Category Archives: Study Abroad

Opportunities for study abroad of particular interest for Honors students.

Student Voices: How My Experience in Nepal Forced Me to Grow Up, Toughen Up, and Face the Reality of What It Really Takes to be a Doctor

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the post below, Parker Bamback ’20 describes how his medical clerkship in Nepal helped him better understand a career in medicine.

– By Parker Bamback

My name is Parker Bamback and I’m a senior Biology student with hopes of going to medical school. This past summer, I had the privilege of spending almost two months in Nepal participating in various medical activities.

I’ve had numerous interesting and exciting experiences in medicine through past volunteering and job-shadowing, but my experiences in Nepal exposed me to the most difficult parts of what being in medicine entails. Many who want to become doctors, like me, imagine a career of helping people and improving quality of life. We envision ourselves as the hero in the stories of our patients. We don’t want to ponder the part of being a doctor that involves dealing with suffering, or possibly even death. During a four week medical clerkship at Model Hospital in Kathmandu, I was faced with having to experience what is truly involved in being a doctor.

I began my first day of the program in Internal Medicine. I woke up feeling both nervous and excited, and couldn’t wait to meet the doctors I would be spending the next two weeks with. They exceeded my expectations: they were friendly, nice, funny, and best of all they could speak English! After morning coffee, it was time to start rounds on all the patients and the first stop was the ICU. The second patient we observed had been unresponsive for a couple of days and today was the day the doctors felt comfortable giving him the diagnosis of vegetative state. The doctor called in the patient’s daughter, a young woman who worked as a nurse at the hospital, and explained to her that although her father’s pneumonia had been cured, it had entered his brain and he was now trapped in a permanent vegetative state. It was painful to watch all hope drain from this woman’s face. I asked one of the doctors to explain the treatment options for this man and was told: “she either takes him off life support so he dies, or we wait for him to die on his own.”

The situation with the next patient in the ICU was not much easier as she was hysterical and I had to assist in restraining her for a test. She was in the ICU due to a pulmonary embolism and the test was to see if her thirty-two-week pregnancy was still viable—she hadn’t felt the baby move for several weeks. The test concluded that the pregnancy was no longer viable. The day did not get much better from there, and ended with me holding the hand of a young girl while doctors performed a painful bone marrow aspiration on her. In the U.S., an aspiration is normally a quick procedure performed under general anesthesia; however, the doctors here did not use anesthesia, nor did they have the proper equipment for the procedure. They had to use a knife to chip down the outer layer of the syringe to get it to fit with the needle. It was not a perfect fit so they had to keep trying to use their fingers to form suction between the syringe and the needle. It took them over thirty minutes, using both the girl’s hipbones, for them to get enough marrow. During this time, the girl was dry heaving from the pain, crying, and begging us to stop. It was excruciating to watch. This was not how I pictured my first of my clerkship. I tried to reassure myself that there are some bad days in medicine, and that surely tomorrow would be better.

Day two was worse. I arrived at the hospital to see new faces in the ICU. I was very happy, thinking that some people got discharged, but was quickly informed that they had all died during the night. Later, while doing our rounds in the ER to see if any patients needed to be admitted, a man came in unresponsive and I watched as the doctors tried vigorously to revive him. They were not successful and walked away, leaving the man lying on the bed uncovered and alone. I walked out of the ER and saw the family of the patient waiting in the hallway, unaware that he was no longer alive. That was the first time I witnessed someone die. It was hard, but I tried to take comfort in the fact that everything was done to try and save him.

I can’t say that about a patient later in the week. I had been in internal medicine for about five days at this point, all of them just as grim. In fact, I had, gone from being excited every morning to being distressed over what pain I would witnesses that day. On this particular day, a forty-five-year-old man was going to be the first patient to leave the ICU alive since I had started. Unfortunately, he was leaving because his sons were taking him home to die. From the look of him, no one would know he was dying: he was happy, joking around, and full of color. This was because he was on medication to combat his liver disease. Without the medication, he would die within a week or two. His sons were removing him from the hospital because they had run out of money and had already used what little savings they had to pay for the $50 a day stay in the ICU. They would also have to discontinue their father’s medication which cost $5 a day (a daily foot-long sandwich at Subway costs more than it would to keep this man alive). It was so disheartening. The only person to leave the ICU alive was the pregnant woman who came in on my first day.  Although I was sad that this woman had lost her baby, the fact that she was leaving the ICU was the highlight of my first week. At least someone was getting out of this place alive and healthy. It made me happy to think about it.

