Alison Parish ’19 returned from a bridge year in Senegal with a wealth of new experiences and friends, but most significant to her were the lessons about how to serve others. “I learned it’s important to take a back seat, to listen and observe, to see what works best and to work alongside others,” she says. “In service work, this is what’s most necessary.”
Alison set off for Senegal the fall after her Spence graduation with the Novogratz Bridge Year Program at Princeton. A global service learning program, the bridge year is open to all incoming freshman at Princeton. After spending time in a rural village, where she ran a summer camp for the local children, Alison traveled to San Luis, a major city, to stay with a host family and experience the life of the Senegalese markets. In her final destination, Dakar, she lived with another host family in a compound that included 30 members of a single family.
“I liked navigating the cultural differences and finding joy in moments that are challenging,” Alsion says. “Instead of getting upset when people laugh at your language mistakes, I learned to just laugh with them. With so many cultural differences you’re going to mess up. You have to keep making an effort and keep listening without making assumptions.”
For her service work in Dakar, Alison volunteered at a center for children with disabilities, where she shadowed one of the doctors. She went on to assist with classes at the elementary school connected to the center. In the afternoons, she took her own language classes in French and Wolof, the Senegalese language. There was also time for dance and drumming classes, which she loved. She came to understand the challenges people with disabilities face on a deeper level through her work at the center and was inspired by the stories of the director and staff, many of whom were devoted to bettering the lives of the children after their own experiences as people with disabilities.
The pandemic cut short Alison’s time in Senegal, but she has stayed in touch with her co-workers at the children’s center and continued to support them with long distance volunteering. In the fall of 2020, Alison began her freshman year at Princeton online due to Covid. For a student who hopes to go to medical school, this has been particularly challenging, but Alison notes that her chemistry professor has come up with creative ways to handle labs that provide a real experience of doing science.
It was in her seventh grade biology class with Dr. Bailey at Spence that Alison discovered her love of science and medicine. “I really enjoyed how she taught biology. She was passionate about it, and I became passionate, too. We dissected a frog, which I thought I wouldn’t like, but it was so interesting.”
Alison enrolled in the MedStart Enrichment Program for sixth through eighth graders at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai when she was a seventh grader. In a series of Saturday programs focused on study of the brain, she saw her first human brain, an exciting and transformative moment. She participated in MedStart’s summer programs over the next two years, working with a medical student mentor and attending some medical school classes. In the Upper School, Alison completed an internship at Mt. Sinai in which she shadowed doctors in surgery and primary care on their rounds. “I learned a lot from the doctors at Mt. Sinai about patient care. Medicine is about service as well as care. I really care about community building and helping others. This is what has led me to pre-med studies.”
Though she is not sure which field of medicine she might specialize in, Alison is most interested in cardiology, women’s health, public health, and food and nutrition. She has applied for internships for the summer 2021, including one in Florida with a focus on health disparities in African-American communities.