Jelena, 23 years old, studies Occupational Therapy (grade 4) at ZUYD Hogeschool in Heerlen. She and a friend of hers, Lea Gnida, went to Switzerland to do an internship. They were both looking very forward to their trip to Switzerland. They worked as interns in a rehabilitation centre in Valens, a small village on top of a mountain with a height of about 1000 meters. The rehabilitation centre was located in a large building where a lot of people from different backgrounds are working. In this centre work a lot of different specialized teams such as: occupational therapists, physiotherapists, creative therapists, music therapists, equine therapists, speech therapists, nurses, and doctors. The first three days of the internship were mainly to get to know the rehabilitation centre and to get familiar with their treatment plans. After those three days Jelena was made fully responsible for her own clients and work. Especially in the beginning she found this very difficult. She was not used to work all by herself because she had never been put in a situation like this during her previous internships.
How easy was it to adjust to the language?
During her first weeks in Switzerland, Jelena experienced also some difficulties with speaking and understanding Swiss. Jelena was born in Germany. She told me that she watched television series in Swiss and bought a Swiss language book to learn and understand more about the language before actually going to Switzerland. During her internship Jelena soon noticed that Swiss was even more difficult to understand than expected. Fortunately (almost) all of the therapists and clients spoke German, so it was very handy for Jelena. Everybody was very understanding and gave Jelena the time to learn and understand the language. After several weeks she was finally able to understand people who lived nearby the rehabilitation centre. However, the dialects from other parts of Switzerland were sometimes too difficult to understand.
Jelena said that it helped a lot that she spoke German, but she also thinks that someone from the Netherlands who has some knowledge of the German language will not encounter any problems with understanding Swiss.
Many of the people Jelena worked with were not from Switzerland and spoke German with each other a lot of the time.
Was it an international team?
During the team consults people from different professions consulted with each other about various topics. Differences between the various disciplines were not seen as important because there were working many people from different countries, with different professions. Once in a while they also held team meetings, during these meetings therapists were able to talk about cases in which they experienced some difficulties. After those meetings they planned a consult with the client in which they gave some information about the different treatments they had given so far. By doing so, the whole team was able to think about how they could improve and maybe even change their treatment plans. Jelena said that she found these meetings always very interesting and that she learned a lot from these meetings.
How was the experience in general?
Jelena said she had a very pleasant stay in Switzerland. The one thing she didn’t like was being away from home for three months and not being able to see her boyfriend and friends. Of course, she was very happy that she was able to go to Switzerland with her friend Lea, so she wasn’t all alone. Jelena and Lea shared a room in a house were the rest of the staff was also housed. In this house they had to share a kitchen and a bathroom with other roommates.
Jelena told me that she received an internship fee which was about 1200 Swiss Francs (± 900 euro). She had to pay about 450 euros for her room. In Switzerland everything is a little bit more expensive than in the Netherlands or in Germany. Mostly meat was very pricey. So, Jelena and Lea decided that they were going to eat more veggies and less meat during their stay in Switzerland.
What did the internship include?
Jelena worked 42 hours per week at the rehabilitation centre, but there were some weeks that she worked overtime. In the morning they always began with an ADL-observation and after this the individual treatments followed. In the afternoon she always helped out with group therapy sessions. These therapies took place at different locations, for example at a school. At these locations there were different rooms with a bed, kitchen etc. During her internship Jelena was able to do a lot of her work independently. By doing so, she noticed very quickly what was good for her and what wasn’t.
Her supervisors were only present during treatments when needed. This was something that Jelena experienced as very pleasant. At first, she tried to work very precisely, so she was always very busy after work and in the weekends because she had to prepare a lot of things on beforehand. At one point, she noticed that this was too much for her to handle and she decided to make a change. She tried to do some of the work during the therapy sessions, so she immediately could learn from her mistakes. This made Jelena feel more stress-resistant. She also was very happy that there wasn’t always someone checking up on her and looking over her shoulders while working. When she needed help, she could always count on her supervisor. ‘Everyone was so nice and kind to me. Everyone always wanted to help me’.
Once a month Jelena talked with a teacher from her school in the Netherlands via Skype. During these sessions they talked about personal matters but also about her internship.
How did you spend your free time?
Of course, Jelena was not always working during her internship. The surrounding areas of the rehabilitation centre were very beautiful. She loved to hike in the mountains and she also went to a ski area which was close by. In this ski area they went up and down the mountains with a sled and there was also a funicular railway. Near the rehabilitation centre was a city where Jelena went shopping, to the movies or had dinner with some friends. During the weekends they took the car and travelled through the area. It was very useful for Jelena and Lea to have a car, because the public transport in Switzerland was very expensive.
Would you recommend it?
Jelena would definitely go back to Switzerland if she had the chance. She learned a lot from her internship because it was a place where a lot of independence was required. It is also very important that you can cope with stressful situations, if you are interested in doing an internship like this. One of the main reasons why she enjoyed this internship so much was because she worked with people from different nationalities and disciplines. These people had very different views and ideas about work. So, Jelena learned a lot about multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural work. The rehabilitation centre was a very nice place to work where you could always learn from everyone and from every experience.