My second week in Internal Medicine was much more optimistic: only one patient died and many were sent home. It was during this week that I was exposed to just how different the practice is of U.S. medicine versus that of Nepalese medicine. A man had just been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, and I was preparing myself for the miserable conversation between the doctor and patient regarding the diagnosis and prognosis. But, it never happened. The doctors took the wife aside and told her the diagnosis and prognosis. She was devastated and weeping, but when she calmed down she instructed the doctors not to tell her husband and the doctors agreed. I was shocked when the doctors went to the patient and told him that he just had a bad stomach ache that would eventually go away. The patient was then discharged. I discovered that in Nepal, patients have very few rights. In this culture, the family of the patient makes all decisions. It juxtaposes the individualistic culture in the U.S. In Nepal, a patient’s family gets to decide what the patient is allowed to know, and they are the ones who must consent to any tests or treatments. Only one doctor I spoke with, a pediatric surgeon, felt that patients should have the right to know their diagnosis and prognosis. Everyone else believed it to be an acceptable practice.

I am so grateful for all my experiences during this clerkship—the good and the bad. I learned so much about medicine in general and it was invaluable to have the opportunity to observe doctors working in a poor, undeveloped country. I am most appreciative of my rotation in Internal Medicine. Although they were probably the hardest two weeks of my life, they forced me to experience the harsh realities of being a doctor; the messy and depressing parts I hadn’t really wanted to think about. Initially, it made me question whether or not I could handle it every day—accepting that people will die and that I won’t be able to stop it—but because of these experiences, I know it is all worth it just to watch that one patient go from being so sick they need a feeding tube, to being healthy enough to walk out of the hospital. Smiling! This is the memory that will motivate me every day. It is the memory that makes me know for certain that I want to be a doctor.

Parker Bamback ’20 holds a patient during his medical clerkship in Nepal.
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Md. Mashfique Reza – Gilman Scholar Reflection

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that helps students with limited financial means to experience the enriching experience of study abroad and help prepare them for work in a global economy. The reflection below describes an experience from a recent Gilman Scholar.

By Mohammad Reza ‘19

Gilman Scholar Md. Mashfique Reza ’19

My name is Md. Mashfique Reza. I am one of the ten students from the aerospace engineering department who got the opportunity to come to the Indian Institute of technology (IIT) Gandhinagar with departmental professor Dr. Kinra who mentored us throughout and after the program.

I am grateful that I took this trip. As a Bengali American, I spent a lot of my life in the U.S. and my teenage years in Bangladesh. I got a good experience of life in both worlds. I would proudly say that I accept the good and bad in both American and South Asian culture.
When I was nineteen, I moved back to the United States. I had nostalgia for home and struggled with adapting culturally. However, as time passed I adapted myself, while not forgetting my own South Asian cultural principles that I gained in my teenage years.

However, I never realized what American culture had taught me. I never knew that I am a totally different individual than I used to be ten years ago before moving back to U.S. American culture has taught me to be more humane, practice more responsible habits, such as not throwing garbage anywhere on the road, and learn different concepts of good manners, such as waiting in line. U.S. culture removed the social class and pride from my soul.

During the trip each night, I would think about the past me compared to the present me. I can see how sensitive I became to my surroundings. I could see the current me being sensitive to the fact that  the past me would not have noticed the racial discrimination with the so-called lower class, such as waiters and cooks having to treat so-called upper class with extra respect. If they were sitting down watching TV when we arrived, they would give up their seat. They would not sit beside us and watch TV because upper-class society would see this as disrespectful.

However, Indian people are generally very friendly. People would go out of their way to help us. Anywhere I went, I did not feel uncomfortable or unsafe asking a random individual on the street for directions or any question. There were a couple of incidents where we were not sure about our destination, and we got local strangers giving going out of their way to show us our destination.

The cultural places we visited were really glorious. This country is rich with monarchs and the architecture of forts and palaces left by them. The gems, stones, and clothing were handcrafted and unique. We visited the fortress of King Jai Singh and the gems and clothing stores in Jaipur. The Dilhi Jami mosque was fascinating. The tour to Akshardham temple with its  historical details was mind-boggling.

Another fascinating part of the India tour was the food. Each state has its own way to spice the food and each dish, with different recipes tasting totally different. Parotas, fish, mutton curries, different type of veggie dishes, such as lentils and beans, and appetizers, such as dosas and puris, are some of the unique indian foods that we got to taste. The street food in Delhi is something we do not get to see much in the U.S. It is like a gyro cart in New York City, but  it has its own unique Indian set up, with ten times the taste and variety to choose from.

