Around Europe in Fifty Days

H3 student Faris recently had the opportunity to complete work experience during the Summer holidays in Wales and Germany. His reflections below outline his learnings and challenges while experiencing language, culture and life within a professional setting: 

Stress. Pressure. Tension. All three are words that describe the period just before and during my exams, the plethora of sleepless nights and countless hours spent mired in revision. All three of these words also followed me into my summer holidays as my work experience application had been accepted for one of the leading hospitals in Munich! The duration of this placement was just over four weeks. Naturally, being the 16 year old that I am, I dreaded the thought of having to wake up at 6:30 am for an entire month and join the millions of adults across the world in being trapped in the monotonous 9-5 work cycle. Firstly, however, I would travel to Chester, England to visit my friends and relatives. On June 19th, 5 days after the end of exams, I boarded the plane from Taipei to Amsterdam, commencing the first day of my seven week journey of “freedom”.

From the moment I landed, I was greeted by a soft, rippling breeze blowing across the tarmac – a welcome greeting from the cramped airplane cabin. On the car journey from the airport, I observed the mellow hues of the yellow and green fields on either side of the motorway and occasionally glimpsed sightings of sheep and livestock – left to roam free and explore their surroundings, much like the situation I found myself in. Thus, the first few days of my summer vacation were filled with opportunities to unwind and settle in to the familiar tranquil and placid atmosphere of Europe, save for the occasional bursts of excitement ushered in by cricket matches (the Cricket World Cup was taking place in both England and Wales at the time), defined by the continuous cries of “Out” and “Six” puncturing the stillness of the environment around me. Every morning, I woke early to be greeted by cool morning air, going for a 10 kilometre run with the streets devoid of activity save for the occasional cyclist tearing down the roads. After several days of a much-needed rest, I found my itinerary packed once more – starting off with university visits on open days – starting with the University of Manchester. The next three days were spent doing a preparatory course for the UCAT Test (University Clinical Aptitude Test), once more stepping through the doorway into academic-oriented tasks and activities. 

The next part of my seven week holiday heralded a transition from the open atmosphere I felt during my stay up in Manchester to one of work as I travelled down south to the capital of Wales, Cardiff, in order to undergo a two-week work experience at a surgery on the outskirts of Cardiff, near the town of Abergavenny which was the first venue of my work experience this summer. Initially, the work experience entailed performing administrative tasks and shadowing and observing a doctor perform consultations with patients, as I was not allowed to enter the surgery wards or be present during private consultations given my age and lack of medical qualifications. Despite this, I was able to gain a thorough understanding of both the routine of the surgery as well as to gain a better understanding of what the field of medicine was all about. One major takeaway I was left with was that doctors are required to perform a lot of administrative and bureaucratic tasks in addition to dealing with medical procedures and interacting with patients. This was  something I had never completely grasped from my previous work experiences. Overall, despite my initial misgivings at the start of the holidays, I found the work experience extremely informative and also found that the experience very much reflected my expectations as to what working in a medical environment would be like. Moreover, the opportunity to be able to indulge in eating British fish & chips for lunch on a regular basis made the experience even better.

Leaving Wales behind, I relocated to London and stayed with relatives in Wembley for three days. While there, I visited a multitude of landmarks near the Embankment, notably Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. All were familiar sights to me, but were still worth visiting seeing as I had to freedom to venture by myself as opposed to having to explore the tourist attractions with my family. What was not familiar however was the sight of India crashing out of the Cricket World Cup Semi-Finals to New Zealand. I pondered  whether this was an ominous omen and harbinger for what lay ahead of me: four and a half week long work experience at one of Munich’s largest hospitals. This meant that I would be forced to speak only German (my second language) to a high standard because I would be interacting and conversing with patients and medical staff in a professional medical environment. With that imposing prospect fully etched in my mind I set off on yet another plane journey.

Arriving in my homeland was a different experience than I had previously felt. For one, a heat wave was sweeping Europe. The temperature at the airport was 38 degrees celsius. In addition, I had been denied a seat on my initial flight due to an overbooking problem back at London Heathrow Airport. This had resulted in a three hour delay which didn’t feel like the best impression to make on my German host. As I passed through the customs checkpoint, I nervously glanced around and saw my host; Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t smiling. 

The apprehension soon faded away however, as I settled in for a long car ride with Jimi Hendrix guitar solos and Guns N’ Roses pounding out of the stereo system. Upon arrival, I realised that, although I was less than 3 kilometres from the centre of Munich, I would be staying in a large house in a village setting in the district of Oedenstockach. This village was surrounded by miles of fields and country roads meandering through the landscape. I was quickly able to settle in to the family routine and adjust to the setting. The next day however, saw mass strikes throughout the city, meaning that I was unable to take public transport to work. The result of this was that, for the second consecutive day, I was late in arriving to the hospital. To make matters more concerning, there were six different buildings, each several stories high and standing sentinel in the intensely bright sky. This, combined with the fact that all the departments dealing with staff and faculty members were lodged in the labyrinthian basement levels, devoid of signs or directions, meant that it took me well over 40 minutes to find my station. Despite this however, I quickly managed to get settled in and was introduced to the ‘station leader’ who introduced me to the practices of the Department of Nephrology and Dialysis. 

In contrast to the work experience in Wales, working in a hospital in Germany required a much more professional attitude. I was given tasks to perform throughout the hospital complex, ranging from simple administrative work, such as filing patient records to escorting patients up from the ER or surgical wards and delivering blood samples to the laboratory. For over 25 working days, I arrived at 8 and worked until 4, performing various physical tasks and helping out medical staff. However, the best part of the work experience was the opportunity to shadow doctors, as I was able to fully appreciate the intricacies of patient care and treatment. From the invaluable experiences I took with me from shadowing doctors, I could envision myself in their position several years down the line, helping those suffering and in need.

 In a much larger medical environment, there is a constant aura of professionalism and discipline hanging in the air that was immediately apparent from the moment I walked in the door. The scale and coordination required in a hospital with over 60 departments is staggering and unfathomable. Medicine has its core values centered around patient care and treatment, yet the hundreds of procedures required for every single patient that take place behind the scenes are unprecedented. Each of these individual procedures is a fundamental part of the overall treatment itself and delays or insufficient effort put in for any of these procedures result in additional complications – potentially putting human lives at risk. The coordination, communication and synchronisation of all of these procedures in combination require every individual part of the medical system to be fully alert and well versed, delivering to the best of their capabilities. There is simply no other environment like one of the largest medical institutions in Germany. Despite the fact that being 16 considerably restricted the number of tasks I could perform, due to legal and ethical considerations, I was able to gain a considerable amount of knowledge and general information. 

Despite my initial misgivings at the start of the holiday, I gained fresh perspectives and considerable insight into the medical profession, leaving me with an improved opinion of medicine as a whole. From the dawn of humanity, doctors have always been some of the most important figures in history, for they are the only individuals who have the ability to directly cure and treat other humans. Each individual has their own value and merit which is a truly magical gift to possess. Every single patient that walks in through the hospital doors represents another opportunity for doctors to save or improve the lives of others, allowing the patients to live on and flourish, allowing them to continue down the path of life.

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