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Five minutes with: Ansley Semack

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She stood 216 meters above the Bloukrans River in South Africa with only a bungee fastened around her ankles and prepared to jump.

“The first second that your feet are not on the actual bridge, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’” 2010 North alumna and University of Michigan senior Ansley Semack said. “But by then you’re already going down so fast that you can’t even comprehend that, and I don’t know, it was so free.”

Last July in South America, Semack and a group from the non-profit organization she volunteered with ventured just outside of Cape Town, South Africa to explore.

“We took a weekend trip, my entire program and I, and went and did all these different things along the coast, and we rode ostriches and stuff like that,” Semack said. “So yeah, I went bungee jumping. It was amazing. I kind of like that kind of thrill stuff, like I love rollercoasters and stuff, but I wasn’t actually that scared to do it.”

Her month spent in Africa, however, was not all fun and games. Semack volunteered for a non-profit organization called Child Family Health International where she shadowed South African doctors in a hospital.

“They have programs that allow pre-med students, medical students, nursing students, anything in the health professions, to travel to either developing countries or places that aren’t as developed as the United States, and depending on your education level and what you’re trained to do from home, you’re allowed to observe or practice medicine in these countries,” Semack said.

“Every day for four weeks during the workweek, we’d get up and go to a hospital. And they have a three-tier hospital system which ranges from your primary health care, which is just if you need checkups, or you need your monthly set of prescriptions or something, you go there, and that’s really close to you.”

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Medicine is something that Semack has been interested in since high school, but she didn’t expect she’d end up working with it in South Africa.

“I originally was really on a trick to just travel. I really just wanted to go somewhere and get a chance to travel, leave America, it was my first time leaving the country. I wanted to go to Africa just because that was kind of really random,” she said. “A lot of my friends have done the study abroad thing in Europe, and while I know they had amazing experiences … that wasn’t how I wanted to get my worldly experience.”

Now with her African experience under her belt, Semack hopes to move to Maryland to work for one to two years after graduation this spring and then return to a large university for her MD-PhD.

“(University of) Michigan has a program that I would be really keen on going to for my MD-PhD because it’s eight years, and it’s good to go to a big research institute because you’re continuing to do research,” Semack said. “I talked to people in the program at U of M, and there’s just a lot of resources there and infrastructure that helps you transition through switching through med school and grad school and stuff like that.”

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As for returning to Africa, Semack hopes to in the future but isn’t rushing it.

“I would love to return to Cape Town sometime in my future just for vacation, for a holiday. It was a beautiful, beautiful city. I have a lot of friends there now, and I know places because I was there and living in the city and living with a family and everything,” she said. “So I would definitely go back there sometime in my life and hopefully bring some friend or family to show them where I was.”

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Q & A SESSION:

Is Africa your favorite place you’ve traveled?

That was the first time I’ve left the country except for Canada. They have their own racial and government issues, and it’s still pretty prevalent because that only ended about twenty years ago. I wanted to go somewhere just different, just out of my element completely, and it definitely was. It was hard the first week, I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ but after that I embraced it wholeheartedly and loved every minute of it. I definitely want to go back. I’d love to go to other African countries and just places in South Africa itself.

 

What was your favorite subject in high school?

Definitely the sciences. I loved my AP Biology class with Mrs. Spiers. I loved that, and most of my science classes I really enjoyed. I took Earth Science with Mrs. Harrold which turned out to be surprisingly fun because we got to go to the planetarium a lot. I loved chemistry with Mr. Mustuluk just because it was Mr. Mustuluk, and he was awesome. Mr. Pata was a really great physics teacher. I definitely liked math too.

 

Did you have a favorite teacher when you were here at North?

Mrs. Murray was one of my biggest mentors at North even though I just did not like English, and she knows that so it’s okay. AP Lang was probably the hardest class I took in high school, and I did Freshmen Assist with her my senior year, and that was really when I got to know her better, but she’s always been a really close mentor. And obviously Mrs. Spiers because I loved her as a teacher, too, so those two are definitely two of my fondest teachers.

 

What’s your favorite hobby outside of the sciences?

When I came to college I joined the sailing team at U of M and that has become my life outside of school wholeheartedly for the last four years. I’ve been on the executive board for the last three years, I’ve worked as a sailing instructor for two summers, I’ve sailed as much as a could in my free time. My team is very consuming. People are always like, ‘Oh you sail, well what do you do in the winter?’ and like, ‘No, we still have meetings and meetings and meetings and all this stuff to do.’ We travel a lot, and in the U.S. I’ve traveled to more states since starting college because of sailing than I have in my whole life. I’ve been to the East Coast, I’ve been to the West Coast, I’ve been south, I’ve been everywhere. That is my biggest hobby right now. It consumes my life outside of school. All my friends are sailors, I live with people from my team that I met freshman year. Most of my boyfriends in college have been from the sailing team. That’s pretty much my life.

 

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