Home is the memories we create

Art and Science Talk with Veneta Callpani

I hope this pandemic will inspire more people to become doctors and scientists for the right reasons

Alessia Selimi: Veneta, tell us a little bit about yourself. How old are you, your education, and your journey from Albania to United States?

Veneta Callpani: I am twenty-seven years old. I came to United States when I was twenty. It was very challenging because at that time my knowledge in English language was limited. In Albania I studied French, German, and very little English. However, I adapted to the new life very quick. In Albania I studied two years of Medical Imaging and I decided to continue that here, thus I finished the school and I earned my license as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) and I currently work as an Ultrasound Technician. I decided to continue my education further, and right now I am almost done with my BS in Biology-Brain Science from Lehman College. On the other hand, as a writer, I had some challenges because of the language. The transition of writing from one language to the other was not easy, therefore besides working and going to school, I also pursued my other passion: the one of writing. In 2016 I received the Gotham Writers Creative Writing Certificate. The following year I received the Gotham Writers Fiction and Screenwriting Certificate. This was just a personal achievement, more like practicing how to write in a new language, and it was such a great experience, because it helped me so much moving forward. Studying Brain Science has had a very big impact in my life, and also in my writings. Writing is a very powerful skill not only in art and in literature but also in science, therefore this year I studied and received the Writing in Science Certificate from Stanford University of Medicine.
Nothing is easy, and I don’t even think we would be happy if everything was easy. Sometimes we need to fight harder, and I fight every day for things that are worth fighting.

Selimi: You have four books published (3 novels, one poetry). How did this passion start and grew overtime? How is this,(if it is) connected to medicine?
Callpani: I started writing when I was a child. I was eight years old when I wrote my first poetry. So many times I wondered if it was genetics, if I was born with this talent, if the writing was just a way of my brain trying to release all that energy and imagination. I can write so many different proses about this but it will never be enough to express my feelings of how important or what writing means to me. But now I don’t want to know why I have it, now I want to know how to use it in the best possible way.
I never thought of writing as a career, or something I could profit from financially. The way I see it; I’ve always profited just from what writing makes me experience, and I want to share this with the world because I can’t be so selfish to keep all this magic for myself. Art (not only poetry or novels but all forms of art) will always be important in our life. And thank you for asking how this is connected to medicine, because I think it has a really deep connection, at least for me. There is so much to study in medical school and students will barely have time to take care of themselves, which means there is not much time for connections with the people and the outside world. This is why before getting into medical school; an important part of the application is the students’ activities outside of academic learning. Communication, connection, real life experiences is something school can’t teach you. This is where I consider myself lucky because writing since I was a child, having the courage to move to another country all on own in such a young age, being exposed to different cultures; and being able to connect with people in so many ways and levels has become my second nature. This is important when it comes to dealing with patients. Nothing you read in books will prepare you on how to react when a patient dies, when a patient experiences a spontaneous abortion, or when the family members start yelling at you because they are in panic and fear and pain. Having grown to master your emotional intelligence, being empathetic while maintaining your inner strength and not taking things personally is a skill that takes years of practice and awareness. Writing has helped me know myself, and helped me develop these skills which need continuous improvement. Yes, medicine and science seem to be another world from art and philosophy, but we are talking about humans here, and knowing how to deal with that takes a lot more than reading some books and some statistics.

Selimi: You work in a Hospital in the Bronx, New York. How is the Covid-19 pandemic situation there?

Callpani: Yes, I work at Montefiore Hospital, and as an Ultrasound Technician I am in direct contact with patients that are infected with Covid-19. New York is hit hard, as is it is also shown in the news. It is difficult. No one was prepared for this, but I think the situation seems a little better now. Nothing lasts forever, but I hope at least what we learn from this to last long, because it is very important for our future.

Selimi: You personally, how have you handle this novel virus? Did you have moments where you were scared, anxious and you feared your life?

