JOURNAL – Trip to Slovakia (part 1)

By Rachel Lytie

“I heard the differences between the foreign languages while traveling. I was not always able to tell what language each person was speaking. In the beginning Slovak sounded like German since I have never heard it before…”, Rachel Lytie, student of Concordia University Wisconsin who spent one week in Martin, Slovakia. Read more about her experiences in this blog ☺

My trip consisted of ten days mostly in Slovakia, but also seeing Austria, Czech Republic, and Poland. This trip was made up of two other Concordia students and me. I had the opportunity to stay at Martin Bible School which is located in Slovakia towards the north of the country. The instructors of the Bible School took the time to show us around the area and shared their experiences with us.

Thursday January 9, 2014 | Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia

Today I expected to be very jet lagged from the travel and not able to be ready to relax and spend time absorbing the culture. Slovakia is seven hours ahead compared to Wisconsin. I expected to have some delays and problems finding things in the airport.

I started traveling yesterday at noon, leaving Green Bay to get to the airport in Chicago. At midnight I was in a plane going from Chicago to Zurich, Switzerland. Once in Zurich we took a connecting flight to Vienna, Austria. Then we were picked up by two members of the Martin Bible School in Slovakia and driven to the campus. Here we settled into the dorm rooms and went out to dinner in Martin. After this we were able to retire for the night. The temperature here was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and there was no snow on the ground, which is unusual. One noticeable difference in the topography of Slovakia compared to Wisconsin is the increased number of mountains in upper Slovakia. I also noticed the different architecture of the buildings. Some of the cities we drove through had more modern looking architecture while others had more medieval looking architecture.

I heard the differences between the foreign languages while traveling. I was not always able to tell what language each person was speaking. In the beginning Slovak sounded like German since I have never heard it before. I believe I heard mostly English, French, and German at the airport.

Physically I was not as tired as I thought that I would be after traveling. I was able to sleep on the plane for about four hours and took a half hour nap on the car ride. I think part of the reason I was not as exhausted as I thought was just being excited to be in another country.

While on the airplane I read an article about a private cardiac center in Switzerland. They talked about their technology and specialized services offered. This brings up a good point that there are countries besides the United States able to provide high quality health care. I was talking to the two staff members of the Martin Bible School who told me that Slovakia is operating with a universal health care plan. They do not seem to think that this is the way to go. There are long waits for needed health care services. This reminded me of the problems that Canada also has with their universal health care system which I am more familiar with; long waits and poor quality of care. This makes me wonder whether or not the United States will also have these same problems.

Tomorrow I expect to get an overview of the Martin Bible School. I also expect to get more of the history of Slovakia and the impacts of the Communist regime.

Friday January 10, 2014 | Slovakia

Today I observed a PowerPoint lecture on the history of Slovakia and how the Nazi regime and the Communist regime affected Slovakia. I also got a tour of one of the public universities in Slovakia. It was very nice and modern looking, but I was surprised at how much graffiti there was in the university as well as on the buildings in the city.

While listening to the presentation, the one thing that stood out most to me was how the Communist regime is still impacting the world, and how there are still communist influences in some areas that are considered a democracy. It also stuck out to me that the Communists have killed more people, but the focus on how evil the Nazis were is much greater in my history classes.

I responded to what I learned today with surprise and interest. I believe that is very important for people to gather many different viewpoints. What I learned helped to reinforce this. I also think that it is important to learn about the world around us to avoid making the same mistakes.

I was talking with a woman from Holland today that works in administration at a psychiatric center. It seems like there are many beliefs on how to treat these patients that are similar to what I have been taught. General differences between the health care systems include the fact that she does not think they have any nurse practitioners or physician assistants. Also antibiotics are not over prescribed like they are in the United States. She made it sound like the United States has a reputation for this. Another interesting fact is that talking about someone being overweight is not a taboo subject like it is in the United States. It can be freely discussed. If this were the case in the United States, it would be easier to talk about a patient being overweight and to counsel them on ways to fix this.

