Karen Choe - Medicine & Healthcare in Nepal
My name is Karen and I’m studying philosophy, third year, at New York University. I was recommended to Projects Abroad by a friend who did the same medical placement the year before. I applied on a whim, because I just really wanted to travel by myself. Little did I know how enlightening this experience would be for me. Nepal simply took my breath away and I still dream about going back there one day.
Arriving in Nepal
My trip to Nepal was straightforward. The flight there was very long, a good two days’ worth, coming from the states. Upon arrival, I was first taken to Hotel Exelsior, where I made my first friend on the programme – we got to explore Kathmandu together. And then we embarked on the six hour bus ride to Chitwan.
Chitwan was hot. I went in June for a month and it was right around monsoon season, temperature peaking at 120 degrees. This is something you simply get used to, the constant sweating, pouring water down my clothes to cool down, trying to buy the iciest bottles of water, embracing every fan I found. You also must get used to the mosquitoes – without a mosquito net (which your host family will provide), you will be eaten.
My Medicine project
The Medicine placement is at the Chitwan Medical College, a teaching hospital. I choose paediatrics and emergency for the first two weeks and then spent the rest of my time in the operating room since my main interest resides in surgery.
You are given a lot of independence in the project. With friends from the programme, you learn together how to navigate the village until it becomes second nature. You get to the hospital and it is your call to talk to the doctors and nurses or not. So this project is entirely what you make of it! You must be forward and vocal. Language barrier is no excuse, because all the staff I worked with could speak great English.
The residents there would teach me about taking vitals, reading symptoms for the various diseases and conditions present, what it’s like doing rounds, what it’s like going through medical school in Nepal, their health care system etc. If I wasn’t talking with the doctors, I was talking with the patients. I distinctly remember a lengthy two-hour conversation with a patient about morality and the importance of philosophy, when I told them I was studying philosophy and medicine in school. He was aspiring to come to the US and teach. This conversation holds great memory with me today and I wish him all the best of luck. Another great memory is my time spent in the operating room.
I had never seen surgeries in person, so this was truly incredible. Some surgeries to highlight: a vaginal tumour removal and a leg amputation (normally you aren’t allowed in orthopaedics, but the surgeon kindly let me watch). We also got an anatomy and physiology lecture from one of the teachers at the hospital, absolutely fascinating. The teacher was unbelievably enthusiastic; I would’ve loved to have taken one of his classes.
The staff of Projects Abroad is so friendly and incredibly kind. My host father was actually one of the leaders of the project in Nepal (Binod!) and he was someone you just felt comfortable with right away, funny and understanding.
Living in Nepal
My host family was very kind, though it was difficult to communicate when the only word I know is “Namaste”. Despite that, I’d felt so close to them that I was torn to say goodbye at the end of my trip. I also miss the food, terribly. I’ve been looking for Nepalese restaurants around NYC, but honestly I can’t find a good authentic place. And the mangos, you have to eat the mangos there. One of my last days there, I bought five large mangos and ate them in one sitting because I knew I’d never have such fresh mangos again.
Definitely some of the best memories of my experience were my weekend adventures. I got to zipline, paraglide and go on a jungle hike, safari ride, canoe, etc. The transportation, hotels, activities were all arranged by the staff of Projects Abroad, making it easy to travel.
In the few weeks I spent in Nepal, I met some inspiring people from literally all around the world. This has its downfall; it’s going to be hard to see them again! I miss everyone so much, the friends I made, my host family, the staff, the locals and the doctors. There were days I wanted to rest after a day at the hospital, so I would pull out my book to read, but I could never finish it because I was so distracted – talking to the people there, watching the sunset from the roof of my homestay and reflecting on my day.
To this day, I am still sometimes distracted - wishing I were back in Nepal.
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