I’m ecstatic to bring you my first official interview for this blog, featuring a beautifully compassionate and exceptionally smart 20-something woman living in the Midwest. I first met Keelin several years ago, when she was in high school and I had just started working with her mom in the real estate industry. Over the years of knowing Keelin I’ve seen her progression from teenager, to moving from Wisconsin to Minnesota to attend college, to traveling to other countries, to ultimately becoming a confident woman filled with light, wonderful aspirations, and the determination to leave her mark on some of the communities that need her most. Keelin is the epitome of what makes a woman beautiful. She is an incredible soul with a great desire to help others and make the world a better place.
To give you a brief intro, here’s a little bit about Keelin’s background before we jump into the interview. Keelin grew up in Guelf, Canada until 2nd grade when her family moved to Middleton, WI which is where she lived until after high school graduation. Her undergraduate career was spent at the University of Minnesota where she earned a BSN in Health and Wellness with an emphasis on Public Health, accompanied by a Spanish minor. During the span of her undergraduate studies, Keelin spent five months in Toledo, Spain immersed in Spanish culture and language while interning at a hospital for paraplegics and studying for college credits (including a course on Spanish women and gender roles throughout history). Keelin is a Power Yoga Teacher, Reiki level 1, and a nutrition enthusiast. Most recently, Keelin took a post-graduation trip to Las Salinas, Rivas, Nicaragua where she lived for 90 days with a Nicaraguan host family to intern at a clinic for women and children. Her next step is to pursue a Masters of Public Health degree at the University of Minnesota where she’d like to specialize in Maternal Child Health.
As we sat and sipped tea, we chatted about where Keelin has been, where she’s going, and some of her takeaways from her experiences thus far.
Me: Keelin, thank you for agreeing to be my very first guest! Let’s start by having you fill in any gaps from the intro and sharing a little bit about your aspirations in life.
Keelin: I never started out knowing what I wanted to study. In high school, I wanted to be a teacher. I ended up choosing the University of Minnesota because of their Kinesiology program. I declared Kinesiology as my major, only to find out halfway through my first year that I did NOT want to do that. From there I chose nursing, and I pursued that whole heartedly, and I loved it. I studied my butt off for about a year and a half. I loved what I was studying, I loved what I was pursuing, and I loved WHY I was pursuing it. Two of the courses I had to take for the pre-nursing degree were community health, and a complementary medicine course (UMN is very holistic), so I decided to take a Reiki level 1 course. These two courses are what completely changed my views on public health 180 degrees. Shortly after taking these courses I found out that I was not accepted to Minnesota’s nursing program, and would have to choose another degree route (mind you, this is now the end of my sophomore year). Lucky for me, I had an amazing advisor who saw where my passions lay and introduced me to one of the oldest, but lesser known degrees at Minnesota, the BS in Health and Wellness, where I was able to choose my concentrations (public health, complementary medicine, and Spanish) and still take all the required courses for nursing school (should I so choose to ever go back for it).
Me: What was your motivation or inspiration in choosing to take the Child and Maternal Health route?
