Geneva – Part I

Can I just say I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do the things I do, chase my childhood dream of becoming a doctor and meet truly incredible people along the way. Your early 20’s are years of uncertainty, challenge, excitement, new experiences and endless reflection. Sometimes, it’s easy to obsess over the things that go wrong, but the world is big and beautiful, people are kind and understanding, and – sorry, cliche – adventures await those who are ready. So here’s the first of a 2-part segment on Geneva. It’s going to be a pretty long post, but main headings are in capitals and bolded. Read further for more background on the exchange, daily living hacks and some reflections on my experience. The second part will cover weekend traveling, advice for people traveling to Geneva and the next phase of my 7-week summer electives!

4 amazing, magical and challenging weeks later, it’s time to say goodbye to this city. I’ve seen some truly spectacular sights, made some lifelong friends and gained knowledge in plastic surgery and surgical skills, as well as learned how to be a better clerk.

IFMSA & EXCHANGE BACKGROUND
A little background: I came to Geneva with the IFMSA (international federation of medical students association) for their professional exchange that happens every summer. It’s open to medical students from all over the world. Some of the exchanges require students to speak only English, while others, like mine, require proficiency in a foreign language (French in this case; different Swiss cities have different working languages – eg. Geneva is French, Zurich is German etc). If you’re in medical school or are going to attend medical school, I highly highly recommend checking out or applying to this program: http://ifmsa.org/professional-exchanges/

If you want to learn more about this program, feel free to message me, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have!

GENEVA – background and interesting facts
This city, despite being well known all around the world, only has a population of about 200,000. It’s extremely multicultural, although most people speak English here. In fact, it’s so multicultural, it can be difficult to actually learn and practice French. Many offices in Geneva communicate in English, so if learning a new language (or practicing a rusty one) is one of your goals, there are lots of opportunities out there, including language exchanges that happen every week! There’s one hosted by the Geneva Interns Association every Tuesday. When I went, they met in front of the Reformation Wall in Les Parcs des Bastions, which is super close to vielle-ville (the older, more historic area), and close to the hospital (Hopitaux universitaires Geneve = HUG). I highly recommend joining their Facebook page, where people also post about upcoming intern events, hikes, housing etc. It’s great if you’re here alone and want to meet other young people, or if you just want to expand your network!

GIA link: https://www.facebook.com/GenevaInternsAssociation/

The GIA also published a super useful handbook that goes over basically everything you need to live in, get around and go out in Geneva: http://internsassociation.org/useful-information/welcome-package/#.

The other exchange I heard about was the Mundo Lingo Language Exchange. They also meet Tuesday nights at 7pm at Ethno Bar in Jonction: http://mundolingo.org/geneva

Interesting fact: just like we call our dollars “bucks,” I learned from a local that they call their Francs “balle.” For example, 2000 Francs would be “deux mille balle.”

HOUSING
Housing in Geneva can be incredibly expensive, but IFMSA provides accommodation for you with a host family. My host family was extremely welcoming and friendly, and made sure to make me feel comfortable. They lived in “Les Avanchets,” which is a stop on the 14/18 tram line. It was about 25-30 min away from the hospital, which is considered “far” in Geneva.

Some popular areas for students are:

  • Paquis/Nations – known as the “red light district” of Geneva, but still super safe, really convenient and near Gare Cornavin, the main station in the city. I would recommend checking out apartments in this area! A lot of students are interns at the UN, which makes living near the Palais very attractive.
  • Eaux-Vives – ok so Geneva is pretty small, and all the neighbourhoods I would say are relatively within walking distance to each other. This area is by the water and there’s a huge park as well. I really love this area, and I would’ve lived here if I had the option.
  • Plainpalais/Centre/Acacias – a lot of students live in these areas too! Really easy access to public transportation, close to la rue d’ecole medicine (more about this later), as well as museums, nightlife and grocery shopping.

For more info about these and other areas, here’s a link to a map! https://www.euruni.edu/blog/where-to-live-in-geneva/

TRANSPORTATION
Getting around Geneva really is ridiculously easy. The trams and buses go everywhere you need to get to, and since Geneva is so small, you could probably walk to most of your destinations anyways. If you’re staying here for any longer than a couple weeks, I HIGHLY recommend getting the monthly bus and tram pass that covers the entire Canton of Geneva. Remember though, to ask for the student/under 25 price when you’re buying your pass. It’s only 45 francs for the entire month, and we definitely used our passes A LOT. If you’re over 25, I think the pass is around 100 francs, but I would check to make sure! Regardless, each single ride is 3 Francs. Although tickets don’t get checked a lot, mine were checked twice in the span of a month. The fine is pretty hefty so it’s probably not a good idea to take chances.

If you’re traveling outside the city and you plan on visiting all the other beautiful cities in Switzerland, I also HIGHLY recommend getting the Swiss Pass Half Fare Card (http://www.swisstravelsystem.com/en/passes/swiss-half-fare-card.html). It’s something that me and the other exchange students regret not purchasing during our first week in Switzerland. You can visit the website for more info, but the gist of it is that 1) you get a 50% discount on most trains, buses and boats in Switzerland and 2) You get free entry to museums and discounts on a number of tourist attractions like the Gornergrat train in Zermatt. It’s worth it in my opinion if you’re traveling to more than 3 or 4 destinations outside of Geneva, since train tickets can get quite expensive.

Also, for cheaper tickets, check out the Super Saver tickets on the SBB website. These are cheaper tickets – up to 50% off the regular price) – that have set times for departure. The only downside to these tickets is that if you buy tickets at the normal rate, you can travel at any time in the day. With these ones, you just have to coordinate with your friends and make sure you don’t miss your train. One of my local medical school friends told me about the Super Saver option a week into my trip, and I saved a ton of money on traveling this way

Super Saver tickets: http://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets/tickets-for-switzerland/supersaver-tickets.html

FOOD & ALCOHOL (I promise, both can be very affordable if done right)

Food, I think we can all agree, is pretty important. Now, some people will tell you that it’s way cheaper to buy your groceries in France, but I’m a) really lazy and b) would rather spend my day visiting tourist attractions than trucking to France (ok, it’s really only about 20-30 min away from Geneva) and carrying my groceries all the way back home. Warning, most grocery stores are closed on Sunday, so you basically have to get your shopping done between Monday – Saturday. Stores also close earlier here, but if you really need to get some shopping done, I recommend going to Gare Cornavin (the central train station), where there’s a Migros open until 11pm, or the airport, where the Migros is open 7 days a week. Both are slightly pricier in my opinion than normal Migros and carry far smaller selections than regular stores.

