Widener, Abroad, and Beyond: The Chris Palmieri Story
by Rohan Suriyage, '19
Having the liberty to freely chose someone to interview is a blessing, and a curse. When deciding people to interview my mind floated around the idea of choosing Chris, but it took some time to "pull the trigger" and do so. Chris and I are close friends, former roomates, and very familiar with one another, so I saw choosing him as a conflict of interest. Upon receiving the green light to choose his anything-but-linear undergraduate career as the subject matter, I was able to sit down with Chris an conduct an interview revolving around his Widener career and traveling abroad from school-bred opportunities.
Chris is 22, a junior nursing major, and about to finish up his fourth year of undergraduate studies. The first sentence doesn't line up from first glance, and this is because Chris changed his major to nursing at the end of our freshman year. Since then the change has proven correct and noteworthy for Chris, as he resides in brilliant academic standing entering his final year. This is the story of Chris and his travelling abroad to Costa Rica in 2016 and the Dominican Republic in 2019.
RS: Did you do any extensive travelling before Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic?
CP: No. Costa Rica was my breakthrough trip. I had no exposure to international travel before I took my Sustainability in the Tropics course with [Dr. Stephen] Madigosky and the environmental science team.
RS: And that’s what prompted you to go on the trip?
CP: Yeah. I mean, I had always been interested in international affairs. No matter what my major was I was always interested in incorporating international ideas. I think a lot of my inspiration comes from my brother. He’s travelled to 12+ countries; he’s been all over the world.
RS: How did you ultimately decide to go on the Costa Rica trip?
CP: When I heard [the trip] was primarily based around the production of coffee, I was instantly sold. Being a coffee lover myself, I take a great deal in the production process and the farming…but also the commercial production, you know?
RS: Could you briefly describe Widener’s connection to the coffee production in Costa Rica?
CP: Actually, my group was the first to stay at a facility called CARES21, which is a Widener-owned student-faculty facility that’s located on the side of Volcán Poás.
RS: A… Volcano?
RS: Is the volcano active or inactive?
CP: So, it has an active and inactive head. There’s one that hasn’t erupted in many, many years, and there’s one that erupted not too long ago. I want to say 50 years ago, which we got to see. Smells like eggs.
CP: [Laughs.] Sulfur. You can’t stay up there longer than a half hour because of the sulfur concentration. It was actually pretty cool.
RS: Three years later, what stands at the forefront of your memory of the Costa Rica trip?
CP: Hand-picked coffee. [Laughs.] The first thing I think of is hand-picked coffee. And, just an absolutely, completely different appreciation of nature. One thing that will always stick in my mind is the agricultural environment there. You go out into a coffee field, and you’re not met with a sun-dried field. It’s a rich, shaded field with banana trees, and so much diversity within the production. Being able to see [commercial coffee retailer withheld]’s dried out, dead, just horrific farm and compare it with Widener’s coffee farm, which was 100% organic, it was mind blowing. Not that I’m a huge drinker of [withheld] but I know that it’s a big coffee brand, and seeing their production exploited to such a crazy extent, that was mind blowing and resonated with me the most.
RS: As noted briefly in the preface and a total shift from our talk so far, you’re currently in your third year of undergraduate nursing school. Could you briefly map out post-Costa Rica to your major change?
CP: I had made the decision to switch from an earth science to a hard science, and I went to psychology pre-physical therapy in hopes of becoming either a physical therapist or a physician’s assistant. For a while I pondered going the [Biology] track, I just wasn’t sure. I did the spring semester of my freshman year psych pre-physical therapy, switching from environmental science, and I knew it wasn’t for me. Psychology was…too dry. No offense.
RS: I’m sorry for all the Psychology majors out there reading this. [Laughs.]
CP: [Laughs.] Then, I made the drastic decision to go to nursing. The reason I say drastic is that it would push me back a whole year no matter what I did. I knew that, going in, but I truly believed that is where my passion lied and I wanted to pursue it because I had faith in myself. I’m three years deep into the program now, and I can’t say I regret a single decision that I’ve made since the major switching.
RS: Were there any points of serious difficulty in your final transition/decision? We know the nursing program has a rigorous reputation with the stature of the school and how deep it is.
