Danielle Jeong, who receives a Governor General’s Silver Medal for her high scholastic achievement, says her SFU co-op experiences, which included a month in Haiti, were “life-changing”. Photo credit: Greg Ehlers

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Haiti co-op inspires career path

June 10, 2014
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An SFU co-op placement at a missionary medical clinic in Haiti certainly reinforced SFU’s motto “engaging the world”, says Danielle Jeong, who graduates this month with a B.Sc. (honours) in biomedical physiology.

The experience strengthened her desire to become an international medical missionary, a goal that has motivated her to maintain a straight A-plus grade-point-average of 4.33 during her upper division courses.

Those perfect grades have earned her a Governor General’s Silver Medal and, she hopes, entrance to medical school or further graduate studies.

Jeong turned down scholarships from other universities to pursue her undergraduate degree at SFU because of the more intimate learning environment and greater interaction with faculty.

But it was the co-op education program, in which she completed three co-op work terms in SFU labs and then the term in Haiti, that overcame her shyness and changed her life.

During the SFU lab co-op terms she received mentorship and guidance from graduate students and professors that, she says, led to her undergraduate success.

And the trip to Haiti, she says, “gave me the opportunity to challenge myself in ways I did not think were possible, to discover who I am, and most of all, to find a purpose for my studies.”

Last month she received an honourable mention in the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education’s 2013 Co-op Student of the Year competition for her co-op and academic achievements.

In Haiti, Jeong spent weekdays shadowing the clinic doctor and helping out with simple tasks such as preparing bandages. She spent weekends travelling with a mobile clinic to remote villages.

“Each day I watched doctors and nurses work tirelessly in life and death situations,” she says.

And while she was “inspired beyond words”, she was also emotionally drained at the end of each day to realize there was so little to be done for so many who were dying.

Throughout, she was overwhelmed by the Haitians’ grace in the face of extreme poverty, malnutrition, incurable disease and death.

“Their happiness did not seem to come from wealth,” says Jeong. “And happiness did not seem to be suppressed by poverty. Rather, it came from one's decision to be happy no matter what the circumstances are.

“The Haitians taught me to always be thankful, and although these were lessons that I already knew in my head, I learned them by heart on this trip.”

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