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A life of travel based on compassionate causes has given Alden Mead a wealth of memories—and often keepsakes—from around the globe. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The first time Alden Mead traveled was as a soldier heading to Vietnam. That experience led to a life of world travel, mostly conducting medical research but also working to end whaling practices, among other efforts.
“I was probably the only person in my family that crossed more than one state border at that time,” Alden says of his Vietnam deployment.
In Vietnam, he ended up learning the local language and returning to the country several times after the war when he was able to explore the northern part of the country and even meet with former enemy combatants.
But the rest of his travels came as a result of his post-war duties and his work as a medical researcher.
Alden says he was not a great student in high school, but as he went through his life he found his way back to academics.
“I had like no academic background when I was younger,” he says. “It’s strange that I end up going around the world and I lecture.”
Today, he’s an assistant clinical professor in Yale’s School of Medicine and an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University where he teaches global health, critical thinking, and engineering.
They once gave him the opportunity to teach world poetry, which he particularly enjoyed.
“It was great because I just took a trip around the world,” Alden says.
His course covered everything from Russian poetry to ancient Chinese poetry. But though he has a passion for poetry and literature, Alden’s focus has been ophthalmology, the study of eye disorders.
Alden says his work as in the field started with Orbis International, a nonprofit dedicated to the eradication of blindness in the world. At the time, Orbis International had a large airplane that functioned as a mobile eye hospital.
“We would take the airplane, if it was possible, to countries that had an airport where it was possible for it to land, but often times we went to developing countries where the airport wasn’t sturdy enough to land such a big aircraft,” he says. “That probably got me to more countries than anybody else.”
Alden and his team of scientists and doctors were able to travel to places like Burma, Cuba, Mongolia, and other countries around the world where their work was needed.
During his travels, Alden brought back art and artifacts that now adorn his home in North Haven. His back yard is populated with a koi pond and pagoda accompanied by Chinese statues rescued from the Cultural Revolution, during which much of the country’s religious iconography was destroyed by Mao Zedong. Alden says the little area reminds him of Burma.
“The more places that you travel to, the more places that you’re homesick for,” Alden says. “I can think of great reasons to miss tons of places.”
With the items he’s brought home with him, Alden says he has built a sort of foundation to which he can bring the cultures he’s homesick for.
But he’s put his travels and his work to use at home in other ways, too.
He worked with the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven and as a congressional intern to Bruce Morrison, who preceded Rosa DeLauro in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I know how to help people present their story and their plight,” he says.
That enabled him to help get refugees out of camps and into society. Again, his knowledge of the Vietnamese language helped him with his work.
“My life is mostly about people who are fortunate to empathize with and teach you about yourself,” Alden says. “It’s not only about refugees but also animals. They’re the most innocent. They all have their own stories.”
Alden says he was often called in to work with animals experiencing eye problems in zoos. That work gave him something of a reputation for caring about animals. As a result, he ended up taking injured creatures in to nurse back to health and release into the wild.
Alden spent a winter in Australia as the U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission, which was at the time working to end the practice of whaling in the country without adversely affecting the economy and the products produced by whaling.
The commission’s work was eventually successful, but in the meantime, Alden had the chance to go out on the whaling ships with the workers, who he says were tough, often ex-convicts.
“They didn’t expect a combat veteran who could keep up with most of their ways, so it turned out to be quite interesting for them, I think, and me,” Alden says.
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