October 13th, 2015; the day we booked our trip with Work the World. We were two Belgian youngsters ready for a month full of adventure!
The countdown began. There were 620 days to go until we were to set foot in the Philippines. 620 days sounds long, but there was lots to do. I remember the happy feeling I had upon opening MyTrip (Work the World’s placement planning dashboard) for the first time. It had a clear timeline with all the things that we needed to do before leaving clearly listed. Everything was so detailed, we followed the simple instructions and everything fell into place.
Choosing a destination wasn’t the easiest task. Work the World operate in a lot of countries, each with their own advantages. With the help of the Work the World team, we ended up choosing Iloilo in the Philippines, mainly because of the clinical placement opportunities available for physiotherapists.
618 days later, after all the decision making, plane ticket booking and vaccinations, we stepped on a plane in Brussels and arrived in the Philippines 36 hours later.
When we landed in the Philippines, there were two friendly faces waiting for us outside the airport. From then on, everything was so well organized that we didn’t need to worry for even a second.
And so our first day in the Philippines began.
After a short drive and some useful information from the Work the World team, we reached the driveway that led up to the most amazing house I had ever seen. It was huge; bedrooms were spacious with an en suite, there were enormous communal rooms and an awesome terrace, don’t even get me started about the view. The house staff were so friendly—the catering team had prepared a delicious welcome breakfast, which was much needed after such a long trip.
As we arrived early Sunday morning, we had plenty of the day left to explore. So, after breakfast, we decided to go island hopping. We called a taxi and begin the trip to Guimaras Island. We got to the harbour and had our first encounter with a Bangca boat. Then, when we got to the island, we had our first encounter with a motorcycle taxi. The Filipino people on the island were so friendly; so many people wanted to take a picture with us that we felt like celebrities. It was obvious that local people weren’t used to seeing a lot of Caucasian people.
After a few hours spent lying on a beautiful beach, the jetlag kicked in. Hard.
We made our way back to the house, and I don’t remember much about the trip as I was asleep for most of it. Later that day, it was time for our welcome briefing with the Work the World team. We talked about our goals and expectations, and they explained how everything worked in the Iloilo house; breakfast and dinner, weekend activities, and even how to call a taxi.
After the first out of many fabulous dinners, our first day was over, and it was finally time for bed.
The next day, the team took us on a tour of our placement hospital, and then on a city orientation through Iloilo.
The following day, it was time for our clinical placement to start. We had the honor of spending our four-week placement with an amazing team of physiotherapists and trainee PTs. The experience was totally different from what we were used to back home; the hospital, the rooms, and the type of rehabilitation used. I was surprised to see the large, open, communal wards, where two patients would sometimes share a bed. In the Paediatric Ward, we saw as many as four children sharing a bed at one time. It was hot too, with no air conditioning and poor ventilation. There were, however, single or double rooms with better conditions than the communal rooms, but these were only for patients with enough money to pay for them.
The hospital staff did what they could with the means they had. In the rehabilitation center, I saw things I had never seen during my training in Belgium. Electrical traction machines, dated electric stimulators, and instead of using what we would consider to be a standard gel for transduction, they used cotton that was moistened under a tap. Detailed patient notes were all handwritten, and laid out what each patient should do during each session.
Local physiotherapists were not allowed to work on any additional problems patients had, outside of what was written in the notes. For example, one patient had a CVA, and underwent electro-stimulation, walking-rehabilitation and so on. The patient also came in with a swollen knee as a result of a fall. We wanted to mobilize the knee and start some simple exercises to rehabilitate his walking function, but we weren’t allowed because no doctor had prescribed anything for this particular injury. To get a full prescription from the doctor, the patient needed to make a new appointment and pay again.
Initially, it was hard to believe that patients they could make full recoveries under the circumstances. But, thankfully, my opinion changed during my four-weeks placement, and I can say with full confidence that the local staff do their best to help each and every patient. We saw a lot of progress in patients who came to the medical center, and I left the placement with immense confidence in the staff.
We made friends with students from other disciplines during our stay in the house. We built so many new friendships, and went on trips with our housemates. I’m still in contact with some of them after almost a year. It was clear that everyone was in the world of healthcare; we were all open, social, and empathetic. After a long day on placement, we just wanted to share our feelings and experiences, so the empathy was needed!
Of course, our four weeks were not always ‘work work work’. During the weekends, we explored a lot of the Philippines. We actually stayed a weekend longer than our placement, so we could enjoy five weekends. As mentioned above, we went to Guimaras Island, but also Boracay Island, Antique, Isla de Gigantes and Bacolod. And yes, they are all as beautiful as the pictures on the internet.
We did things like island hopping, rafting, hiking, zip-lining, being ‘cooked alive’ in an iron cauldron up the side of a mountain!
All the information we needed we found in the Work the World house. For one, we asked housemates who had already been to places we wanted to visit. The Work the World staff also had loads of handy tips. It all just went so smoothly.
Everybody has some fear of going to a foreign country, especially for such a long time. It might even be your first time away without your parents. But, with Work the World, you will never feel alone.
If I could give you some advice, it would be this: Fear nothing. Fear not the Filipino way of life, the food, going out at night, nor travelling during the weekends. I hope you have as amazing an experience as I had, and remember: Be open, be brave and have fun.