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The Minor Global Health Indonesia in times of Covid-19

7 July 2021
It was quite a disappointment for medical students not to be able to travel last November to Yogyakarta to join their peers at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). A challenge also for the coordinators of the VU Faculty of Medicine: how to make sure that the Minor Global Health, focusing on experiencing cultural differences, could still continue in a fruitful way? Thanks to creativity and technology everyone involved succeeded to make it a great experience despite the Covid-19 restrictions.

“Normally, VU students stay in Yogyakarta at the UGM campus to attend lectures around a central theme (in 2021 Technology and Healthcare), together with other international students. Additionally, they do an assignment about the differences in the health care system and carry out fieldwork for their research. Students go into the villages, stay with families, do interviews, visit the local health centers (Puskesmas), and observe in the hospital. They actually live with the local population.” 

This year the programme had to change drastically due to Covid-19. The challenge for the staff of both universities was to develop an online version that would still achieve the existing goal: providing students the opportunity to do their fieldwork and experience Indonesian culture and healthcare. The format actually remained the same, except that everything was online and the fieldwork was adapted. In an early stage, Dutch and Indonesian students were linked online to write their research proposal in groups of four. The Dutch students did their interviews in the Netherlands and the Indonesian students in Indonesia. There were films of the health centers involved and hospital observations were replaced, eg. with lectures from specialists from the specific hospital. This way students got a good idea of the differences and they did have the feeling of being there. 

What about the student expectations? According to Marianne van Elteren: “obviously, this couldn’t replace the trip; the smells, the colors, the climate, actually being there. But hopefully, we arose their interest. And they may be inspired to do their scientific internship in Asia. I think that thanks to the good cooperation with Indonesia we have really achieved something beautiful.”  

Zoë Lievense (20), third-year Bachelor's student at the VU Faculty of Medicine, joined the Minor and despite the distance fell a bit in love with the country: “For a moment I doubted whether I still wanted to follow this minor now that we couldn’t go to Indonesia. It was a gamble, but I am very happy that I joined! Many lectures have opened my eyes. Several subjects are so relevant that they should actually be added to the normal bachelor. The minor also made me think more about how I could best do this; as a doctor or perhaps from higher up. I am currently researching the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of medical students, together with Stefanie Intan from Indonesia. Despite the language barrier and the contact via zoom, mail and WhatsApp, you still build a bond. Partly because of this and the language/ culture lessons, I really fell in love with Indonesia. I can't wait to go there.” 

Stefanie Intan Budi Astuti, fourth-year bachelor's student of Nutrition and Health at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, is happy with the Dutch link: “I am very pleased that we are working with students from the VU Faculty of Medicine. There were multiple interesting topics and I gained so much experience. In our group, we had lively discussions about our fieldwork, eg options for data collection in the current situation. For me, our collaboration went very well. We share our progress through the WhatsApp group.”