Twice a year we award an exemplary student the iVein® Health and Wellness Scholarship. Students must write an essay that promotes a practical approach to a healthy lifestyle in college and how these habits can be sustained over a lifetime.
Here is the winning essay for the Spring 2022 scholarship:
I still remember the amused look on my father’s face as he watched my sister and me spread bitter leaves out to dry on a sunny afternoon. We were so focused on our task that we could only spare him a few glances, wondering what he found so funny.
“Do you guys really think you would have the time to cook all that… in university?” His voice had a confusing mix of laughter, sympathy, and disbelief.
We could not understand what he found so amusing about our plan; to us, it was a phenomenal one. We had it perfectly laid out: we would dry as many ingredients as we could; that way, if it became challenging to go to the market to get fresh ingredients with the demanding university schedule, the dry ingredients would be a perfect back-up plan. Hence, we would always be able to cook our own meals. We bought all the kitchen utensils that we could think of, including ones that most university students never fathom bringing to school. To us, university was an anticipated war and we were readying our armour; if we would go down, we would not do that without a fight.
My family has always been a health-conscious one. There are histories of diabetes and hypertension in my family, so my parents have been particular about our food choices since I was young. We rarely add sugar to drinks and snacks, junk food is discouraged in our home, and I grew up thinking that fruits and vegetables were the most delicious food group on the planet. We always drink ample amounts of water; first thing upon arising and at least three litres a day. However, daily exercise was not emphasised. I now realise that I came from a very health-conscious family, save for the poor emphasis on exercise.
When I heard about the horrors of university and the complicated manner with which it drove students to make dreadful food choices, I was appalled. Given my background, I could not imagine such horror stories being my reality. In an attempt to circumvent the impending doom, my sister and I fervently designed our fool proof plan to ensure that we got adequate nutrition while in university.
It was not long before our plan crumbled. We quickly learnt that the forces that govern students’ poor nutrition – and general lifestyle – choices were deeper than we could comprehend. By the end of the first semester, we had already relegated our ingredients and utensils to the background, only using them on rare occasions. However, we were only able to do this because we attended university in Enugu State, a South-Eastern Nigerian state that is renowned for its tasty, nutritious, and – most importantly – affordable food options. In addition, our home was nearby, so our parents often brought containers of homemade food to us in school. Given all these, we were able to passively maintain a nutritious diet throughout our years in university. I still consider myself fortunate to have had those options.
Nutrition aside, university taught me other things about my health and wellness that I had not noticed previously. There, I realised that I had a sleep problem. I usually like things to be organised, and I found that I would always wake up at night to organise things in my room. This went on throughout university, and I barely got adequate sleep as a result. I also started to emphasise exercise; I tried to get about twenty minutes of intense exercise whenever I could. However – as with the food – I faltered, but walking around campus each day was a true workout, and I was able to get passive exercise that way.
I had gone into university fully prepared to defeat the stereotypes and be a star in the health department, but I realised that I had a lot to learn. I was naïve in my approach but having a proposed framework helped me to detect weaknesses in my overall wellness. This is what I now consider to be the most important part of university: an opportunity to study oneself more. Although I had a decent background in good nutrition, I learnt that I was still lacking in that aspect, and was able to detect flaws in my exercise and sleep patterns. University students are often chided for their poor health choices, and they can feel pressured to focus on different aspects of their health and try to ‘fix’ as much of it as possible. However, my advice would be to pause, evaluate one’s current preferences and environment, and try to progress from there.
The lessons I learnt about my wellness in university have continued to guide me. When I graduated and no longer had the privilege of passive nutrition and exercise, I had to make a conscious effort to maintain those aspects. In 2020, I began practising yoga religiously, and worked on getting consistent sleep each night. By improving these aspects of my health, I was able to study effectively for the MCAT – an important exam required for admission into U.S. medical schools – and am now completing post-baccalaureate studies in the U.S. to prepare me for medical school. I strongly believe that paying attention to my health and wellness helped me to succeed before, and during, my current studies in the U.S.
Good nutrition, adequate exercise, adequate sleep, emotional and mental wellbeing, and even environmental cleanliness, are few aspects of health that are important. While students may be unable to excel in these aspects, university is a useful place to pay attention to the aspects that are lacking and strive to improve them. Maintaining good health is an unending learning process, one that requires patience, constant effort, and determination.
My father eventually had the last laugh. Today, almost six years later, some of those dried leaves remain in our home, tucked away in a corner. However, like the leaves, the invaluable lessons I learnt in university still remain, and I consider that to be the greatest gift.