October Student Profile: Hilary Sadowsky

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This is the sixth installment of a monthly feature on the PACS website. This monthly profile of PACS and MPACS students will give a small snapshot into the pursuits and experiences of our students.

Hilary SadowskyHaving first attended college to become a paramedic, to then pursuing a certificate in Indigenous learning at Algoma University in Sault St. Marie, to now studying PACS at Conrad Grebel with a political science minor, Hilary Sadowsky has a passion for learning. Although the PACS program wasn’t as clear cut about peace as she thought it would be, the flexibility and interdisciplinary nature of it was the right fit for her. She took advantage of the ability to petition courses from other disciplines to truly mold the program to match her needs and interests. She says,

Petitioning courses or overriding prerequisites has allowed me to do so much with my degree. I have never, not once, taken a course that I did not want to take, in my university career.

Hilary’s learning didn’t end in the classroom either. This past summer, she did a three-month field study placement in Uganda, working with the organization One4Another International, a pediatric surgical program designed to help children in Uganda receive life-altering surgeries. These are all “medical conditions we have in Canada but typically we’d have them dealt with early on in a child’s life, like a cleft palate wouldn’t go years without being corrected, a club foot wouldn’t go years without being corrected… In Canada, they would never be left to go that long”. In Uganda, despite having a free, public healthcare system, corruption means that people are forced to pay anyways – which many can’t afford. The organization partners with clinics and hospitals to assess patient needs and connect them with a specialist or surgeon. Hilary worked alongside two Canadians and two Ugandan employees as a consultant of sorts, promoting the program and also assisting with the administrative tasks that keep the organization running. When asked about her experience there, she said:

I loved it! The heat I wasn’t fond of, I could go without the heat. But the program and the people. Oh gosh, the people were so amazing. I had two coworkers… and they were just phenomenal.

Hilary loved spending time with the kids, seeing their progress and getting to know their families. For Hilary, relationships were at the core of everything they did:

We faced so many challenges in the medical program, but everything seemed to work out because we had really good relationships with the kids and their families. And also when you’re [volunteering abroad], and you’re totally removed from your comfort zone, the relationships you have with people is sort of what sustains you, or what sustained me.

Her closest friends ended up being colleagues and the staff at the guesthouse where she lived; cooking with them in a lean-to shack out back became a cherished time where she got to spend time with the women, learn the local language, and also learn to cook the local food (despite having to overcome a bit of germophobia).

Going abroad, or field study placements in general, are not without their challenges. Hilary had to adjust to the local food, cooking over a charcoal fire, no air conditioning, and doing laundry by hand. It also means dealing with a different culture and perspectives when it comes to healthcare, religion, race and gender. But in the end, it’s overcoming those challenges and leaving with a fresh perspective that makes it all the more worthwhile.  While some people bring home statues, figurines, jewellery or fabric as souvenirs, Hilary toted home her laundry basin and a bar of soap, because it was those things that signified just what she had overcome and served as a reminder of where she’d been.

While Hilary admits that international placements aren’t for everyone, she does recommend everyone participate in a field study (domestic or international) if they can. The important thing is to not be afraid of stepping outside of your comfort zone: the most rewarding and life-changing experiences happen when you’re willing to leave behind the things you know to find what else is out there. This ‘aha’ moment came to Hilary during breakfast one morning, when once again she was served a brown, “less-than-perfect” banana. For a while, she was hesitant to eat this banana because it wasn’t the bright, yellow, plump banana seen as ideal. But when she finally gave in, she found out that it was the best banana she’d ever tasted; all it took was letting go of her ideals of how things should be.

Hilary’s currently in her final year of PACS and is graduating in April. She then has plans to return to Sault St. Marie and continue working as a paramedic for the time being. The PACS program and her field experiences have left her with a myriad of options, from working internationally in aid and development to working locally with First Nations communities; the challenge becomes, “which way do I go?”