Dear student preparing to have a life changing experience,
You might be on the verge of competing for a SCOPE or SCORE exchange and haven’t yet decided which country you should go to. There are many things to take into consideration – your academic interest, the available cities, months, departments or projects of each country, your budget, your passion for a far-away or not-so-far-away culture, friends that you might want to meet there, and so on.
My name is Bianca Ichim, I’m a student at the medical university of Iași, Romania, and I’m the type of person who always has a fear in the back of her mind – the fear that I’m not living my life to the fullest. That is why my SCOPE exchange in Indonesia in the summer (or should I say dry season?) of 2016 has been the most wonderful experience I’ve had in my whole life. I believe I could write a whole book about the abundance of experiences I’ve had during those 4 weeks, but I’ll try to give you just a general idea about what’s it like to go to one of the richest places in the world when it comes to nature, culture and hospitality.
I went on a SCOPE exchange on neurosurgery in the city of Surakarta (informally referred to as Solo), in the heart of the Java island. The city has around half a million of inhabitants, is one of the two most important centers of the Javanese culture (the other one being Yogyakarta, which is 60 km away) and has many beautiful places to visit nearby (Tawangmangu mountainside with its beautiful jungle, monkeys and amazing waterfall, Candi Borobudur and Candi Prambanan, the biggest Buddhist and Hindu temples in the world, Malang with its blue colored lava volcano, and many others). The people are very friendly, even though not many of the ones you meet on the street speak English. Still, they are very honest and always greet you with a smile. Although they are Muslim, the people of Java still have lots of Hindu traces left in their lifestyle – sometimes wearing a hijab is more of a fashion choice, like choosing to wear a hat or not. In order to move around lots of them use motorcycles, and you can rent one for a very low fee if you have the courage to do that (you don’t really need a license, to be honest). The street food is amazing and very easy to find. With only one euro you can have lunch and a drink (usually Es Teh, but I also recommend Es Teler, which is so far my favorite dessert/drink).
My tutor, the residents and the clinical years students (called Co-Assistants or Co-Ass) were all extremely nice and helpful. We became more than just working colleagues, and went out constantly after the hospital shift finished. Even though I was the only incoming student in September, I never felt alone. The LEO and my contact person were also very kind and prepared an exciting social program for each Sunday (I also had to go to hospital on Saturday).
I left Solo after almost 4 weeks of interesting medical cases that I didn’t have the chance to see in my country and lots of beautiful memories and went to Bali with my mother, who joined me 10 days before my departure. My imagination was easily surpassed by the beauties I witnessed. My favorite part of that heavenly island is the mountainside around the city of Ubud and the many beautiful temples that are hidden in the jungles.
I won’t insist on all the things I’ve done there in my free time, as this post will become too long. I’ll just put the short thank you letter I posted on my Facebook wall after arriving home and a short collection of a part of the things I was able to film:
“After 30 hours of traveling, I was barely able to differentiate real life from hypnagogic hallucinations. With my eyes open I could see my hometown’s street lights, but the moment my eyelids would go down they would bring with them images of green banana leafs, palm trees, the streets of Solo and the intricate clothing patterns that the people wear. Now, instead of going out for a beer with my friends in the evening I go to sleep quite early and wake up at 2:30 a.m., the hour at which I usually woke up in Solo to go to hospital. It will take me a while to adjust, as I feel that a big part of me is missing. I grew up a lot during this month, and this is due to the most friendly people I’ve ever met in my life – the Indonesian people, especially the SCOPE team and the co-assistants, residents and doctors that spent a lot of time with me both during hospital time, and in our free time. There are many things that I would like to say to you. It’s the 4th time I try to write this letter, because each time I tried to do it, I would easily write around 7 pages without saying even a quarter of all I wanted to say. This time I’ll try to keep it short. I just wish you guys can have at least a slight idea about how much you contributed to my mind-boggling experience by making me a part of a lifestyle that was so rich in sensorial information that I had a hard time falling asleep each night.
First of all I would like to thank you for accepting me in your lives so easily. I’ve traveled in 20+ countries, but I’ve never met such kind and open-hearted people anywhere else. At first I thought that you acted so nicely because I was a foreigner, but after closely observing I noticed that you treat each other the same all the time and in any place. Whether we were in the hospital, at a karaoke bar, in the streets, in Solo, Yogyakarta, Ubud or Jakarta, I never saw somebody raising their voice, frowning or treating another person disrespectfully.
Thank you for showing me how a hardworking man that has way less privileges than people in my country do can have a positive attitude all the time. At first I was shocked when I saw the clinical students, residents and doctors working 12 hours a day at ease. They always treated the patients nicely (even if they were yelling because of a knee scratch in the ER, Silvia knows what I’m talking about) and did their work thoroughly (the students would always wait until the surgery came to an end, even if it lasted for 13 hours). Something that totally broke my heart was finding out that most of the residents have their wives and children in a different city, very far from them. They are able to see them only a couple of times per year, as they work on Saturdays too. Sometimes the children would grow distant and not fully recognize them. All of this while working all day long without getting paid (it seems that only the residents in Jakarta have salaries). And still, they were able to make a lot of jokes with me, not leave me alone by going out with me in their little spare time and make me feel like home. I’m still not totally sure how you do it, but I’ll work on myself to be the same. I was able to adopt your attitude while I was there, but it is way harder in Romania (and usually, in Europe), where people have so much more but they are never content. If I need a reminder (and I surely will), I’ll come to Indonesia again.
Thank you for being patient with me when I did or said stupid things. Whether it came for Bas explaining to me that I should not walk half naked on the streets, even if it’s hot outside, Anggit waiting for my mother to do all of her shopping, Jackie waiting for me for almost an hour to take me to the airport because I didn’t hear my alarm, and everybody for answering my avalanche of questions all the time. I especially want to thank dr Ferry for always speaking in English when I was around, for continuously asking me things and making sure that I learned a lot about neurosurgery and about being a good specialist. I hope that one day I can be as wise and cheerful as he is. I also want to thank dr Adi for trusting me to do sutures on patients (“Is the specialist still here? No? Bianca, go wash your hands!”). My mother almost fainted when I showed her the pictures. And I want to thank Hanani, Kadek and Silvia for all the hours they spent teaching me how to do the neurological examination and helping me make my case presentations.
Thank you, doctors and residents, for having such awesome musical taste! Singing “November rain” with dr Ferry and the rest of the team while they were operating a big frontal meningioma will stick in my mind for a long time. Thank you, Ondo and Udeen, for convincing dr Hanis to allow me to put my music during the surgery. And thank you for the awesome karaoke nights (how could you ever imagine that somebody could sing Korn at karaoke, dr Adi?!). I hope that one day you guys will have an awesome rock band and tour in Europe.
And I want to thank all the people I’ve met for helping me understand the rich and tangled cultural background that the Indonesian people have. Over 260 million people, biggest Muslim country in the world that contains the biggest Buddhist and Hindu temples in the world, hundreds of languages (each person I’ve met speaks at least 3 Indonesian languages), religious customs intertwined with local folklore (the Javanese ghosts, the spirits of the ancestors that keep an eye on their followers from the inside of a banana tree), over 13.000 islands out of which I only visited 2, and a big explosion of greenness. I definitely have to go back again!”
I wish you a wonderful time in the exchange you are about to go!