Expatriate experiences of working with medical aid in the Global South.
Katarzyna Wolanik Boström
Paper short abstract:
The paper, based on a qualitative case study of Swedish physicians who had worked with medical aid in the Global South, investigates their narratives on professional and personal trajectories, experiences and insights in the ascribed, involuntary privileged "expatriate" position.
Paper long abstract:
The paper is based on a qualitative study of Swedish doctors who returned from medical aid assignments for organisations like the Red Cross, MSF, Operation Smile, Rotary international or UNICEF. In the interviews, the doctors told about their wish to learn about new cultural contexts while offering their professional help in underprivileged and troubled areas of the globe. Especially on longer assignments, the doctors experienced an intensive learning process not only about professional matters, but also local and global power relations; an initial vulnerability, but also joy, self-fulfillment and work satisfaction, in spite of some medical aid projects' flaws, failures and scarce resources. The ascribed, involuntarily privileged position as Western "expatriate" and dwelling in guarded houses with other "expatriate" staff led often to feelings of estrangement and exclusion from the local context - which they had wished to embrace and comprehend. Some expressed the shock or gloomy recognition at being enrolled in postcolonial hierarchies. Undue respect from patients and staff made them aware of their bodies as marked by ethnicity and "race"; Swedish/ European/ "white" signifying more protected and esteemed. In their efforts to counter such unjust hierarchies, they attempted a "Swedish", more egalitarian, cooperation with the local staff; even if this could be difficult when they had been put in superior administrative or medical positions by their sending aid organizations. Some doctors told about forming strong affective bonds towards people (local staff, other expats, patients) and places, finding coming back to their high-standard, secure and ordered Swedish lives troublesome.
International intervention professionals - aid workers on the move