I remember it well. It was October of 1992; I had started my new position as director of the office of international affairs at a major hospital alliance a few weeks earlier, and my first “business trip” was going to be either to Boston or Tashkent! One-half of my time (think 80% +) was subcontracted to a Washington-DC based consortium whose mission was to help the nations of the now “former Soviet Union” build much-needed health system capacity. Funded through a series of cooperative agreements with USAID, the first partnerships linking US hospitals with their counterparts in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan were formed. I was eager to get started and to work the former USSR for the contractor, and the rest of the world for my primary employer. I was all set for the challenge that awaited me!
A colleague and I started with Russian language lessons at the university in Kansas. The teacher showed up for 4 days, and suddenly, we had a challenge. She was never to be seen again. In those 4 days, I learned lots of letters, many sounds, and a few words, but I had no idea how to put my limited knowledge together to form a sentence or elicit a response. We had no lemons, and lemonade was not an option, so with my limited language skills, I was ready for the first trip.
It would not have been my first time to Boston because I was the former president of a national nursing association headquartered in the Cambridge area. I was comfortable with the proposed itinerary.
It would not have been my first time to the former Soviet Union because I had been privileged to lead a delegation of healthcare professionals to the area in 1990 through People to People. At that time, the country was the USSR, and the 26-member delegation traveled on a group visa, facing challenges like reprimands and interrogation if someone stepped out of line or out of place. Things were different then.
Communication was a challenge; there was no such thing as the internet, and connectivity was limited to a fax machine supplied (with a generator for power) by an oilman from Houston who was working in his sister city, Baku. We brought our own emergency medical supplies, which unfortunately, we used often.
And now, years later, challenges were everywhere: transportation, language, resources, politics, weather, finances, and results. Challenges might be a game-changer for some; for me, challenges are opportunities – to enhance outcomes, produce results, conquer language barriers, make new friends, and create a future!
As the year 2023 comes to a close, think about the challenges in your life, and how you can create opportunities that will improve the lives of those in your city, state, province, country and beyond! Now is the time to make lemonade from lemons and to transform our future. Now is the time to embrace opportunity!