By Mabel Timmermans, 3rd year nursing student at Avans University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands.

The past four months flew by! I have been looking forward to this minor in Cape Town for six months and now … four months later … I am almost back on the plane to the Netherlands. And I take so many fun, beautiful, interesting and impressive moments back home.

Last February it was finally time to pack my things and to start the journey. After my internship in Curaçao I did not expect that I would go abroad again for my nursing study, until I was selected to go to South Africa for the CASO project. In the first few weeks after my arrival in Cape Town, I quickly got to know the other CASO students and teachers. What a lovely group! The students are from different study programs from the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland and South Africa and were divided into three different projects within the CASO program.

I was assigned to project 2.1: the Patient Partner program. Within this program I did, together with Dutch physiotherapy student Leonie, a stroke awareness project in the township Langa. Through literature study and community observations, we have designed a workshop to create stroke awareness. To be able to orient ourselves well in the culture of South Africa, I read a lot about the country in advance and there was also a ‘communication in context’ module available for us. This module helped me to understand the background of the country and the culture.

Before I came to South Africa I had heard of the townships and I had sketched a picture in my head of what it would look like. For me it was difficult to be in such a community in real life, because I couldn’t imagine what it was like to live in such a neighbourhood. And on the other hand, I thought it was great to experience to see how great the social cohesion in this community is and how sweet and cheerful the people we met were towards each other and towards us. Above my expectations there were not just houses build of plastic stuff and I also didn’t expect that there is education available for every child and that there are other public facilities such as community centres, clinics and supermarkets.

In addition to the visit to the township Langa, I also found the city of Cape Town impressive. I did not expect that there could be so much difference in one city. Every neighbourhood has its own appearance and charms. The neighbourhoods differ in safety, poverty, population, nature, etc. But from every point of the city you can admire the beautiful Table Mountain. These differences in one city have made my adventure here very diverse.

As a nurse (in training), I did a stroke project. But not only the stroke awareness project has led to professional growth. In the CASO project I collaborated multi- and interdisciplinary with physiotherapy and social work students (with a specialization in art and culture mediation) and with the medical students of The University of Cape Town. In addition, I have seen many differences between healthcare in the Netherlands and Cape Town. What particularly struck me in this was the manner of communication, the unequal treatment of patients and the hygiene in clinics and hospitals.

I also personally developed myself during my time in Cape Town. My flexibility and patience in particular have been put to the test. An example of this is being able to quickly make contact with people via a phone call, e-mail, WhatsApp, etc. in the Netherlands. In South Africa this is easier through face to face contact. Not everyone here has a mobile phone and when one does have a mobile phone available, it is not always charged or connected to a network or Wi-Fi. Not only the contact with people but also the traffic jams in the city, the slowing down of staff in a restaurant or in the supermarket and walking at a snail’s pace have certainly improved my patience and flexibility ;). Assertiveness is also expected as an international student. Without being assertive, I could not have achieved my learning goals over here. This experience has also shown me once again what it is like to live in another country as a “stranger”. By being open and showing an understanding of the culture, I have been treated kindly by the people I have met in South Africa. Still, it was not pleasant to notice that they did not always treat me that way because I behaved understanding and open, but because I am white.

Besides the project I have seen a lot of the Western Cape. I drove on the left side of the road (and it went well…!), I climbed Table Mountain and Lions Head, I have done a few (read: many) wine tastings, I swam with penguins, I touched some elephants and a lot more!!

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to contribute to the CASO project and I am bringing a lot of experiences and memories back home!

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