So here’s my perspective on the grocery stores available and pricing, listed from cheapest to most expensive:

  1. Lidl

Pros: Honestly probably one of the cheapest grocery stores I’ve EVER been to. Considering I mostly lived on a diet of muesli, bread, cheese, smoked salmon and sauteed vegetables, I could buy a week’s worth of groceries here for about 40-50 Francs (1 Franc = 1.3 CDN, summer 2016).  Considering how expensive some things are in Ontario, I would argue that grocery shopping in Geneva was actually cheaper for me than back at home. They have a lot of sales, so make sure to look out for the reduced goods, which are marked by “Action.” They also carry the really famous Swiss chocolate brand “Cailler” which I absolutely love. Also is pretty cheap as well, eg. one 750ml bottle of vodka for 10-15 Francs or one 750ml bottle of wine starting at 3-4 Francs. Lidl’s are generally open Monday – Saturday, 8am – 8pm (take this with a grain of salt since grocery stores vary in opening hours). It’s like the Food Basics or Buy More for Less of Canada, but with better quality food.

You can buy most of your basics here: bread, cheese (pretty large selection, promise you’ll find one that you like here), smoked salmon and meats, yogurts, cereals and other breakfast foods, staple items like canned beans and other goods, chocolate, alcohol, limited selection of fruits and vegetables.

Cons:  So the only con I can really think of is that they have a pretty limited selection of fruits and vegetables. The selection they do have is generally pretty inexpensive though, so I like to come here for my staple goods, then stop at Migros for fresh produce.

2. Denner

Pros: There was a Denner really close to my place, at Balexert, the largest shopping mall in Geneva. I love Denner’s. It’s pretty similar to Lidl’s in pricing, but I would argue that they have a larger selection. They also sell alcohol here, for around the same pricing as Lidl, but with a larger selection of wines (YAY!). Since it was so convenient, I would generally either get my groceries here or Lidl, and it would come to about 50-60 Francs for a week’s worth of groceries. They have this amazing freshly baked bread with a criss-cross pull-apart pattern that’s a little bit sour, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Highly recommend it for making cheese and smoked salmon sandwiches!

Side note: they have this AMAZING Denner brand Gruyere sliced cheese. It’s pretty cheap, about 4 Francs for 200g, but it’s really delicious sandwiched between some of my favourite bread.

Con: Ummm, none? Really I love Denner’s, it’s probably my favourite grocery store chain in Geneva. They generally open Monday – Saturdays from around 8am to 6 – 8pm.

3. Manor Food: This is going to be a short description since I haven’t been here, but based on my friends’ reviews, they have pretty good, fairly inexpensive prepared foods. They also have a buffet like restaurant where you can choose what you want and pay for it at the front. It’s like Marche in Toronto for those of you from the area.

4. Migros

Pros: it probably has the largest selection out of all the grocery stores and is the most accessible. Like I mentioned earlier, they have a Migros at Gare Cornavin which is open until 11pm, as well as one at the airport that’s also open late. I would’ve shopped more here if I wasn’t trying to save money over the summer to travel and go out! It’s kind of like the Safeway or Fortino’s of Canada.

Cons: It’s a bit pricier than Denner and Lidl, which is why we eventually stopped shopping for groceries there, but it’s worth it if you want a larger selection and arguably fresher foods. You can also get prepared foods here that won’t break the bank. BUT THERE’S NO ALCOHOL HERE – SO IF YOU WANT TO PREGAME MAKE SURE YOU MAKE IT TO A LIDL, DENNER OR COOP BEFORE THEY CLOSE AND NOT ON A SUNDAY.

5. Coop

Pros: It’s really nice inside. Great selection and lots of organic options. Did not shop here at all though since it’s the most expensive out of the grocery store chains. That being said, it’s not THAT much more expensive, so check it out if you’re curious! They also sell alcohol here, and it’s about the same in pricing as Denner and Lidl.

Con: It’s expensive, and you can probably get similar quality food for way cheaper at Lidl, Denner or Migros. It also seemed like there were more of the other chains, but that could also be because I wasn’t looking too closely.

6. Globus: Also have never been in here BUT I hear they have a great selection of gourmet and artisan groceries. If you’re feeling swanky or are craving something that isn’t local, check this place out! There’s one on Rive.

For more info, I found this blog super helpful: https://livingingeneva.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/discovering-genevas-grocery-stores/

Overall though, here’s some advice I gathered from my 4 weeks in Geneva:

