This is not a story about Brexit, it is not sprinkled with politics and it is not flavoured with “the sadness of living away from your family”. It is a small collection of fragments of the day-to-day life of a foreign junior doctor.
Who says medicine is a common language between countries is not wrong, but not right either. I am frequently asked if I think in English – yes, I do, most of the times. However, after studying 6 years of medicine in my own language, I have so many times when my seniors ask me theoretical questions, and what does my brain do? It freezes, embarrassingly freezes in between translating the question (so I can be sure that I did understand it correctly), searching for the answer in my own language (as it was stored somewhere at some point), and translating it back. Often, the answer does get phrased, but the price is a long pause of blushing and panic.
When tired, I am sometimes prone to “spilling” a short word that is not in English which no one notices apart from myself (something like “yes”/”no”/”but”).
When asked to translate for a patient that does not speak English, my mind sometimes gets tangled and forgets basic words or, worse, it makes me repeat the message as it is, without translating it at all. At least my clumsiness brightens up the atmosphere and breaks the barriers slightly.
As we all know that spoken language is only 7% of a message, I must admit that almost 2 years have not been enough yet for me to master communication as a whole. I used to teach communication skills, body language, presentation skills, but I am still working at converting it all to my new lifestyle. I sometimes get focused on talking correctly and I find myself unable to even maintain eye contact.
Have I ever had unpleasant experiences? Yes: I was scolded by a senior once for "not phrasing the question well". In my mind, the fact that it was grammatically correct, polite and formal seemed enough, but "working in a language that I only learned in school" was definitely not an excuse to bring up at that time.
I see my family once a year, but we skype once a week (or even less, depending on how my rota is). We miss each other, but they know that my home is here, I am appreciated here, I can use my potential, and that gives them peace. The downside of it all is that I can’t call them to share the negative experiences that I am going through, because it would only make them hurt or worry even more. So I try to strengthen myself up and call them only to talk about my successes and positive experiences.
Here, solitude becomes your companion and the staff and your patients become your family. And if you love your job as much as I do, that is more than enough.
As much as we tend to think that people are the same everywhere, we are definitely not. Even the most subtle, but different behaviour can come across as being wrong if not understood. We had a patient at some point that did not speak English, everyone spoke to him either via me or Google translate. But what Google translate could not explain was his gestures, some things that were polite in my culture, placed in this picture, were seen as being awkward. Ever since, this topic has become another item of self-improvement that I focus on.
No matter the challenges, this is the place where I've felt that I belonged from the very beginning. At the end of it all, I think that there is a place like that for each and every one of us, no matter what our background is. If you haven’t been as lucky as I am, I hope that you will all be able to find your “home” one day.
I know I still pinch myself every morning, even after two years.
I just want to say I get you Cristina :) I still feel like this is not home yet. May be one day I will feel.
Hi, I am Italian and I have been training in the UK for 7 years. The cultural differences are definitely there and strong, especially in the communication. I am glad to hear that I am not the only one who "spills" short words!
Thanks for sharing your experience,Cristina. It felt like you were describing me. Feels comforting to know that I am not the only one who uses short words in own language when exhausted, or knows the answer in the head but just can't spill it out in English. However, you are right. We are lucky to be able to progress and develop in this country.