Keelin: I started off taking classes in public health, but my degree did not focus on maternal and child health. I took a couple classes regarding this particular “theme” in Spain when I took the Women in Spanish History course and I absolutely fell in love with learning about the way women have shaped and continue to shape this world. This, mixed with my passion for healthcare is what drove me to take more classes back in the U.S. From there I wanted to do more, which is when I found the Tubman Center in Minneapolis and went from there. I decided I could use teaching yoga as a tool to work with women and children. I got together with a few of the women that I did my yoga teacher training with in Minneapolis and we decided to work together to co-teach a yoga class once a week on a volunteer basis at the Tubman Center in Minneapolis which is for families, mostly women, who are coming from some negative environment in their household – whether that’s emotional or physical abuse, drugs, or just not feeling safe in their home for whatever reason – they go there as a safe place to stay while they find their next place to live, or a new job, or something along those lines. Just as kind of a halfway for their new life. And so, we started co-teaching yoga classes and working with the women there and it was awesome. It wasn’t necessarily very consistent; some days we would have full classes and some days nobody would show up. So, I guess if you’re going to base success off of consistency, then that wouldn’t be the way that I would describe it, but it was super successful in my mind because even though we didn’t see the same women every single week, after every class there was at least one person who was like: I haven’t felt peace in I can’t tell you how long and I’m walking away feeling really, really light right now and I just want to thank you so much for that. And for them it was like, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to come back next week… because these women are coming in and out of this place, and its high turnover, and they have their families that they’re worrying about and they’re trying to get their feet on the ground. But just to bring that practice into people’s lives – even if it’s just for an hour – it opens a door and it does amazing things. And yoga did amazing things for me, that’s why I got into it in the first place. So that was my big A-HA moment I guess of like, YES! This is what I want to do, I want to work with women and I also love children, so I’d love to work with them as well. That was my first step in that direction and then I got the job with Foundation of International Medical Relief of Children – FIMRC – down in Nicaragua. My whole reasoning for wanting to be there with them was because their clinic specifically focused on Maternal and Child Health. It was really emphasized there and that was great, so when I went down to Nicaragua that’s exactly who I worked with. I did work with some men as well which was actually really great because male support there isn’t the same as it is in the United States. So that kind of became a goal after being there for a while. I was like, I love working with these women, but I want to get these men to get involved, to get behind them. So yeah, it’s been opening up my mind in a lot of different ways as to what it means to work with women and children and the importance of it. Family is a whole thing, it’s holistic – it’s the kids, the mom, the dad – but, it really starts with the woman. So, to have them be supported is one of the most important things.
Me: So, what would you say was your most surprising lesson or most important takeaway from your experience in Nicaragua?
Keelin: I have two answers for that. I have a really big personal lesson I learned which was just how to be still. You would think I would kind of know how to do that being a yoga instructor for so long, but I was very much not okay with it and I didn’t know I wasn’t okay with it until I got there and I was all alone. I was unfamiliar with the culture and I wasn’t quite comfortable going out by myself. I didn’t have any form of transportation, so anywhere I wanted to go was by walking or by riding my little pink bike with a basket, and it took forever and it was exhausting to go anywhere because the roads were dirt roads that were not easy to bike on.
I was in all aspects – physically, emotionally, mentally – super uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was distract myself, to do something to take my mind off of it so that I wouldn’t have to think about it and I could just move on. I didn’t realize how good I was at escaping discomfort. It was really humbling because as a yoga teacher I’m always saying breathe into the discomfort. That’s what yoga is about – finding your discomfort, breathing into it, and making yourself comfortable in that discomfort, in that awkward situation. I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. I was really good at running away from stuff. And so, I had to learn how to sit with awkwardness and being uncomfortable and making myself comfortable in those situations by myself. And breathing into that space and just being present in that space. And once I did that, I remember – it seems kind of corny to recount now, it’s actually making me a little bit emotional – but I remember the only thing I found that was kind of my way of distracting myself at first was running. I like to run, but I don’t like to run that much, but I was running every day because that was the only thing I could find to do. So, one day I was running my route and then I ran a little bit further than I normally did along the beach and I came to this gated community that was just like these mansions. Mansions on mansions. Which was so funny because 5 minutes down the road was my little shack. I didn’t know what it was at first, so I was just wandering through it and then this guard came out and was like where do you think you’re going? and I was like I’m really sorry, I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to be here and he said yeah, this is private you can’t come in here. And this was all in Spanish mind you. I apologized again and then I left and I started to feel uncomfortable once again so I started to run and then I came back to this spot called Magnific Rock and its just this rock that juts out into the ocean that you can walk on when its low tide and I thought to myself well I got done early with my run so I’ll walk out there. I walked out to the end and sat down and I wasn’t expecting it because I hadn’t cried yet since I’d arrived in Nicaragua (and this was about 3 weeks in), but I just started bawling and could not stop. I said God, I just want to be okay and I just want all of this fear and discomfort and pain to be gone and I remember all the sudden feeling a wave of peace wash over me. It was like God was saying It’s okay. You’ve been keeping this all bottled up for several weeks, you’ve been running away from it – like physically running away from it – and now you’re letting it out and it’s okay and you’re going to be fine. You know you’re never alone, even when you feel like you’re alone you’re never alone. You’ve always got people around you. It took 3 weeks of me being there, but I finally learned how to sit in discomfort and that was a huge personal lesson for me.
