This year, my work study job is leading campus tours for prospective students visiting for admissions interviews. One question that I consistently get is, “Should I bring a car to Chicago?” As easy as the question sounds, I have such a hard time answering it, and here is why.
I own a car that I still make payments on, but I don’t even keep it with me in Chicago. That sounds stupid, right? Well, it is not that simple. It’s part of my “Let’s be creative with money while I’m in optometry school” plan. I’ve always had a vehicle in high school and undergrad. In college, I was that person who took four or five carless people for weekly grocery store runs. At the time, I remember thinking, “How do they live without a car?” In the four years between graduating from college and entering ICO, I was working and I acquired an awesome Honda Civic coupe (I call her Miss Galaxy, after her color, galaxy grey). In addition to getting a fantastic 33 miles per gallon, I now also had a car loan. On top of the loan payments that my student self couldn’t afford, there are additional expenses that go along with maintaining a car. My creative plan involved keeping the Civic with my Milwaukee-based fiancé, who drives a Ford F-150 (14 MPG). To save some money on gas while visiting me down in Chicago–we’re talking almost 200 miles of driving every other week–he drives Miss Galaxy. With the gas money he saves by driving my car for these visits, as well as routine driving in Milwaukee, he contributes extra money to my car payment–meaning he pretty much pays for the car that I can’t afford. And, I’m able to access my car for those few times each quarter when it’s necessary, and have it available when it’s time to go out to externship sites during fourth year rotations.
When my fiancé recently traveled to the East Coast for an extended work trip, he asked me if I wanted the car back full-time for a month. I’ve missed the freedom and flexibility a car can provide so I jumped on the opportunity. I ran a mini-experiment on how much more I would love or hate my life in Chicago when I’ve got a car versus my normal life without one.
Drs. Roy and Associates is where my love for optometry started and grew. Back in 2009, I found their job posting on Craigslist for a technician, and I applied for the job to gain some patient exposure while making some extra income. I worked with six amazing optometrists, all ICO alums, who gave me wonderful insight and unique perspectives on the profession. After working as an optometric technician for over a year, I applied to ICO and follow in their optometric footsteps.
Top: with Debra Simon, OD ’01 (left) and Cara Ystad, OD ’05 (middle)
Bottom: I am a queen of Optomap, a good screening tool for viewing patient’s retina without the hassel of dilating pupils.
I’m lucky to have these optometrists to look up to, and I’ve continued my relationship with the practice, keeping in touch with all of the doctors and staff members. During my first year at ICO, I continued to help them out by traveling to Wisconsin and assisting during busy times. I’m fortunate that now, during second year, I’ve been able to work at the practice even more.
Optometry school is really expensive and money becomes a great stressor for a lot of us. You’re borrowing so much for tuition and essential living expenses that any out-of-the-ordinary financial circumstances are difficult to swallow. When I expressed frustration about this during a phone conversation with one of the practice’s owners, she was generous enough to offer me the opportunity to return to Wisconsin to work for a weekend or two whenever my scheduled allowed. I think I’m one of a very lucky few people who gets to work whenever I can.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!
Um, or not. Since I’m a second year, I’ve now had two birthdays at ICO… both of which have been clouded by exams.
Last year wasn’t so bad. Our third optics exam of the winter quarter fell on my birthday and was at 8 a.m., as all of our midterm exams are. So, I was able to get that out of the way, answer all of the phone calls from out-of-town family and friends, and take time to stalk people on Facebook to see who was paying attention to me on my glorious day. And there was a nice dinner, a boyfriend with flowers, etc.
I didn’t get so lucky this year. As the majority of my classmates would agree, the most difficult and challenging course of second year is the three-quarter long Pharmacology sequence. And of course, my birthday fell on Sunday (along with the Super Bowl), with the Pharmacology exam looming on Monday morning. We second years weren’t as luck as the first years, and many of were really bummed about missing the big game due to studying.
As long as I was going to be spending the whole weekend studying instead of enjoying my birthday with friends and family, I made the decision that a poor result on the exam was simply not an option. This was great motivation to really put my all into studying, not to mention I really needed a good grade on this exam since my last two grades suffered from my lack of ability to memorize 100-plus drug names and their mechanisms in a mere 24 hours. So I studied. I studied really hard. I started on Friday afternoon and wasn’t going to stop until Monday morning. Honestly, if one of my classmates had said, “Forget this, we’re going out to celebrate your birthday,” I think I would stopped and thought about how miserable I was. Fortunately, not one person showed their wild side this weekend, including myself, and we all buckled down.
I’ll be the first to admit that it is extremely hard to find the time to do fun stuff with the schedule that we have at ICO. But I also know the importance of taking a break when things feel overwhelming. One of the many things I take advantage of as a healthy time away from books and practicing skills is hanging out with my colleague group. When one arrives at ICO as a first year, s/he is put into a group with a faculty member during the orientation weekend according to the region that they are from. This year, instead of just being a group member, myself and two other second years have had the privilege of leading a group of seven first years from Texas, New York and Wisconsin. Random, I know. Our faculty colleague, Dr. Yi Pang, suspects that it may be due to most of us having multiple places of origin–she’s originally from China and has lived in a variety of places; I’m originally from South Korea and moved to the Dairy State as a teenager. Whatever the reason, we try to get together at least once every quarter and make sure everything is going smoothly for the first years and force ourselves to forget about school for a few hours.