Ryan Visbeen ’15 was in his first semester at Calvin when his roommate came home with news that no freshman in college should hear.
He had a form of cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would have to undergo treatment in between classes, varsity soccer practice and dorm activities.
“We were all like, ‘Whoa!’ That’s just not supposed to happen. ... It’s genetic, not preventable, but still, nobody expects things like that to happen,” Ryan said.
His roommate eventually beat the lymphoma, but the experience fueled Ryan’s interest in health care. He thought about becoming a physician’s assistant, but that would take an additional two years of study after Calvin. He could become a nurse, though, and start caring for people in just four years so that’s what he decided to do.*
Even if nursing is my base occupation, I can go anywhere with it.
So far, “anywhere” has meant traveling to some unexpected places with Calvin’s nursing program.
In January, he and 17 Calvin students traveled to rural India, where they visited the Comprehensive Rural Health Project, a World Health Organization model site. And though he’d been on missions trips in high school—including a medical service trip to Uganda— nothing could prepare him for what he experienced in India. When they arrived, the barrage of exotic sights, sounds and smells was what you might expect to find in a developing country.
“We got off the plane and we were packed into a little van that probably had 10 seats for 16 people. From there it was 10-hour drive [to our destination], and the traffic was crazy, with people everywhere—it was 2 a.m. and people were still out on the streets, socializing!” Ryan said.
Two villages, one difference
The real surprises came when Ryan and his classmates traveled to two poor villages in rural western India.
In one village, houses were made of stone, with satellite dishes sitting on many of them. There was fresh water, gardens growing fruits and vegetables, and a school where most of the children from the village studied. But in the other village, houses were made of straw, with cows and other livestock living in them alongside people. There was a school but no teacher.
Thirty years ago, these two villages were equal to each other in terms of living standards, education and key health indicators like infant mortality rate. Ryan and his classmates were there to study exactly why today one of these villages is thriving and one of them is not.