After spending 10 days in the bustling, populous hubs of Beijing and Shanghai, Iris Fontana became an expert at communicating with her Mandarin-speaking hosts — without knowing the language.
Communication evolved through hand gestures and smiling often, Fontana said.
“You would think you would feel like an outsider,” she said. “But everyone made us feel welcome.”
Fontana uncovered the new skill on the internationally recognized Envision Global Forum on Medicine and Science, which seeks out students with strong academic standing. The forum offers the opportunity for students to explore potential professions in a setting outside of their own country, she said.
Fontana’s placement was in the field of science and medicine. While she is currently attending Kenai Peninsula College, working toward a degree in psychology, she said she is very open to various professions.
Over the 10-day trip Fontana, and her group who she now calls good friends, visited the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square and the Great Wall of China supplemented with visits to Peking University Health and Science Center and Xi’an Medical University.
Fontana said one of the most striking illuminations was the way the Chinese healthcare is set up.
“First of all, the government pays for two-thirds of healthcare,” Fontana said. “And the doctors trust their patients more.”
Fontana said patients are given the option of deciding their own regimen. And Chinese doctors also offer both Eastern and Western influenced treatments.
Walking into a pharmacy would illustrate this contrast, Fontana said. On one half of the store would be traditional prescriptions. On the other, herbs and oils for a patient who chooses to follow natural treatment options, she said.
Raising money to cross the Pacific Ocean was no easy task, Fontana said. After being nominated for the position, she started fundraising immediately, with only three months before the venture. The plane ticket was the most challenging to fund, since the organization paid for most of the expenses once the group landed, she said.
Donations came from the Soldotna Elks Lodge, Kenai and Kasilof Eagles. She will give presentations to those organizations about what she learned on the trip.
“It was absolutely life changing,” Fontana said. “I would stay a year, it was so amazing.”
Kelly Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.