An Update…

Hi Everyone.

It’s been a crazy 7 months since my last post.

What’s been going on?

I’m 3 weeks away from graduating (EEK). It’s scary and exciting at the same time.

My capstone is almost finished and is looking at characteristics of self-reported STI testing among MSM in Burkina Faso. Rough draft handed in, final draft due next Friday!

So Sara, What’s Next?

I really don’t know. I’ve sent out a bunch of job applications and currently the jury is out. Until after I graduate, I’m not really able to send out applications unless it’s the type of thing that I can send just a resume/CV to.

Also, I’ve decided to run a 5k. Scary.


Long story short, felt that if I am going to be a successful public health practitioner, that I should be healthy and practice what I preach. I’ve been running two times a week with the BF and I seem to be inching along.

So. That’s what’s up. Hopefully I will have more to post soon.

Watch me on Jeopardy!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! SET YOUR DVRs! 4 weeks from today I will be a contestant on Jeopardy! on Wednesday, October 1st!

I can’t tell you what happens because I signed a 12 page contract so you must tune in to find out!

In Baltimore: 7:00pm on WBFF Fox 45 Baltimore
In Detroit: 7:30pm on WDIV NBC Channel 4

All other cities: Check your local listings at

It’s a family affair in terms of Jeopardy! My dad was on in 2008! He made an excellent powerpoint!.pps

Watch me rev up the competition on Jeopardy!


Two weeks into my MPH Program

And this comes up on a facebook chat…



EH = Environmental Health

Pop Dy= Population Dynamics


Seriously though. I’m geeking out every day and it’s Awesome!

MPH program first impressions

So I started my MPH program at Hopkins on Monday. Two days of orientation, two days of class, and then the Fourth of July!

One of my PC Burkina friends asked me what the program was like so far, I said that it was like “Stage” (Pre-service training). Classes go from 8:30 to 5pm and we don’t have a lot of breaks. I get home and do not want to do anything else.

First impressions:
The majority of the class are clinicians/med students. I’m not one of them. It’s a little intimidating.

Our class seems to be very social. We are always planning events and bar nights. It’s sort of hard being “on” all the time. Trying to socialize and meet people, and also be switched on to pay attention in class. Speaking of which, We haven’t even had all of our classes yet. Introduction to Bioethics in Public health only meets on a Tuesday.

We have a very diverse class. About half the class are from different countries. It’s fun talking about different cultures, and also creating inside jokes about an Italian student marrying another student just to get his green card. Because he’s not looking for a significant other, just a green card.

I go to a green campus and people totally embrace technology! Except sometimes technology doesn’t work…like getting locked out of the Responsible Conduct for Research module or not being able to see any of the e-reserves.

More updates to follow. Certainly felt this was more like week 0 than week 1.

My current frustrations with social media

Disclaimer: Ok, so this is a bit of a rant post. You have been warned.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for months but I’ve been holding back. I’m really frustrated with social media. So much so that part of me wishes that I could go back to Burkina Faso and be off the grid for awhile.

Let’s start with the not so good.

People use social media as a form of validation. They post things online to get immediate feedback to feel validated. Because people always care about what others think of them. People post their personal views online and by doing that, they invite other people to agree and disagree with it. I too, like it when I post something and get likes on facebook. Who doesn’t? It’s something that makes you feel good about yourself and is a “warm fuzzy.”

While I agree with sharing ideas and keeping an open forum is a noble endeavor and starts a dialogue, I’ve observed that it can turn into a festering infection of negative comments and arguing. This negativity really frustrates me. If you believe something, there’s always going to be someone who disagrees with you. That’s the way things are.

The worst is when people post things that have not been fact-checked out of frustration or other extreme emotion. Maybe they were feeling upset and felt that they could use social media as a venting outlet. As this may be an attempt to work out feelings constructively, it’s really not. When I was a PCV, I observed the impact of negative venting when other PCVs would gossip about problems at site or problems with other people. It turned into a negative firestorm of venting, and when combined with the stress and “hot house” atmosphere turned into an inferno.

Many of these posts have the attitude of I’m feeling <intense emotion here> so i’m going to post something about it. That’s unfortunate/great that you are feeling that emotion, but maybe it’s not a good idea to post it online.

