Next Stop – Coimbra, Portugal!

“Proxima Paragem – Coimbra”,  a pleasant overhead female voice announced our arrival as our train slowed.  We nervously gazed out the window, interrogating the architecture of the train station for clues about the city we were to call our home for the next two years but had never visited. The train pulled to a stop. We gathered all of our life belongings – stuffed into two suitcases and two hiking backpacks – strapped our two children into our rusty stroller, and somehow maneuvered it all off the train.

A few steps later, we emerged from the train station and gazed at our new home. To our right, across a gentle river, an ancient monastery glistened under a lively sun; facing it on the other side, the marble bell tower of a 13th century university stood guard over a terracotta-roofed city clustered on a large hill. I glanced at Ashwini, and upon seeing her child-like smile of wonder and implicit approval, heaved a sigh of relief. I considered our next challenge – lugging our belongings and our two children to the AirBnB that Ashwini had chosen for its ‘great city views’. After consulting google maps, I wearily realized that it was at the very top of the hill overlooking the city.

It is a steep climb to move and practice medicine abroad. It’s been three months since our first steps in Coimbra, and it’s only now that we’re starting to feel settled. We’ve moved into an apartment, assembled our furniture, and registered our little ones in pre-school. We are starting to look into health insurance, still don’t have a car, and have yet to complete the process of registering as residents – but every morning, as the rising sun bathes the orange trees in our back yard and the ancient university on the horizon glows, I experience a sense of wonder that we made this life change. The fear that my telepsychiatry private practice would implode due to our move is dissipating slowly, leaving more space for enjoyment and, yes, gratitude. We’ve had luck in every step of our adventure so far and I’d like to express my gratitude for our fortune.  

I am grateful that the Youtube Coimbra drone videos were strikingly accurate.  We had to cancel our scouting trip to Coimbra due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and so moved there sight unseen. We were excited about Coimbra due to the strong school systems in the area, and – this might sound crazy – due to the aerial drone videos of the city that we had found on youtube.  Thank goodness that they weren’t airbrushed. The city is even more magical in person.

I am grateful that we were all COVID-negative despite a major scare.  Three days before our flight to Portugal, Ashwini spiked a fever to 102F and experienced diffuse body aches. Fearing the worst, Ashwini and I, along with our two young children, sought the COVID RT-PCR test – with a negative test being required to fly to Portugal. We weren’t sure whether to finalize packing or consider where to stay as we’d be homeless within days.  24 hours before our flight, Ashwini’s fever subsided and the COVID RT-PCR tests came back negative. As it turns out, Ashwini had a case of mastitis as we were weaning our youngest child.

I am grateful that our Portuguese landlord is well connected to the Coimbra preschools. After emailing local preschools and being informed of waitlists of several months to years, Ashwini and I gambled that our fortunes would change once in Coimbra. On our move-in day, our Portuguese landlord nonchalantly mentioned that he is great friends with the director of an outstanding preschool a short distance from our home and that he’d arrange for spots for our children. Days later, we dropped off our little ones in a beautiful pink preschool with a playground overlooking the river, with orange trees, and an herb garden.

I am grateful for this community of fellow adventurers!  When we began sharing our plans to move abroad in January of 2019, we noticed that our plans induced intense affective responses in our acquaintances. Most of our academic colleagues dismissed the idea of a move abroad, with varying responses of “You can’t (or ‘how dare you’) do that”. From the moment this community was formed, discussions have been supportive and constructive. The community has identified obstacles and strategies to overcome them. Our members have created guides on practicing medicine in several countries (with more on the way), shared their insights on how to practice telemedicine from abroad, and even provided glimpses of their personal stories.

The transition to practicing medicine abroad can be very lonely at times, and this community has been incredibly supportive, resourceful, and inspiring. Wherever you are on your personal journey to practicing medicine abroad – whether you’re curious about the options, experiencing feelings of ambivalence, have set a date, or are already in your new home – thank you for joining us and we hope to hear about your challenges and triumphs!

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