  • If you eat breakfast at home (generally I had muesli mixed with yogurt, half a banana, some added nuts and some honey or bread + some sort of topping), and bring a lunch to work, your food costs will be very low. I ate out with my friends about once every 2-3 days, which tended to be more expensive. A normal meal will generally run between 20-30 Francs, and a glass wine at dinner will cost between 4 to 10 Francs. But since you’re only in Switzerland once, it’s definitely worth it to check out fondue, raclette, and other local specialties before you leave. I personally love fondue, and I would recommend Cafe du Soleil if you’re here in the summer, since a lot of fondue places are only open during the winter or late at night (fondue starts at 9pm at Bains de Paquis).Otherwise, I heard Gruyere is really good, and there are 2 locations in Geneva.
  • If you’re working at the hospital (Hopitaux Universitaires de Geneve), they have a really great salad bar that’s extremely reasonable. I think the food there is subsidized for hospital employees.
  • Picnics are super fun! You can bring wine, bread, cheese, dried fruit and other goodies to Parcs de Eaux-Vives for a really nice lunch or dinner by the lake. There are a ton of events held there as well, including salsa and jazz nights, and UN events.
  • ALWAYS PREGAME IF YOU’RE GOING CLUBBING. As a student, this should be a hard and fast rule. Drinks are extremely expensive at most clubs (20-40+ Francs), and it’ll be hard to get a good buzz going if you go completely sober. Plus, pregaming is really fun and no one really goes out here until after 12am. Most clubs and some bars are open until 5-6am.
  • Be open to meeting new people. The people in Geneva are really friendly, and we made a lot of friends just by joining people at their tables and communicating in French and English.
  • Don’t dress like a slob when you go out. No one likes a slob.
  • Take Uber if you’re coming home after the trains stop. It’s a lot cheaper than taking a taxi, but way easier than walking home if you live far from where you’ve gone out. Honestly, Geneva is pretty safe, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: GOING OUT IN GENEVA

It can sometimes feel like people never go out in Geneva, but that’s not entirely true. Me and my friends found some places that we really liked (and some places we really didn’t), but here’re some of my reflections on our nights out. If you want to learn about more bars or want more info, check out this post from Timeout Switzerland: http://www.timeout.com/switzerland/bars-and-pubs/best-geneva-bars

Bars

  1. Le Chat Noir – I would call this a bar/club. The night we went (Saturday), it had great pop/EDM music playing and lots of people. We had a ton of fun here, and would definitely recommend it! Drinks are ok, I think they’re around 15-20 Francs each, which is pretty standard for Geneva.
  2. L’Apothecaire – We went here on our first night in Geneva. It’s the younger sister of L’Atelier Cocktail Club in Eaux-Vives, this bar is easier to find, on the main road to Plainpalais. This place has great cocktails, and I would recommend asking the mixologists to make you something new! Drinks are generally around 20-25 Francs here.
  3. Rooftop 42 – loved this bar! The main reason to visit this bar is its rooftop. It’s above a commercial building on Geneva’s posh Rue du Rhône and has a beautiful outdoor terrace sports a fantastic view over the city, lake and jet d’eau. The drinks are somewhat pricey, around 25 Francs a pop for cocktails and 9 Francs for shots, but it’s worth it for the view and chic atmosphere. It’s also popular during weekdays if you want to go out but don’t know where!
  4. Cafe Jules Vernes – Went here on one of our last nights in Geneva. It’s really close to the hospital, and they also serve tapas if you’re hungry. I really like the Apersol Spritz, but I also liked the drink that the bartender made for us that was halfway between an Amaretto sour and sex on the beach. Drinks run for about 15-20 Francs here, and a cheese plate is 16 Francs (it’s huge though, so it was more than enough for 1.5 dinners).
  5. L’Atelier – One of the best places in the city for cocktails. Again, it’ll run you about 15-25 Francs a pop, but they have great mixologists and a creative drink menu. Great for a classy night out.
  6. Williams – so we found this hole in the wall bar that we really loved. They had shots for 4 Francs, and the bartender kept pouring us free shots of a homemade concoction (sounds sketchy I know, but it was kind of like jagger + whiskey + cinnamon). Great for watching the soccer games and pretty empty! This was in the Paquis area, but we couldn’t find it again when we tried to go back.
  7. Rue de l’Ecole de Medicine – Translates to “Medical school street.” There are a ton of reasonably priced bars on this street with nice patios in the summer. A glass of wine here is generally under 5 Francs, so a lot of students and interns come here. It’s in the Plainpalais area, so it’s super easy to get to as well. I would definitely check out the bars here and just walk around for a bit until you find one you like. It does get pretty crowded after work and on weekends, so if you have a big group, I recommend coming earlier.

Ok so this was a pretty long post about Geneva. I hope this has been helpful (or at least somewhat entertaining). Will follow Part I up with my weekend travels around Switzerland and anything else I think is important, that I think of between now and then. Ciao for now 🙂

 

Advertisements

My trip to Iceland 2016

Ok, so I guess this post is a little (maybe a lot) different from what I normally post. But after writing this up for a friend, I thought it might be helpful for other people who had questions about Iceland and wanted a firsthand perspective from someone’s who’s about to leave. Feel free to share this with anyone heading to Iceland soon, it has somehow ended being the hotspot of 2016, and after spending a week here, I can definitely see why!

For your reference, 1 CAD generally equals about 100kr so you can just take 2 zeros off the ticket price. Currently, 1 USD is about 125kr, so if you have some USD saved up, it’s probably better to use those here. 1 Euro is a little more than USD, about 140-150kr.

Normal meals are generally $20-30 USD, nice dinners can be more pricey, and cost you anywhere between $40-100 USD. Taxis are extremely expensive here, but popular when people are heading home after going out on weekends. Tours can be anywhere between $60ish all the way to +$400 for things like paragliding and helicopter rides to the glacier. Overall, you definitely have to budget extra for your trip, Iceland is expensive if you want the full experience and want to go on guided tours. For my week, I budgeted about $1200 (my flight was only $300 CAD, about $260 USD). I probably used about $800 overall. However, it’s worth it to not think about budget if you can! Do things that you want to do and explore this amazing country! Since you’re already here, you may as well have the adventure of a lifetime 🙂

1. How to get around:

If you’re just staying in Reykjavik, you can get around by foot. You can walk from one side of the city to the other in basically 30 min max, and everything that you’d want to visit is within walking distance including all the museums, the church, the restaurants, the harbor etc. If you want, you can also take a taxi, but they’re extremely expensive (think around 50 dollars for 10-15 min). Otherwise, you can rent a bike from Reykjavik bikes which is on the pier, nearby Elding Adventures, which is one of the biggest whale and puffin watching companies. I would say one day in the city is more than enough, since there’s not really that much to do there other than eat, visit museums and party.

