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Alumni Spotlight: Eileen Wang (’12)

July 10, 2017 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

Eileen near the Labrang Monastery, the largest Monastery for Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet

Eileen Wang (’12) remembers deciding to go to Maggie Walker because of its reputation for challenging gifted students and preparing them for college.  “The best part of Maggie Walker,” Eileen says, “Besides the great community and caring teachers, was being able to get out of my local area, explore Richmond and meet people from other counties.”  She is also part of a Maggie Walker family, as her older brother Evan Wang, graduated in 2011.  Eileen fondly remembers her science and foreign language classes, but like many other Governor’s School grads, her favorite class was American Literature with Mr. O’Bryan.  “The personal anthology was a transformative project that enabled me to reflect on my thoughts and experiences and put it in relation to works of literature and art. Writing my personal anthology gave me a type of wisdom and way of thinking that still sticks with me today. Mr. O’Bryan was also a unique teacher who deeply cared about his students.”

Eileen attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in Health and Societies, concentrating in Global Health and minoring in Medical Anthropology. She feels that Maggie Walker prepared her to explore several fields of interest.  “While I felt comfortable in the sciences,” she says, “I also loved taking liberal arts courses, which enabled me to think about and question the world in different ways.”

Eileen is currently finishing up a year in Hangzhou, China on a Fulbright.  When she returns to the States, she will be attending medical school at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai where she hopes to continue global health work or qualitative research.  “I am thinking of becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist, because I enjoy working with women, and believe maternal-child health is indicative of both the culture and health care system of any society,” Eileen explains.  “Eventually, I want to be a physician or professor in an academic setting so I can take care of patients, teach, and do research.”

Below, Eileen answers our questions about her research and life in Hangzhou, and offers some excellent advice to current Maggie Walker students and anyone interested in applying for a Fulbright.

When and how did you decide apply for a Fulbright?  What was that process like?

I applied for a Fulbright the summer after my junior year of college. At the time, I happened to receive a grant to do my thesis in Shanghai, China, exploring the phenomenon of cesarean deliveries on maternal request (or elective C-sections). When I was in China, I made the connections to further my research in this area. The process started early, and I had to first find a professor at a university in China, who would support me and write me a letter of invitation. I also had to write a research proposal and a personal statement, and gather professor recommendations. It is a straightforward application process—you just need to know in advance which country you want to go to, have a specific topic you’re passionate about and have someone in that country willing to support you.

Describe the research you’ve been conducting this year.

Since 1979, China has enforced a one-child rule affecting many couples (although with some exceptions). In 2016, the government relaxed the policy to allow all couples two children. I wanted to understand how this change to the two-child policy would affect decisions about delivery as well as childbearing or reproduction. I did fieldwork at two hospitals in China, observed doctor-patient interactions, administered surveys and interviewed physicians and women. I found that, in previous years, the C-section rate in China was extremely high, particularly as women believed they would only have one child and that a C-section was convenient and less painful compared to vaginal birth. Doctors could also earn more money off C-sections. However, the rate has decreased substantially in the past few years in part due to government efforts to reduce unnecessary C-sections. The two-child policy has also played a role in changing people’s minds about delivery choice, because cesarean surgeries have reproductive consequences for future pregnancies. That’s the public health gist of it. I have also been interviewing women about why they decide to have two children or not, even with the lifting of the policy. All of this has been an interesting cultural exploration.

What have you most enjoyed about living in Hangzhou?

I have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with women and physicians here, as well as to learn a little more about traditional Chinese medicine, which has always fascinated me. The best part of Hangzhou, in particular, is the area around the West Lake, which is a famous historical and cultural landmark of China. Oh, and the ability to use ubiquitous bike sharing services and pay for everything with my phone are also perks of living in Hangzhou.

What has been the hardest part about living abroad?

The hardest part of living abroad for an entire year has been missing family and friends, as well as aspects of American culture. I found that one thing that Hangzhou lacks is diversity, and university culture here is also completely different from in the US. It’s harder to make connections and to thrive in a community.

What would you tell a visitor to Hangzhou not to miss?

There’s a Chinese saying that goes “shang you tian tang, xia you su hang” – Up there is heaven, down here is Suzhou and Hangzhou. Hangzhou is considered second-tier Chinese city, but it is quite a beautiful place. I recommend strolling around the famous West Lake and also visiting the Longjing Tea fields southwest of the Lake. I would also recommend visiting Hangzhou’s Tea and Silk Museums, two products for which Hangzhou (and China in general) is famous.

Have you done any other traveling since you’ve been living in Hangzhou?

I have done so much traveling, because it’s so cheap and convenient in China. I have been to: Harbin (where I did my 3.5 month language program), Inner Mongolia, Dandong (near the border of North Korea), Taiwan, Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, and recently, Tibet. Unfortunately, Fulbright doesn’t give me much flexibility traveling outside of the country, but China itself has much to offer.

What advice would you give to current Maggie Walker students?

I would say invest deeply into causes or activities you truly care about. I used to think as a high-achieving Maggie Walker student that I needed to do everything and anything to perfection in order to be successful, and that I could just add these things to my resume. But then after I got to college, I realized that some of these activities didn’t mean much to me; being passionate about a few things was better than dabbling in many. So choose wisely, and also don’t be afraid to ask for help or find mentors to guide you.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about applying for a Fulbright?

I would say: do it. The Fulbright is such a unique fellowship because it gives you so much freedom in your work and in your learning abroad. At the same time, with great freedom comes great responsibility. I found that the people who really thrive on a Fulbright are those that are independent, driven and motivated. You have to be able to go into your year abroad with a purpose and a vision for your research …otherwise you’ll find yourself lost and home-sick.

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