I’m happy I was able to improve at least someone’s life

I'm studying Bachelor of Social Services, and I went for a student exchange in Swaziland, Africa, where I worked at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital. I learned to understand their culture by learning how things were done in a hospital.

Introduction

My exchange took place in Swaziland, which is also known as Eswatini.

I started my internship at Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital’s social welfare unit at the end of September. I was very grateful to get a placement there, because my situation changed a few times before the exchange. Although the hospital wasn’t my first choice, it was a good placement for me. Luckily, there were other Finnish students doing their practices as well.

The staff in the RFM social welfare unit was very helpful. They took me as part of their unit with open arms, for which I’m very grateful. For a student, it’s very important to feel welcome in a work community. It made my internship experience very positive, and I am lucky to have had that.

Internship experience

I really enjoyed my time in Eswatini. I worked with two local social workers. I met clients with them in the office and at the wards. I also met patients at the wards by myself, and I think that was a very good experience. In that way, I could have a better contact to a patient who spoke English and also be able to work independently. It can be really scary for a patient to be alone in a hospital. Therefore I tried to make them feel better by visiting them and talking to them. It seems to me that the nurses didn’t use their time to talk to patients or comfort them. Also by doing that, I found out that some patients had other difficulties, and could guide them to social welfare to have an appointment, or meet them myself with a social worker.

We also made home visits with the other social workers. The visits were an experience that I will never forget. I knew that there is poverty in the world, but it’s still a whole different thing to see it with my own eyes. The homes really didn’t have anything from the Finnish perspective.

Hospital as a work environment was interesting. It’s good that I had previous experience working in a hospital, as I have been a patient driver. I transported patients on beds and in wheel-chairs, so I had some touch with working in a hospital. However, the social work field is different in Finnish hospitals, and therefore it was fascinating to see how the work was done in Eswatini.

Cases with clients in Eswatini were a bit different from Finland. The main issues were similar, but there were  more cases with violence and assaults, which was a bit shocking at first.

I learned a good deal about Eswatini’s culture. In the beginning it was hard for me to understand how things are done, because the culture is so different from Finland. By understanding Eswatini’s culture, I also learned how the social work field works.

I learned more on how to consult clients and help them with coping methods. It’s always an opportunity to learn something by interacting with people in this field.

When we were off duty, we did fun things. We traveled to Mozambique and Kruger Safari, that were amazing. We also went to see a lot of movies, since they were cheap.

I don’t think that the experience was only great. I had my bad times too. Some days the homesickness was really strong. In addition, we lived in a garage with seven other girls, so I didn’t have my own space. One couldn’t really go around on your own, which was sometimes dull.

Challenges during the internship

The biggest challenge was definitely missing my boyfriend. It was really difficult to be apart at first, because it was the first time for us to spend this much time away from each others. Still, I got used to missing him, and it got easier towards the end.

Another challenge was the lack of privacy. The family whose garage we lived in, had always people visiting them or working there. Sometimes it was impossible to go out to have one’s peace. Yet, I made it, and the experience made me stronger!

The biggest challenge for me in the field of work was language. Many clients coming to the appointment didn’t speak English, and in those cases it was hard for me to follow the conversation. Other social workers were kind to fill me in, but some things were always lost in translation. The clients, however, could get help with the language if they wanted. I understand that it’s not easy to explain one’s problems with different language. Fortunately, some customers were able to speak English and explain their issues, after which I could help them.

After all, I learned that it’s not always about what you say, but there are other ways to show compassion. With body language or eye contact one can be there for other person.

Highlights of the trip

The most memorable part of my exchange was to get an opportunity to help a kid that I met in a hospital during my internship. The reason for me to go to Africa in the first place was to help people, especially children. The fact that I couldn’t help everyone, was hard for me to face, but I accepted it. I’m happy I was able to improve at least someone’s life. I helped the kid while he was a patient in the hospital. I went to see him every day, and we became friends. Before I left, I bought him a new mattress, because when we did a home visit, I noticed that he didn’t have a proper place to sleep. In addition, I gave him clothes and bed linen, of which his mother was grateful. Furthermore, I got to teach him something, for example that the earth is round.

Another highlight was the Kruger Safari, where I got to see wild animals and spend a night in a real camp. I also got a chance to do zip-lining, which was an awesome experience.

Luckily for us, the family who we lived with was really nice, and it was lovely to be part of their family.

Conclusion

Overall, my exchange was amazing. I was far away from home, where everything was different. There were always new things to see and learn. Altogether I spent three months in Eswatini, and in that time I got used to the country. I took every chance I could to get to know how things are done in there, and to see different work places of social work as well. Therefore my knowledge of Eswatini’s social work widened.

I am very happy that my exchange took place in this country. I feel that the experience will benefit my work in Finland in the future. Besides, I feel that I have grown as a person, and I also feel different about my home country.

Palaa takaisin Vaihtokokemuksia -sivulle