2. Where to stay

I stayed at Loft Hostel my first 2 nights, which is literally right downtown. It probably has the most convenient location out of all the hostels since it’s extremely central, and close by all the bars and clubs. It’s also on their main street Laugevagur, and you can walk to either direction from the hostel to hit different sites. I would definitely recommend it, but it might be booked up for some of the dates since it’s really popular. I spent about $125 on 2 nights in a 8-person bedroom.

  • You could also stay at Kex. It’s a little bit out of the way (about 15 min to Laugevagur) but a lot of young people stay there and it’s supposedly the “party hostel.” We never visited, but you could check it out online!
  • Another option is Airbnb. I stayed in one for 3 nights once my friends got to Iceland it was really great! It was clean, close to city center (not as close as Loft though), and a lot cheaper – it was $90 for 4 nights for a 3-person bedroom.

3. Things to do Definitely do the tours if you don’t plan on renting a car! I HIGHLY recommend renting a car and doing the routes yourself because you can stop and hike and see different sites that aren’t on the tour rout. You also get more time to take pictures and go off road etc. If not, here are some must do tours:

  • 1. Golden Circle + Snorkeling (or scuba diving) in Silfra (whole day tour) This was AMAZING – we all agreed that this was an incredible day, and the snorkeling was so fun. You get to swim between 2 tectonic plates and the water is incredibly clear! This tour also includes Gullfoss waterfall, geysir (world famous geysers), Kerid (the giant crater filled with water in my profile picture), some of the best ice cream in Iceland and their national park: pingeveller park.
  1. 2. River rafting (whole day) I didn’t go on this because I’m going in Geneva as part of my program, but I heard it was really incredible. You get to see a ton of nature, and you get to jump off a cliff into the water. Heard really really great things about this tour.

    3. Southern Tour (whole day) I didn’t get a chance to do this because I left today, but my other 2 friends are doing this route. I’ve again heard really really good things about it, and it’s a must do if you have time.

    4. Blue Lagoon (a few hours) Ok, you actually have to do this. Me and my friends went on Sunday night at 10pm, and it was nice and quiet, but incredibly relaxing and beautiful. It was also really fun because we hung out with some new friends (try and go with friends, it makes it a lot more fun). I would recommend the standard ticket. You have to prebook your ticket to the Blue Lagoon though, but I would recommend going to the tourist center and having them book the ticket and the hotel transfer for you. They don’t charge commission since they’re government operated.

    5. Snaefellsnes Peninsula (the ae in Snaefellsnes is actually a letter in their alphabet so make sure to type it in right to your GPS)

    We also went North and Northeast/west on our first day driving. Highly recommend this, you get to see a lot of change in scenery and there are hiking routes along this route as well. I would take a tour if you don’t have a car. You could probably combine it with horseback riding along a volcano. HIGHLY recommend horse back riding on the Icelandic horse, they’re super unique and they actually have a different pace than other horses called the “tolt.” It’s like the trot but way more comfortable and the horses are extremely calm and used to tourists.

    6. Paragliding I actually booked this, but I wasn’t able to go because of weather. If you can spare around 300 dollars, this is definitely worth it. I’m planning on going the next time I’m in a Scandinavian country because you get to see EVERYTHING from high above. It’s also more active than a helicopter.

    7. Glacier walk Also by recommendation, I heard this is fantastic. We actually encountered the glacier on our drive, but we could climb it because a) it’s dangerous for cars to go up there and b) we didn’t have proper hiking gear.

     

    8. Whale watching We bumped into this woman who saw 16 whales on her tour, including Minke, gray and some other type. I’ve been whale watching a lot in Vancouver, so it’s not something that really appealed to me, but it’s definitely a huge  tourist attraction!

    4. Where to Eat OMG THE FOOD HERE IS AMAZING!! THE SEAFOOD IS SO GOOD. The food here can get pretty expensive if you eat out all the time though, so what I did was made my own breakfast and lunch, then bought a nice dinner the 2 nights I was here alone. When my friends got here, we did the same thing, but packed things we could take on the road.

    – there’s a really great bakery that’s covered by graffiti on the outside. It’s the best bakery in Reykjavik and it supplies a lot of the restaurants. They sell bread (you have to try the Icelandic rye bread), cinnamon buns, cookies and other baked goods. They often sell out though, so go in the morning or early afternoon if you want a good selection! It’s also not very expensive, so what I did was buy bread and some Icelandic butter (which is really really good because of all their cows) and bought some smoked salmon from the grocery store (go to Bonus, it’s the cheapest, smoked salmon was about $4 for 100g) and made my own breakfast and lunches.

    – Cafe Loki: they’re really well known for their rye bread ice cream. Definitely try it! I got the platter II, which was 2 pieces of rye with fish spread on top and bread ice cream. Loved it! It was about $20.

    – Lobster soup: There’s this really small restaurant on the pier that sells really good lobster soup and fish/seafood skewers. The scallop skewer was probably one of the best and freshest I’ve ever had and it was less than $20 for like 6 huge ones.

    – Fish market: if you have spare budget, definitely go to this place! It’s pretty pricey, but it’s said to be the best restaurant in Reykjavik (probably Iceland?). Your dinner will be about $60-80, but delicious. You have to make a reservation though because it gets really really busy for dinner.

    – hot dogs: ok, I think this is overrated. I’m pescatarian but my friends got them and said they were meh for a lot of money

    – ice cream: Icelanders LOVE ice cream, there’s a really good organic, nitrogen made ice cream place called Valdis. It’s right downtown so you can go after dinner.

    – Fish and More: went here for dinner and got their fish stew. SO GOOD, and it was only like $20. Highly recommend as well!

    My only regret is not getting an actual lobster here. I heard they’re super delicious and fresh.

    If you want to be more social and meet people, you can also go to the hostels for lunch and eat their soup and bread. Loft has this, and it’s pretty cheap in comparison to other food options.

