Leah Wachsmuth ’19 was already well-traveled and bilingual before she embarked on a multicontinental gap year. She interned at a Malaysian kindergarten; volunteered in a Tanzanian orphanage; worked with children, elephants and turtles in Sri Lanka; and held two internships in Germany. Below, Leah reflects on what it was like to grow up with dual citizenship, the classes that captivate her (and the talents they uncovered), the German internship that crystallized her pre-med career path and why she calls Dickinson home.
Clubs and organizations:
The Harry Potter books. When I was really little my parents would read them to me; as I got a bit older, I started to read the books to them. I have probably read the books about eight times each.
On choosing a major:
I took a gap year to travel, work and do some internships [in Malaysia, Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Germany—see introductory paragraph for more information]. While in Africa I caught a stomach virus and had to go to the hospital. Despite having been brought to more of a “touristy” hospital, I couldn’t help but notice the poor conditions, low amount of staff and lack of materials. This, along with spending a lot of time at hospitals with family members, made me want to be a doctor. I want to be able to make a concrete and visible difference in people’s lives.
My parents are both from Germany, and my extended family lives there. This means that I grew up speaking both German and English. We go to Germany every summer to visit my family; I even lived there for two years—once, when I was in kindergarten, and again, during the fifth grade. Being bilingual and being able to live between two different cultures is amazing, and it is one of the things that makes me who I am.
Favorite class (so far):
Biology and chemistry are my passion, and I love to learn more in these areas. The First-Year Seminar was a great surprise, because it helped me discover how much I love writing (and that I am not bad at it either!). The international relations class was the hardest so far, but I learned tons. It taught me to follow the news closely and critically and think in systematic and informed ways.
As a kid, I wanted to be …
… an astronaut. My dad loves everything that has to do with space, so we spent many nights watching Star Wars, Star Trek and many other space-related movies.
On choosing Dickinson:
Both of my parents are professors, and my mom teaches at Vassar College, and I always knew that I wanted to go to a small, liberal-arts school in order to get a broad and well-rounded education. Being able to explore different interests and getting wide-ranging knowledge is a privilege that we have here at Dickinson. In addition, traveling is one of my greatest passions, and I wanted to be able to study abroad; Dickinson has wonderful programs for that. I also think that sustainability is very important, and that is another one of Dickinson’s strong suits. Then, when I visited Dickinson, it just seemed like the perfect fit. I fell in love with the campus and its people.
About my internships:
During my gap year I was able to intern at a hospital [in Germany]. It really helped me realize that I would love to go into the medical field.
While in Germany I also interned at the International Tracing Service, an archive located in Bad Arolsen that keeps records of Holocaust victims. Their mission is to bring families back together, provide researchers with materials and bring awareness to the public. I was able to learn a great deal about the Holocaust as well as about working in an office, translating and doing research. That internship also showed me that there are so many people with stories to tell, and it is important to listen to as many people’s stories as you can, because they can all teach you more than you think.
My goal is to go to medical school to be a neurosurgeon. I would like to do Doctors Without Borders for a while, ideally in South America or Africa, before coming back to the United States to work as a neurosurgeon. However, another option I am considering is to go into medical research. I might have an opportunity to work in a cancer research lab, and I am so excited to see if I like this kind of work.
Published August 22, 2016