Olivia Dhaliwal - 2015 Program Participant 

Posing on a cliff in the Cies Islands, Spain

Dancer pose on the cliff at the Cies Islands

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I really enjoy traveling, and I love meeting new people and spending time with people who have different values, traditions, and cultural norms. I think it is really healthy to shake up your worldview, especially when you live in a country like the United States. It is easy to get used to being at home and traveling really helps me to remember just how big the world is.

Why did you choose the Atlantis Project?

I wanted to spend time abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, and I needed experience in a healthcare setting to help me decide whether I wanted to continue to pursue the possibility of medical school.

Foreign medical intern with local doctors in Spain

Left to right: Ana (an internal medicine resident), me and Dra. Ana Bravo, an internal medicine physician, with whom I have become very close with on this trip

What was your favorite part about Ourense?

I loved the small-town setting. Ourense is a community of people who are patient, kind, and laid-back. They love showing off their city, and they love Americans. They were so patient with me while I stammered through the first few days speaking in Spanish, and were eager to help me find whatever I needed and show me around.

What characteristics of your program made it unique?

It connects students with similar interests in a way that builds friendships and connections to the community that last a lifetime. Since our coordinators were locals, they had an "in" with the community that we would never have had if the Atlantis Project only employed Americans to take us abroad. They were adamant about integrating us into the community, not observing it as tourists and continuing with our comfortable, American way of life.

In what ways did the local staff support you throughout your program?

They helped us navigate the city, showed us the best places to get food, do laundry, shop, and explore. They were always available by cell phone 24/7, so if we were ever lost or had an emergency, they were easy to reach.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have stayed longer!

What was a typical day like for you as a medical intern in Spain?

We would wake up at around 7 a.m., go downstairs and next door to the Chocolateria Candido, where we would have breakfast. I usually had the tortilla and two cups of cafe con leche. I miss it so much! After breakfast, we would either walk or take the bus to the hospital. I walked every morning because I loved walking through the city and seeing everyone in their daily routines. My trip would take me past a park that had two peacocks who lived there, and it was so fun to try to find them every morning as I walked past.

Posing in Ourense in northwestern Spain

Left to right: Serxio (local coordinator), Michael (fellow), me, Paula (coordinator - from the Canary Islands), Alba (coordinator - from village right outside Ourense)

We would then spend between four to six hours in the hospital shadowing doctors. We had the opportunity to leave whenever we pleased, and some days were slower than others. Sometimes the field you shadowed just wasn't a good fit, and you could ask to leave to shadow a different doctor or specialty. They were very accommodating and kind, especially considering the fact that they received no benefits from hosting us, monetary or otherwise.

After shadowing, we would have lunch at the hospital (because it was very discounted, we got the physicians' pricing for meals) or we would eat at the hotel or out at a restaurant. Lunch was usually around 3 p.m., so I would always bring a snack with me to hold me over while at the hospital. After lunch we had downtime until around 5 p.m., at which point we would sometimes have an excursion (on Wednesday nights). The Wednesday night excursions included visiting Santiago de Compostela, a tour of Ourense from a local guide, going to a winery, or visiting a national park.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we had dinner together. On Sundays, we had an all day excursion, usually to somewhere out of town. If it wasn't an excursion or group dinner evening, all the fellows would usually plan dinner together anyway. We would walk around the city until we found somewhere to eat, or get pizza and be casual. At night, we would go out exploring or just hang out. I went to bed at around 2 a.m. most nights, but as I got more tired the second week I started to sleep at around midnight.

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

Visiting the Cies Islands was the most amazing part of my trip. We went there on a Sunday, and hiked the island. It was so stunningly beautiful. We got to lay on the beach and hang out with our coordinators, and it was just a really fun and relaxing day to spend with everyone.

Oceanview on the Cies Islands in Spain

Standing on the rocks at the beach on the Cies Islands

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

We stayed in a hotel in the old town of Ourense, which is the nicest part of the city, and a very expensive place to live. The hotel was more like a hostel, and the rooms were very clean and comfortable. I loved the location and the ease of getting from one place to another. I never took the bus because I didn't have to! I walked everywhere, from the mall to the hospital and out to dinner and shopping. It was very easy to get home, and the hostel was extremely safe. They even did our laundry for free once a week, and hang-dried my dresses, which I thought was so nice.

Now that you're home, how would you say your time abroad has impacted your life?

I am viewing the world through the lens of my experience in Spain. It has impacted me immensely, even in my day to day life. I question the cultural system in America a lot now. We take so many things for granted, and assume that when something is old, we have to buy a newer version of it. Spanish people don't buy into the idea of constantly buying and accumulating things. They also don't plan out every hour of their day to be busy. They take their time, they talk to people, and they enjoy every hour of their day. I think that lifestyle is something I want to aspire to have. It is so easy to get caught up in competing with other students in the U.S., and I loved the atmosphere in Spain because it was so opposite to that.