How best to diagnose asthma? (described using five German words/phrases)

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“Allgemeinmedizin”

The Institut für Allgemeinmedizin (Institute of General Practice), part of the Technische Universitat Munchen, hosted me during a gloriously sunny week in June. My visit had been planned for over a year since meeting Professor Antonius Schneider, an expert in asthma diagnostic studies.

My interest in asthma diagnosis developed after helping to update the Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network asthma diagnosis chapter. I was surprised to realise the limited evidence available to support current recommendations. Completing a project with Professor Schneider would develop my understanding of how new diagnostic tests for asthma are evaluated.

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The medical school, Technische Universitat Munchen

“Endshuldigang!”

Endshuldigang (“excuse me / sorry”) fast became my favourite (and most used) word as I travelled through Germany to Munich, the capital of Bavaria. My lack of German language was my main concern prior to departure, but having immersed myself in duolingo (a foreign languages app) I quickly built on my ability to say “sorry”, and survived, mainly due to the extremely friendly and accommodating locals!

“Aus! Tief!”

On my second day, I visited the Maxmillian Ludwig University Hospital, to spend time at the respiratory function laboratory. Breathing tests can be tough for patients who are required to breathe out as forcefully and quickly as possible (as I learned from personal experience)! The physiologists were brilliantly enthusiastic, shouting “Aus” (Out), “Tief” (Deep) loudly enough to be heard at the end of the corridor!

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Completing whole body plethysmography, a form of lung function testing. Breathing inside a closed box with a nose clip wasn’t the nicest experience!

Rauchen Sie?

Munich is a beautiful city. It was clean and easy to travel around with impressive architecture and lovely green spaces. As a public health student I was surprised to spot cigarette dispensing machines on the street – not something I’ve come across in Scotland! Spending time researching lung disease concentrates the mind, and I was disappointing to see large numbers of young smokers, seemingly more than in the UK (at least anecdotally). It made me even more impressed at the initiative taken by the Scottish Government to ban smoking.

Pfeifendes Atemgeräusch und Allergischer Schnupfen

Analysing data collected in German added a new challenge! The study evaluated 400 adults presenting with symptoms suggestive of asthma. Each individual completed a questionnaire regarding their medical history and symptoms, before undertaking several diagnostic tests. Comparing each ‘test’ to the final diagnosis (asthma or not) made it possible to understand how effective each ‘test’ was in confirming or refuting asthma. ‘Wheeze’ (Pfeifendes Atemgeräusch) and hay fever (Allergischer Schnupfen) were the most useful predictors of asthma.

Summary

Studying in Munich was a brilliant experience. Living and travelling in a different city, trying to communicate in a different language, getting used to cultural differences were all really valuable. Yet the best thing was to work with the Munich research group, with whom I built lasting friendships and will continue to work with in the future.

Deaf Studies Course: Aarhus University

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In July and August of this year I spent two weeks in Aarhus, a city on the Danish mainland, in order to complete a Deaf Studies course at Aarhus University. The course concentrated on sign language linguistics, and interpretation and translation of signed languages. Anyone who knows me well will understand that I am not only very interested in sign languages, especially British Sign Language (BSL), but also linguistics, which forms part of my degree at UofE, so this course was a perfect fit for me.

Although I was very excited about the course, I was also nervous and a little anxious. Having just returned from a year abroad in Barcelona, I wasn’t too worried about homesickness or anything like that, especially since I was only planning to be away for three weeks in total (including a short trip to visit a friend in Hamburg). However, I was a little worried about the communication aspect of the course since there would be many Deaf people attending and my BSL was very rusty, and I knew next to no American or International Sign Language! I knew the course would be taught in International Sign Language with a live translation into English which would be fine, but communicating with Deaf classmates was something which caused me concern. In addition, the course was the equivalent of a semester-long course at Edinburgh but was to be taught in two weeks so I was a little anxious about how intense it would be.

