Post by Carol Russo, GEMx Senior Coordinator
Working for a program that offers access to international medical exchanges provides a reminder of how engaging in new situations, environments and systems not only provides alternate perspectives but affords opportunities of self discovery.
While I personally had an international exchange experience while a student in college, it was not a medical elective exchange. This was in the days of the internet’s infancy and my university’s study abroad office still housed all of its exchange opportunities in 500 page binders categorized by geographical regions. I ultimately chose and was accepted to a multicourse exchange in Siena, Italy. I easily recall those initial moments while on my exchange where I felt overwhelmed by something as simple as deciphering a campus bus schedule or my inability to procure correct currency for basic purchases. However, I also carry with me that by self realizing my weaknesses could provide opportunities for me to self-adapt and grow as a person in the larger human world.
GEMx has always been interested in hearing how students perceive their exchanges upon their returns and I would like to share some of these reflections with you as they demonstrate the profound and personal takeaways when one allows to be challenged by immersion in a different culture and place.
“The first lesson in this experience I had, was to break the language barrier that were between the patients and me, I think was the most difficult task, because they where used to consult local doctors, and as I started to interact, it was not that easy. Over and over, you start to learn how to approach people and pathologies. The country I visited is also in ways to develop as mine, but smaller. So I could compare and [analyze] how they solve their health problems and social problems, I visited a lot of Tibetan and classic medicine centers, in which I talked with the local healers and communicate and learn about their most [common diseases] and how the manage them. “
“I feel that I am more confident. Having the opportunity to see how is it out there makes me a better person and a person who is able to try and attempt in thinking outside of the box for the betterment of all. Also, I began to appreciate more on what is here for me and the society in my country. One of the most striking aspect was the fact that junior doctors there in Indonesia including post graduate specialist trainees in Indonesian Hospitals are actually not paid any salary or wages. Despite of these difficulties they are still very much comfortable and striving their ways in their career on how they could benefit the society.”
“The only difficulty and disappointment that one would initially have would be that the medical system is in Hebrew. But, it is worth an experience to overcome this challenge by finding new friends who could help you. At the end, you will agree that language barrier is never an hindrance for you to learn but rather it opens a new path to build good and long standing relationships.”
“Many times when I was there, I felt so left behind and far off from the standard they live up to. Being surrounded in a mentally challenging environment can push you to be better, but it can also be draining and make you feel very small. It took me quite some time to regain myself and admit that Im inadequate. Once I embraced the fact, I started asking questions when I dont understand, participated in discussions, and soon enough I realized I’m learning a lot more. I was touched that the professors, senior residents, and interns I work with were very helpful once I open[ed] up.”
Oftentimes, experiencing the unfamiliar can carry more portents in shaping who and how we are in the future; it is up to the individual to discover how being vulnerable can deliver the most lasting lessons.