“Why did you chose Poland?” was one of the questions I was asked the most. And actually, why did I chose Poland? Well, in November 2016, I heard there were some free places to do an SCOPE- exchange. I decided to apply and I took Poland spontaneously without even knowing anything about this country. I only wanted to go abroad and discover a new country in the world. A few months later, after I finished my third year of medicine at University, I sat on a plane to Poland. I arrived at Chopin Airport in Warsaw in the evening and met with my contact person who came back from her own exchange. Her father drove us to Lodz.
As soon as we arrived there, I already liked the city. We had a late dinner in Manufaktura, a place with a lot of shops and restaurant that is located in an old textile factory. Lodz is the third biggest city in Poland, but is not a touristic city. It was really pleasant to live there for one month. The people were kind with us but it was sometimes difficult with the language because not everyone can speak English very well. I was a little surprised about this fact at the beginning. I am so used to be with people that know two or more languages that I sometimes forget that it is not always the case like here in Switzerland.
The architecture is built in the style of the last century when the city lived from the textile industry. The walls of the buildings are often covered by street art and the paintings are pieces of art and very impressive. I enjoyed the mix of modernism and past history, especially regarding to the tramways: some are very new and modern with screens and air-conditioning and some others are very old, doing a lot of noise and, of course, without any air-conditioning inside, so it was very hot inhere when the weather was good. Another point that made me fall in love with the city was the restaurants. In Lodz, I could find a lot of very good places to eat. I honestly should say that the prices were really cheap comparing to Switzerland, nevertheless the food was high quality and tasty. So, I could afford going almost
everyday to eat in a restaurant. In the hospital, it was a bit difficult to be integrated in the team at the beginning. I was in the radiology department in the University Hospital. I should advise you to apply to a department where you do not have too many contacts with patients if you do not speak the language. On the first days, I had the feeling that the people did not pay attention to me and did their job as if I was not here. After a few days, I understood that the problem was not me but the language. Most of them did not feel proud of their English skills so they did not come to speak to me because they were shy. As soon as I understood this, I went to them, introduced myself and so they opened themselves to me. We could have great conversation together and they started teaching me about radiology. At the end, I could learn a lot and discover many different parts of the radiology department, e.g. angiography, cardiac MRI, biopsy under US control, …, and I even could perform ultrasound examinations on patients.
But one of the most important thing that I brought back from Poland was the friendships I made. During one month, I spend my time with almost thirty other medical students from all over the world. Beside the time in the hospital, we had crazy parties, visited museums, walk around the city and drank very good coffee while chatting and laughing all the time. Furthermore, I understood that everyone is different but our differences made us stronger together and we learnt a lot from each other about the world and life. After one month, I sat once again on a plane, flying back to Zurich. I felt so happy because I could practice my medical skills, grew up on a personal level and I have now great memories to tell to my family and friends.
I really encourage you to do a SCOPE-exchange, you will never regret it and you will learn a lot from it.
Even though, Belgium is just around the corner, one hour by plane, I was still exciting to visit a new country, I had never visited before.
I arrived a few days in advance before my internship started in Leuven and did two days of couchsurfing for the first time. Arrived at the Brussels airport I did not have any difficulties to find my way to Leuven. Everything was written in Dutch, French, German and English. Language wise it should not be a challenge coming from Switzerland to Belgium. Doing the first days couchsurfing turned out to be a very good opportunity for me. I got to meet local PhD students who introduced me to the Belgium culture and the city of Leuven. After tow days I knew already enough to have a very smooth start on Monday into my internship.
Things you need to know when you come to Leuven:
– Get yourself a bike for 15 Euro a month
– Don’t trust the busses and if you plan to use one, download the app and get your bus ticket for a cheap price (to be honest the buses suck!)
– Get yourself a train card for a month! The locals will tell you that the train system does not work properly but I only made good experiences. Just keep in mind when you are late that the doors of the train close earlier than the actual departure time.
– People are super nice, if you should get lost just ask someone for help
Belgium is easy to travel around as it is also in Switzerland (just with cheaper train prices). You only need one weekend and you can already visit a lot of places. And also, it’s easy to just go during the weekday to a neighbour city. If you have enough of Belgium, you can also just pass the border and visit Germany or Holland. BeMSA did a really good job. Everything was good organized, and I could always contact my contact person when I had questions. They organized also a lot of events during the week unfortunately I did attend only a few of the events but it was good to know that there is the possibility to attend and meet new exchange students if I wanted. Otherwise the city itself offered also a lot of activities to attend and meet new people.
I took part at SCORE, so my internship took place in a lab. My lab was at the department for oncology at Mrs An Coemans research group who works on ovarian cancer. The great part about research is that it is always very international, so people are open minded and its easy to become a part of the team. It just took me a few minutes to be part of the team. Research has its own standards and methods that are quiet the same it easy to find your way around in a new environment. What
changes is, just the way people work. Everyone has their own technique to work and it is sometimes a bit “annoying” to have to adapt to the different ways every supervisor shows you. Everyone thinks that their way of working is the best, so with each supervisor you need to adapt their way of working. My internship offered me a good opportunity to apply some protocols and learn new techniques. I had a lot time to learn and to practice. At the end of this internship I can say with confidence that I am now able to apply certain protocols myself without a supervisor.