    5. GO OUT – the nightlife is definitely one of the highlights 🙂

    You have to go out in Reykjavik. It’s literally light out until the wee hours of the morning and then some, so basically you have light 24/7. It’s crazy, people party until 6/8am here. Unfortunately I’m not that crazy so I mostly stayed out until 5:30/6, but literally the sun never sets. Definitely pregame a lot though, because drinks are insanely expensive. On the flip side, there are 5 million happy hours with great deals, so download this app: Appy hour (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/reykjavik-appy-hour/id536126333?mt=8), and it’ll tell you what times, where and what deals each place has. Things close earlier on Weekdays though (1am, 2am max) so make sure you go out on Friday and Saturday!

    Overall, I LOVED this country. It’s so beautiful and amazing and fun, and the people are incredibly welcoming and friendly. We’ve gotten everything from free beers after the Eurocup game to free shrimp skewers, to having park rangers drive us to our destination because we were late and parked too far. You’re going to love this place, super excited for you!! But definitely plan out your trip beforehand because there’s a ton to do, as long as you’re prepared. Also, plan out your routes if you’re driving at all, because on certain routes there are literally no gas stops and no people.

     

    If you read this and have any questions or want more details about what we did on our trip, feel free to email me: ada.gu@medportal, and I’m happy to answer any questions!

    Here are some resources that we used, or might be helpful:
    1. Self driving tours (don’t waste money on buying “self-drive tours” – plan it yourself!)
    – Golden Circle: http://expertvagabond.com/golden-circle-iceland/
    – South Coast Adventure: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2015/01/drive-it-yourself-a-south-coast-adventure/
    2. Guided Tours
    – Reykjavik Excursions (probably the largest company offering tours, they’ll have everything you’re looking for, but they might be more expensive so do your research first!): https://www.re.is/day-tours/?gclid=CMmW1tHVz80CFYTGGwodxagFUw
    – Extreme Iceland (have a lot of very active tours, similar to Reykjavik Excursions): https://www.extremeiceland.is/en/activity-tours-iceland
    – Iceland Travel (didn’t use them at all, might be good to check out prices though): https://www.icelandtravel.is/day-tours/#/?rows=15&q=&sort=sort_i%20desc
    – Grayline Tour (also a very big company in Iceland, compare prices): http://grayline.is/tours/
    3. Snorkeling (book ahead!)
    – Dive (wouldn’t recommend it because their tours are huge, >10 people, choose a smaller company where you’ll get a more intimate experience): https://www.dive.is/diving-snorkeling-tours/snorkeling-day-tours/silfra-snorkeling-day-tour/
    – Arctic Adventures (almost booked with them, about 3000kr more than the tour we ended up booking though, sometimes you get discounts if you book online): https://www.adventures.is/iceland/day-tours/snorkeling-and-diving/
    – Adventure Vikings (LOVED them, we booked with them, and our tour only had us 3 and 3 other people. By far the smallest group and also the cheapest at 48,100kr for 3 people): http://adventurebox.is/tours/snorkeling/

Medical School Q & A

So it’s been a while since I last posted, but I thought this might be a relevant one considering some of the questions I’ve been asked in the last few months regarding undergraduate opportunities, medical school applications, interviews and physician shadowing.

Q: I was wondering how should I approach doctors to shadow or volunteer at clinic. I’d like to shadow/volunteer but don’t know any doctors that are willing to take pre-meds in _____

A: It’s really hard to shadow physicians as an undergraduate. That being said, I would first reach out to family or friends in the medical field. If that’s not a possibility, I would either look up physician emails and phone numbers and just reach out to them to ask if you can observe them for a day or two. If you email 50 people, there’re bound to be at least 1 or 2 positive responses. OR reach out to medical students who are working on research projects that you’re interested in. It’s always great to have keen, interested undergraduate students helping out, and you can ask them to introduce you physicians that they work with. This is a great way to expand your medical network AND build your resume with a publication (or at least an acknowledgement on a publication).

Q: What’s a good way to gain more patient exposure in undergrad?

A: In terms of volunteer opportunities, to be honest, I feel like volunteering in hospitals is kind of useless since you don’t get much patient exposure. A couple things I did during college:

1. I interpreted for low-income clinics serving immigrant communities. If you speak another language, check if your school has an interpreting program like mine – you get tons of patient contact, exposure and can also network with physicians.
2. I went on a medical volunteer trip to Peru, which was life changing. I had such an amazing time, was able to actually perform many procedures, and they give you a lot of liberty regarding what you can see. I would highly highly recommend going on a trip, even if as students, we’re basically useless and are there to learn 🙂
3. I volunteering for a complementary care centre serving cancer-affected women. They provided things like acupuncture, herbs, massage etc., that are not necessarily “medical care” but all of the patients were affected or had been affected at one point by cancer and were undergoing medical treatment. You could also look for something like this, as again, you get a ton of patient exposure and you really get to communicate with the patients. It was a really great experience and something I did for 2 years pre-medical school!
4. I worked on a clinical research project in the hospital; I can’t say I really enjoyed this, but I basically had to deal with patients every week to collect data. This is another avenue you can look into!

 

Q: What are some tips for medical school interviews?

A: So since we’re in the thick of medical school interviews right now, here are some important (but fairly intuitive) things to remember:

  1. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. Whether this is with current medical students, with your friends who are applying to medical schools, with Facetime, with physicians etc., it’s important to know how you’re going to answer the popular questions like “what are 5 words that define you,” “introduce yourself,” “tell me about your greatest strength and your greatest weakness,” “what are some challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them,” “how would your friends describe you?” And the like. They’re pretty obvious, but if you come up blank during your interview, that’s going to look bad because other people will be prepared.
  2. THAT BEING SAID, DON’T BE A ROBOT, AND DON’T SEEM “TOO REHEARSED.” Make sure you come off as genuine. No one likes robots or people who memorize “all the right answers.” During MMIs, draw on real world examples and anecdotes. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm situations in which you’ve _______ and put them into a memory bank to be used for later.
  3. READ! I would recommend “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, “Doing Right” and “The Woman who Wanted to Die”
  4. RELAX! Of course, everyone tells you to be yourself. That’s true, in the sense that you want to be the best version of yourself! Come prepared with good manners, be kind, compassionate, social and display good leadership qualities.
  5. MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE PEOPLE YOU’RE INTERVIEWING WITH! More than likely you’re going to see the same groups of people over and over. Take the time to make some friends, you’ll probably see some of these people again!

