The benefits and difficulties of studying medicine in a different culture, and the effect of Christian faith on that experience
4 MINUTE READ
“Do you mean The Pill?”
The store clerk at Big W looked at me bewildered. All I wanted was a pail for laundry.
Welcome to Oz – where words are shortened, everyone’s called ‘mate’ and events calling for a ‘gold coin donation’ don’t mean one has to rob a bank to be able to attend!
Growing up in a small town in a developing nation, an opportunity to study medicine in the first world was a dream come true. I was eager and excited to soak it all in. With English as my mother tongue (in the minority where I come from), I did not anticipate communication difficulties.
I am now a little wiser, having also witnessed both American exchange students and local Australian students struggle to understand each other occasionally.
I must say I felt very warmly welcomed in general – at uni, on placements, and of course by the church. There were many that opened their hearts and dining tables (and even pool!) to this international student. Some are still in touch today, and I know that some continued to pray for me after I returned to Malaysia.
After a good five years or so of learning medicine in Australia, and getting my fair share of magpie swoops, I started my first job across the South China Sea from my hometown. In many ways, returning to practise medicine was a greater shock than the initial adjustment into Australia:
- Language was certainly a challenge. I had difficulty understanding patients, and at times, colleagues. Medical repertoire that used to just roll off my tongue needed to find its way out in other languages.
- A suggestion of honey for a sore throat was met with the retort: “Where would one find honey in the city?!” (the usual source being to harvest honey in the wild.)
- Differences in work culture and availability of resources also needed some deciphering.
Almost thirteen years on, I am once again across the South China Sea, albeit in a different region. This is my fourth state/ territory since returning. Over the years, I have been mistaken for a Malay over the phone, asked if I’m of mixed heritage, and had someone say to me, “You sound like you are from here, but also from there”.
“Perhaps some of my Australianess still comes through! I hope that even in my imperfection, God shines through more strongly.”
Not too long ago, joking about the future, a yet-to-believe colleague commented: “ X will be in private practice and Chara will be in rural Australia in the name of God!” Perhaps some of my Australianess still comes through! I hope that even in my imperfection, God shines through more strongly.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12: 9-10.
I still wrestle sometimes when things aren’t done the ‘Aussie way’ (although I am also aware that Australia has probably changed since I left).
I am also still learning – learning medicine and learning about the most excellent way – the way of love (1 Cor 13:13). Medicine, like everything else in life, is a tool in the hands of our loving Father, for Him to use (or not!) wherever He sees fit. On this journey, may we be drawn closer to Him and in the process, help others choose Him too. He promises to carry us (Is 46:4), and He is faithful
Dr. Chara Quay
Dr. Chara Quay currently works as an anaesthetist in Borneo. She is passionate about going on adventures with Jesus.