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A group of Atlantis students sitting on a bench ready to start shadowing in a hospital (Thessaloniki, Greece, 2020).


Atlantis Shadowing in Europe: Why the Language Wasn’t a Barrier for Me

Marissa profile

About Marissa

Marissa is a recent graduate of Clemson University where she received her B.S. in Health Sciences. During the summer of 2019, Marissa participated in the Atlantis shadowing program in Trento, Italy, and now works as an Alumni Representative with the company. She is currently applying to medical school where she hopes to become a primary care physician.

Deciding to go with Atlantis

When I was accepted to shadow abroad with Atlantis, I was thrilled. The idea of spending four weeks in Trento, Italy, sounded like my own fantasy version of Mama Mia – well, minus the scrubs and mountains. However, as summer approached, I started to become anxious. The more I thought about my looming trip, the more I realized how unprepared I was. I had never been to Italy, the extent of my understanding of Italian culture ended at the door of my local Olive Garden, and most importantly – I didn’t know a lick of Italian.

Like me, I am sure you were told that speaking the native language was not required to travel abroad with Atlantis. However, given the fact that you are probably also another Type A pre-med student, I have a feeling that this statement did little to dissuade your worries. So, from one fellow pre-med to another, let me be the one to tell you that you have nothing to worry about before your trip abroad. 

My Experience

Many of the physicians that you will be shadowing are fluent in English and eager to teach you. Even if there are times where they are communicating to patients or other hospital staff in the local language, someone is usually there to assist in translating. Additionally, while you shadow abroad, you will have one to two site managers in the city to help you with anything you need. They are usually from the region, so not only are they fluent in the local language, but they are also very knowledgeable of the area. During the first week in Trento, I was still acclimating to the city and felt very overwhelmed. My site manager offered to take us on the bus line around the city and show us how to travel to the hospital, the nearest grocery store, and the restaurant plaza. This was so helpful in learning my way around Trento. They also took time each morning during breakfast to teach us a bit of the language.  

No matter which Atlantis location you choose, they are all generally friendly to American citizens. Fortunately, since there are so many different languages and cultures in Europe, most signage includes English subtitles, making it really easy to move around in the country. Additionally, you will be given a SIM card so that you have access to strong internet 24/7. This is helpful in case you need to quickly translate something to a shop owner or food server. 

Steps to Prepare

That said, it always helps to take a little initiative. Not all locals are as kind and willing to speak in English. However, by taking the time to learn a few keywords – like hello, how are you, how much is this – the effort will go a long way. Personally, I used Duolingo to become familiar with the language as I waited for my plane to depart. The app is free to download, and I tried to spend 5-10 minutes each day practicing during my time in Italy. You’d be surprised how quickly you can pick up the local language if you try and keep an open mind. Please remember, this was completely optional and something I did so I could be more mobile in the country. Travel is a big hobby of mine, so I wanted to be prepared in case I visited any small cities where English wasn’t as widely known.  

My Takeaway

Even though I came to Italy unable to speak the language, I was still able to have an amazing experience. Not only does Atlantis do a wonderful job accounting for the language barrier, but the people abroad are so kind and willing to help when needed. Your only responsibility is to enjoy the program and the people in it!

Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.

Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

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John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
  • Brigham Young University '19
  • Washington U. in St. Louis MD '23
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Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
  • U. of Arizona '18
  • Duke MD '23
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Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
  • Stanford '19
  • Mayo Clinic MD '24
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Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
  • U. of Washington MD '24
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Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
  • Indiana U. MD '25
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Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
  • Georgetown U. MD '26
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Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
  • U. of Michigan MD '22
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Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
  • U. of Arkansas MD '24
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Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

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Watch Video: The Atlantis Shadowing Experience and How it Helps In Your Med/PA Admissions Future

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.