Unfortunately, I also had a lot of free time, which was at the beginning good, but I was not able to work efficient. Also, that I was not allowed to work with mice was a pity, since this lab works a lot with mice and it could have been a huge advantage for me, if I already had my certificate to work with mice. What I think is also a bit unfortunate about the SCORE exchanges is that they are really short, so there is also no time to be part of a publication. It would be a huge advantage to be able also to be part of a publication. I really think that IFMSA—SCORE needs to solve this issue. Next to
the gained experience a publication could be a huge advantage for medical student who aims to do research in the future.
In general, I would say that my whole internship experience was good. I had very luck with my accommodation, it was very close to the centre and I had everything that I needed. The internship was the only thing where I see a potential to increase the experience. What really annoyed me was the fact that within the lab they spoke a lot in Dutch, which I could not understand. When I asked them something, they always changed to English but just out of respect I would have preferred them talking in English from the beginning on.
I will not do a second SCORE internship since I have the impression, I have now enough lab experience. I would consider attending one when I am also sure that I can be part of a publication otherwise I don’t see any reason to do a second SCORE internship. In my 5th or 6th year of studies I can imagine myself attending a SCOPE to gain some clinical experience during my last years.
For my SCOPE last august I chose the Czech Republic. It is my mother’s birth country and therefor I speak Czech well enough to express myself in an average everyday conversation. I wanted to learn more about the hospital work in the Czech Republic and at the same time improve my language skills. That was also one reason for choosing the department of neurology; I wanted to visit a field where I would get the opportunity to talk to patients and do some basic examinations. Before the exchange started, I bought some gifts from Switzerland, some chocolate and swiss army knives, and watched some Czech TV series to be prepared language wise. I bought a neurology book in order to arrive with some basic neurology knowledge and to be able to ask some questions. I arrived in Prague at the student’s dormitory on Sunday evening and met my CP who would help me find my room and get my public transport ticket.
Students under the age of 26 can get a monthly pass for Public Transport for only 10 euros. I used subway, bus and tram regularly especially because of the location of the dormitory rather on the outskirts of Prague. We exchange students, Maciej from Poland, Giedre from Lithuania and Eszter as well as Antal from Hungary, shared two rooms, one sleeping room for the girls and one for the boys and a common bathroom connected by a corridor. It was unusual for me to share a room with two other persons for a whole month, but it certainly helped to get to know each other faster. I deeply enjoyed the contact to the other
exchange students, we organised two weekend trips together and did a lot of sightseeing in Prague and still I had a lot of the time for myself. The first weekend we stayed in Prague, we joined a free walking tour and we met Czech medical students from the local committee for dinner and beer, also we received 2000 Czech crowns as pocket money then. On Sunday, I went to Pilsen, which is a city I definitely recommend visiting. It has a beautiful and lively little oldtown and the brewery tour was very interesting. The next weekend we went to Karlovy Vary, a city in the northwest of Czech Republic famous for its hot springs. Through the old town runs a river and alongside there are many majestic houses, restaurants and hot springs. We visited the Jan Becher Museum there and went to the Diana viewpoint, where we enjoyed the butterfly house. The last weekend we visited Česky Krumlov, a picturesque village in the south of Czech Republic. There we joined another free walking tour, again it was really interesting. Moreover, we went for river rafting there, which was rather floating down a river and drinking some cocktails from boat bars on the way, but still it was fun and super relaxed! Regarding my practical exchange in the hospital I’m very happy with my decision to see neurology department. The exchange was well organized. I received a plan in the beginning of the month and was visiting all the different places within neurology department, to be more exact the women’s and men’s wards, movement disorders office, multiple sclerosis centre, myasthenia gravis office, intensive care unit and the sleeping disorders laboratory. I got the impression that the health system and the standard in Czech hospitals doesn’t differ much from the one in Switzerland. They feature modern devices and the quality of treatments seems very high. The health insurance is compulsory, but still according to some doctors the rate of uninsured people is still high and a problem they face day-to-day. What I noticed is that the available space in the hospital is rather scarce. I spend the first two weeks in a quite narrow building with the women’s ward on first floor and men’s ward on second floor. In the rooms is little space and
the staircase is very steep and ends directly in the middle of a narrow corridor connecting the patient’s rooms. It seems to be a real problem, as my tutor told me that not too long ago one of the patients fell down those stairs and died of his injuries. Also, the medical education system isn’t much different to the one in Switzerland. Speaking of cultural differences, it’s not very easy for me to notice them as I’m half Czech myself and they wouldn’t stand out to me so much. But what I noticed is that Czech people drink a lot more beer than I’m used to. After all I want to thank the ifmsa for making this exciting month possible. I arrived back home, and I’ll keep the memories of informative neurology mornings, cultural sightseeing afternoons and relaxed evenings with new friends.