By: Edward Acie Trimble
When thinking of studying abroad, one generally conjures up images of a new country to see, a new culture to explore, new people to meet, and new foods to try. I know that I had those same expectations for my study abroad plans. However, what was already a foregone conclusion in my head had to make a drastic change because of COVID-19. Now, given the severity of the pandemic and the fact that meeting people was potentially hazardous, I had two options, both of which seemed nonoptimal at the time. I could completely dismiss my study abroad dreams and do nothing, or I could study abroad virtually.
As a premed student who is not apt to pass up an opportunity, I went with the latter. In the best case scenario, the virtual program would be comparable to an in-person one. In the worst, I would still experience something new and talk with people from halfway around the world, all while being in the comfort of my own home. Regardless, it would be something unique that most people cannot say they have done. The program itself was centered in Nicosia, Cyprus, and involved a credit granting course on medical terminology, interactions with several types of healthcare workers, and application guidance for professional schools. Since it occurred in the summer and was more flexible with its virtual format, the program would not conflict with my required premed courses and outside extracurriculars/responsibilities. Not only that, but with the funding I was able to secure with the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship and the study abroad grants offered by the University of Tulsa, the program would be financially accessible. It seemed like a win-win situation to me.
Due to time zone differences, the program had me waking up at 6 am everyday. But with a cup of tea and my dog to keep awake, I made it work. I was glad that I did, as the program was helpful to say the least. Starting with the terminology course, I got to learn the terms and shorthand abbreviations used by cardiologists, pulmonologists, gastrologists, etc. and apply them to daily patient case studies. Additionally, I was taught how to conduct a mental status assessment and how to manually take blood pressure and heart rate using a stethoscope and sphygmomanometer. Through talking with a Cypriot physician, I learned of the issues that may arise when communicating with patients from different cultures, and how Cypriots specifically lose trust in physicians when they ask for the patient’s thoughts regarding health and treatment. Sprinkled throughout the course were career advising sessions, in which I received feedback on crafting my medical school personal statement and possible interview scenarios.
It wasn’t all just hard work. Lessons on history, music and food were given so that participants could get a taste of what it was like to be in Cyprus. Quite literally. Although it was not exactly perfect, I did my best to follow instructions from a chef at a local Cypriot restaurant known as Zanettos. I cooked up chicken souvlaki, a dish consisting of pita bread, grilled chicken, yogurt, onion, yellow pepper, and haloumi cheese.
Overall, I can say that I was satisfied with studying abroad virtually. Sure, I wish I could have physically gone to Nicosia, but this was a suitable alternative. I still got to learn about a new country, meet new people, get an edge on preparing for medical school despite my busy premed schedule, and even eat new foods! There are plenty of opportunities out there and financial aid available to make them possible, such as the Gilman Scholarship. It only takes a little courage and the willingness to give things a chance, even if they are not initially what you had planned for.