Well I have finally made it out to the Philippines for my elective. Even just a few weeks ago it seemed like this day would never come, suffocating as I was at the time under the ridiculous weight of expectation and worry that is medical school finals.
And now all that seems to have disappeared – it’s a little bit like when you stand in a doorway and push your arms out against the hard frame for a couple of minutes, and then when you step away from the frame your arms just float upwards as if they don’t have a care in the world....Actually no its not - that’s a ridiculous thing to say, sorry - I think I will have to put that one down to jetlag.
As the first student Work the World are sending to the Philippines I was asked if I could document some of my experiences. Other than my tedious doorframe ramblings the first thing I want to say is a word of advice. Against my better judgement I booked the cheapest flight I could find out here, which was just over £400 from London Heathrow on China Southern airlines. I was aware that it had a 15 hour transit time in Gaungzhou, China, but my bank account was adamant that was the one for me. However, I was completely unaware that airlines have an obligation to put you in a hotel for transit times longer than about 10 hours, so my penny pinching actually resulted in an unexpected and wholly enjoyable Saturday night out in China!
It actually turned out that there was nothing about China Southern that was particularly “budget” – the staff were lovely, the film selection on the plane was varied, the hotel in China was even actually quite posh, and I arrived in Manila feeling almost a bit like I had been travelling Business Class rather than Lowly Student Class. But this is feeling a bit like an advert for China Southern now so I will press on...
“Hello Dr Rob and welcome to the Philippines!”...Doctor. I don’t think I am going to get used to that for quite some time to come...
Arriving in a new country is always exciting. I love to watch the baggage handlers fussing around while everybody waits to get off the plane, but this time I was very conscious that this was likely to be the calm before the storm...which is why I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn’t descended on by lots of “helpful” people the moment I went through customs. I was able to find the ATM (on the left) and take out some Filipino pesos, and even outside the terminal building I was able to walk the short distance to the airport shuttle-bus (to the right as you leave the building) before any of the taxi drivers got even a little bit of hassling in. One thing I should say is that I left just under 3 hours between my stated arrival into Manila and the Cebu Pacific flight I had booked to Iloilo City. This was okay, but it wasn’t comfortable – the main delay was waiting for the shuttle bus to unload and the fact that the Cebu Pacific terminal (3) is the last one you stop at. So err on the side of caution when you book your domestic connection. There was though the choice of taking a taxi, which would have been much more expensive but certainly a lot quicker!
The flight over to Iloilo afforded magnificent views of some of the 7000-odd islands that make up the Philippines, with their imposing volcanoes, splendid beaches and incredible rice terraces. At least that is what the guidebook says: again another reason to leave plenty of time before your flight is to get a window seat rather than one in the middle of the plane as I did. But it was short enough and in no time at all I was coming through the arrivals gate.
Now I know a number of people who have travelled with Work the World, and they have all said how great the staff are in the various locations, but there was still a nagging element of doubt in my head that it would all come together. Well they were all dispelled the moment I saw Programme Manager Mishie’s smiling face. “Hello Dr Rob and welcome to the Philippines!”...Doctor. I don’t think I am going to get used to that for quite some time to come...
In actual fact I think Mishie was probably just as excited as me, if not more so! And I’m not surprised given the amount of effort she has clearly put into getting her staff team and the house together. The other three – Nellie, Gerry and June are all so lovely and it’s like they have worked together for years rather than just a few short weeks. And the house is gorgeous with high ceilings and a beautiful view from the roof terrace of River Iloilo.
As much as it is possible to be after just a few hours, I feel comfortable here and like it is going to be a very happy place to stay for the next 5 weeks!
Rob is a 5th year medical student from Barts & The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine & Dentistry