Indian culture is rich with strong family values. People are very hospitable, welcoming, and less alienating to foreigners. It was easy for me to connect with them, as I could speak and understand Hindi. I was able to practice my foreign language skills and interpret for my team while we were navigating and communicating during in trips to Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, and Delhi. I made some good friends in India who I have been in touch with via Facebook. I was also able to create academic exchanges as well, comparing our academics with theirs.

At the end of the day there are good and bad sides in every culture. I am glad that I got a taste of both cultures. This trip to India gave me an opportunity to understand the value of American lifestyle and technology. I was able to reflect on the values I adopted from the US that differs from my culture. This trip also allowed me to cherish the principles of Bengali Indian culture and family values.

To learn more about the Gilman Scholarship or other nationally-competitive awards, please visit http://tx.ag/NatlFellows or contact natlfellows@tamu.edu.

Learning Outside the Classroom – Briana Bryson Study Abroad

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the excerpt below, senior animal science major Briana Bryson ’17 describes her learning experiences—both in and out of the classroom—on her study abroad program to Japan.

By Briana Bryson –

During the fall of my junior year, I decided that my undergraduate experience wouldn’t be complete without a study abroad. I chose Japan as my destination, with food, language development, and the desire to experience a non-Western culture being my biggest motivators. I applied to a transfer credit program through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) and was accepted into the Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies (NUFS). With an enrollment of less than 700 students, the university is less than a quarter of the size of my old high school. Most of the students who go there are native Japanese students who are pursuing degrees in foreign languages, or international students, so I thought it would be the perfect environment for me to improve my skills in Japanese.

I consider my study abroad one of my best undergraduate experiences so far! There are few better ways to test your abilities to problem-solve than to travel to a country with a native tongue you can barely understand. Before my semester at NUFS began, I traveled around Japan on my own for a week, visiting various sites in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka, and making use of their extensive railroad system.

Briana Bryson '17 in front of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto
Briana Bryson ’17 in front of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

Considering how my poor my Japanese was at the time, looking back, I am amazed by how I managed to survive on my own for a week without even a reliable Internet connection to rely on!

Nagasaki is a beautiful coastal city described as one of the best natural harbors in the world. The modern city is a far cry from the scenes of destruction a Google image search is likely to come up with. The picture on a right is a photograph I took from a viewing deck near the city’s penguin aquarium, near the end of summer. 72% of the Japan is covered in mountains, and Nagasaki gives a good idea of how the country’s 120 + million people manage to make efficient use of the land.

Perhaps number one on the list of Nagasaki’s must-see sites is the 平和公園, or Peace Park. Built in order to remember the lives lost when the city was hit with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II, it lies in the center of the city just a short walk away from the bomb’s epicenter. It is a beautiful place to visit, possessing walkways adorned with flowers and artistic statues gifted to the city of Nagasaki from countries all over the world bearing messages of peace. The statue in the picture to the right faces the bomb’s epicenter. I learned from my Peace Studies professor that the arm extended outwards is meant to gesture towards the prosperity peace brings – the wealthy, modern city of Nagasaki – while the arm pointing upwards serves as a warning of the potential danger of future weapons of mass destruction

Believe it or not, studying actually took up a decent chunk of my study abroad. The Nagasaki University of Foreign Studies, or “Gai-dai”, as shortened from its Japanese name, was about an hour-long commute from my host family’s house via bus, and 20 minutes away if driving directly by car. It’s situated in a town called Togitsu, which lies north of Nagasaki. I took 16 hours’ worth of classes – Japanese 3, Peace Studies, Modern Japanese History (MJH), Introduction to Japanese Society (IJS), Kanji and Vocabulary 2&3, Tea Ceremony, Calligraphy, and Shogi. I am proud to say I only got one A! Such a statement may sound odd coming from an honors student, but the Japanese grading system is different from ours, with an S, corresponding to an A+, being the highest achievable grade. I was surprised when all of my classes, barring Peace Studies, MJH, and IJS, were taught in Japanese, but I quickly adapted and am grateful for the listening practice.

To read more about Bryson’s experience in Japan, check out the Study Abroad page of her Honors ePortfolio: https://sites.google.com/site/brianashonorseportfolio/study-abroad.

Back in the States – Blake Smith

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the excerpt below, junior biomedical engineering major Blake Smith ’18 reflects on his time in Germany.