Q: How do I find resources for MMI questions?

A: Some schools will send you out a document with sample questions. READ THIS and practice answering these questions in 8 min. Otherwise, just look online, there’re tons of question banks available, but I would go with published questions from previous years first. Don’t waste time or money on prep programs, it’s really unnecessary. MMI stations go by so fast, I promise you won’t even have time to feel nervous!

Q: What’s medical school like? Do you have time for activities other than school?

A: The answer is YES. I can’t even describe how much I love medical school. It’s like undergrad, but with a much much smaller class (140 on my campus), more individualised attention (6 people per tutorial group), flexibility in your schedule (I have around 15 hours of mandatory class a week, the rest can be made up through our medical school portal) and the time to pursue extracurricular activities, research projects and community outreach. I definitely have more time than I did in undergrad, but I also have better work-life balance, I’m able to sleep more, and I’m overall a happier being than I was in junior year. It may not be like this at all medical schools, but I feel like I have staff and faculty support to pursue my interests here.

Q: How soon do you have to choose a specialty?

A: So this is something I’m not really qualified to answer, since I’m only in my first year. Currently, I’m leading toward plastic surgery, or at least something in the surgical field. That being said, A LOT of my classmates have no idea what they want yet. If you don’t know in your first year, you’re in the majority! That being said, because my program is truncated to 3 years, most people will have to decide pretty soon, especially when we start choosing our electives for clerkship. A good idea is to decide early whether you’re interested in 1) Medicine or 2) Surgery. From there, you should do tons of observerships during your first couple years of school to find something you like. Surgery is often glamorised, but remember that most specialties demand long hours, 12-24 on-call shifts, back-breaking work, long residencies and a lot of scut work while studying.

Q: Are you worried about your student debt?

A: Yes and no. Banks will lend you $250k for medical school, since it’s unlikely you’re going to drop out and run away to a foreign country. That being said, you definitely don’t have to and SHOULDN’T use all that money while you’re in medical school. I would say on average I spend about $3-4k on cost of living per month, and tuition is $27k a year. That totals to about $60-70k a year. Pretty expensive, but according to my financial advisor, I should be able to pay that off 5 years after residency (or 10 years after if I want to pay it off really really slowly). So don’t worry about getting a job in medical school or scrimping and saving, because your classmates WILL want to go out and have fun, and you should have fun too! Be proud of where you are and how hard you’ve worked to get here 🙂

These are just some questions that I thought were particularly relevant. I just came back from Japan, like, yesterday and I’m a little bit jet lagged. As always, if you have any additional questions for me, shoot me an email, a tweet, or add me on instagram to follow my adventures in medical school.

GOOD LUCK AND DON’T STRESS!

2 months into medical school: It only gets better (I promise)

I have an exam tomorrow morning on cardiology, but being exhausted from a day of classes, an ENT horizontal elective and research and mentorship meetings, I feel like I deserve to procrastinate (if only for a little while to write this).

I can’t believe it’s already been 2 months! Between classes, interest group meetings, volunteering, finding research opportunities and spending time with friends, it seems as if I started just yesterday. After getting our white coats last week, medical school really seems more “real.” I guess with that white coat comes a sense of responsibility and privilege. Walking across that stage, you realize both how truly lucky you are to be a medical student, and also the immense, daunting responsibility that you’ll take on once you graduate in 3-4 years.

I feel so fortunate to be able to attend McMaster. We’ve finished respirology and we’re almost done cardiology. In the next few months, we’ll also be learning about hematology, GI and Nutrition, Endocrine and Metabolism. There really does seem to be an overwhelming amount of information to know, but since we’re finally learning things that are practical, it seems like much less of a burden than say, physics or general chemistry. Once again, I have to be an advocate for our problem based learning. I love reading cases each week, setting objectives with my tutorial group, and discussing difficult topics and puzzles. At least for me, it’s much more effective than simply didactic lecture-based learning.

UPDATE: I started this a few weeks ago, so now we’re into our hematology unit!

The leaves are changing colours, and it seems like in the blink of an eye, it’s almost winter break! I’m so excited to see my friends again on the west coast, but these last few months of medical school have been a dream. Like the type-A that I am, I’ve thrown myself into two research projects (fingers crossed that one of them will be published by 2016!), the surgery interest group, horizontal electives and of course, making sure my social life doesn’t suffer horribly. Now I’m just rambling, so to end this post I’ll give a bit of practical advice for the interview season and maintaining your sanity 🙂

