Monica Woll in Madison, Sees Something Special in Detroiters

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Monica Woll, 25, has lived a lot of places — France, India, and Ethiopia among them — but says the most interesting people she has come across have been from Detroit. The West Bloomfield native, who is in her second year of medical school in Madison, Wisconsin, said she thinks its a special take on reality that makes people from her hometown shine. “There’s something in the punch that makes us think we’re invincible,” she says. “And because of that we are able to really do what we want to do.”

Woll graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007 with a degree in history and a minor in international studies, then decided medical school was in her future. She went to a program at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to get up to speed on the science, then went to Ethiopia for a year to broaden her perspective on “how the rest of the world really lives.”

She worked for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, helping physician Rick Hodes in Addis Ababa tackle tuberculosis and other health conditions on the ground. While she was there, she also worked as a liaison for a JDC college program for women and on a health education project with an Israeli-based NGO, the Center for Emerging Tropical diseases & AIDS.

“That was pretty drastic,” she said of the poverty, illness, and pollution she witnessed. She also spoke of how rewarding the experience was, as she immersed herself in the Ethiopian community and shared the experience with friends and family who came to visit. She returned to the States in 2009 to start medical school.

But there’s still nothing quite like home. She heads back to Detroit for holidays and various other occasions, dividing her time between her house and a friend’s basement when she goes. “People from here make fun of me because they think I’m always in Michigan,” she said. “But I love Detroit.”

Among her staples when she’s home are Coney Island on 14 and Orchard and BBQ ribs made with meat from Harvard Row butcher. She fondly recalls her old-time hangouts, Plaster Playhouse, where she had all her birthday parties, and US Blades. She jokes about the hours she spent driving around the parking lot at Caribou Coffee in high school for fun.

And when she leaves town, she goes loaded up with hamantaschen from Diamond Bakery, her mom’s chicken and her favorite cookie scones from a coffee shop in West Bloomfield.

Some of her closest friends today are from Detroit, people she has known her whole life. When she and three of her friends were six they were called the “Spice Box Girls,”at Congregation Beth Ahm. They would do the songs Saturday morning at services.

“Whenever I hear the Spice Girls we call each other,” she said. “And I think of those moments — we used to alternate singing different lines. I think it’s good, good times.”

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