Blake Smith '18 (center)
Blake Smith ’18 (center)

One habit I picked up while abroad is calling the US The States instead. Somehow it just seemed more natural while in Europe. I am back now, and I don’t think there is as much of an adjustment period as people made me think there would be. Things don’t feel weird now that I am back in Texas. Its a little hot, which unfortunate because I don’t like the heat at all, but this has been my “normal” for my entire life, so spending a few months in a strange environment isn’t going to make my normal feel any different to me. All that is going to happen (and did happen) is me getting used to the strange environment I landed in back in January when I flew across the ocean to Germany.

When I woke up in Germany I rode the bus into a completely foreign city (although it became familiar). I took classes in a small classroom of 20 or less students. I would go eat and be faced with odd foods and cooks/cashiers who do not speak my language. I would either get by with rudimentary German or they would get the clue from my blank stare and respond in English if they could. When I was not in class or eating, I walked around a town with buildings older than the existence of my country. There were bakeries on every corner, and somehow German’s not obese (the German people must have some secret that allows them to eat copious amounts of bread without gaining weight). When I was done in the city I would take the bus back to a home that was not my own. I ate dinner with a family of strangers who were nice enough to let me stay in their house. They fed me great food, but it was all very different than what I would eat at home. In many ways it was better, but sometimes I would yearn for the comfort of familiar foods. This feeling or desiring familiarity changed though. The feeling of being out of place when surrounded by a foreign environment, people, language and food soon changed. These things never actually stopped being strange to me. What was foreign when I landed in Germany was still foreign when I boarded the plane back home. Instead these things changing, I changed. I became accustomed to the feeling of being out of place.

Part of me is happy that I am back in my normal, but part of me isn’t. Germany was such an adventure and there was always something going on at all times. I feel like this aspect is going to be really missing now that I am back home, but I am sure I will stop missing this over time. I am glad to be back and able to see family and friends. I have missed them a lot and its been good to see them and tell them all about my experiences. People always talk about how hard it is to answer the question of how studying abroad went, and I can understand that now. There were so many different adventures, feelings, and environments experienced that anything short of telling it all would not do it justice.

To read more of Blake’s posts from the Germany Biosciences Semester abroad, visit https://plus.google.com/100826743652176272947/posts.

Jay Garza – Pre-Flight

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the excerpt below, junior biomedical engineering major Jay Garza ’18 shares some of the anxiety he had approaching his study abroad experience, as well as his rationale for pursuing experience abroad.

– By Jay Garza

It is only hours before my flight which will take me thousands of miles away. I’m fumbling around with my passport and ticket at DFW Airport Security. Holding up the line, I try to speed up. When a TSA worker asked me, “Staying or Going?” My mind went blank when i attempted to think of a response. Unable to answer the worker, I look up at the man with a dumbfounded stare as I walk through the X-ray machine and collect my things.

Situated at my gate, I began to realize that I have not put much—if any—thought at all into this trip. I did not learn any German. I did not pack any school supplies. I started to panic. Did I leave anything important? Are my friends going back home to forget about me? What will I do if my host family hates me? What am I going to do if my host family only eats beets?! I HATE beets! Who the hell signed me up for this trip?! Oh crap! That was me. What was I thinking?

Calmed down by a few deep breaths and some rational thoughts, I knew these worries were just a bit of pre-trip anxiety. Still though, I felt unprepared to embark on this journey, especially since this trip would be my first time traveling alone. Then I began to think of why I wanted to come in the first place.

I knew growing up where I did and going to school at Texas A&M, I was part of a bubble, unaffected by the changing world around it. Going to Germany would be an opportunity to burst that bubble and really explore an entirely different world outside my own small one. All I have to do is talk to the people. Coming to Germany would give me a chance to travel alone for the first time in my life. Knowing that I could single-handedly navigate myself through international borders not only gave me an incredible feeling of independence, but also gave me an enormous amount of confidence.

To read more from Jay’s study abroad blog entries, visit https://plus.google.com/104900538495037609337/posts.

Jay Garza '17 listens intently to an audioguide.
Jay Garza ’17 (center) listens intently to an audioguide.

 

Mitch Parma: Costa Rica

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the post below, junior biomedical sciences major Mitch Parma ’17 relates the breadth of his experience this fall in the Costa Rica Biomedical Science Semester (CRiBS) at the TAMU Soltis Center for Research and Education.

By Mitch Parma

I remember before coming on this study abroad trip, I was advised to come up with a succinct, 5-minute response to the inevitable questions that would be asked by my friends and family back in the United States: “How was studying abroad in Costa Rica?”