CP: I think my biggest issue was going from an earth science where there’s so many moving variables and everything is theory to a career path that solely relies on the ability not only to understand and use the theory, but to put it into action with real human beings. It’s terrifying, to say the least. I experienced anxieties I never experienced before going into my first clinical, my first simulation lab, first volunteer experience at an elementary school. Everything was so new to me.
RS: To reference the circumstances of this interview, I’m intervening on your usual study schedule right now. How have your study habits changed, if at all, through this saga?
CP: They changed a lot. Tremendously. I used to be a secluded cubicle library study guy. Every night I would seclude myself, take a cubicle, study at night in the library and go back [to the dorm]. That would be my regiment. Everything changed. It was much more interactive, I started working with groups of four, five people. Rather than just reading over material it morphed into a give-and-take study style. One person would prompt a question which resulted in a good, critical-thinking based conversation. We’d jump from one idea to the next. It was totally different because environmental science is so set in stone. In nursing there can be ten right answers, but it’s what is the most right answer. Overall, everything I’ve accomplished to today I’ve earned myself. I’m very autonomous and I like to do things knowing that I have myself to thank at the root of it all.
RS: You’ve recently went to the Dominican Republic for nursing as your most recent international venture. Can you give me some background as to how the trip came to fruition?
CP: I’ll tell you a little about what inspired me to go. My mother has been involved with international volunteer work for about 15 years now. She’s been a registered nurse for 30 years now, and she’s been an associate professor at Bloomfield College for almost 15 years now. She’s been working through International Nursing Incorporated and Foundation for Peace. Foundation for Peace focuses primarily on Haitian affairs and INI focuses primarily on Dominican affairs. I got involved when my mom offered to take me for my birthday in lieu of a gift. [Laughs.] It was too good to be true; I couldn’t deny the offer.
RS: When did you leave?
CP: Early January (of 2019). It was a two-week trip where the purpose was to provide basic healthcare and health screenings for campos all around the el Cercado area.
RS: How did the nursing knowledge you’ve gained physically come into play in your DR trip?
CP: I felt—and was told—that I was so prepared as a student by many professors, RNs, and nurse practitioners from around the country. People were so impressed with how much I knew that I sent a personal email to every one of my professors thanking them for preparing me. I got so many compliments. I was actually recognized to the point where I was offered to be sponsored! One of the nurse practitioners from New England said that she would sponsor me to come back next year, and I thank Widener for all of that. If you apply yourself in our nursing courses you will be 100% ready for the real action, in real time, in real life.
RS: What was the day-to-day of your trip like?
CP: The two weeks consisted of three different types of days: clinical days, home healthcare days, and health awareness days. The days that stuck with me most were home healthcare visits. The sense of community and neighborly support was mind blowing. Upon entering any of Dominican resident’s homes they would immediately offer you coffee, or tea and bread with cookies. If you gave them minimal care, they were ecstatic. You know, you could’ve gone in there, taken their blood pressure, given them a bag of 25 tabs of Ibuprofen and some Vick’s VapoRub and they would look like they just got a million dollars.
They were so appreciative of everything we could do for them, and that was so rewarding. I saw my impact and I saw the results of what I was implementing immediately. There’s no better feeling.
RS: Beautiful. And here’s some bonus content for the readers—did you leave anything in the Dominican Republic?
CP: [Laughs.] I did. I left my unpaid iPhone 8 that had priceless pictures on it.
RS: Any plans for motive-based travel you haven’t mentioned?
CP: Yes! I do have something brewing up, actually. Recently my mother has taken on a project of attempting to start up a nursing school in Haiti. I plan to get myself involved with Haitian volunteer work and hopefully (one day) establish relations with my mom’s connections and keep an everlasting connection going on. I plan on doing volunteer work the rest of my life. After seeing the conditions that people live in it’s almost a crime to not go back and give back. At least I feel that way.
RS: Man of the people. Here we are, at the end. What are some concluding thoughts you have, especially for Widener students who would want to have a reason to go out and see the world?
CP: Travelling abroad is essential in order to be a well-rounded human. Exposing yourself to different cultures, different people, and different lifestyles gives you an overwhelming sense that we here [in the United States] are the minority of the world rather than the majority. And to any student, not just nursing students, I truly believe that your true journey, your career path, your journey of life, truly begins where your comfort zone ends. And until you leave that comfort zone, you will never know what the world has to offer.
Chris and Dr. Madigosky.
Chrs posing in front of Volcán Poás.
Chris with his mother, Lori, in the Dominican Republic.