Breaking new Ground

For many years Agape international has been inviting North Korean experts to Switzerland for further training. Well over one hundred people have been able to take a glimpse into a different world and discover new horizons on a professional as well as on a personal level and then apply what they have learned at home.

March 1: He has arrived! At times I was really afraid that he would never arrive, our visiting doctor! We worked for almost a year following the request of the North Korean embassy to make training for a rheumatologist possible! We spent the first days with him, getting passport pictures taken, buying a half-fare travelcard, and a monthly travelcard. Just after his arrival attended an introductory lecture for new hospital staff. How much did he understand? He is cordially welcomed in his host family and in the hospital. He has to deal with a thousand new impressions. It is his first trip abroad.

The next few days are characterized by mutual scanning: What is life and work actually like here in Switzerland and what is expected of me, who will help me? What does the visiting doctor mean, when he answers with a yes – did he actually understand, or is he just confirming that he listened? Mr. Kim is still very young. His wife is pregnant. He is hoping to stay here a whole year, but we are already thankful that he has received a work permit until June. For a long time the Swiss authorities did not even want to grant him that much. “He’s not even a doctor,” was the critical comment of a Swiss rheumatologist. The education of doctors in North Korea is very different from the Swiss education: They do not study as long together and are divided into specialized areas much earlier. Maybe “rheumatology” is more practical and a specialized area of physical therapy?

We are able to extend his residence permit for two more months so that he can visit a specialist hospital and a rehabilitation hospital. He uses his time to translate a reference book on ultrasound diagnostics in rheumatology into Korean. He will take a portable ultrasound device and a good microscope home. In this way he will be able to apply what he has learned. Various people sometimes spend a Saturday or Sunday with him. He marveled at the snow-capped mountains of Bürgenstock and traveled to the Valais. During one visit with him, we walked through the woods. He is surprised to discover a battle memorial. Was there a war in Switzerland? He thought we had always lived in peace. “Too bad I didn’t bring my camera!”

Our visiting doctor is, in fact, very challenged by his residence training. Hardly anything is familiar. It was difficult to understand what was said, often because of language barriers but also because everything is different from home. Nonetheless, we think he did a great job! We are glad that he had a good host family and a committed and patient supervising doctor. It was so challenging for us to get used to life in North Korea! Actually, this is normal and just takes time. And a good sense of humor also helps, which Mr. Kim has, “I learned something new!”