“An incredible experience” - Occupational therapist in New Zealand
An exchange year in New Zealand gave Ulrika Hagenfalk a taste for more. She chose to stay on a further five years as an occupational therapist in one of the poorer residential areas outside the city of Wellington. Her encounters with people and nature have made a deep impression on her.
It all started during Ulrika Hagenfalk’s studies at Linköping University. She was studying to become an occupational therapist and wanted to broaden her horizons and spend a year in another country; so she contacted a university in Auckland, New Zeeland.
“It was an incredible experience that I wish more people would try”, says Ulrika.
The exchange year provided her with the opportunity to see how occupational therapy is conducted in another country. It was also an opportunity to gain close contact with people, nature and culture.
“New Zealand offers a totally amazing variety of stunning landscapes with deserts, beaches, volcanoes, wine regions, rain forests and glaciers.”
Following her return, she worked for a short time in Sweden before she followed her heart back to New Zealand. For five years, she worked as an occupational therapist just outside of the city of Wellington.
But it was not just a matter of walking into a hospital or district health care centre and getting going. She first had to prove that she not only knew her profession but also had a sufficiently good command of the English language and understood the country’s culture.
“The culture is often very important, especially for the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, but also for other ethnic groups that have immigrated to the country.”
Ulrika gives us an example.
“Amongst the Maori, there is a custom where various objects to do with the body and death are viewed as ‘tapu’ meaning holy. These objects must be held strictly separate from things that are not holy. Understanding how this applies to everyday work is important in order to offer care that is perceived as respectful and of a high quality.”
Unlike Sweden, New Zealand has, for some years, also required that all occupational therapists and physiotherapists continuously update their skills.
“It felt a bit tedious at first, having to prove that I lived up to that, but after a while it felt more like a great opportunity and something that I have actually missed since returning to Sweden.”
During her time in New Zealand, Ulrika first worked in an emergency ward and then in home rehabilitation. Much of the theory, methods and practical tools were the same as they are in Sweden.
“The fact that my day-to-day work was a little different was probably more because of differences in the population, the lifestyle and the culture. I worked in one of the poorer residential areas outside Wellington. Many of my patients lived in cramped conditions with several generations under the same roof, sometimes without good insulation or heating.”
In general, it can be difficult to find good housing in New Zealand. There is a shortage of small flats and poor quality housing can cause it to be very cold indoors during the winter.
Another drawback is the constant risk of earthquakes and large volcanic eruptions.
Even so, it is the positive aspects that weigh heavier when Ulrika talks about life in New Zealand. The most positive things are meeting people and the beautiful countryside. You are never too far from the sea and there is always plenty to do outdoors.
“The colours, the blue sea and the green vegetation felt more vivid than I’d experienced in Sweden. People are happy, friendly and generous. The tempo is more calm and relaxed.”
But for the time being, the adventure in New Zealand is over.
“My partner and I moved to Sweden and found work in Västerås. I am currently working at the general hospital in Västerås”, Ulrika Hagenfalk says.
Text Lennart Falklöf
From LiU magazine no 2 2011
Last updated: 2012-11-27