One situation that particularly distressed me was something that happened at my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

During the polar vortex of 2014, the students were not given a snow day and took to twitter with a very offensive hash tag against the current chancellor. (You can read more about it here). I was very appalled and disappointed at the response by the students. At the time I was taking classes at Wayne State and we got snow days. Wayne State is a unique campus because they are mostly a commuter campus. There are many part time students who have full time jobs, or families. If schools in the area are closed, many of the students with children have to scramble to find child care or stay home to take care of them. That’s not the case at UIUC which is a generally residential campus. The response by the students festered and turned into this infection of hate against the current chancellor. I can understand students being bummed out because they didn’t get a snow day, but their response was unacceptable.

These days on facebook, i don’t post much about myself. When I was in a relationship, it wasn’t on facebook, I didn’t make a big announcement about where I was going to grad school. Recently I’ve been mostly posting about the world cup and the West African teams I support. Every time I look at the site, I tend to get frustrated seeing ignorance and posts that come out of rash decisions and it makes me want to leave.

However, social media does have its benefits. My grad school has a facebook group for my class and it’s enabled me to make some friends and facilitate meeting up with other students. I posted something on facebook to meet up with classmates before orientation and I got a lot of responses from other students who had arrived in Baltimore and were waiting for classes to start.

Social media is also great to keep me connected with people who are not local. This includes current PCVs in Burkina, and other Burkina RPCVs around the country. It also helped me find one of my high school classmates who is currently living and going to school in Baltimore. It’s also great for planning events and meetups and helping publicize things.

I’m extraordinarily grateful for the positive response to my blog and how it has helped people catch a glimpse of what I did in BF and how i’m adjusting.

In short: I’m torn. I love the positive benefits of social media and how it can be used for good. However its costs are making me very frustrated.

So Sara, what’s your point?

My point is that people should be mindful of what they post on social media, and here’s what I think.

1. Once you post something on the internet it’s there and you no longer have control over it, even if you delete a post. You must accept the reality that you may have opened Pandora’s Box. Actions have consequences.

2. People will disagree with what you post.

3. If you are upset/have intense feelings about something, take a breath or a time out and think before you post. Ask yourself if this is truly the best way to vent your feelings, or if this is something that may get back to you in a negative way.

4. Because things are written online, things can be taken out of context and the tone of the post may be interpreted differently than what you intended. If you put the emphasis on different parts of the sentence, then it means different things. It’s harder to detect the intention behind the words.

The classic example is:

I didn’t say you were stupid,

I didn’t say you were stupid,

I didn’t say you were stupid,

I didn’t say you were stupid. 

5. You don’t need people online to validate you and your existence. You are more than what people think of you online.

This is my form of venting, but I hope that I was able to put it in a positive context and to acknowledge the negative and positive powers of social media. Think before you post. We all make mistakes, but once it’s online it’s out of your control.

Baltimore: First Impressions

So, I moved to Baltimore about a week ago in preparation to start my MPH at The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This is my first time living in a big city. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, moved to Champaign-Urbana when I was 18 for my undergrad, and then moved to Lèba, Burkina Faso, (a small village of 2000 people, but also a Department and a Prefecture in the province of Zondoma) for two years. I was back in Suburban Detroit for 9 months, and now I’m in Baltimore.

Here are some things I have noticed:

The proper way to pronounce Baltimore sounds like “Bawlmer.” I’m still going to pronounce it Ball-tee-more…and I will get judged for that, but that’s ok.

There are lots of hills here. Detroit is flat, Champaign-Urbana is flat, Lèba was flat. (Not counting the “hills” you notice when biking to and from Ouahigouya, but whatever). I live in an area called Brewers Hill, which is near Highlandtown, which is, as you might expect, high.

Exit and Entrance ramps are very narrow.

Baltimore is an interesting place. Baltimore City is surrounded by Baltimore County and each is a separate entity.

Due to the altitude, you can sometimes see clouds of smog.

The people here are polite and friendly. (At least the ones I’ve met…anyway).

I’m in the process of honing my parallel parking skills.

