India 2019 – a trip that started off as a small thought back in 2016 and with time, developed into a 5 week journey filled with adventure, laughs, arguments, compromise and everlasting memories…
Having only travelled overseas a few times before, I knew that this trip was going to be a challenge for me and required meticulous planning from the get go. Thus, my three fellow classmates (and soon to be travel buddies) and I created a Whatsapp group chat in which we communicated our plans. Here are a few steps that we followed in order to cover the essentials:
- Documentation – After deciding that we wanted to do our elective in Bangalore, we chose Manipal Hospital to complete it in as it was recommended to us by family and friends who had either previously studied or received treatment there. Communication with the superintendent was slow, hence, our first initiative was to receive a confirmation letter from the hospital allowing us to join their surgical department for the month. This took many, many months of liaising but eventually we received confirmation and all that was needed thereafter was our elective envelopes (provided by the university) and consent forms to take pictures of the hospital.
- Financing – The most important (and probably the most daunting) part of planning any trip is deciding on the budget. One of the primary reasons for choosing India as our destination was that it would be fairly affordable as the South African Rand is almost 5x stronger than the Indian Rupee. That being said, I applied for a full time job at the start of the year at a lab in order to save up for the trip. Even so, I was still financially constrained and thus, applied for the travel bursary awarded by the university. I decided to carry half my money in US dollars which I later exchanged for Rupees in India, whilst the other half stayed in my bank account. My friends and I decided to create a kitty wherein we each contributed equal amounts of cash which was used for our transportation, food and touring costs. This kitty would be continuously topped up if need be. If you are planning on using card facilities overseas, remember to change your international limit on your banking app and inform the bank of your trip so that your bank card can be activated. Keep in mind that banks charge a conversion fee as well as commission on any card purchases as well as ATM withdrawals abroad.
- Flights and accommodation – Since we were planning our trip around a student budget, we decided to book our flights directly through the airline and searched for accommodation online. Once we found an apartment within walking distance of the hospital, we booked it for the full duration of our elective but also searched for a nearby hotel in case our booking was cancelled at any point in time. We were fortunate enough to find an apartment that was serviced daily, provided free WIFI, and where we received breakfast, all of which was included in the cost. A washing machine was also provided so that we could do our own laundry.
- Visa application- The four of us gathered one morning to complete our online visa applications together. We used our phones to scan our passports (using CamScanner or the scanner found in Notes on an Iphone) as well as to take our pictures and upload them online. It took a while as the online application only allows you to upload scanned images of a maximum size and in jpg format. It is imperative that you designate a specific amount of time to complete the application as every detail needs to be correct otherwise the application will not be granted and will have to be redone. Lucky for me, I received an email a few days later which stated that my application was granted and a link was provided to access the visa document online. Thereafter I printed two copies of my Visa, ID, passport and flight details of which I gave one copy of each to my mum and kept the other copies in a folder with me.
- Packing and weight restrictions- The final step after all the admin! The international airline that we traveled on allowed me to carry 2 bags of 23kg each and 1 hand luggage weighing 7kg. With this in mind, we were flying from South Africa to Mumbai, then from Mumbai to Bangalore. The internal flight airline only allowed 1 bag of 15kg and 1 hand luggage of 7kg. Thus, we each decided to only carry one bag weighing not more than 15kg, a 7kg cabin bag and a backpack (served as a laptop bag) from South Africa in order to avoid excess baggage costs in India. Standard luggage bags are sold in three sizes – large, medium and small (cabin bag). My suggestion would be to use a medium sized suitcase to pack clothing in as you cannot physically pack more than 23kg and this will prevent overweight issues later on. I was gifted travel cube cases in which I separated and packed my clothing, making packing and unpacking a lot easier and efficient! Tip: Pack an extra pair of clothing and underwear in your hand luggage in the event that your checked in bag does not arrive on time/ gets lost.
At the host:
We arrived in Mumbai on the morning of October 24th. After collecting our luggage and passing through airport security, we each exchanged some dollars and created our kitty from which we purchased one sim card valid for the month. We then paid for two taxis and made our way to the apartment that we had booked on Airbnb. The air was hot, the atmosphere stuffy and I couldn’t wait to have a shower and take a long nap. We stayed in Mumbai for three days in which we bought 3 more sim cards (at a cheaper price than what we had paid at the airport), explored the streets, indulged at the infamous Delhi Darbaar and met family of one of the girls. Those three days flew by and before we knew it, we were on a flight to Bangalore.
Bangalore, commonly referred to as Bengaluru, is the capital city of the state of Karnataka, situated in the South of India. The official language spoken is Kannada. With a population of over 10 million, it is known as the IT capital of India and is also famous for its abundance in silk and sandalwood. There are approximately 50 medical universities in India, of which 12 are located in Bangalore.
Arriving at Manipal Hospital on our first day, I was surprised to find that not only were there taxis and rickshaws readily available to transport patients but valet parking was also offered to those who arrived in their own vehicles. On entering, I realised that Manipal was by far the busiest hospital I had ever seen and rightly so, judging by India’s population of 1.4 billion people. There were self-registration desks, a separate lounge for international patients, multiple pharmacy counters and even traffic officers to avoid overcrowding in the passageways, all of which I had never seen in South Africa.
We were directed to the superintendent’s office after which my clinical partner and I were placed in Oncology Surgery for the first week. We were able to observe our first robotic surgery performed using the Da Vinci system. Surgeries included a simple hysterectomy, total mesorectal excision, abdomino perineal resection and a sigmoid colectomy. Thereafter we were placed in General Surgery where we attended OPD and watched a laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery. Our third and fourth weeks were spent in Cardiology and Cardiothoracic Surgery. We spent many days in the Cath lab observing angiograms, pacemaker and stent placements. I was also fortunate enough to observe my first open heart surgery which happened to be a triple bypass.
After our 4 weeks in Bangalore, we made our way back to Mumbai, making sure to book our internal flights on Air India as they provided us with a 25 kg checked in weight and 7kg hand luggage allowance. We stayed in Mumbai for further 5 days to explore and do street shopping before leaving for home.
Return to Stellenbosch:
On arriving back in South Africa, I was left with 4 weeks of holiday in which I reflected and reminisced my trip to India. I couldn’t believe that my friends and I had successfully planned and executed our electives abroad. A lot of hard work, patience and time went into it but it was well worth the effort. I was incredibly impressed with the healthcare system as well as the doctors, nurses, workers and not forgetting the food, atmosphere and my overall experience. I would highly recommend India as a destination for an elective as I myself cannot wait to return to the country and cities that stole my heart.