Sophia Bylsma - Medicine in Nepal
When I joined Projects Abroad, I was finishing my undergraduate degree in molecular and cell biology. I chose Projects Abroad because my university doesn’t have many great study abroad opportunities for biology majors, and I wanted to visit a country that I wouldn’t normally visit otherwise.
I knew I wanted to do a medical project, so after researching about Nepal I decided that I wanted to do this project. I did a lot of my own independent research and bought a few guide books to familiarise myself with the culture and the best places to visit. After my initial preparations and packing, my mom dropped me off at the airport and we had a tearful goodbye.
Arriving in Nepal
After two long flights totalling more than 24 hours, I arrived at Kathmandu airport at 6am. I then met with the Projects Abroad taxi driver who took me to the hotel, where I spent my first few nights before bussing out to Bharatpur for my placement.
Over the next few days we explored Kathmandu, visited Durbar Square and the Monkey Temple, and enjoyed the hotel food and Wi-Fi. It’s truly a remarkable city, and every time I set foot outside I was immediately thrust into the hustle and bustle of taxis, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, and stray dogs all trying to share the same strip of road.
After the weekend, we woke up early to catch the bus to Bharatpur. The bus ride was an adventure in itself – a sheer mountain face on one side, and a jarring drop on the other, with two lanes of traffic narrowly able to pass each other! The bus ride was also scenic, some of the best views I saw (which is saying a lot, because you’ll see some amazing views here). Upon arrival in Bharatpur, we rested at a hotel, which quickly became one of my favourite places, and then met the other volunteers as well as our host families. I was greeted by my host mom so excitedly that it almost felt like I was home again. She immediately made some milk tea and showed me around the house. One thing that got to me initially was the intense heat and humidity in Bharatpur, but I got used to it after a week or so.
My Medicine placement
The next day was the start of my project, during which I saw a live birth within the first 15 minutes of setting foot in the hospital. It was incredible and I’ll never forget it. There are too many other cool things to list that I witnessed in the hospital, but the main ones include volunteering during an ER night shift, making friends with the nursing students, doing rounds in the pathology lab, and watching a C-section in the operating theatre.
Outside of the hospital, we ate lunch every day at one of a few restaurants in Bharatpur. Being a vegetarian, eating in Nepal was surprisingly easy and delicious. My favourite dishes were vegetable curry with naan, and a breakfast cereal that my host mom made with buffalo milk. I also had the good fortune to visit during mango season, they were delicious and so cheap – I ate about five a day!
My entire host family was exceptionally accommodating and I always felt comfortable in the house. For the first few weeks I didn’t have a roommate, so my host sister and I hung out a lot. My host mom owned a shop in a nearby market and some days I would visit her in the shop after my placement work. On my last day I bought a cake to thank my host family. They ended up inviting the neighbours over and we all shared it.
The volunteers often went on excursions every weekend. I visited Bandipur which is a small mountain village with no cars that had some amazing Himalayan views and amazing coffee, Pokhara which is a more touristy area with many adventure sports to try and some good restaurants and hotels, and finally the Chitwan National Park which was only about 45 minutes away from Bharatpur and easy to get to. The excursions definitely made the trip worthwhile.
The best advice I can give to someone thinking about visiting Nepal – or any foreign country, really – is to try your best to go into your trip with the knowledge that you are a foreigner visiting somebody else’s country and it’s incredibly important to be respectful of cultural and social differences. I was lucky to not experience culture shock or much homesickness because I involved myself in my placement and with the other volunteers. Nepal is a beautiful, magnificent country with so much to see and do, as well as some of the nicest, most accepting people I have ever had the fortune of meeting, so consider yourself lucky if you get a chance to visit!