  1. Be the best possible version of yourself. Everyone knows to dress appropriately, smile, make eye contact, be confident etc., but instead of being yourself, show them why YOU deserve to be at their school. There’s no sense in treating your interviewer like a friend or colleague, because they’re not. They’re there to evaluate you and to see how you’ll fit into their program.
  2. THAT BEING SAID, remember that YOU’RE also there to evaluate THEM. The school has invited you to their hallowed grounds because they’re interested in getting to know you in addition to making sure you choose them when the time comes. Most people (who are accepted to medical school) are accepted to multiple medical schools, so make sure you choose one where you’ll be happy. Culture really is important, especially if your school is in the middle of nowhere.
  3. READ!!!!! Can’t stress this enough, don’t think that simply bringing yourself is enough. Read books on medical ethics, read literature on the school you’re interviewing at, read “Doing Right” (EVERYONE reads this book).
  4. NETWORK! If you know someone at the school you’re interviewing at, make sure to contact them to ask for insider’s information! They might have a gold mine, but you won’t have access to any of it if you don’t reach out to them.
  5. BOOK YOUR INTERVIEWS/FLIGHTS EARLY. Seriously though, tickets get really really really expensive the later you book them. Also, slots for interviews get booked up really quickly, so you don’t want to miss out and be bumped months later.
  6. GO A FEW DAYS EARLY to take in the neighbourhood, meet up with students who go to the school, go to events hosted by the medical students and ultimately, get a sense of whether or not you can see yourself in that city/town for the next 4 years.T
  7. TRY AND BOOK INTERVIEWS NEAR EACH OTHER IN ONE TRIP. This will save you time and money, especially if you’re applying directly and won’t have any time off. This saved me from failing physics in my senior year (which would have been pretty devastating post-medical school acceptance)
  8. CONTACT SCHOOLS AND SAY “YOU’RE IN THE AREA.” Let’s say you’re flying from New York to California for an interview at UCSF. Chances are, UCSD, UCD etc. are going to want to interview you too! Just send them a polite email telling them you’re going to be in the area and see if they have any slots open. Doesn’t hurt to ask as long as a) you’re not annoying and b) you’re not lying.
  9. BE OPEN TO EVERY SCHOOL. Don’t write off a school because it’s ranked far lower than the other medical schools you’re interviewing at. Maybe you’ll find that it’s a better fit for you in the long run, or that they have programs other schools don’t have, or just that it’s in a city you absolutely love. Go into everything with an open mind, because that’s how you’ll find the best school for you.
  10. HAVE FUN! I think I talk about this a lot. But that’s because it’s IMPORTANT. In medical school, you will have a life. You’ll have friends, fun, traveling, sun, and if you have good time management, you’ll also have more than enough sleep. That being said, if you don’t love what you do and you’re terrified of 3-4 years of hard work, dedication and constant studying FOLLOWED by 2-5 exhausting (but rewarding) years of residency, maybe medicine isn’t for you.

That’s all for today. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or feedback that you have! I LOVED this process, and I promise it’s hard and somewhat terrifying, but also immensely rewarding.

First week of school reflections: I guess they were wrong, medicine really IS fun

keep calmWe’ve survived our first week of school at McMaster and now we’re halfway through our second. How do I feel? Great actually. Surprisingly, medical school has been an awesome, educational and eye-opening experience. At McMaster, the curriculum is fairly self-directed, we have two 3-hour tutorials a week led by a physician tutor, one 3-hour clinical skills session in which we practice communicating and interacting with patients, one 3-hour professional competency class in which we learn about ethics, professionalism, social media, cultural competency, and develop other skills needed to be an effective and compassionate physician. Finally, we have 1.5 hours of anatomy and anatomy lab each week, and 3-5 hours of large group lectures in the main hall. Overall, that’s only about 15 hours of “in-class” learning a week.

After this past week, I’ve really grown to appreciate problem based learning. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love preparing materials and studying by yourself at home, then discussing the 2-3 cases we’re assigned each week. Having set objectives for the case each previous week, the learning process is dynamic and interactive. We discuss concepts related the cases; for example, the past two weeks have been cases on respiratory diseases and concepts. I’ve learned about the anatomy of the lung in anatomy, the physiology of normal and abnormal respiration (elevation, exercise, respiratory disease), diseases of respiration, the physiology of normal and abnormal cardiovascular systems, exercise measurements, standard fitness parameters etc. etc. etc. Needless to say, in the last week and a half I’ve really learned a lot, and unlike in college, I’m retaining all the information.

Problem based learning is like having really focused study groups – if you miss a fact or a concept, there will always be someone there to help you understand. If you need something explained in a different way, the 6 or 7 other people in your group are more than willing to assist you. This is how I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I would really encourage people who are independent self-directed learners, love study groups, who enjoy discussing concepts and ideas, and enjoy working with others to consider a school that teaches using problem based learning.

What’s interesting about Mac is that our exams “don’t really count.” What I mean is if you perform on an average level, you are “good.” At Mac, we don’t have grades or rankings, we only have evaluations from our tutors and preceptors. This means that if you’re looking for a letter of rec, it’s not how you do on your exams that influence this, but rather how you interact with your groups and your group leaders. We do have a few “exams” or rather, measures of personal progress. We have a PPI coming up, which stands for Personal Progress Index in October. Not too sure what this description means: it’s an “evaluation device that provides feedback to you, the student, and your advisor, that can be used to assist you in judging your progress in the acquisition of a fund of knowledge.” It’s 180 M/C questions drawn from the “entire domain of medical knowledge.” It sounds pretty daunting, but since you can’t fail on your first one, I’m hoping it will be a good stepping stone and learning lesson in my overall medical education.

We also have CAEs, which are Concept Application Exercises. These evaluate how well you know certain concepts and how well you can apply them to real life situations. We have our first CAEs at the end of September, so I expect I’ll be studying way more starting in the next couple of weeks.

On another note, we just had our McMaster Medical Student Council (MMSC) elections! I ran. No matter what happens tomorrow, it was a great experience and I’m positive everyone who ran would do a great job in their respective positions. This is also the week that a lot of interest groups (student council sponsored and funded groups at McMaster Medical School) are meeting, so I expect my schedule will be a little hectic as I try and figure out which interest groups I’m actually interested in joining. Combine that with trying to find research and volunteer positions, I can already see that this will be a busy but exciting year.

I think I’ve decided that I really am interested in reconstructive plastic surgery. Because we have a 3 year program, I do feel some pressure to decide my specialty already. We start our horizontal electives pretty soon, and I would love to hit the ground running. It would be great to get some experience in primary care first, and maybe do some more horizontal electives as we get closer to our block elective time. But ANYWAYS I still have some time to think about all this.

Right now, I’m really enjoying school, making so many new friends and meeting incredible people. I love the familial feel of Mac, and how the administration goes out of their way to make you feel supported. I’m looking forward to this week of school, and also this weekend! Sounds like there are a lot of events happening around Hamilton. I guess the longer I’m here, the more I realize I really was supposed to end up here, and I’m sure that no matter what medical school you choose, you’ll find that it was the right one for you.

YAY FOR MMI’s (They’re 99% painless, I promise)

**NOTE: THIS IS AN OLD POST, BUT IT MIGHT BE HELPFUL FOR ALL YOU CURRENT APPLICANTS**

Sometimes I wonder what medical schools are thinking. How on earth did I get an interview at the Michael G. DeGroote McMaster University School of Medicine?

