Island at heart

OHSU StudentSpeak is pleased to present this guest post from Kelsi Chan, medical student in the Class of 2019. She and several OHSU colleagues organized OHSU’s first-ever lu’au in November 2016.

ohsu_luau_2016-030-lI am no stranger to living far away from home. Hawai’i is at least five hours away from land in every direction. As a young girl I often traveled to the states for various soccer tournaments, but I always had my people by my side, whether in the form of parents, family, friends or teammates. Trips were always fun because it felt like I was in a new place experiencing new things, but I always, always was in the comfort of being with people who knew me and understood me.

When I was a junior in high school, a Massachusetts recruiter saw me play in a tournament held in San Diego, California. It was my ticket to four years of higher education. When the day came for me to leave to start my freshman year, like many previous times before, I packed my bags and said good bye to Hawai’i, only this time, I would be thirteen hours away and for many months at a time. By then, I had seen snow. I had built a snowman. But I never knew what living through a Boston winter was like. It took a few months to get my footing, quite literally. I eventually joined the Hawai’i Club and immediately felt at home. I was a part of the school lu’au every year and loved sharing my culture with my non-Hawaiian classmates. Even though I was the furthest I’d ever been from that little rock in the middle of the Pacific, I found a home. I found the people who understood me and knew me without having to explain anything about myself.

Fast forward ten years, I am now a second year, soon-to-be third year medical student at OHSU. I am not ashamed to say this wasn’t my first application to medical school. After taking the years off between applications to make myself a more competitive applicant, I was finally able to get into several medical schools. I ended up choosing OHSU for many reasons, one of the most important being it was the closest to home besides the medical school in Hawai’i. At the time, I wasn’t quite ready to go home for good and OHSU as an institution was too renowned to pass up. When I got here for my first day, I was shocked to find in my class of approximately 140 students, I was the lone Native Hawaiian. At a school in Oregon.

I don’t really know what my expectations were coming to OHSU, but even in a place as far away as Massachusetts, I was able to find my home away from home by finding others from the islands. Here, to be honest, it has been more difficult. People who know me will tell you, I am loud, outgoing, and I do make friends easily. I still made lots of friends and some really close ones, but something was missing. I missed having a Hawai’i club and having a place where my culture could be enjoyed and didn’t have to be explained. I wanted to have a school lu’au like in Massachusetts. OHSU has no Hawai’i club and no annual lu’au. I guess I should’ve done more research and not made assumptions about coming here.

14900416_10103236559785041_7520891269896993628_nAs time passed, the fact that I was the only Hawaiian in my class and one of very few in the entire institution really started to sink in. With gentle nudging by a close friend, I became one of the co-chairs for the Asian and Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA), and attempted to funnel many of my own cultural frustrations there. When I became a leader of the club, there were probably only three active members. From that moment, my dream was to build a larger community for the Asian and Hawaiian Pacific Islander students at OHSU and to plan OHSU’s first lu’au.

Almost an entire year after leading APAMSA, we finally threw the first lu’au ever sponsored by the OHSU Center for Diversity and Inclusion. New, eager, and passionate first year APAMSA members, and in particular a fellow Hawaiian (who is also the only one in her class), were instrumental to the fruition of lu’au. The lu’au was one of the largest student run events of the year. It was a huge success, selling out before doors opened. The event raised money and awareness for OHSU APAMSA, which now has 58 members, two who are regional managers and one who sits on the national APAMSA board. For the first time in history, OHSU will be hosting the APAMSA Region 8 Conference next February. There are already plans for OHSU lu’au 2017 as well.

14908286_10103236565478631_4171772003096556002_nBeing part of APAMSA has been one of my proudest moments as a medical student and has also taught me so much about myself. Within the past year, I actually did find what was missing and why I would feel alone in a room full of people at times. What was missing was my own open-mindedness. What was missing was acknowledgment of my own implicit biases and assumptions. The more I allowed myself to learn about my non-Hawaiian friends and allowed them to learn about me, I started to realize that OHSU has a ton of Hawaiians! Or let’s say, honorary Hawaiian souls. When I finally return home to Hawai’i to settle down and practice, I will be able to tell my family and friends that I have met some of the most wonderful people here at OHSU and also found a true Hawaiian soul sister I never knew I had, who also played a huge role in realizing my dream lu’au. All I had to do was open my mind a little more to find my home away from home at OHSU, to find my island people.

Special mahalo to all those who helped make lu’au possible:

OHSU APAMSA, OHSU CDI, David Martinez, Chelsea Balumas, Nattaly Greene, Tani Saito, Huy Hoang, Uncle Noho, Aunty Elsie, lu’au volunteers, and my honey Ruy for keeping me sane.


Photos courtesy Huy Hoang, M.D. Class of 2019. View more in this album.

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