This summer I set off to Mexico in order to undertake two placements: one in a veterinary hospital and one in a biomedical laboratory. By placing myself in a new learning environment I was hoping to gain some practical skills and reinforce my knowledge from the University. However, what I learnt over the course of six weeks turned out to be much more. Mexico was for me not only an academic adventure, but also a lesson of modesty, openness and hospitality.
Apart from security concerns, my biggest worry before coming to Mexico was the language barrier. Despite spending countless hours with a phrase book, I could not hide the fact that I have never taken a proper Spanish course. I was very lucky to use English in both of my placements; but in order to buy tamales for breakfast or to take the right bus, I had to rely on my very limited set of Spanish words and a lot of creativity.
Although paralysing at times, my attempts to “break” the language barrier turned out to be a very fruitful learning experience. They not only showed me how much can be expressed without words, but also made me more open and confident. With every successful attempt I became more keen to interact with people, further improving my Spanish and gaining the motivation for additional hours of work with my phrasebook.
Similarly, both of my placements taught me a lot beyond academic knowledge. Being a medical student, I expected that entering a veterinary hospital will be very challenging. However, I quickly discovered that being open and asking questions is the best method of working my way around. Soon not only did I learn how to cannulate a cat or how to interpret a CT scan from a dachshund, but I also discovered how many similarities exist between the veterinary and the medical practice. However, at many times I had to acknowledge the lacks in my knowledge, which was a lesson of modesty, but also a motivation for further studying.
Working in a biomedical laboratory at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) also increased my motivation for learning. Although most of the team members there were only slightly older than me, they impressed me with both their knowledge and their positive attitude. Despite being more experienced, they would always treat me as an equal and they did everything to give me the best experience possible. Their approachability and openness is definitely something that I will keep in my memory and that I will try to adopt in the long term.
My placements and the language adventures are just a few of the stories that I would like to share. Mexico taught me much more than I could ever expect and enchanted me with its rich culture and amazing people. I am grateful to the Principal’s Go Abroad fund for making this experience possible.