By Dr. Mohamed Faris
When I look back at the past couple of years that I’ve spent as an internal medicine resident in the US, the major feeling is an overwhelming sense of gratitude and pride. It is not an easy accomplishment to come to a new land to embark on a 3-year journey (more for others) of learning and growing. What made this journey easier is the friendliness and acceptance of everybody here.
Let me start by giving you a brief summary of my background and upbringing. I grew up in 3 different continents; Europe (UK), Asia (Oman), and Africa (Egypt). I had only visited the US once during that time period; as a 12-year-old for a week-long trip to Disneyworld. I graduated from medical school in Egypt and I knew all along that it was my dream to come to the US to do my residency and learn at the forefront of medical education.
My dream came true when I matched at the Internal Medicine program at Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, SC. I remember reading the email and the ensuing battle of emotions building up; elation, fear, pride, anxiety, but most of all, gratitude. I had finally accomplished my dream.
I won’t lie to you, despite living and growing up in so many different places, I was scared to move to a land I’ve never lived in before, it wasn’t as much a fear of being “homesick”. It was more a fear of the unknown; what if I don’t enjoy the experience, what if I find difficulty fitting in or the transition being too difficult. Particularly because I did not have a single friend or family member in the US at that time.
The process of coming to the US was as smooth a transition as one could have hoped. The welcoming atmosphere at the program made it very easy to “fit in” and to be an active member of the community. I immediately made a lot of friends and I was eager from day one to learn as much as I can about this new culture that I was thrown into. Few things make me happier than meeting new people and interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds, and I found a lot of diversity here in the US.
During my first year I had the opportunity to participate in several events that I’ve never been a part of before. I attended my first baseball game with my friends from residency, had my first inter-state road trip, in addition to the numerous events, parties, and dinners hosted by the program and my friends. All these culturally enriching events helped give me insight into the different American customs and traditions. I make sure to not only learn the US culture and tradition from my friends, but to also share with them some of the traditions that I grew up with.
To explain the importance of sharing diverse cultural experience, I quote what I said in a previous message written to ECFMG: “We make sure we talk with each other about our different traditions and values and help each other become better persons by understanding that though we come from different backgrounds, we are all the same”.
My second year in the US was even more fun, I had the opportunity as a senior resident to fly to Hawaii for the first time ever to attend the AMA meeting, this was an item at the very top of my bucket list and it was as dreamlike as I expected and more. I was also fortunate enough to attend the National ACP meeting in New Orleans where I got to try their world-famous beignets for the first time and experience the rich music culture there. I also made more road trips, this time to Orlando to go to Universal Studios. I am an avid Harry Potter fan and getting to ride the Hogwarts Express and seeing and experiencing all the different Harry-Potter-themed rides in the park was a lifelong dream. I also got to visit such historical sites as the Alamo in Texas and the Statue of Liberty in New York.
I’ve always been a big fan of soccer and spent my childhood and teen years playing it, so when I was invited to join the residency kickball team I could not turn that offer down. I had never heard of that sport before arriving to the US and I would look forward to our games every Tuesday. I was also introduced to other sports such as baseball and football and came to enjoy them all. Sports is a big part of the US culture and practicing a sport or watching it with your friends will most probably be a weekly ritual.
A lot of my fellow international medical graduates who come to the US for the first time often ask me for advice on how to assimilate and how to make the “cultural shock” effect less compelling. I always tell them to keep an open mind and not to be afraid to try new things and open conversations with others. I also tell them to travel as much as they can within the US and visit as many states as their time permits. The US is huge; I always describe it as a vast continent with 50 different countries who decided to get along and form this formidable federation. Every state has its unique characteristics and culture. I have visited over 10 states so far in the past 2 years and plan to visit many more. The US is so rich and diverse and there are a million things to do here I’m afraid I won’t have the time to do them all!
I am very excited to see what this last year of residency will add to my experience here. My plans for this year include making a trip to Las Vegas, visiting the Grand Canyon with my sister who will be visiting me this year, and going on yet another road trip with my friends, this time to Miami. Needless to say, I will keep you all updated on my future experiences.