Grace Cho understands the immigrant version of the American dream. She’s living it.
But for the past two weeks, the 21-year-old Emory nursing student has received a hands-on lesson in a very different immigrant experience – that of the migrant farm worker.
Cho, who lives in Alpharetta, is participating in a program that provides free medical care for those who work the farms near Moultrie in south Georgia. She sees the dehydration, heat exhaustion, untreated infections, burns and rashes. People come to her with pain in their feet, knees, backs, necks, shoulders – just about anywhere than can hurt.
Like other students in the program, she records her experiences in a daily journal.
» MYAJC.COM EXCLUSIVE: Read Grace Cho's complete journal of her experiences in Moultrie
From Grace’s journal: As I took blood pressure of these young patients, it made me reflect that although we are of the same age group, I’m in school to be a future health care provider while they pick vegetables to send money back to their family in Mexico. The thought made me very grateful for what I have, and I respect the young (and old) farm workers willing to come over to the U.S. to work and send money back home for their families.
Grace was born in South Korea; her family came to the United States when she was 8. Her family has struggled. She still shops at the Goodwill store.
The family moved around a lot. She attended five elementary schools and three high schools. Now her parents own a coin-operated laundry and a dry cleaning pickup business.
She was naturalized last year.
“I am an American citizen. That’s very important, very big,” she said.
She remembers the early years, when she was not a citizen and times were hard. Her parents worried about how they would get credit and buy a house.
But the farm workers face a whole different array of challenges. “I kind of feel for them,” she said. “I’m grateful. We weren’t living at that level. We were a little better off.”
» MORE FROM MOULTRIE: Other entries from the Emory nursing students working in South Georgia
She recalled one worker who had pain in his upper back, had big knots in his muscles. He was a picker, bending up and down all day.
“I work out and I get a little sore,” she said. “He had big bulging knots of muscles. It showed me how much they work. It made me reflect.”
She has also been struck by the gratitude of the workers.
From Grace’s journal: One thing I have observed was that the population we saw today was friendly and really appreciated what we do, which motivated me (and the others) even more to provide the best care as we can.
Grace chose to come here during her summer vacation. She thought about using the time to sharpen her skills in a clinical setting, but in Moultrie she has seen a different side of her profession.
From Grace’s journal: I have learned tonight that nursing isn’t all about the tasks or the clinical skills. Just because you don’t know how to put an IV almost unconsciously, for example, does not mean that you are a bad nurse. A nurse should be able to communicate and bond with his/her patients in order to provide the best, individualized care as much as possible.