On Traveling as a Medical Student

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” -Gustav Flaubert

My biggest regret about traveling as a medical student is really not traveling as much as I wanted, or at the very least, traveling much at all. I went to college in New York City and barely made it downtown, or explored the other boroughs.

My best friend in college diagnosed herself with “the travel bug” and she took her environmental lectures in Brazil because we had the opportunity to do so. At the time, I found it difficult to go abroad with a full schedule of the college requirements in addition to the pre-medical classes with labs. In hindsight, it may have seemed more difficult that it was. But, I’m sure I could have found a way to do it.

Now, I strongly feel traveling is an important part of my education. Whenever I have an excuse to explore a new place, I do whether it be spring break, a holiday on Monday, or just the weekend. While trips can be costly for students, I would say it is worth every penny. For one, it is refreshing and necessary to leave the same campus, same people, same city for a change of scenery.

It is also incredibly humbling to learn how people live. I visited Cape Town, South Africa during my winter break last year and took a tour of the townships– the name given to the underdeveloped segregated areas. I get frustrated sometimes because living on a student budget is difficult. Having seen the terrible conditions that families live in these townships truly opened my eyes and made me realize that I’m in a very fortunate position. I have unlimited access to knowledge and education. And not only that, but my status as a student is only temporary.

This past spring break, I was in the Bahamas. I woke up on a Monday morning to a scenic landscape of palm trees and pastel homes. Just one week before on Monday, I was taking an exam. When you’re spending the day at the beach doing nothing but listening to the sounds of crashing waves and munching on fresh Caribbean coconut, fretting over grades and exams seems so insignificant. As students, we live in a bubble of other caffeine-driven students with myopic perspective. Because we spend all of our time studying and focused on school work, we assume there is no world that exists outside of the walls of our classroom. But there is, and it is absolutely stunning.

There’s always time to take a breather and smell the roses, especially as medical students, where we’re told to selflessly give ourselves to our studies. That necessity for mindfulness and self-care can help you out in the long run.

If you want to travel abroad for your mission trip, we encourage you to read more about the Global Health Challenge!


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Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.