Recently Dr Bruce Davidson interviewed Wynand Nel, new president elect of the Student Government Association (SGA) at Saint James School of Medicine. This is the transcript of this interview.
What is your background?
WYNAND NEL: I’m a South African originally, from the Western Cape province, around Cape Town. My family is all Afrikaans, that is, of Dutch settler descent, but the Afrikaans language is a mixture of Dutch, Flemish and local influences, so it’s only partially helpful here. But I guess it’s better than no Dutch at all! We left our home in Glentana, SA for Canada in 2001, when I was 13, and I’ve been there ever since.
Do you miss South Africa?
WYNAND NEL: Strangely, when we first left I guess I was too young to miss it much, just hung out with my friends in school in Canada. But as time went on I got to miss it more and by the time I was 17 or so, I really missed the Boer (Afrikaans) culture and the beauty of the country. We go back most years, but I haven’t for the last 2, so this Christmas I’m definitely going back. Chill out on those long white beaches, all the Cape wines, a braai (barbeque) as the sun goes down – just reconnect with my roots.’
Could you live there again?
WYNAND NEL: Much as I love it, I don’t think so long term. The politics and the crime are just too bad, but once I qualify I could do something like ‘Doctors Without Borders’ for a while.
What did you think when you first got here?
WYNAND NEL: I must admit the old school was a bit of a surprise, I wasn’t expecting such an old building, but you get used to things quickly, you adapt, and the school itself is much better than its external appearance. As to Bonaire, I’m a small town boy, so it wasn’t too much of a change coming to a tiny island. And it helps having already emigrated once. Second time it’s easy!’
What do you like most about Bonaire?
WYNAND NEL: I guess it is the scale of things – the smallness. You can get out of town quickly and be in wilderness very easily.
Have you done any of the water-based sports?
WYNAND NEL: I haven’t dived yet, but I keep getting told I have to, and I guess I will soon. Been snorkelling a bit and swimming a lot, but I’m not into windsurfing – not really my style – even though I haven’t tried either, I think I’d prefer real surfing.
When you leave what will you miss most?
WYNAND NEL: The sunsets. They remind me so much of South Africa, and to see the sun go down just about every night is so beautiful. Reddish golden sun, a bit of light cloud, and the light off the turquoise water.
What advice would you give to new students when they arrive?
WYNAND NEL: Don’t expect Bonaire to be like the US. Because it’s small there isn’t much to do, and most of the brands you’re used too are very expensive. But there are local versions that are usually much cheaper. Last week I bought some genuine Philly cheese, but then saw the local Dutch import at 20% of the price! And it tasted pretty much the same.
They need to get used to an outdoor lifestyle, if they haven’t already, but even though it’s a small island they’ll have to get wheels.
They have to understand that they have to work here, lots of self-study and there’s no spoon feeding, and long term that’s an advantage as you learn to think, not just regurgitate. A slight problem is some of the accents, but again they’ll need to be able to understand lots of different people once they’re in practice, so it’s also an advantage.
They should be careful in taking accommodation. Make sure everything is in writing and it clearly states what they are getting. Is the internet included, for example. You can bargain with most landlords, so be ready to negotiate.
Make sure your cell phone is unlocked, although the local ones are just fine as well.
Why did you stand for the SGA Presidency?
WYNAND NEL: It’s just my personality to get involved. I wasn’t sure about class rep in MD1, but got elected and again in MD2. As a result I was in the SGA meetings and got put forward to stand for President. No-one else stood, so it was unopposed. It’ll be good experience and I hope I can help people.
Do you think the SGA is important?
WYNAND NEL: Absolutely vital. Without it there’s no outlet for the students, no channel of communication, and frustrations can build up. It’s no good individual students raising issues – they can be glossed over. But if it’s a big issue and the entire student body raises it through the SGA, that’s a different matter entirely.
What do you want to be the main outcome of your term in office?
WYNAND NEL: First to carry on with all the initiatives that Scott and the other guys have started, but also to try to improve and optimize the communication channels. We’ll be continuing with all the activities we usually have – the sports clubs, the block parties, the mid-semester barbeques – but we’re open to new ideas as well.
So overall are you enjoying your time at SJSM and on Bonaire?
WYNAND NEL: Yes. The school is demanding in that you have to be prepared to work, but that you’ll need to do for the USMLE and rotations anyway. And the island is just beautiful.
An interview with a Saint James School of Medicine Graduate