Hello, my name is Mick van der Linden, I am from the Netherlands. I am a third year Social Work student at Karel de Grote Hogeschool in Antwerp, Belgium. Along with about forty other students, from Belgium, Finland, South Africa, the Netherlands and Sweden, I am participating in the Caring Society Consortium (CASO).

There are three projects within CASO; the Patient Partner Programme (PPP), the Health and Lifestyle Program and Care for the Caregiver. Along with my roommate Sinne, who is also from Karel de Grote, and two multimedia students from Finland, I am part of the PPP.

The first two weeks in South Africa felt a bit chaotic, but that is normal when everything is new. All the members of the project went to classes and workshops, but we had time for relaxation over the weekend after all our hard work. Some of the students only joined for these first two weeks, but the duration of participation depends on which programme the student is part of.

Because Sinne and I are part of the PPP, our accommodation was not at the same place as the other students, which meant that we felt a bit isolated during the first two weeks. Luckily, one of the coordinators very kindly fetched us and gave us the opportunity to stay at his place so that we could be present for the weekend activities as well.

After these first two weeks, each student started with their own programme. Over the next four months, Sinne and I will spend 60 days working in the PPP.

Patient Partner Programme

Patient Partners are people mainly from townships in Cape Town, who want to commit themselves to promoting contact and communication between patients and healthcare providers. They are given the opportunity to learn a patient ‘role’ that they can then play with medical students. This role is called an ‘avatar’. This avatar is strictly disconnected from the person, because some elements of private life generate too many emotions to bring them into an education space. Together we – the patient partners, us as social work students and the other project staff – carefully consider which elements are eventually added to the avatar, and which are not.

Mick working with one of the Patient Partners

We spent our first month on the project helping the patient partners to create the social part of their avatar’s story, while doctors helped to develop the medical part. During weekly workshops, the patient partners learn to play and fine-tune their roles. Once they began to feel comfortable playing their avatars, they needed to learn how to give feedback to medicine students after they have done a role-play scenario with them. As social work students, we were there to give them necessary tips. It is not easy to learn to give feedback, especially when you have had little or no experience working in a higher education environment.

Now, two months into the project, Sinne and I are working independently. We want to used what we have seen and experienced here, to add a module to the intercultural skills course we both followed at school. Our main objective is that social work students will become more aware of the image others have of them. We live in a globalizing world, so it is relevant to understand that people coming from abroad have different points of view and perceptions. For example, if a foreigner visits Belgium, they see Belgians differently than how Belgians see themselves. Cape Town is one of the most diverse and unequal cities in the world, and we see many opportunities to translate this context for students in Belgium or Europe. In order to better understand the system, poverty and power relations in Cape Town, South Africa, we will focus on the different religions, languages, ethnicities, nationalities and gender roles. This means that we will work from the micro level to macro level, in order to make the content relevant and applicable for European students preparing to spend time in South Africa.

Cape Town

Cape Town is a beautiful city and it has everything, including rich and poor living through each other. Being here has made me realise more than ever that my origin is luck and means luck. When I am at home in the Netherlands, the history of my country is irrelevant, but here I am part of it and I represent the Dutchman. My language, the colour of my skin, my education, clothes and money all unfold my status.

Once I met a white guy who asked me where I came from. I said ‘From the Netherlands’. He answered with ‘I am a Dutchman too’. When I asked him if he came from the Netherlands too, he said, ‘No,  but my blood is pure Dutch’.


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