Then professionally I learned a lot too. I learned a lot about health care in a very different way. Our clinic there had a pharmacy and four doctors. When I wasn’t working on my own projects, I helped run the clinic, working with the patients there and helping the doctors get all the vitals and stuff like that. But I also got to participate in a few things that the clinic had to do in the community. Like once we had to go house to house the entire day dumping a little scoop full of this blue powder – that smelled horrible – into everybody’s wells and water sources to kill all the mosquito larvae to stop the spread of malaria, dengue fever, and other sorts of mosquito-borne illnesses. That was super eye-opening to chat with the owners of the homes about what this stuff was, why it’s important for their health and their family’s health, and then to see the different variety of homes that there were in this community. It varied from dirt floors, to no roof, to no doors, to people with flat screen TVs, or giant stereo systems. That was one of the more eye-opening experiences. Then another one that we did was that we went from school to school in all the communities to give vaccinations. Vaccinations are government forced there – so you can’t run away from them. If you don’t come to get the vaccinations, the vaccinations are coming to you. That also was really, really interesting to participate in. I actually gave vaccinations – at the time I was like I feel so medical right now. But that was really cool because we went out into the communities in the mountains to do that. So, we were walking ten minutes between each house to give out these vaccinations. Just the things that FIMRC is able to do in those communities with such minimal resources (by United States standards) was incredible. I can envision maybe a United States physician going there, and seeing these things, and saying this is so unsanitary, or you’re not doing this properly. And I did see that with some groups of volunteers that came down who were nurses or pre-med and they were like why can’t we do this, this, and this and it’s like well, we don’t have those resources so we have to use the resources we do have, to do it this way and it still gets done, and people are still healthy and they’re still safe. Just the crazy things that I learned down there about healthcare and keeping people healthy in minimalist ways – it was nuts. We’re so, so lucky in the United States to have the resources that we do have but it’s just good to know that we don’t need those things. That being minimalist about your health is actually okay and it works just the same. So that was also a big takeaway too.
Me: What are your dreams and goals for after your graduate studies?
Keelin: Gosh, that’s like the fifth time I have been asked that this week (we chuckle), and my answer every time has been that’s a really good question. I don’t have a very specific goal in mind. I had one person be like well if you could do anything, what would you do? If I could do absolutely anything I would just go everywhere. But I do know this: I do know that I want to work with women and children and I know that I am very passionate about working with women during their pregnancy. So, I’ve contemplated the idea of taking public health into midwifery or nursing of some sort – that’s still on the table. But the only two things I’m one hundred percent sure about are working with women during pre-natal and post-natal phases of their lives, because pregnancy is just one of the most amazing things and it’s such a huge transition time for so many women. It can be really hard mentally, emotionally, and physically. Having a support system is crucial during that time, especially if you don’t have that at home as a woman. So, I know that is what I want to focus on and I know I want to teach yoga. If there’s a way I can combine the two of those and do that, that is ideal for me but I don’t have a specific goal in mind. I’m sure it will be some sort of mixture of those two and nutrition because I can’t not do nutrition – thanks Dad.
Me: Who would you say is your biggest influence?
Keelin: My Mom. My Momma. I think most girls say that, but she really is. And you know my Mom very well so I think you know why. She’s just done incredible things with her life coming from minimal. I’m really lucky I got to grow up with such a good role model. Sometimes I thought she was being a hard ass, but she just knew that I could do better and that helped me believe in myself. I think she may regret it a bit now because now I’m always traveling, and always going places and doing things and she’s like I just want you home. And I want to be home with her too, but she’s put all of this information in me and I look up to her so much that I just want to make her proud. She’s always believed in me and always told me I can do anything I want to do, and so manifesting that, now I want to do EVERYTHING. She’s my biggest role model.
Now we get into the Lightning Round:
**I’d like to note that Keelin was a VERY gracious first guest. She was patient and kind when I made a couple of first-timer blunders during the interview. Thank you for that, Keelin!**