CASO reflection by Leonie Meihuizen, 3rd year physiotherapy student from the Netherlands
Hello everyone! I am Leonie Meihuizen and I would like to share my experiences in South Africa and the CASO project through this blog post. I hope you enjoy reading it.
For my minor I took the chance to go abroad for at least four months. This adventure all started with applying for the CASO project as a physio student, I knew only two would be able to go. First I wrote a letter of application and afterwards I had sort of a job interview with two CASO teachers. Before summer vacation 2018 the fantastic news came, I was selected to go to South Africa and to take part in the CASO project. I was relieved and excited. If I wasn’t chosen to take part in this project, I wanted go abroad anyway but I had to arrange a lot all by myself and make the big decision on where to go to. This was way easier because the choice was easily made for me by others. Also because this was an existing project already, I felt way more safer to come live in South Africa.
The preparations started slowly, I bought a South Africa travel guide and a new backpack. I have a lot of experience with traveling abroad and I really wanted to take the chance, since I’ll be there anyway, to go travelling in Africa after my project. Then the period of applying for a visa, the hell, began in December. This was a very insecure and terrifying period of time before leaving, because the embassy took a lot of time for procedures, were really strict with certain rules and were not so kind actually. I had a lot of help from teachers in Holland and from South Africa as well and I am really grateful now that eventually it all worked out fine. My visa is 2 weeks too short, but this gave me a good reason to go to another country and come back on a tourist visa to end my time here with a lovely roadtrip through South Africa with my family.
After saying goodbye to my family and boyfriend at the airport the adventure started! Together with Carmen and Max, other CASO students, I flew to Cape Town on the 5th of February. Carmen and I stayed with her family in Cape Town for the first days. This was a good way for me to get used to South Africa, settle in and adapt to the climate for example. It was winter in Holland when I left and it was still summer here when I arrived. The temperature difference was 40 degrees,that was quite a big transition. In these first days we went to Green Market Square, saw the city centre, went out in Claremont and did a very nice hike at Silver Mine dam. Next week we stayed with Carmen’s grandpa in Kleinmond, we saw penguins and went to Hermanus for a day. After these two weeks I joined my roommates in our new home at Albert Road, in Mowbray. I got to know the other students during the upcoming days and we did some nice activities to explore Cape Town. Such as climbing Table Mountain and watching the beautiful sunset from Signal hill.
Mabel, Nora, Sofie and I were all part of the 2.1 Patient Partner Program in this project. Rachel Weiss was our supervisor and helped us during the project by giving advice in several meetings at UCT clinical skills centre in Groote Schuur Hospital. Because Mabel and I arrived later in Cape Town than Sofie and Nora, the project started a little bit weird for us. We started feeling a little bit excluded, because the others knew already what their project was going to be and they knew the Patient Partners. Our first meeting, our first South African meeting, was on a really hot Thursday afternoon, I clearly remember. I was overwhelmed by the heat, the beauty of the hospital Groote Schuur (from the outside) and all the new impressions and things that I saw during the 30 minute walk from our home to the hospital. When we arrived at the clinical skills centre, perfectly on time, one of the Patient Partners told us to wait for five more minutes. As you can imagine, I really thought that in South Africa waiting five minutes is the same five minutes as in Holland… Well, I can tell you now, it is not. five minutes in South African time is at least half an hour in my time. I knew then, this was something I had to get used to, because I am here to learn and work in this culture and not to adapt them to my standards and needs. My experience with meeting the Patient Partners was really funny because I was a bit formal upfront and gave an introduction about myself while intending to give them a hand. But the next moment the Patient Partners were already hugging me. For me that was the second experience with a cultural difference, I am not used to hugging people whom I never met before.
The rest of our project here went with ups and downs. We started of really slow because of our orientation and the fact that we wanted to do a research by interviewing community members in Langa. These interviews were hard to arrange because of the safety in the township and the communication between us and the people that we were depending on. I learned that waiting for a response on an email or message takes too long when you have a limited time, talking face to face is the best way of communicating. I also learned that if you can’t offer others something it is hard to ask for their help, sadly there needs to be something in it for both parties. ‘’Time and money’’ are really important words that came up several times during my project in South Africa.
Looking back at the CASO project I am really proud of what we meant for this three year long during project with our stroke awareness research. We really did learn how to work together, interdisciplinary. We did two workshops in the Langa community about stroke prevention and rehabilitation exercises. We have been working and visiting a lot of disabled homes, which was an eye opener for me. You don’t have to speak the same language to communicate with others, eye contact and a smile can mean so much more than we think. I also think that we really did try to improve and gave feedback on UCT’s curriculum, for the medical students. Our project was a first pilot of an interdisciplinary project at UCT, I hope many more will follow because it has such good outcomes for the patients and their treatments.
For me, going abroad taught me how to come out of my comfort zone by taking risks and making my own decisions. I am grateful to being part of this amazing project that works on improving South African social and healthcare through internationally exchange of knowledge. And last but not least I am more than grateful for all the lovely people that I met in South Africa, you made me feel welcome here. Baie Dankie! 🙂
I can’t wait to start travelling and explore the rest of this beautiful country.