Callpani: It is human nature to fear the unknown, until we get to know it. I would lie if I said I wasn’t scared, but what makes the difference is the way you deal with that. Our brain plays tricks on us, but we can play tricks on our brain as well. The way I decided to do this was by cutting off the time spend on internet or reading journals and fake news and all the conspiracy theories out there. I have three reliable resources I used to get myself informed and updated. I also have all the update information I need to work and protect myself efficiently from the hospital I currently work. I focused on things that I can do and ignore all the rest.
If you perceive something as a threat, your brain will react, and a lot of changes will happen in your body. If this continues it can be very destructive, and unfortunately humans can be very self-destructive. So, I decided to see this virus not as a threat, but as part of our life. We wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for all the germs, all the organisms that exist in the earth, and yes, the viruses too. Once we accept this, all what is left is to find a better way to adapt and live with it.
I have seen many toxic publications, using this difficult time to only cause more panic on people. At this time, we must trust medicine and science, and not celebrities or other people who want to comment on everything. It’s good to get yourself informed, but no one can become a doctor or a scientist overnight, and trying to get all the information you can from all the sources possible, will only cause you panic and it will be very misleading. However, I hope this pandemic will inspire more people to become doctors and scientists for the right reasons, and why not, make changes for a better future.

Selimi: What are the challenges you face as a tutor, professor assistant during this time?

I have worked as an Supplemental Instruction Leader- holding sessions for students studying Biology, teaching them how to study and providing them with all necessary tools to succeed, providing feedback to the Professor and coming up with creative ways to make studying more fun and productive- for one semester, but due to other obligations I stopped teaching. However, during this pandemic time, the transition to online studying was difficult not only for the students but also for the professors. As a leader chosen from Professor Maryam Bamshad, for the class of Human Brain and Body, I came up with the idea to make review videos to help students study (the videos are available on YouTube in my channel-Veneta Callpani- for people who are curious or are currently studying brain science). For people who have a big family, and maybe not so much of big house, it is very difficult to concentrate and read the textbook, considering everything else going on. I spend time to make the review videos simple to understand, also organize the knowledge in a logical flow, and easy to remember. This has helped me study for myself too and kept me motivated. I want to thank Professor Bamshad for being so flexible and so willing to do everything possible for us to succeed and overcome all the challenges that came with Covid-19 pandemic.

Selimi: Veneta’s daily routine…

My routines are unpredictable (laughing). I have a lot to do all the time, therefore organization and planning is a must for me. I work and go to school; therefore I don’t really have much time off. However, I do manage to break my rules sometimes. If by coincidence I meet a friend that was going to escaping room, for example (one of my favorite activities) and he/she asks me if I want to join, I will make the decision right there and then to go for it, despite the fact that I was heading to the library or planning to do something else. I am open to adventures and new experiences, as long as I manage my studies. I don’t take summer classes, so during the summer I try to go out and do things I enjoy every day. It’s important to know how to study (this is a topic I will talk about sometime in the future) so you can manage to get the best from life.

Selimi:What do you think about preventions measurements that Albanian Government took regarding the Covid-19?

Callpani: As I said before, I don’t follow the news a lot, and I don’t want to give an opinion in something that I don’t have enough information to be able to come up with my own observation and draw my own conclusions. My family lives in Germany, and all I want to know right now about people in Albania is that, they are healthy. It makes me happy to know that there were not too many deaths there, that’s all that matters to me.

Selimi:What do you miss most about Albania?

Callpani:From Albania I miss the people I spend time with, all my cousins, all my friends. I miss the beautiful nature, and the food. Oh, I miss the delicious food!

You know, I always thought of myself as someone who comes from the planet earth, not from Albania,not from a specific country. This is not to say that I deny where I come from, all the opposite. The thing is, there is not only one home you belong to, there is not only one family, one place. Your home is every single place you’ve stepped in, every person you met and made you a better person. Home is every place you dedicate your time, your contribution, your love and your wisdom. Every place that helped you learn, grow and experience. Home is the memories we create; and when we lay down and think about those memories, we feel safe and happy.

I am ending this interview by saying that earth is our home, and no matter if we are from Albania, or Africa, or Asia, as you have seen now with this pandemic, each one of us, from any corner of the world has an impact, therefore please, be kind and take care of people and earth whenever and wherever you are!