Studying Global Health in Leiden University Medical Center

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In this article, Indonesia Mengglobal contributor Endang Farihatul Izza shares her experience during her exchange semester at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), the Netherlands. Not only that she learned more about global health issues, she also learned about the difference between Dutch and Indonesian way of learning, and how to be more confident! Read more below to follow her journey and reflections from her study abroad experience.

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A quick introduction about myself, I am a 4th year student at the Faculty of Medicine of Universitas Indonesia (FMUI). Two years ago, in 2018, I did a three-month exchange program to the Netherlands. It was a collaborative bilateral exchange program between LUMC and FMUI. Each year, LUMC provides a chance for selected FMUI pre-clinical year students to join the Mechanism of Disease 1 and 2 program and for clinical year students to join a half minor program. I took global health as my minor and and consider it as a good fit because I love reading literature about health issues and know how to dig deep in constructing ideas concerning health issues.

There are several reasons why I decided to take one semester abroad during my university years. First, I thought it was a rare chance and was unlikely to happen twice. We were lucky enough that LUMC covered most or even all of the expenses. For me, it’s enough to cover housing, food, flight, and social needs.  So yes, almost all the expenses were covered. Second, I think it is the best way to improve my English skills. Meeting people from all around the world, studying abroad to follow courses in English, and constantly speaking English of course took my English skills to a higher level.  More personal reason, I am a person who often looks for new challenges. I like to take some steps to create new experiences and to step out of my comfort zone. I have a big interest in other cultures. Last reason, LUMC offers interesting medical courses, which would be useful and good addition to my academic plan. After reading a lot of student experiences and getting information from friends who have studied in Leiden and seeing many beautiful pictures, my dream to visit the Netherlands grew bigger. For those reasons, I could not imagine my future self-regret had I not taken that chance.

Global Health course in LUMC

The Global Health minor that I joined in LUMC starts with a general, basic introduction to Global Health of four weeks where the students become acquainted with the health topics currently challenging low and middle income countries. During the introduction, the students learned the interrelationship between global health policy and clinical disease manifestation around the world. The introduction section of the module were then followed by a module of 6 weeks exploring specific global health topics in depth. Within the global health module I joined on 2018, the focus was on women’s health (female cancer, safe motherhood).

The assessments are based on the summative test with approximately 25 open questions on the last day of the first four weeks. During the last week of the minor program, each student has to give a presentation discussing the outcome of a systemic literature research on specific topic related to the module and also had to hand in a report describing the outcome of our literature research. Overall, academically, my global health course provide me with interesting and relevant topics. The lectures were relevant with what’s currently happening in the medical world. The teachers challenged us to learn as much as possible during the practical session, work groups, and debate session in interactive way. In the middle of the ongoing module, the students were also invited to visit an NGO so that the students will have an idea on how an NGO actually practice global health, identify the core problems and solve them.

Me and my classmates after a visit to Cordaid, the Organization for Relief and Development Aid
Me and my classmates after a visit to Cordaid, the Organization for Relief and Development Aid

Gaps exist between the academic life abroad and home

There are three main differences I could point out: student-teacher relationship, time, and class settings. First, with respect to student-teacher relationship, although the lecturers are way older than the students, there is much less hesitation for the students in expressing their arguments. The interaction just goes smoothly like a casual conversation, students and teacher could just express their minds straightforwardly to each other. In Indonesia, the relationship between teacher and student is more like a parent and a child, there is a societal norm of being more polite especially when expressing criticism, so the hesitation when expressing ideas can be felt.

Second, when it comes to being on time, Dutch students and lecturers are strict. All the lectures started on time and the students come 5-10 minutes before the lectures start. And if the lecturers don’t stop at the scheduled time, the students are free to leave the on-going class.

Third, the academic environment I experienced in LUMC specifically in my minor program was more interactive. The lectures are always given in the small class consisting of 17 students and most of them are interactive lecture. Expressing different arguments, debate, and discussing about some problems between the lecturer and students or between each students in the class are usual things to do.

Struggles I faced the most during studying abroad and how I coped with them

In the first weeks of classes, I struggled with my confidence. There was a moment when I feel like an outsider, I looked around and felt alone, surrounded by “others” and I started worrying about my looks, my fashion, my inability to communicate in the local tongue, or my general presence is very obviously different. But luckily I didn’t need much time to realize that it was just my unwarranted concern. I read several books to boost the confidence and tried to find peace in knowing it’s unlikely that the locals are deliberately trying to make you feel unwanted in their culture.

Then I tried to talk and make friends with locals. I know it might sound like an easy task, but it does take effort to establish meaningful relationships, especially across cultural boundaries. But our efforts will be rewarded, though, you’ll gain friends and this relationship might give you the foot in the door you need to start feeling safe and relaxed in your new place, instead of awkward and separated. So, yeah, I realized that while you were stranger in that new land, you will start to feel comfortable in no time – it might just takes you few days or weeks to adjust and everything is going to be alright.

With my research buddy
With my research buddy

Life Lessons from academic life during studying abroad in Leiden

I would say it’s about being passionate. All of my classmates are talkative, they can easily get the main point of the lecture and find the gap of the case given. They are all able to express their mind and ideas concisely yet strong and clear main point. And the most important, they are very enthusiastic in joining the lecture and doing the discussion so class is always hyped. One of the moments I remember the most is of the teacher’s question on each student’s motivation in joining global health course, most of the student answered they choose global health because they are passionate in what they choose, they like what they do and they know what to do. As time goes by, I realized that being passionate isn’t just about knowing – it’s also about feeling. That’s what makes passions so important, they make us feel that we’re on the right path in life and give us hope for a happy and exciting future because passionate people lead significantly different lives and performance from their-less-than enthusiastic counterparts.

I hope these stories can be useful for you and I hope that you can relate to my experience. Finally, for future study abroad candidates, convince yourself and make sure the answers of your questions are clear enough to eliminate all your doubts before decided to study abroad. Don’t forget to enjoy your stay, record moments because that might be very precious and one of unforgettable moment in your life that you can tell to your children in the future. There might be some obstacles but don’t worry too much because by the time you will get used to it. Bring your best effort beyond the limit!!

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Photos provided by the author

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Endang Farihatul Izza
Endang Farihatul Izza is a 4th year medical student at University of Indonesia. She currently doing her clinical clerkship at Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital in Jakarta. In 2018, Endang was awarded scholarship from Leiden University Medical Center to study Global Health at Leiden University, the Netherlands. She has interest in scientific research, community empowerment, and public health. She has been involved in several national scientific competitions, community empowerment programs, and regional & national organizations. Find her on : endangizzaa (ig), endangizzaaftumblr.com