My name is Norberto Escobales, I am a senior at the University of South Florida (USF) pursing a degree in Public Health.
Unlike many of my friends and colleagues, I will not be spending the last semester of my collegiate career at USF. Instead I will be studying abroad as an exchange student in Australia. I have always wanted to travel to Australia ever since I was young, fascinated by the marine life and culture. I mean I basically grew up watching Steve Irwin on the TV, learning to respect the environment around us.
After the conclusion of this program, I will be applying to medical school with the intention of working with under-served communities. My experience with the healthcare field involves my current position as a director of the USF BRIDGE Clinic, where I head the HIV testing services program. In addition, in 2014 I held a summer research internship position in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. This project is a fusion of these two worlds, applying all that I have learned about healthcare in a new context. I hope all my readers take away as much as I will from this experience.
Off to part one of my journey to the Oz!
Woke up at 3:30 am, not enough sleep. I had spent the night filling out the rest of the education abroad application materials, more specially the sections on student safety. Afterwards,I put my carry-on bag together, it’s heavy one strap laptop bag. I filled it with all various electric cords and accessories that I thought would be useful during my time abroad. I had even packed snacks for the plane! Showered and prepared myself for the long journey to Australia. Out the door and on the road around 4:30pm. My mom and uncle were accompanying me to the airport. Virtual silence on the ride over, it was too early to be socializing.
Arrived at the airport and attempted to check-in my bags. After a little technical error with the self-service machine, I was given a ticket and referred to the formal American Airline desk. The attendant was quite sweet, curiously asking questions about my upcoming trip. Bags weighed, big one was under 50 lbs. A weight has been lifted from my physical and metaphorical shoulders. Begin to walk to terminal F79. In a few short minutes the terminal comes into sight.
“This is it,” I thought.
I hear several voices shout, “Norby!!!!!!”
To my right is a group of six that I instantly recognize despite being astonished, my friends have come to see me off. I had no idea that they would be standing there in front of the terminal at 5:15am, waiting for me.
They were holding signs. One said “follow me in the land down under @ medaussie,” a reference to my follow-on project for the Gilman Scholarship I received. I designed my own website to serve as a blog that would compare the Australian and United States healthcare systems. I had made social media accounts to promote the blog, sure enough they were all listed. The other sign read “ФΔЕ <3’s Norby, we miss you already.” The Greek letters refer to the fraternity that I helped start on my campus.
As a founding officer of Phi Delta Epsilon, I worked to establish a brotherhood of talented individuals that would go on to become physicians of integrity dedicated to lives of service to their community. As a result of the combined efforts of all the founding officers and subsequent officers; our chapter now boast 60+ members in contrast to the founding chapter of only 20. Back in the beginning days of the fraternity, I had no idea that the impact I made on some people lives would be enough to prompt them to drive out in the wee hours of the morning just to say goodbye. Overcome with emotion, I hug my friends and introduce them to my mom, who is more emotional than I at this point. After few minutes of chatting, another two friends show up. No surprise on their timing, they are notoriously late to everything. More hugs are exchanged and pictures are taken of my send-off entourage. The time has come for final goodbyes. All the sleep in the world couldn’t have prepared me for this, for this wasn’t simply a “see you later,” my friends will be graduating while I’m abroad. Some of them I may never see again, as the reality we’ve become accustomed to while in college fades and the real-world takes its place.
No matter where life takes us in the coming years, the thing that matters the most is this moment that we are sharing. “Where are you going that you got all these people saying goodbye?” asks an airport employee at the gate.
“Australia, that’s where I’m headed.”