For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Switzerland with the Ohio State College of Pharmacy on their International Healthcare Experience in Pharmacy trip over Spring Break. We traveled to seven different cities throughout the country, visiting sites and participating in activities related to the pharmaceutical industry along the way. These included the presentations at the World Health Organization, a conference with pharmacy professors and students at the University of Basel, a tour of Novartis International, and an overview of the community pharmacy system of Zurich.
This trip was transformative to me in just about every way imaginable. It tested my limits and confidence while teaching me new things about my future profession, and made me more aware of the similarities/differences of the United States and Europe. This was my first time ever leaving the country. As my first time abroad, I hadn’t the slightest idea of what to expect from this trip. I took it upon myself to learn elementary conversational Swiss, and while it turned out that most of the country learns to speak fluent English by the age of four, I am still glad that I did so. We spent a good portion of our time wandering the cities and speaking with the locals, and I am immensely glad that I was able to immerse myself in their world as much as they allowed me to, for it truly had an impact on me. I became more aware of my body language and how I presented myself to others, learning that the Swiss love eye contact and hate small talk. My confidence in myself grew as I was able to help a small group of us make the journey to a remote mountain town, complex transportation and all. My time surrounded by the healthcare system of Switzerland made me draw comparisons with our own, and helped me form solutions to problems we face based on their example. My view of the world, the scope of healthcare, and of myself all changed for the better because of this trip, and for that I could not be more thankful.
There were many components of the trip that led to these transformations. First was my interaction with individuals from the area. I was able to get together with a friend that participated in a foreign exchange program my senior year of high school, and she showed me her favorite places to eat, hang out, etc. Seeing the city of Basel from her point of view made everything more exciting, as she incorporated backstories and the history of the town at each stop. Meeting her friends proved to be as exciting and entertaining as it sounds, and it felt great to be so immersed in their lives, even if it was just for a short few days.
The group also took us along to the celebration of the last night of Fasnacht. We saw the parades, were attacked with confetti by masked participants, and partook in all of the festivities that came with saying goodbye to the “best three days of the year.” I felt that this way a key experience as we met more of their friends that were actually in the parade, and visited the exclusive underground locations that served as practice areas for 362 days of the year, then transformed into makeshift bars to fundraise for each individual group. I feel that I was able to see a major tourist attraction in a way that hardly any tourists have, and for that I think it was something special.
Of course, the reason I went on the trip was highly rewarding as well. The sites that we visited will stick with me far beyond my years in school. Being able to hear firsthand from leaders in the field had a major impact on my professional views. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to draw comparisons with the U.S. and Switzerland, and I strongly feel that we can learn from each other. I spoke with students from the University of Basel College of Pharmacy one-on-one, and while they were astounded by our interactions with students in different areas of medicine (they do not even take pre-requisites out of their pharmacy group), I was shocked at their exposure to the field long before graduation. I have examples such as this for every site we visited, for each one possessed its own eye-opening revelations. Overall, the trip resulted in my love for my major and my future career to grow, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to participate.
The transformations that resulted from this trip will carry on for the rest of my life. My confidence in my ability to do things independently has skyrocketed, and I look forward to relying more on my own competence rather than seeking help from others. My initial culture shock gave way to a newfound appreciation for our differences, and I will be sure to keep what I learned about residents of Europe in mind should I find myself responsible for their treatment in the future. This trip combined travel and an opportunity to further my education in an alternative way, and I will forever be grateful for both the College of Pharmacy and STEP for allowing me the chance to transform myself in this way.