Thankfully I overcame these stressors pretty quickly once I arrived in Aarhus. The course was intense and we worked in class, did group work on our breaks, and did some independent work at night but, in all honesty, I really enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, I had such an amazing time in Barcelona but I finished my academic year in May and didn’t really do anything which engaged my brain between then and arriving in Aarhus so it was nice to get it going again. With regards to the communication difficulties, this aspect of the trip actually proved to be one of the most rewarding. In the class there were speakers of English, Danish, German, Dutch and Spanish as well as signers of British Sign Language, Danish Sign Language, American Sign Language, International Sign Language and German Sign Language. And I think everyone was able to communicate in at least two of these languages. It proved extremely interesting and challenging and often resulted in communication through the written word, or by mixing sign languages or signed and spoken languages, but we all managed to do group work and socialise together successfully which was pretty amazing.

These challenges in communication were overcome, allowing us to connect with people from very different backgrounds, whether that be Deaf and hearing, Danish and British, or whatever other combination. As a result, I learnt a lot, not only about the content of the course which I will use to further my dissertation research, but also about how to communicate and make good friends with others in an innovative way.

Village BY Village – Volunteering in Ghana

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With the help of the Go abroad Fund and other various fundraising events, I travelled to Ghana to volunteer as a teacher for one month. This experience, was by far the most unique and challenging month of my life.

I set of for my travels on the 3rd of June, flying from London airport, to Amsterdam then onto Ghana, a journey taking over 16 hours. Leaving my family at the airport was terrifying but I was excited, especially as I had never left the EU before now. Once I finally landed, I met the other three new volunteers who had landed an hour earlier. Initially scary but I found it easy to get along quickly with everyone. Next stop, the village that I will be living in for the next month – Abenta. Abenta was totally the unknown, but this little village with no electricity, wifi or even a road were far from home but exactly what i imagined. The culture shock was shocking throughout my experience the more i learnt and traveled around the more i found the contrasts to our western lives. The charity Village by Village that i was volunteering for, are a small charity based only in Ghana to try help improve the lives of Ghanians. Such aims like – to get everyone access to clean water, prevent malaria through education and mosquito net schemes as well as many other necessary improvements like new school buildings and toilets. For me, i was there to teach English and paint the school.

My typical day, started at 6am, to help make breakfast for the rest of the volunteers using only one stove for 12. After breakfast i would head to school to my classroom to start the day of teaching. school in Ghana has no real system, sometimes it starts at 8am other times such as on market day I would be awaiting children till 10am. Teaching was initially terrifying, as its something i have never done and usually i would be very scared of especially due to the language barrier that challenged me everyday. By the end of my month in Ghana though the children I taught became family just as did the rest of the village community. After school every day of the week was a different activity for the children who wanted to learn more such as reading club and sports club which me and another volunteer were in charge of. 6pm soon came around and we would start preparing found again and then suddenly it would be dark. In the evenings, most of us were usually exhausted, especially the volunteers here that were on the construction team, but most nights we played some sort of game. When it came to bedtime the girls had there own room and the boys the others. Our rooms compromised of bunk beds with mosquito nets, then add 8 girls with no fan in the boiling heat of the climate and the nearest long drop 5 minute walk into the village. At first sleeping was so hard, the unusual noises, smells and animals made it near impossible but after a few days this was manageable.

Not everyday was a work day though, at the weekends we travelled to see the rest of Ghana and what it had to offer. This included going to the Boti waterfalls, the Kokobitie coast line, Cape Coast and many markets. My experience here really was memorable and humbling, see the work of the fantastic charity – Village by Village help so profoundly, and to be involved was just heartwarming. Without the help of the Principals Go Abroad Fund and those of whom that donated to directly the Charity money I gave then this wouldn’t have been possible. I have come back to the UK with a widened knowledge of the third world, and start to hopefully future visits to such countries. this better understanding and improved confidence and skill adopted has motivate my even more so with my future studies as a happy and excited geography student.

