Sarah Fishtrom is a Health Corps Coordinator at Kurt Hahn High School in Brooklyn, New York. Sarah is Danish and has the gift of being excited about whatever you are excited about, which makes her joy to work with. Health Corps Coordinators are a widespread group, but we find ways to stay connected, and recently I was able to catch up with her in Brooklyn from Clarksdale, Mississippi to reflect on the work Health Corps is doing:
NATHAN: Evening, Sarah! First off, summer has recently come to a close, how did you spend your time during summer break?
SARAH: I spent one month training the incoming cohort of Health Corps Coordinators in New York. During the remaining weeks of summer, I lived in Denmark working at an amusement park. At the amusement park I oversaw the rubber duck pond game and horse derby game. Its like a derby where little horses run around and you bet on a number, and if you win you get chocolate.
NATHAN: Was this the first time you had returned to Denmark as a Health Corps Coordinator?
NATHAN: What did you notice in the health environment in Denmark compared to that of the U.S.?
SARAH: First, the biking culture. In Denmark everyone rides bicycles and during morning rush hour you need to find your place, like you are in a race.
NATHAN: How was that? We usually associate rush-hour with high-stress.
SARAH: Yeah its a lot of fun, biking for two hours a day is normal just to get around. People take much more time to do a lot of things. Like digest food. It’s interesting to see this coming from New York to Denmark.
In Denmark they eat thick, brown, rye bread that you really need to chew, with herring, so you eat it slowly. And they will, like, cut things, in order to put lunch together, you know what I mean? I don’t think you even need to chew a Big Mac bun and some New Yorkers think a latte on the run is lunch. For breakfast too, I will sit and talk for a long time before we get up and go.
And everyone understands that you need time for these things. Work starts later because your boss knows you are riding a bike to get there. They have time to bike and eat and swim and relax. What this amounts to is a strong effect on mental health and well being.
This is something that Americans struggle with, but the truth is that Americans have many more stressors in society. Health Corps is working to challenge this by making slow processes a reality. We will do things like planting seeds in gardens or taking the time to say things we are grateful for before we eat with cooking classes or leading meditation exercises. These things take time, and they slow us down. My students and I are making Yoga videos too. It’s pretty funny.
NATHAN: Your Health Corps colleague from Houston, Stew, sent an email out today, and he signed off as “C.R.E.A.M., (Carrots Rule Everything Around Me)”. To me, that just speaks of outrageous optimism and enthusiasm. Can you shed some light on the role that attitude has played within Health Corps, and what we as non-profit workers can do to tap into this source of CREAM?
SARAH: I love that! What makes HC stand out is that we are a passionate group that is relentless about positive energy, which is so crazy to find in a large group of people. I have had success in the school because students recognize that teacher that smiles, and I know that other coordinators are working this way too. Take green smoothies, for example. If you put someone in a cafeteria who is worn out and not into it, green smoothies are not going to sell. But if you put a Health Corps coordinator behind green smoothies who is excited about it, high school students are much more likely to go for it. I know that Stew genuinely loves carrots. In a similar way, I genuinely love avocados.
NATHAN: What about those days when we don’t feel the CREAM mentality, how do we live up to ourselves when it doesn’t come to us at the moment we wake up in the morning?
SARAH: First off, schools begin to expect that Health Corps that is going to bring the CREAM, and I have a job where I wake up every believing in what I do and I love it. But if I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, I just have to practice what I preach… so I will do some exercises, or stretches, or meditate, or cook a good breakfast. And then I’m there… I have the energy to share it. It takes practice. And health is what you make it, but the best part is finding common ground with other people around these activities.
NATHAN: What healthy habit are you stoked on right now?
SARAH: I just invested in a tune up for my bike and I have been biking across the Brooklyn Bridge and up the Westside Highway. I have a basket on my bike, so I will carry some fruit too. I am also going to learn a word from the dictionary every day and do pushups every day for a month. They say anything that you do for thirty days will become a habit.
Yesterday the word of the day was tittle, it means a really small amount.