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Home Away From Home

By Dr. Kornkanok (Yui) Saringkarisate

Living abroad alone is never easy. Neither are the physical and mental demands of becoming a new intern. For international medical graduates, there are also added pressures. At times, you feel like you must try “extra hard” to prove yourself, that you are worthy of this opportunity. After a long day at work, you go home to find yourself alone, and it can be lonely. You need someone with whom you can share your silly joke, your bad days, your good days, or just to be there. People who can be your family and your home. When interviewing for residency positions, apart from getting to know the program, you hope that you will find such people in your future co-residents. However, especially with the current Zoom interview process, you can’t know for sure until you really start the journey.

Retreat day along Waikiki beach

When I first interviewed in Hawaii, like everyone else, I fell for its tropical paradise. There are few places as incredible as Hawaii, where you can go to the nearby beach after working a long day to watch the sunset, or do a sunrise hike after your night shift. Not to mention, Hawaii has plenty of Asian food—a big plus for me. But, apart from how “Lucky we live Hawaii” (a common local expression), everyone I met echoed the “aloha spirit” and the “ohana” (which means family) feeling. Coming from Thailand, where everyone would be called sister/brother or aunty/uncle all the time, I nodded in understanding—but also secretly wondered if the community in Hawaii would be the ohana that I was searching for.

Boba party from attending for our birthdays

I got my answer the first day I set foot in the United States. It was during the very beginning of the pandemic, when Hawaii required a very strict 14-day quarantine. I had to fly first to California, as there were no direct international flights into Hawaii at that time. That night, as I was trying to sleep, I wondered how I would get food during the quarantine. I was astonished to receive an email from several of my soon-to-be co-residents, welcoming me and offering to pick up groceries or run any other errands I needed that afternoon. The next day, when I woke up in Hawaii, I was surprised to receive another email, this time from the program coordinator, asking me to provide two lists. They asked for one list of things for them to “deliver today” and the second list of things that I needed for them to “deliver next week.” I was taken aback by how thoughtful the whole gesture was, but when I received the “deliver next week” package I was even more surprised. Each new intern received one large crate filled with groceries, sauces, rice, and toiletries. I found out later that the whole pediatrics department had contributed to our crates. It was our program director himself who did the delivery, and he did it with a smile. He also took the opportunity to check in on us and make sure that we were doing ok.

These small things may not mean much to some, but to me, these gestures destroyed all the doubts I had previously. I felt welcomed by the program and confident that everyone really cared about me. They opened their arms to newcomers warmly and were ready to embrace us as one of the “ohana.”

Our pediatric residency “ohana”

Throughout my first year in residency, I was grateful to realize that those around me, my classmates and co-residents, would become my new best friends/sisters/brothers/cousins. When you let down your guard and open yourself up, you will realize many hands are reaching towards you, waiting for you to take hold. One sister will always invite you for a game night. Another will offer you comfort, while another will be the funny one that always makes you laugh. In no time, you will celebrate successes and mourn losses with them. We share joy, tears, frustration, happiness and soon enough, these people become your new home.

Encouraging this little one to continue walking

To some, family is blood tied. But for others, and for me in this place, it has nothing to do with blood. As in popular culture, “home is where the heart is.” COVID-19 might make our “home home” feel so far away. It is almost like a parallel universe. Fear not. You will not walk alone. Living away from your own family doesn’t mean that you will always be far from the family feeling. On the contrary, it can open another door for you to discover a new family who will also cherish you and support you throughout your journey. When in doubt of whether this path is “worth it,” think back to where you started, and how far you have come. Rough times, low times are common—as is in life. Just know, that at the end of the day, there are so many people like you and you are never alone. Open your eyes and your heart to the new family around you.