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Painting I did at a School

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Top of Boti Falls

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The Bead Market

Immersion is the Key to Language Learning! – Shrina Gohel

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I was lucky enough to be chosen for the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund (PGAF) scholarship for my one-month language course that I chose to take in Germany. As a second-year student of the Business School, I will spend my third year abroad at a German university. During this time, I will have to take the majority of my courses in German and therefore, I decided that a good way to prepare for this would be to take a summer course before university starts. I found a Business German language course in Düsseldorf, which teaches basic business theories and concepts in German… exactly what I needed to kick-start my time before Frankfurt!

My greatest worry before leaving for the course was definitely regarding the German language. I have only been learning German since the start of university as a beginner. This would be my first experience of living in Germany where I would be attending school and always be exposed to the language. I found this particularly scary as I did not speak German on a day-to-day basis. I knew that I would definitely make a lot of mistakes when speaking the language, which made me feel even more nervous. Furthermore, I chose to live with a host family, so I knew that I would have to speak it at home even after the language school was finished. However, I was determined to really put myself out there and expose myself to not only the language but to the culture and people by staying with a host family.

However, looking back on it now, I can certainly say that the first few days were the most difficult and I did question whether I had taken on too much too quickly. I found it really hard to communicate with others at the beginning as everyone only spoke German in the class and at home, so it was a little overwhelming. Nevertheless, after a few days things got better and better. I learnt that it is completely okay to make mistakes when speaking a language… no matter how silly you feel! It is from these mistakes, and a lot of patience, that we can improve our language abilities. I began to really get stuck in with the course and found it interesting to learn business concepts in German. I also became really good friends with my host family. I immersed myself in all aspects of the course and life in Düsseldorf, and now I feel much more prepared and confident to speak German. I am really looking forward for my year abroad. I know that without this course and the support of PGAF, my start at Frankfurt would have been much more difficult. From completely immersing myself with the German language, culture and people, I now look forward to study advanced courses in German with much more motivation, confidence and enthusiasm!

Engineering Summer School at Anna University, Chennai, India

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I have been selected by the University of Edinburgh to attend an engineering summer school titled “Global Advancements in Engineering and Technology” at Anna University, Chennai, India. The topics covered come from different disciplines of engineering, and include microsystems, food processing, cloud computing, renewable energy and sustainability, and global development.

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This has been a great experience, as I learned about extremely interesting emerging trends in engineering. I was particularly eager to learn about renewables and energy conservation, as well as recent information technologies research.

Our academic pursuits consisted of theory classes delivered by Anna University professors regarding their latest research, and laboratory tours where we explored the equipment relevant to the area of our morning lectures. We studied university-made robots, including UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicle, or air-drone), robotic arms, and cookie-testing equipment.

I have made many new friends, particularly with local students at Anna University, which was an enriching and valuable experience. It was very enjoyable to learn about the many cultural differences and similarities, and to explore Chennai and the nearby cities.

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Before I left, I worried about the safety of the trip, particularly whether our journey to the university would be smooth, and whether our accommodation and food would be manageable, as we have been warned about possible indigestion from the spicy Indian food and high traffic risks in the country. However, our hosts proved to be extremely hospitable, and I feel very lucky to have been part of this programme. The food was very different from what I was used to, but very delicious, and our cultural trips have been very safe yet eye-opening.

Another concern has been the climate of India, which would naturally be extremely different than what I am used to, particularly in summer. Luckily, our hosts at Anna University have also taken this into consideration, and equipped our accommodation rooms and classrooms with air conditioners.

I have found the laboratory trips to be especially interesting, as we could see the research equipment used at the university, and ask any questions which the friendly professors and tutors were very eager to answer.

Overall, this trip has been a great success, both academically and personally, as I not only learned a lot in terms of engineering knowledge, including that outside of my discipline, but also overcame challenges in regards to cultural adaptation. Moreover, I have made many new friends, seen new places, and tried new foods. I would greatly recommend this programme to any engineering students at our university.

