nothing serious. I still had no idea how to do that! The added layer of me not being fluent- I could understand, but I didn’t feel comfortable being taught in Spanish how to do what was happening. I just trimmed the suture threads, and I didn’t do anything that could have caused harm, but it was still such an amazing experience! I ended up writing my personal statement [for medical school applications] about it.
That semester was fantastic because all of the doctors there loved to talk about the difference between their medical system and ours. It changed the way I thought about our medical system and theirs, too.
Now that Bryn’s back in the U.S., we had a chance to catch up with her about all things study abroad. Read on to hear her take on the experience and what’s next for her.
WLC: What was your most valuable takeaway from your time in Spain?
Bryn: Besides my awesome experience with Juan Carlos, I also had an extremely influential experience through volunteering at an elementary school, teaching English to kindergarteners. There, one of the other teachers asked if I would tutor her kids in English, and I agreed. I ended up meeting my best friend, this teacher, Ana. We still talk every day, and her kids are the sweetest. She was the reason I got to go to feria because you have to know someone to get in. She’s probably one of the main reasons I was able to get so fluent in Spanish. She’s an elementary school teacher, so she knew exactly how to talk with me, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable talking with her. Talking to physicians was stressful because I didn’t want to sound uneducated. Ana totally got it, though. She knew how to pull me out of my comfort zone, and she’d always joke, “Did you understand anything I just said?” and I felt comfortable asking her to say it again.
WLC: How do you feel your life in the U.S. has changed since your return?
Bryn: I think I had a personality change. I’ve always been pretty reserved and cautious, and doing things that make me uncomfortable [helped get me through living abroad]. To get a phone, you have to go put yourself out there and know that it’s probably going to take three hours to get this one conversation done. Being forced into those uncomfortable positions and realizing that it wasn’t so bad was huge. I think it’s a mutual build of confidence and knowing that everything is going to be okay. Back here, it’s so much easier because you can speak English! I’m so much more comfortable now with confrontation. I feel a lot more adult now than I did before.
WLC: Are you ready for what’s next?
Since my semester abroad, my course load has been sort of easing off, and I’m relaxed, and I have time for myself. That’s all going to change after I start school in the fall, and I think I’m ready.
I’m going to medical school at the University of Iowa. My dad went to Iowa for med school, too, and my mom went to PA school there. That’s where they met. I’m starting in August, and I’m so excited about it!