Looking for true growth and unforgettable experiences? You’re not alone and excellent opportunities for personal and professional development are out there! Maria, studying Biomedical Science, shares her insight into what it’s like doing a Med-Lab internship abroad. Maria is a student from the University of Bradford (UK), and the Turing Scheme funded her overseas placement. If you’re looking for authentic lab experience and unique cultural immersion, this adventure might be right for you too!
Hi Maria! Thank you for sharing with us! What was it like doing your internship abroad?
My first week was not hugely different to what I envisioned. My most memorable moment from that first week was just walking through the markets, losing my way, and then ending up on top of this viewing point - an elevated platform - that allowed me to see a beautiful view of the beach!
Healthcare is a very collaborative job, and so I expected working in a biomedical lab to encapsulate this. However, during this internship in Morocco, I found that the lab professionals got on with their work quite independently. Of course, there are many moments where effective communication and collaboration were necessary, but the frequency of doing so was less than I expected. This smooths the workload out, as I found that each person knew their delegated roles and worked accordingly.
During this Human Biology & Med-Lab, the lab workers switched departments month to month. With one working in immunology for the month, one logging the information etc. Lab work can be very repetitive, and once you know the formula, you rarely stray away from it!
What learning outcomes did this Biology & Med-Lab internship help you to achieve?
Interning at a biomedical science lab gave me a superb grasp of a biomedical scientist’s routine and familiarized me with a doctor’s role within the lab. I documented the lab practices and experiments that were carried out, which is invaluable information for any person wanting to pursue a medical career path.
I assisted in experiments, sample preparation and equipment handling with strict adherence to safety protocols. I also collected, recorded, and analyzed experimental data using software tools for accurate results to provide accurate and timely test results to medical staff to assist in patient diagnoses; as well as collaborating with the head doctor and supervisors for efficiency.
Aside from “lab skills” I also learned a substantial amount of Arabic. I hope to continue to learn more as any language is beneficial, no matter the job.
In terms of personal development, I would also say that I learnt to relax. I keep a strict schedule for myself at home which had to be given up when doing this internship.
I feel more empowered to be successful in my field after completing this program, as I have gotten first-hand experience in a biomedical lab, in addition to what it’s like working with the people there, so I can better understand projections of the type of career I can have. Work-life can be an aspect of life that many young people find daunting, but I thoroughly enjoyed the routine of a lab technician working in a biomedical lab.
Can you tell us more about the language barrier you encountered and how it was overcome?
I thought that most of Morocco would be predominantly Arabic speaking, but the medical lab I interned at is French speaking. It was also surprising that very little English was spoken here; I expected the majority of people to know very basic conversational English, but this was not so.
This being said, the language barrier was not a huge issue. The staff at the lab were very accommodating and kind, especially to foreigners that can speak very little of the language, they were patient and understanding. We also had an English-speaking point of contact who visited daily, and we were able to contact her when needed. Everybody was supportive and eager to assist us, especially as we made the effort to learn.
I had learned a bit of Arabic before my trip, which exponentially improved during my stay. Throughout, I greeted locals in Darija and learned much of the dialect. I also made sure that I had Google Translate and made sure to already had what I wanted to translate on hand. This made the language barrier less of a hassle during my stay.
I do wish that I had spent more time learning some French or Arabic in advance of the internship. However, at this point, I plan on learning French and Arabic and then revisiting Morocco again someday.
Overall, I made sure to be polite and to remember that when in Morocco…do as the Moroccans do!
Were there any other challenges or unexpected events during the internship?
There was a power outage that happened 3 times in a row in the lab, which was very unexpected. Many of the machines had to be unplugged and the tests running had to be restarted. I expected this to create a grave obstacle. However, the team was able to get things running smoothly and quicker than expected.
I also expected the majority of local women here to wear a hijab and dress uber conservatively, but this has not been as ubiquitous as I imagined. Many of the locals were very friendly and liked to make conversation.
I found that the few Moroccan people I have met were quite lenient with time. For example, there was no strict time for breakfast or dinner. Not only are they lenient with time, but the work environment was casual too (granted, they work very efficiently). This was different to the British environment that I am used to.
In terms of food, I did not expect many Moroccan dishes to serve rice cold and for bread to be very popular, the diet is quite carb-heavy. I was open to trying new foods and embraced having an open mind throughout the trip.
As the Eid al-Adha festival was held during my internship in Morocco, I bought a traditional Moroccan dress to wear with my Muslim friends. I learned about how the Eid period in Morocco is a “family get-together” time. During Eid, I expected the streets to be very lively, per contra, most everything was closed and quieter than usual.
What were your highlights from this experience overall?
During my first week, I went to Chefchaouen and stayed in a hotel located in the heart of the Medina, we arrived at night, so we immediately slept. The next morning, the view from the rooftop was breath-taking, I had never seen anything like it in person - it was a sea of delicately crafted houses with a beautiful mountainous range that towered behind.
In our third week, we paid for an all-inclusive tour in Marrakech, which allowed us to traverse the vast rocky desert on camels, included a traditional Moroccan breakfast, and a tour of the Atlas Mountains. The tranquillity of the mountains and the serenity of the desert were truly captivating.
However, what made our journey truly unforgettable were the genuine connections we made with the locals. One of our colleagues invited us to have couscous and other delicious Moroccan treats with his family. The hospitality was very heartfelt, it left a lasting impression on me that I will never forget.
Another colleague also invited us to have a beach day together, this was near the end of our trip and was particularly memorable.
Nevertheless, my number one favorite memory would have to be the laughter and camaraderie that the others and I shared during our travels, along with the very accompanying nature that the Moroccans had. It was beyond endearing.
What advice would you give to others who are considering this program?
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable and ask questions when you are unsure of something. You will gain more out of the experience if you are not afraid to ask questions. It is a tricky thing to do, especially in a foreign country, but this will greatly foster personal and professional growth.
Also, be patient when communicating, understand that you are a guest to a host, and you should be respectful. Make sure to embrace cultural curiosity and go in with an understanding, open mind. Be prepared to adjust your behavior at times and be polite. Make an effort to learn a bit of the language too, if you are able to.
Embrace the journey, ask, learn, and respect. For it is in these moments that true growth and unforgettable experiences await!
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