The way they determine if you get an interview is fairly unique, at least so far as I’ve encountered during my application process. Your interview candidacy is determined by the following formula: 32% GPA, 32% Casper score and 32% your MCAT verbal score. If you’ve attained a Masters or PhD, you get an extra 1-4% bonus (so I guess the rest is out of 96%).

I remember my Casper test pretty vividly, since it was the same morning as the Nike Women’s Half Marathon back in October. You can schedule your exam on the morning that you want; there were two choices when I signed up, Sunday October 19th and Wednesday, October 22nd. Since Wednesdays really aren’t that convenient, I chose the Sunday morning at 9am (I’m a morning person) slot. The format of the Casper is interesting. There are three paragraph answer spaces on each page and a topic, question or situation that you need to answer or address through the three paragraph questions. This was actually quite fun, it’s 90 minutes in total, no breaks in between, and you can do it in your pajamas, which is great! Click here if you’d like to learn more about the Casper.

I guess I did ok on the Casper? I was just notified of my interview offer this morning (Wednesday, January 21st). My GPA isn’t great, 3.7 overall, 3.6 sGPA. Too many years at UC Berkeley has resulted in a less than stellar academic record. This seems to be earlier than the other Ontario schools and U of Calgary, who stated that interviewees would be contacted in February. For McMaster’s there’s only 1 interview date on Saturday, March 21st (I think that’s spring break weekend, so I guess I can go crazy after :)).

After the interview, your acceptance is based primarily on your MMI (you can read more about this in my other post). It’s 72% MMI, and around 15% each for GPA and MCAT. Therefore, make sure you practice! I’m reading Doing Right, by Philip C. Hebert right now and it’s a pretty interesting read on medical ethics and controversial topics!

Knowing that flight prices go up the closer you are to flying, I booked my flight today from San Francisco. However, it was still a little over 600 dollars. I’m flying into YYZ, which I highly recommend (Toronto Pearson International Airport). Hamilton’s airport is much smaller and it’s a few hundred dollars more to fly directly in. Also, there are more housing options in Toronto (via AirBnB, hostels etc.). I mapped it and it’s only a 48 minute, 32 mile drive from Toronto proper to Hamilton, ON.

Anywho, I’m pretty excited, and I’m glad I get two shots at the MMI! The first is UBC’s in Vancouver, BC on February 7th, so it’s coming up quite soon! The only thing is, I’m missing quite a bit of school in the next few weeks due to a pre-medical fraternity trip to Lake Tahoe, Vegas trip for my friend’s birthday, interviews at St. Louis Medical School in Missouri, UBC and McMasters, as well as Greek Christian Conference in Indiana for Valentine’s Day Weekend (I’m not religious, but I think it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to religion!). I will definitely update on how the interviews go when I come back!

I love questions so please feel free to contact me if you have any questions on the Canadian or American medical school application process!

Medical School Orientation: New scrubs, new white coat…still the same me?

So I just finished my first two days of orientation at McMaster University. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), I’ve been having a blast. Our school really tries to foster a sense of community, tradition, innovation, independence, teamwork and compassion. Coming to Hamilton, Ontario, I really didn’t know what to expect. It’s on the east coast, completely opposite to everything I’ve ever known or experienced. Growing up on the west coast, I’ve always taken temperate summers and winters for granted. Lo and behold, I’m now on the opposite side of the country, preparing to hibernate during the notoriously cold winter.

Anywho, back to orientation.

On the first day, we started with breakfast catered by Bread Bar, which included potatoes, eggs, fruit and all you can drink coffee (they clearly speak my language). We had been split into groups by the administration, with each group containing about 20-30 people. We had about 200 students in the room, including the Hamilton, Niagara and Waterloo campuses. This actually really helped streamline the rest of the day, as we rotated through stations in the afternoon in our small groups.

Then, we sat through talks from the Dean, Vice Dean etc. etc. All that stuff that you expect from your first day at a new school. What I loved though, was their effort to make us all feel welcome and relaxed. They made jokes, showed hilarious memes and really tried to relate to us – knowing that first year medical students are young, nervous, excited and ready to embark on the next leg of their long journey.

In the afternoon we rotated through the stations: trying on scrubs, buying stethoscopes, trying on our white coat, “finance fair” (which was really just a chance to get free chocolate/sugar), BADGES (this was really exciting for me even though my hair was flat by this point) and Q & A station by a current MacMed student.

I met a lot of people yesterday, and it really was quite exhausting trying to meet 200 students. Of course, we all survived and made new friends in the process.

That night, we had pub night, meaning about 100 of us went to Gown and Gavel, a local pub in Hess Village to mingle, drink and bond. The second years were surprisingly involved and enthusiastic, and many of them showed up to meet us.

MY REFLECTIONS: I’ve always heard that medical school can be scary, daunting, intense, and full of hard-core studying. Imagine my surprise when the faculty and staff keep telling us to make the most of medical school, have fun, meet new friends and try not to stress out too much. We have a problem based learning curriculum, through which we have small group tutorials. In these small group tutorials, we learn from each other and try and solve cases that are provided to us by McMaster. We also have professional competency sessions in which we learn about ethics, communications, handling stress, diversity, physician-patient confidentiality, and a wealth of other important and pertinent things that will help us become physician-leaders of tomorrow.

I’m actually really really looking forward to starting class. As weird as it sounds, I’m excited to start learning again, to ask difficult questions, to meet patients and visit the local hospitals. It’s one thing to learn from textbooks and boring lectures, it’s a complete other thing to learn from real life experience. As I tiptoe on this precipice between young ignorance and adult responsibility, I feel confident that I made the right choice coming to McMaster. Through the amazing, warm, and supportive staff; through the intelligent, talented and caring faculty, and more so through the incredible people that I’ve met so far, I know that this environment will help me flourish and thrive in the medical field.

More about O-week coming!