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Croatia!

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Thanks to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services Annual Conference in Split, Croatia. It was such an amazing experience, I made friends with students from all over the world, and got to spend time with and network with people who have the same research interests as my own. Before I left, I was worried that I might forget something, but made sure to have a checklist of everything that I needed to bring. While I was there, I presented two pieces of my research, one through a poster presentation and one through an oral presentation as part of a symposium; I was also awarded the ‘Best Presentation Award’ for my poster! At the conference, I learned all about the other research that is being conducted in my field. After the conference ended, other students and I explored Croatia, and took in as much culture and local food as we could! I learned all about the history of Croatia by doing tours and by talking to the locals there. Below, you can find some highlights of my trip!

We had one day off before the conference started, so naturally, my friends I spent the day at a beautiful beach.

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The view from the hotel where the conference was held was pretty amazing, and the abundance of sunshine made it difficult to stay inside!

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On the first day of the conference I presented my poster, and did my oral presentation on second day.

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After the conference, some fellow students and I took a day trip to Krka National Park, one of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen.

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The next day we took a ferry to Dubrovnik from Split, and spent the day in the ancient walled city (of course pretending to be in Game of Thrones 🙂 )

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This trip was so much fun, and Croatia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, I can’t wait to go back!

APEX 5 High Altitude Research Expedition: Bolivia

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This summer, I was part of the APEX 5 high altitude research expedition to Bolivia. This is the 5th expedition to altitude the charity has undertaken. The project is completely student-led and was supported by the University of Edinburgh Medical school. I was acting as research participant in several scientific studies exploring the impact of altitude and hypoxia on blood coagulation, immunology and infection, and vision. The findings of this expedition have the potential affect millions worldwide; both patients living at high altitude and patients in the UK with illness-induced hypoxia.

Our make-shift research lab was 4,800m above sea level at Huayna Potosi base camp in the Bolivian Andes. But the first couple of days were spent acclimatizing in the hostel and city of La Paz. Huayna Potosi is one of the mountains that dwarfs the city of La Paz. We were to be based at the camp for 7 days; taking blood samples from everyone on day 2 and day 6. This would be able to show us if any changes had taken place due to acclimatising to the new altitude. I was part of the platelet research team; which involved titrating chemicals and mixing various agonists and antagonists with the blood plasma in 96-well plates. There were also three other studies taking place at the same time; immunology, vision and psychology. Having completed my first degree in pharmacology, I enjoyed the practical lab aspects of this project and loved having such a super team to work with!

During our downtime, we enjoyed venturing out to explore the area; to the nearby lake, glacier or the aqueduct. A particular highlight was hiking up above the base camp to the Huayna Potosi glacier. From here we were able to see incredible views of the summit of this mountain standing at 6088m above sea level. One of the reasons I applied for this expedition was to experience the Andes, but little did I know that by the end of the trip I would be standing on the top of this particular mountain!

Above 3000m, it is expected that western people may experience some effects of altitude sickness. However, the entire group remained healthy throughout the trip at 4800m! Having completed our 7 days at base camp safely and successfully, everyone returned down to our base in La Paz and to the comfort of real showers and wifi before headed out for a celebratory dinner! However, after 2 days of recovering in La Paz it was time for some more adventure. A group of 6 of us bravely booked a guided climb of Huayna Potosi. This was by far the most rewarding experience of my life and was so thankful to able to complete this climb with my friends by my side. Three days of climbing later, we reached the summit at 6.45am just in time for the sunrise over the Cordillera Real of the Andes, where the views were undoubtedly stunning and it was the best reward for the complete physical and mental exhaustion we had endured. Overall this expedition has given me the opportunity to be involved in vital research into the many pathological effects of hypoxia in patients, and to continue my interest in altitude medicine.

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