My name is Amy, I’m 25 years old and I’m a student paramedic at Victoria University. In November 2017 I was privileged enough to visit Romania with Challenges Abroad Australia. Such a random place right? I thought the same thing.
It first caught my eye when it was advertised through my university Facebook page and it instantly intrigued me, as for the past couple of years I’d been on the lookout for unique things I could do that would really make my Ambulance Victoria application pop with attraction. I researched the company, and submitted an expression of interest, however all the while thinking “I’m just not sure about this”. I wanted to meet with a representative of Challenges Abroad and find out more about it in person and see how I felt – especially because the dates of the program meant that my 25th birthday would be spent in Romania. I’d never been away from my family for my birthday, what if I hated it?
Molly from Challenges Abroad arranged a day to meet and another friend who was also interested, Souraya, came along. We asked Molly all our questions and she answered every single one with great detail and care. Souraya was sold straight away, but me, although well travelled with my family, I was a very nervous traveller away from my comfort people. However, I eventually decided to take a huge leap of faith and sign up for the challenge. The following months flew by with our departure date fast approaching. We were kept so well informed and updated about our trip and there was 100% transparency from the Challenges Abroad team, but I just could not make myself excited. I was almost dreading the trip, all because of my travel anxieties.
We were told a date and time that we needed to be at Cluj-Napoca Airport in Romania and we all arranged our flights. My friend Bianca and I chose flights together. The day arrived for us to depart and I was feeling super anxious and emotional, but I got on the plane. After 3 flights, we finally arrived in Cluj-Napoca and after a couple of days acclimatising we met up with our group at the airport. There were 16 of us and for efficiency reasons we were split into two groups. One group was at the hospital (SMURD) in Targu Mures for the first week, the other group working at a school in a small town about two hours away.
Taken under the wing of Minodora, a nurse who spoke basic English, we got to wear scrubs, engage with patients and work on our clinical skills. Although I did not encounter an English speaking patient the entire week, it was a fun added challenge – think of it as ‘mime medicine’. It was amazing learning about the health care system in Romania and being able to experience exactly how it differs from Australian hospital practises. We got to perform skills such as taking femoral artery blood, inserting urinary catheters, cannulate and do ECG’s. By the end of the week we had learnt the system and were able to work semi-independently.
Off time from the hospital was spent hanging out in Targu Mures city, sight seeing, eating LOTS of croissants and drinking lots of foreign beer. My birthday was spent in the hospital and then out on the town with new and old friends. Plus, it just so happened that my birthday fell on National Romania Day so we were treated to lots of festivities and a fire works display. I tell you, out of the 25 birthdays I’ve had, that was my absolute favourite one by far!
My next week was spent at a school in a small village in Transylvania, and after being in Targu Mures City for a week, it was a bit of a shock to the system. It was a Hungarian speaking town, and had far less amenities compared to the city I’d just been in. I immediately felt quite homesick and was adamant that I wanted to go back to Targu Mures and be in the city again. However, my other group members convinced me to stay and try one day at the school and then decide – BOY AM I GLAD I DID.
Working at the school was one of the most challenging, but most rewarding things I have ever done, and I have grown so much from that experience. We were split into pairs and allocated a classroom for the week. We taught first aid and CPR, fun facts about Australia and basic phrases and sayings in English. The children taught us some phrases and sayings in Hungarian and we played SO many games. Despite having a translator, the language barrier was tough – but this was all part of the challenge and experience. Each day after school we’d venture into a neighbouring town and try different restaurants, grab a coffee at our new favourite coffee shop, and just take in the beauty of Romania.
My trip to Romania will forever be one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had (if not THE most amazing). I went there seeking something different that would stand out on my resume, and I left with so much more. I have come back with such a full heart and I no longer have travel anxieties. I’ve gotten a taste of another culture and I can’t wait to get back out there. I have made new friends, and became a family with my group – you can’t break the bond that develops after experiencing something so incredible together.
Most of all, my ‘blinkers’ have been removed and I’ve gained so much perspective. I’ve matured, grown, found compassion in such an extreme way and learnt that even a country on the other side of the world is simply ‘same same but different’. I completely fell in love with Romania and I have every ambition to go back. I would highly recommend working with Challenges Abroad to anybody who is interested. I even got a tattoo on my arm saying “accept challenges, embrace change” written in Romanian.
I am who I am now, because of this trip.