Of course, my initial response would consist of a long string of trite sayings such as “It was incredible!” or “I learned so much!” or the even more overused “I can’t even put it into words!” The truth is that I can’t completely put my experiences into words. But 106 days worth of adventure isn’t supposed to be summed up into a convenient half-page paragraph. It would leave out too many of the crucial details, and the summation of these details is what makes my study abroad experience so spectacular.

In order to fully understand the impact this experience has had on me, more time and maturity are required on my part. But circumventing the question “How was Costa Rica?” would be a cop-out, and this question demands an answer, so I would respond my simply playing this video journal that captures the highlights of every single day¬. It includes all of our adventures, from the times we visited hospitals, took nature walks in the tropical forests, and white-water rafted, to the times we simply ate meals, studied, and lived life together. Truly every day was an adventure in itself!

Follow this link to see the video Mitch created documenting his experience: https://vimeo.com/149450313.

To learn more about the Costa Rica Biomedical Science Semester, visit http://vetmed.tamu.edu/international-programs/study-abroad-courses/bims-costa-rica.

2015 CRiBS students (left to right): Chase Nuñez, Brittany Witt, David Westra, Elizabeth Crowling, Andy Castro, Emily Bradin, Alex Villarreal, Mitch Parma, Jackie Parker, Katelyn Goodroe, Heather McCraw, Sarah Teo, Tori Van Wart, Dr. Musser.
2015 CRiBS students (left to right):
Chase Nuñez, Brittany Witt, David Westra, Elizabeth Crowling, Andy Castro, Emily Bradin, Alex Villarreal, Mitch Parma, Jackie Parker, Katelyn Goodroe, Heather McCraw, Sarah Teo, Tori Van Wart, Dr. Musser.

Alex Luna: Mate Club

Honors Students away from campus for study abroad, co-ops, or internships are encouraged to write about their experiences to share them with the Honors community. In the post below, junior Spanish and communication double-major Alex Luna ’17 shares what he learned about the value of political engagement in Buenos Aires, Argentina while studying there during Fall 2015.

By Alex Luna ’17

This past semester, I have been living and studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During my time here, I have had the opportunity to attend a cultural language exchange club called “Mate Club de Conversación.” Mate is an herbal tea that the Argentines drink socially, to study, or stay alert during a long workday. It has become an integral part of Argentine culture. Preparing a good “mate” has become a tradition in itself. There has even become a judged, national contest each year to see who can prepare the best tasting mate. To put it frankly, mate is a BIG deal in Argentina.

At Mate Club de Conversación, we talk 15 minutes in Spanish and 15 minutes in English while sharing a “mate.” The setup allows us to both work on our foreign language while at the same time enjoying each other’s company. No topic is taboo at Mate Club. It has been here that I have fully understood what Argentina was, is, and hopes to be.

During the past six months, Argentina has been in their process of electing a new president. I believe that everyone should experience the political process of a foreign country for it will truly challenge the one where you live. Living in Buenos Aires, the national capitol of Argentina, there are people of every background and political mindset mixed together. Mate Club brings a diverse group of people from many backgrounds, age groups, and political mindsets together in one setting.

During my time attending Mate Club, I was given an insight into the minds of many different people and what they thought. In Argentina, it is not taboo to talk about politics or the political process. Friends, new acquaintances, and family can share opposing views without fear of ruined friendships or hurt feelings. Almost every conversation with a new Argentine friend started with a chat about politics in Argentina and the United States.

Argentines understand the importance of democracy for it was only a little over 30 years ago that it was restored from a harsh dictatorship. This fervor and invested interest in politics made me wonder what our political participation was once like during the birth of our country. Our deadlocked political system where we are scared to talk about our political views must be changed. For political change to happen, we must be able to talk about it freely, without fear of a lost friendship or heavily, heated debate. The Argentines understand this. We should learn from them.

These raw conversations have challenged the way I think about the world and who I am. If you are ever in Buenos Aires, I highly recommend attending Mate Club de Conversación. It is here that I have made friends and learned lessons that I will keep for a lifetime.

Alex (middle) with Rodrigo (right) and Nahue (left), the founders of Mate Club de Conversación
Alex (middle) with Rodrigo (right) and Nahue (left), the founders of Mate Club de Conversación

Want to learn more about mate? Traveling to Argentina and want to plug in with Mate Club de Conversación? Visit http://www.mate-club.com.ar.