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I’m Gabriella Maraschin and I have just returned from my trip to Chennai, India, as part of the Turing Scheme at BU. I am about to begin my 3rd year studying BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy at Bournemouth University. I chose Bournemouth University because they support and welcome international students (like myself) and they are a well-recognised university for Occupational Therapy, as they have great facilities.

I am an international student, I grew up in South Africa and moved to the UK to study. Coming from a very diverse country I always knew that there was a lot to learn from other people and cultures.

Student standing with luggage at the airport

When I saw the opportunity to travel to India, through the Turing Scheme, I automatically knew this was an opportunity I’d be interested in.

The world is so big so there is always a new place to explore and people to learn from. I did not previously know the other members of the group so it would be a personal challenge to make new friends and learn more about myself whilst being ‘alone’ in a completely new environment. One day I saw an university email come through about overseas experience and I was automatically interested so I researched more about it and asked my tutors for advice who were all positive about it.

The Turing Scheme funding was a smooth and easy process, I was supported by Turing staff from the very first email I sent. Without the Turing Scheme funding I would not have been able to participate as the financial requirements were too great to provide individually, so I am very grateful to have this support.

There are more differences than similarities between India and England.

One of the main differences that was also a challenge was the strict curfew of 9:30pm. In England, there is no curfew no matter the student accommodation and it is quite common to stay out much later than 9:30pm so this took some time getting used to. Another difference was the university schedule. At SRIHER, the students attend university from 8am-4pm with a 1 hour lunch break however at BU we have a very open schedule with an average of 3 hours per day of contact lectures with a lot of self-study time which allows for flexibility.

I participated in a wide range of traditional Indian activities. All the students loved teaching us how to dance and speak in Tamil. I was fortunate enough to attend a bridal shower and was invited to a wedding but unfortunately it was beyond our tripStudent eating Indian food dates. We indulged in all types of Indian food and desserts – eating on the floor on banana leaves whilst using our hands was my favourite way of eating. We were fortunate enough to be invited to have a meal with the students families which was one of my most favourite activities. Our buddies often took us shopping to different stores and markets to buy clothes and gifts for our family. They also accompanied us to Mahalipuram to visit the shore temple and butter ball among many other culturally historical sites.

The experience was very relevant to my studies because for 1 month I worked solely in the occupational therapy department in India. I was placed at different units within the hospital and was exposed to a wide range of patient conditions. Among others we spent time in the child developmental therapy unit, sensory integration room, Sri Ramachandra Rehabilitation Centre, hand unit, splinting room, psychiatry, general medicine and surgery, neonatal and NIEPMD.

All the students at SRIHER are taught in English so it was easy to communicate with them. The members of the public speak Tamil (which is the main language spoken in Tamil Nadu) and a few people speak a very basic level of English, so when communicating with the public, we used a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions with very broken English/Tamil words.

I found that members of the public understood me more when I was more direct than courteous – for example, when I got into a taxi I would say ‘Sri Ramachandra Hospital’ rather than ‘hello, please could you drop me off at Sri Ramachandra University…’ or when ordering food, ‘vegetable gravy and rice’ rather than ‘please may I have a vegetable gravy and a side of rice…’. I really enjoyed communicating with people as it gave me a challenge and I felt proud of myself when I was able to understand Tamil or hand gestures.

group photoThis experience has also heightened my cultural curiosity and I am eager to engage in more cultural experiences around the world. I’m more confident in my future career choice because I now realise how wide of a field Occupational Therapy is and how much opportunity there is just outside your front door.

Just remember, your mindset is EVERYTHING! This is your chance to truly live like a local and experience traditions so just take in every moment and choose to look on the bright side because everything, especially in challenges times like these, are all about your perspective.

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