Converting My Learning Into Experience

I’ve always had the feeling that my studies could have been a little more robust.

I might have passed all my exams with flying colours and received commendations from some of my tutors, but that didn’t mean that I’d suddenly transform from a nervous student into a capable professional overnight.

I found a job in the autumn of last year, just a few months after my graduation.

The wet, sprawling summer that I’d worked through in Cheltenham was slowly coming to an end. The days were steadily getting shorter and the green trees fringing the Cotswolds were starting to brown, a warning of the winter that was still yet to come. I’d spent 5 years training to be a doctor in Cheltenham and now that I’d found a job there too, I felt like I was becoming a real functioning cog of the community. It was a far cry from how I felt as a fresher of just 19 year old.

Fresh off the boat from Gautala, I’d felt like an outsider, an Indian boy separated from his family and his heritage. The way people acted shocked me on a routine basis, the climate felt alien and the water didn’t agree with my stomach. Like many other lost Indian kids, alone and intimidated by their new surroundings, I attempted to assimilate myself into the local Indian community. Around 4,000 or so Indians live in Cheltenham, however finding a way into the community proved difficult.

When the shopkeepers found out that I was a student all they wanted to do was sell me packs of dried noodles. The other students that I bumped into on campus were shy, ducking their heads whenever I tried to make eye contact. I spent my first few weeks in England, in the summer of 2011 like this, wandering between lectures and the library, lonely and isolated. It wasn’t until I began talking to my fellow class mates that I began to discover that I wasn’t the only one in this kind of situation.

Although a large percentage of my fellow student doctors were from English backgrounds, it didn’t take me long to realise that there were dozens of students on my course who were also separated from their homes and culture. These lost souls soon became my friends, my kindred spirits, my family. We lived, studied and worked together – they were good times. We found confidence in our companionship and this bled through to our professional development, helping us defeat our skittishness and improving our spoken English no end.

But these years of ease were not to last for long.

Before I knew it we were tossing our mortarboards up in the air, celebrating our successes but commiserating our imminent separation. Which leads us to my position today. My graduation papers are proudly displayed on the wall in my practice surgery, they are proof that I’ve done the work required of me. I’ve learnt the facts and proved to my peers that I can practice orthopaedics at a high level.

So, why can’t I have confidence in my skills?

I called home to get some advice from my Dad and he gave me some words of wisdom. He told me that he went through a similar stage of ‘impostor syndrome’ when he was my age. He’d just finished his own training as an engineer, he was ready to join the working world but felt unsure of his abilities.

Instead of diving head first into his work, he nervously tiptoes, expecting to make a mistake with ever step he took. He doubted his skills, he even doubted the tools at his disposal. DC-DC converters and wiring systems that had seemed to reliable months before, suddenly looked flimsy and weak. He had nightmares about his work failing and causing someone injury.

The only advice he could give me was to ‘get stuck in’. Mistakes were bound to be made and there was no way of avoiding them.

Dear Mother, London is beautiful but bunions are not…

Dear Mother,

I’m sorry it has been so long since my last letter.

Since starting my fourth rotation here in London I’ve been faced with many new experiences that I did not think that I’d be confronting.

My very first English Christmas was an alien experience but an enjoyable one. I have now firmly accepted my new found identity as a ‘hipster’, having discovered my favourite place to sit and drink tea in Camden. Lastly, I saw my first ever bunion today and it looked worryingly familiar.

I missed you and the rest of the family more than anything else this Christmas. In India; the lights, the religious fervour, the intangible feeling of festivity itself is borne on the air. At nights, when I still struggle to sleep in the relative quiet of my flat in Clapham, I entertained myself imagining the rest of the family walking through the markets in Mumbai. I pictured you sending off Ranjeet and Papa to claim the spices and fruits whilst you and I sneaked off to sip on cool Mango Lassis. I wondered if this year you’ll be sharing that lassi with anyone else, or if you’ll be sitting alone in the market.

To sate my home sickness, I visited the closest thing that London has to offer in comparison. When I asked my flat mates about the local Christmas Markets, I think they misunderstood me. The only place I needed to go to lift my Christmas spirit, they told me, was Hyde Park. Although it was a far cry from the Mumbai Markets, Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland certainly delivered a festive shot of entertainment that put a smile on my face that did not disappear until well past the New Year.

With the joys of Christmas and the New Year behind me, the start of this year has been dedicated to living at a slower pace of life and taking time for myself. Last year, the course stepped up a notch in difficulty and I found myself under increasing pressure to meet deadlines. My personal tutor recommended that I attempt to take more time to myself. He told me that there was a significant correlation between the amount of miles between International Students’ homes and the amount of hours that they pile into their work at home. So this year I’m going to be dedicating a couple hours each week to simply putting my feet up in a cosy Tea Parlour in Camden and reading a good book.

With all this going, you’ll be surprised to hear that I’ve also been getting a lot of work done in the mean time. I saw my first bunion last week – and it struck me as oddly familiar. The patient’s foot was uncomfortably squashed into stiff black shoes and it’s clear that they were in a great deal of discomfort because of this. Do you also suffer from this particular problem? I’m not sure what the treatment options are back in Mumbai, but over here there’s a dedicated private bunion surgery that patients can apply for – maybe this is something you could consider looking into?

Thank you for the presents, a taste from home is always appreciated.

Your Daughter,