Baltimore is a lot like Detroit, except with a bigger harbor. The neighborhoods are much more distinct, and there is a big transition from Downtown to Little Italy, to Fells Point, to Canton, to Highlandtown, to Greektown, (YES BALTIMORE HAS A GREEKTOWN) to East Baltimore.

Baltimore has a lot of dogs, and lots of people walking their dogs. My building is pet friendly, but it is very quiet and I rarely hear dogs barking.

I’m getting excited for my program to start. After sounding the call on facebook for people who have moved in and are waiting to meet people, I got a bunch of responses. I’m looking forward to this new life in Baltimore and new experiences!

So you want to apply to public health programs…Post Peace Corps…

Apologies for not posting the past few months. I wanted to post more about my journey into the world of public health during my application process but given how easily google-able my blog is, I wanted to wait until I decided on a program and to give some general advice. I’m going to break things down into: What you should do during your Peace Corps service if you want to apply, what you should do after, and general tips in terms of applying. This is geared towards public health but could apply to other grad school programs as well.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert, I’m just sharing my general experiences that may help current PCVs in their journey.

A brief timeline

March 2013 – COS conference, applied/registered for classes at Wayne State University to satisfy prerequisites. Asked CD for letters of recommendation

August 22nd 2013 – COS date

August 28th 2013 – begin post-baccalaureate classes (Nutrition, Epidemiology I and Biostatistics I ) part-time at Wayne State University, in Detroit, while living at my parents’ house.

Septemberish – start applications, ask for references

End of November – submit applications

Responses from institutions arrived from the beginning of December 2013 up until the middle of March, 2014.

June 30th 2014 – start MPH program at The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

What you should do during your Peace Corps service if you want to apply to public health schools.

  1. Find out how your COS date relates to the application due dates and the start of the program that you are interested in.
  2. Does it start in June? Does it start in August/September? When is your application due?
  3. Is this the right time for me to apply?
  4. If you do not have reliable internet access or it requires you to make multiple trips to your regional capital, you may want to wait until you get home to apply. I waited until after my COS (Aug 22nd, 2013) to apply. I had reliable internet in my regional capital and in Ouagadougou, but I didn’t want my second year of service to solely be applying to grad school. Many PCVs have applied to public health programs successfully while in country.
  5. Do I have the prerequisites for these programs?
  6. Many of the elite programs are looking for a biology/science/math background. You may or may not have these requirements. I did not take any life science courses during undergrad and took Nutrition, Biology, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics I at a local state university to fulfill prerequisites.
  7. Ask for recommendation letters from in-country staff early. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOUR COS WEEK.
  8. The American and HCN staff at the Peace Corps Office are very busy and usually have specific policies about recommendation letters. If possible, find out their policy before your COS conference and prepare your resume and personal statement so that your references can write you the best letter possible. Then make sure that everything is signed and scanned before you leave the country. Also, ask them if they are able to fill out online reference forms in country, SOPHAS (the public health application) is electronic and asks references to fill out forms online.
  9. Talk to current PCVs, RPCVs, or staff who have an MPH or other public health degree. Find out how their transition was and where they went to school. I was lucky enough that our DMO’s wife did an MPH right after her Peace Corps service and could give me a lot of info about her program.
  10. Don’t worry about taking the GRE unless you cannot send the computerized version scores less than six weeks before the application is due.

When you are applying

  1. Promote your relevant Peace Corps experiences in your personal statement. Even if you were not a health volunteer, talk about your health activities, monitoring and evaluation, and other relevant health topics.
  2. Ask for recommendation letters early, it’s okay to remind your recommenders often.
  3. Apply to a wide variety of schools. I applied to 4 public, 6 private, and one overseas. Cast a wide net so you have lots of options.
  4. See if your school has any important requirements. (Some schools do not consider MPH candidates unless they have an RN, BSN, MD, or DO degree).
  5. Check out the Peace Corps Fellows program or any possible Peace Corps scholarships at various institutions before applying.
  6. Talk to RPCVs at the institutions you applied to and ask them for advice.
  7. Talk to current students at the institutions you applied to. They are generally not there to sell you the school and will give you truthful answers.
  8. Follow the directions on the application website. Sometimes you have to send test scores and transcripts to specific places individually and not just the single application.

Good Luck! If you have any questions, feel free to email me (