Tomorrow we will be traveling to the Czech Republic. I expect to be able to experience what the differences are between the two cultures. Also I expect to hear more about how the Communist regime has affected the population.

Saturday January 11, 2014 | Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland

Today I attended a conference at a Lutheran church held by the youth minister in the Czech Republic. There were people from several different countries at the service. After that we spent time with the youth minister who told us about a program to encourage youths to become involved in the church and to help bring new members into the church. We also explored some historical buildings in the Czech Republic and Poland.

I heard about how the government in the Czech Republic encouraged citizens to become a non-religious country. They wanted to show that a country was able to run adequately without religious influence. They forced this on citizens by providing higher salary opportunities for church officials who did not offer youth groups. Also some people risked losing their jobs or the chance to go to college if they were involved in a religious organization.

Listening to the stories today gave me a better appreciation for the things that I have and being able to do what I want. It is terrifying to think about the government being able to influence people’s religious beliefs and choices like they did.

Today I thought about the effects that religion can have on health. At the conference this morning the youth minister talked about how he fasted for forty days. He said that at one point he lost his eyesight and felt so weak that he was not able to get out of bed. I do think that fasting has the potential to make a person more aware of the world around them and can help connect them spiritually. However this does raise some medical problems. I think that it is important for a person doing this to regularly follow up with their health care provider during this time and stop the fast if needed to prevent adverse health outcomes.

Tomorrow we will be going to church and eating breakfast and lunch in different families’ homes. I think that this will give us a good opportunity to observe the day to day life of the Slovaks and help to immerse us in their culture.

Sunday January 12, 2014 | Slovakia

Today I went to a church service at the Lutheran church in Martin which is a part of the bible school. We also had breakfast with a married couple and then lunch with a different married couple and their two sons. We spent the afternoon with the second family, went hiking and spent time playing games with the younger sons.

At the church service I heard the pastor speak in Slovak, while having an English translator earpiece. It has been an eye opening experience seeing what it feels like not to know the primary language that is spoken in the country I am in. It was more challenging to follow along with the service with the pastor speaking in Slovak and then the English translator at the same time.

I do enjoy spending time with children, so hiking and playing games with the 6 and 7 year old boys was fun. It made me feel happy and appreciated that the 7 year old seemed to like spending time with me. Even though he knew just a couple words in English, and I only know a couple words in Slovak we were able to communicate with non-verbal language.

Today health care came up when we were talking about what would happen if someone become injured on the trip while in a foreign country. An American that is here teaching English told us about his experience. He said it was difficult to find an English speaking physician and needed help from a coworker to find one. He also said that he was not able to be seen for a week, unless he paid the physician 20 euros, then he could be seen right away. Scheduling appointments is not based on whether or not it is a medical emergency but rather if the person is willing to bribe the physician. This practice to be is very shocking and different than what I am used to.

Tomorrow I will be helping with a ministry project with the elementary school. I also expect to also have more time to explore the city of Martin.

Monday January 13, 2014 | Slovakia

Today I got a tour of the campus by some of the high school students. Then I helped to plan and implement a teaching project with three Slovak freshmen to implement to preschoolers. The goal was to try and teach the preschoolers some English words.

I heard how enthusiastic young children can be to learn new things. It was refreshing to hear. About half of them already knew and sung along with a song to help teach them a couple of English words.

Today I was a little nervous as to how it would go with the preschoolers since I do not know enough Slovak to be able to converse with people. Fortunately the three Slovak students who spoke English were paired with me and the two other Concordia students that went with me on the trip.

While preparing the teaching project it was difficult at first to think of how to teach to preschoolers since they are not able to read or write and have a limited attention span. We ended up with activities that involved singing and coloring. I think that this experience can be applied to how to teach my pediatric patients things related to health care. Teaching my patients health education at the patient’s age and developmental level is very important; otherwise the patient will not take anything away from the teaching.

Tomorrow I expect to see many more sights that are important to Slovak culture. Also I expect to see what medical and relaxation benefits the hot springs have to offer.

continue reading – Part 2

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