Early in the Internship:
My first internship site was in the rural village of Than Goan. I arrived there in the evening after a long, loud and confusing day of travel from Delhi. The cab to Dehradun was a few hours late and, due to some miscommunication, tried to charge us for the ride. We reached Dehradun late in the evening and met our coordinator Mayank. That night he gave a quick introduction, and gave us our cell phones and rotations. A few hours later, Mike, Travis and I reached our first rotation in the rural village of Than Goan. The cabins had mosquito netting, but the mosquitoes were not that bad. The nets did keep the spiders out of the bedding. I was bit by a tick the first week, but luckily Lyme disease is not endemic to that area. I was really excited the first day and I saw a toad in the bathroom. After our yoga class at 6:30, I pulled out my phrase book and learned how to say “I saw a frog this morning.” The day with Dr. Paul in Than Goan was rather slow, especially since Mike, Travis and I are pre-medical students. But, we had plenty of time to relax and ask questions.
Before I went to India, I learned most of the Devanagri script online. Being able to read signs was very helpful at railroad stations and while riding buses. I only knew two or three Hindi words when I first went to India. I studied my Hindi phrase book and progressed nicely for the first four weeks of my internship. I learned enough to do small business transactions, have short, basic conversations and understand some of what was going on in the clinics. Knowing a little bit of Hindi is extremely helpful. Most people are very happy that you are trying to learn their language, and the auto-rickshaw drivers will give you decent rates if you ask in Hindi.
Phone calls can be made at local STD(city)/ISD(international)/PCO(local) shops. STD codes are like area codes.
Even though I learned a little bit of Hindi, it was still helpful to have an on-site coordinator and cultural mentor. Mayank made our lives easier by making sure we all got to our internship sites safely, making travel arrangements and providing suggestions for weekend trips. He also helped me exchange my travelers' cheques when none of the state banks would (they did not want to deal with the hassle, so they just kept sending me back-and-forth between different banks and employees). Even though it doesn't sound like the best place to exchange travelers' cheques, Mayank was right that “Sniffer's” is the best place exchange in Dehradun. (They are quicker, more professional, and have better exchange rates than any of the state banks. Plus, you don't have to search for the right person, wait in long lines, or perform the exchange rate calculations yourself on scrap paper.)
Professional Benefits/ Life Insights:
Professionally, the biggest benefit of the internship was the time spent with both Indian and American doctors and medical students. Being able to spend a lot of time, ask a lot of questions, and get a good perspective of life in the medical profession in both India and America was invaluable. It has helped me recognize my true interests and guided my career path. Personally, I learned a lot about myself, other people, other cultures and developing countries. Seeing the living conditions of a large portion of the world's population has definitely increased my cultural awareness and appreciation for the opportunities that I have in America.
In India and other developing countries, one can witness a lot of raw humanity, good and bad. I was able to witness the harsh realities of life faced daily by many people around the world and developed a great appreciation for things I normally take for granted – such as public sanitation, indoor heating, numerous, clean public restrooms and smooth transportation. A few examples: Before flying to India I dreaded the idea of spending fifteen hours on an airplane. But, my opinions completely changed after spending thirteen hours on an overnight, non-first class Indian bus. Instead of dreading the flight home, I was excited because the airplane had clean, comfortable seats, food, water, clean bathrooms (with toilet paper) and entertainment. I originally thought the first hotel in which I stayed was sub-par and in a bad section of town. By the end of the internship I realized that the first hotel was actually nice, in a decent shopping district, and that it had some of the softer mattresses in India ( the hardest being in Rishikesh).
I knew beforehand that India was an extremely diverse country, but after spending time there I realized that India is also a land full of extremes. The extremely rich live may live next to extremely poor beggars; there are those with poor work ethic (like most anywhere) and there people, like one of the doctors, who work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, without vacation; some people are extremely friendly and helpful, and some try to scam you every moment; there are extremely uneducated people in India along with some of the best educated and brightest minds in the world. The diversity and extremes of India make it an amazing place travel, providing many stories, insights and adventures.
I think one of the biggest challenges that I had on my internship was when I felt out of place, not necessarily because I was a foreigner in India, but because traveling with others is sometimes difficult. Mixing up the travel with other interns solved this problem and I was able to make many new friends and mentors. It was also very frustrating having to be constantly on guard and dealing with those who try to lie to you about prices. It gets really tiring and frustrating when people are trying to scam you all the time. At the end of the trip, I was very used to delays and things not working properly. I learned to accept this by saying, “Ahh, only in India.”
A Typical Day in Dehra Doon:
The following is an overview of my daily routine in Dehradun as taken from an article I wrote for the UAF Honors Program.
“Today I started a new rotation in Dehra Doon. In the morning Mike, Travis and I took a Vikram to Doon Hospital. We weaved our way through the crowded government hospital to see the neurophysician. As with most all the doctors, the patient's situations were explained and any questions we had were answered. Later in the day, we interns (1 MD, 1 pre-masters of public health student, and 3 pre-medical students) went to see an Ayurvedic doctor. He spoke about reiki this visit. Afterwards I rode with the program coordinator on his moped past cows on the crazy streets of India to an obstetric hospital. There were no births today, but maybe tomorrow. After the evening rotation, the doctor invited me upstairs to her house above her clinic for some ginger chai and biscuits. It was excellent. I then returned to my home stay for dinner and played with their pet rabbit, Kurt Cobain. They bought him from a butcher for 100 rupees(about $2.20) about 6 months back.”
The town of Mussoorie can get very cold (especially because there is no indoor heating) and rainy. International phone calls should cost at most 12 rupees a minute (not 42).
*Click on the picture for a larger view