Mykolas Lengel - Medicine & Healthcare, Physiotherapy in Romania
As an undergraduate studying athletic training and pursuing a career in physiotherapy, I was thrilled to discover a physical therapy internship offered abroad. With my final undergraduate summer ahead, this seemed a fantastic opportunity to volunteer, stay fresh with my studies, learn and challenge myself in a foreign environment.
Family roots and a fascination with Eastern Europe made Romania a very enticing destination. After emailing back and forth with questions for Projects Abroad, I was convinced the project in Brasov would provide the experience I was looking for. From the application process to my departure date, I was pleased with the efforts of my project advisor in answering questions and informing me of necessary preparations for my project and accommodation. While the pre-departure process went smoothly, I will not deny I felt anxious about travelling independently for the first time, not to mention working with a foreign medical system. Excitement crept up quickly though and once my bags were packed, I was ready to embark on the adventure and experience life in Romania!
Arriving in Romania
Despite the mental haze from two sleepless flights, my eyes remained open during the drive from Bucharest to Brasov as we zoomed by produce stands, horse-drawn carts, towering mountains and the small villages scattered between them. I immediately knew I was in a very different place from home, and the stunning scenery was more than enough to keep me awake. Upon arrival I was welcomed by my host family and provided with a hefty dinner of soup, chicken, sausage and bread.
Looking back, there is no doubt that my host family was one of the best aspects of my trip. They always made me feel welcome and their generosity was exceptional. We shared plenty of delicious dinners together. During meals we exchanged stories and laughs via basic English, hand gestures and the occasional help of a dictionary. Culturally, I learnt a lot through these moments ranging from language similarities and differences to pre and post-communist Romanian lifestyles. Even when relatives came over for dinner I always felt welcomed, despite being the English-speaking minority.
During my second day I got acquainted with my roommate, other volunteers and a Projects Abroad staff member who gave us a detailed tour of Brasov. I was shown relevant bus stops, where to get a bus pass, where to get a SIM card for my phone and a money exchange centre. I also got a taste of what Brasov had to offer in terms of restaurants, museums and architectural attractions (such as a complex fortification system with towers offering spectacular views of the city).
Throughout the induction day, Projects Abroad did a great job covering essentials that would serve me well for the rest my stay. I was quickly familiarised with the office and the transportation. After this, I really enjoyed independently navigating the city and nearby town where my placement was. I always knew whom to call if I had a problem, but never felt overwhelmed or restrained by the Projects Abroad staff. In addition, staff helped connect all the volunteers together via social events and office meetings. Once acquainted, my roommate and I frequently went out to meet other volunteers in the town centre and also travelled in groups to Bran and Corvin castle.
Volunteering in Romania
My Physiotherapy placement at the Rafael care centre was unforgettable. The physiotherapist helped make my transition into the new work environment very smooth. Throughout our exchanges of information I learnt about the Romanian system of becoming a physiotherapist, outlook on medical careers in Romania, and rehabilitation methods for young children and patients with serious mental or physical conditions. Not only was the staff willing to teach me about different conditions and rehabilitation methods, but also willing to listen to the perspective I brought from my studies in the US. I was very happy to introduce some different taping techniques to aid patients with foot and knee instabilities.
Having such a cohesive working relationship was very beneficial to me, as I got plenty of opportunities to work independently with patients and learn from hands-on experience. This hands-on practice, in addition to discussion and observation, made for a perfect multi-dimensional learning environment. Therapy aside, interacting with people suffering from such debilitating conditions put life into a better perspective for me. To me, their struggles exemplified why it is so critical to be appreciative of even the smallest daily triumph or blessing. I was definitely inspired by all of the patients who, despite their circumstances, exhibited positivity and laughter on a daily basis.
This made Rafael a refreshing environment to work in, and gave me something to look forward to every day. Even though my time at Rafael was short, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with and learn from such a kind and dedicated physical therapist. In addition, having the opportunity to provide these patients with new tools, exercises, and optimism to improve their conditions was justification enough for my decision to travel to Romania.
Free time in Romania
During free time, there was never a dull moment. I loved having the independence to explore Brasov and the surrounding areas. Learning to navigate a foreign city along with its transportation system and language was incredibly rewarding. I gained a lot of confidence in travelling independently, which will hopefully be put to good use in the future.
With input from my host family and projects abroad staff, I visited Bran, Rasnov, Corvin castle in Hunedoara, Sibiu and Peles castle in Sinaia either with new friends or independently. I also took on my fear of heights with a relative of my host family, climbing and zip lining through extensive treetop courses at Brasov’s adventure park.
When not travelling, I enjoyed walking around the old city fortifications, climbing up to the towers, taking in the amazing views, exploring the mini museums and the Black Church and walking through the peaceful downtown park to relax after a long day. The great balance between work, staff-support and independence helped me get the most out of my month in Romania. Not one day was wasted. Through all these experiences I met some incredible people and travelled to some wonderful places, creating memories that will stay with me forever. I can honestly say embarking on this adventure was the right decision, and one of the best I have made.