Personal Views

Cultural adjustment and the overseas trainee

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.308.6937.1169 (Published 30 April 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1169
  1. Swaran Singh

    Two years ago I arrived in Britain on the overseas doctors' training scheme in psychiatry. This was my first trip to a foreign country. I came with little money and no friends or relatives in Britain. I was singularly unprepared, having gathered impressions of Britain from the books of P G Wodehouse and George Mikes. I had expected a country of cricket lovers; football hooligans took me by surprise.

    For someone who has always been one of us, it is impossible to imagine the feeling of being the other that engulfs you soon after arrival in a new country. The deafening silence of the countryside; the palpable discomfort at meeting a stranger's gaze; astonishment at everyone's attempts to hide behind a newspaper in the London tube; inability to react to the smile of a stranger that never quite reaches the eyes; and the early awareness of racial stereotypes are all disconcerting experiences. You are torn between the need to make human contact and a greater need to hide. For most people a summation of discrete experiences crystallises into this feeling of otherness. On my third night I walked into my first English pub and was immediately aware of the intrusive quality of my appearance by its effect on others. Later that night three young men decided to settle scores with someone for the Gulf war, …

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