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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Pros Seng

By Kayla Burchuk

It’s hard not to love Pros Seng ’10. Buoyant yet intense, Pros splits his time between pursuing his passions for both chemistry and modern dance. Never one to compartmentalize, Seng sat down with The Mac Weekly to discuss community medicine, creating with the body and integrating into the Twin Cities.The Mac Weekly: You grew up in Portland [Oregon], but you were born in Southeast Asia. Where were you born?

Pros Seng: I was born in Thailand, in Nongchung [a refugee camp] right along the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Then I moved to Cambodia when I was about five, and then I moved to the United States November 1998, when I was around 11.

TMW: What do you remember from your childhood from that time?

PS: I remember a lot, I still do. I remember snippets of images. We have some photographs that we managed to save as we moved our lives around. These images always sort of bring me back to “what was I like as a child?” Of course it’s a lot of tragedies. There are land mines everywhere outside of the camp. You have to go two or three miles to get your food so you would make that trek and you never know, the mines shift when it rains, so you never know the real way to get to your food. You see a lot of people with prosthetics, or just without hands or arms around But there are a lot of beautiful things that go on, too. It makes it a normal childhood somehow, even though it seems different.

TMW: Do you feel like your personal history influences the way you live your life, your personal experience in the world?

PS: I’m, I guess, pretty adaptable and very fluid in my thoughts and my interactions with people just because I’ve never had really a solid place that I grew up with. When I make friends I value them a lot because I’ve never been able to have some very solid friendships because of moving so much. So when I do have really solid friends I tend to be really obsessive about them, and I really care about them. And also just traveling a lot and not having some place permanent helps me see life in a very global perspective that I really appreciate now because everything is connected. It’s always been hard for me in chemistry to do the micro things, like when you do the O-Chem [organic chemistry]. I really enjoy when it’s big enough that I can see everything coming together.

TMW: How do you think your personal history has specifically influenced your Macalester experience?

PS: I came to Macalester, freshman year, oh my god. No boundaries whatsoever, no concept of personal boundaries, no concept of personal space. Those little American culture things. I was not aware of it. It’s allowed me to take Macalester in a very serious way, because I know the value of an education. My parents were not educated because of the war in Cambodia. It’s very much ingrained in me that this is an opportunity that you shouldn’t waste. You should explore who you are, but you should also make the best of it, make sure you appreciate it and that you take the full advantage of your education. You put in as much as you can, find your outer borders, and you’ll know when you’ve reached it. you’ll back down kind of thing.

TMW: How did you get into biology and chemistry, and, through that, medicine?

PS: I came to Macalester as a declared English major. That’s what I wanted to study. I did a lot of creative writing in high school, a lot of poetry. I loved poetry in high school, that was how I could express myself. Like, I’m not very good with words and that was the only way that I saw myself meaningfully expressing my identity and just a lot of heaviness inside myself, and letting go through poetry. I came here, I took English chemistry, and a bunch of other things and I found the most challenge with chemistry. I took Gen Chem [General Chemistry] and I was just, like, bad at chemistry. I’m like, “I’m average. Why am I doing this?.” But it’s that challenge. And I found O-Chem. People always say O Chem is logic, and I agree with that, there’s a certain logic-ness to it, but there’s a .. It’s so beautiful because it’s so messy. There’s so much going on, you see things three dimensionally in your head and that’s how you think about life and you think about how things work. Life becomes, I don’t know if more beautiful makes sense?

TMW: How did you decide to be pre-med and that being a doctor was something you wanted to do?

PS: A lot of people around me thought about being pre-med, too. I thought about it and thought about my anthropology classes, Med Anthro combined with my childhood reflecting back on sort of health refugee camps. Health in Cambodia is just non-existent. It just drove me the to think about health in different way, a very personal way. I applied for the Taylor Health Fellowship. I got it and I ended up shadowing three community health clinics around the Twin Cities. These three health clinics worked with immigrant families, which was really a wonderful experience to see. The doctors and the people who took care of these populations spoke the language and provide very tailored health care. So seeing how community health clinics operated from the inside was really encouraging and very positive for me. What always came back and sort of haunted me was remembering my own family. Not speaking English, we didn’t know how health worked here, we didn’t understand the system, and just these strange people who we trusted so much took care of us without knowing anything about us at all, except that we were Southeast Asian-American and we were sick. I felt like health should have been more than that, it should have been a personal dialogue. The power dynamic could be different. So that’s something that’s really fueling me towards medicine.

TMW: I wanted to ask you about how you became interested in dance, because I know that you’re very active in that right now as well.

PS: Dance has never been on my mind. So I decided to try out for the fall dance concert. I just fell in love with it. Just to think about bodies in a very different way because, especially in medicine and in science, you see the body in such a very specific way, the medicalized body, you have that image. But you don’t see how the body can create, you know? I e-mailed Zenon Dance Company, so now I’m volunteering there every Thursday.

TMW: What is Zenon?

PS: Zenon is a dance company in Minneapolis. I’m taking some dance classes there now. It’s just great exposure to the Twin Cities. Dance has evolved into something that it’s not just producing [.] it’s connecting to the city, connecting to the city life, intellectually engaging it, engaging dance. I’m taking contemporary art right now, and you’re talking about the avant-garde, postmodern contemporary art where it’s not the product that is, you know, the product would be nice, but the product is not the central component of art making. Being involved with Steph [Stephanie Strombelis ’10], I felt so emotionally connected and so emotionally transformed because I enjoyed the process so much. That’s what motivated me to move beyond and to pursue more dance from that place. Learning how to use my body at that different pace. Realizing that I have hands, I can use it differently. I don’t have to lift all the time.

TMW: Are their certain kinds of projects or styles of dance that you find yourself most attracted to?

PS: Of course contemporary, it’s Macalester, [laughs] you know? It’s allowing me to dance without a lot of training, but also I’m critically engaging with dance doing contemporary because constantly I’m thinking about what it means to move a certain way, and what does that say about dance and the way we conceptualize dance? But sometimes you just close that out when you dance and you just move around. So it’s a physical challenge, it’s an emotional challenge, and it’s an intellectual challenge. It’s something that I wish I’d found earlier but I’m glad I found now.

TMW: What do you love about the Twin Cities-or do you love the Twin Cities?

PS: If you asked me that a
year ago I wouldn’t know what to say. I did not go out into the Twin Cities at all. Being at Macalester and being in an urban setting you think you have that space of access. So you don’t take advantage of it. Right? I was like, “Okay, I can always go to the Twin Cities. Yeah, I can go.” I went to the Walker, the Guthrie. I did those things. So I have connected with the Twin Cities but I’ve never felt like I was integrated into this year, when I started volunteering and dancing outside. So I’m integrating myself into the Twin Cities and I’m meeting people who are very different from me, from Macalester. I talk to them and they’ve had very different trajectories. Some of them didn’t finish college until they were 30. People take very different paths to get to where they are and, I mean, I wish I’d found that sooner.

TMW: What have you discovered about the Twin Cities that’s been surprising and transformative for you?

PS: I’m appreciating people’s lives a lot more because, like, it’s okay to do things that aren’t set. It’s more diverse outside the bubble than inside the bubble. And it’s okay, because people take different paths to get to wherever they get to and they’re happy where they are, as long as you do something that you have a passion for.

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