11th of March
The roundabouts that lead up to the entrance to the FIL were impassable. Dozens of buses waited in line, as curious heads raised to peer a little further forward. You could see the buzz and euphoria of whatever awaited them.
The orange alert was well justified by the overflowing water that ran between the tires and the sound of water crashing against windscreens. There were no hats, no boots tailored to the windy event, which shoved everyone around as if they were sheets of paper.
I don't know if what excited them was the freedom to leave school and their cities (some quite far away from Lisbon), or if it was some anxiety to play adults, amongst the logical thoughts and passionate decisions of those who have their professional futures right around the corner.
Futurália is a Teaching, Training and Educational Guidance Fair which takes place at FIL, and is the showcase of the most varied educational institutions, which parade for students from the 9th to the 12th grade.
We were there to follow in their footsteps, and peek in on the whole fair in order to understand the options that were being presented, and realised that a new world is opening in front of them which can take them to different dimensions, like dance and the arts, science, letters or numbers, technology, sports or the patriotic.
At the stand of the University of Lisbon, considered the best in the country, there was also the Faculty of Medicine, represented by students and collaborators who took turns to run it during the 4 days of the event. Every year their mission is to present the strengths of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon to potential students and to explain why the Faculty continues to stand out from the others.
Tomás Ramalho, who is a 2nd year student, shared his perspective from within with those who now intend to enrol: "the two greatest strengths are the communities of students and teachers; the two have very strong bonds and help each other a lot. But then there is another major strength, the teaching is integrated, it has branches, modules, and the experience of other colleagues from other faculties tells us that it is more beneficial to have this scheme, because we can have a connection between the various subjects that other faculties don't have because everything is very separate and without a visible connection. Our connection to the Santa Maria Hospital is another important factor. When we enter the Faculty, we enter the Hospital and the other faculties do not have that. Then I have to speak about how proud I am of this Faculty and of the quality of its Professors. It's the second year now that I see students choosing our Faculty, this specific faculty and not any other Faculty of Medicine. Of course it's a difficult course and although we have some difficulties, nobody wants to leave and we all think that it's always worth staying. My advice is that if you really want to take this course, do not give up".
We found two Marias, Maria Falcão and Maria Pires, and Inês Almeida, all of whom are 14 years old, and attend the 9th grade at the Santa Doroteia High School, in Lisbon. The three of them chose the field of Sciences, but while the Marias know that they want to study Medicine, Inês hesitates between this, and Arts. "I have been researching a lot about each of the options to learn more about them, but listening to a student that is already in Medicine can help me decide". When we asked the Marias if, as they look to the future, they see themselves as doctors and the paths diverge a little; while Maria Pires has a passion for the Laboratory, due to her interest in Physics or Chemistry, Maria Falcão has no doubt that she wants to be a doctor.
A third-year Medicine student at the Faculty, Inês Cardoso thought about becoming a Paediatrician when she started the course, but as time went by she realised that thoughts change a lot when you open doors to other areas. Representing the Mentoring Project (older students helping and integrating newcomers) of which she is an active member, she told prospective students about the special reception they receive when they arrive in a completely strange and new place. "I started on the organising committee for this project, in its 3rd edition, and I was lucky because initially the committee was chosen by lot, I was in one of the top spots and I was selected. The following year I was invited to become a member of the Student Association and to stay at the Department where the project was based, and I ended up coordinating it. It was really good because, now with the support of the Faculty, we have managed to elevate Mentoring to levels that we would not be able to achieve by ourselves. It is important to explain that in our Faculty the sponsor isn't the mentor; the mentor is someone to whom they can turn for everything and who is assigned to them on day one; they can ask for the most basic of help and the mentor will always be ready to lend a hand. The sponsor is someone who accompanies them in the initiation ritual, not in their academic path".
Francisco is also a student, currently in his second year. He met Inês Cardoso when they were already in Faculty, and they have become inseparable: "We both share the same course and common interests and we dedicate a lot of time to the Faculty; my friends from other courses don't understand the time that I have to devote to my studies and my engagement with the Faculty". Francisco is also involved in the Mentoring Project and wanted to give his contribution. "From the moment I arrived I also had a mentor and created a good relationship with him. He helped me a lot with my integration. That made me want to help others too and I became a mentor and a member of the organising committee. We have 320 mentors that provide answers to all the newly-arrived mentorees." The match between mentor and mentoree is precious and studied in great detail. "A form is filled out during welcome week, we are there to explain how the project works and if they want to they can sign up. The form is composed of a table with tastes and interests and the matching is made via a computer application. And this is how we seek to bring mentors and mentorees with similar profiles together."
One of the areas that requires the Faculty's care and concern is the integration of the students, especially of those who come from other cities much further away from Lisbon. But if we think that distance can deter them from being potential students of the Faculty, then we deceive ourselves. The proof of this are Leonor Silva and Tomás Lopes; both in the 12th grade, they study and live in Coimbra and already have a Medical heritage within their families. They look at a possible move to Lisbon as an opportunity and not a second choice. "I already have a sister living here and that would help me, and as she is also studying Medicine, she would be a great support. I am still considering Coimbra, because it's academically strong and it's my city. But if I manage to get into Lisbon, I won't think twice about coming. This city gives us the best professional opportunities. The perspective of leaving home scares me a little, but as I am independent, I think that I would adapt easily" - Leonor Silva.
"I have a passion for Medicine, it's not enough to be a good student, it's necessary that we have a vocation, the human factor is intrinsic to a good doctor and I see myself in that role. I am often in the hospital because my father in an Orthopaedist, but I want to follow a clinical speciality rather than a surgical one. I want to come to Lisbon because I consider it essential to have my own process of growth and empowerment" - Tomás Lopes.
Where to find them isn't clear for anyone, boy or girl. Many are fascinated with the possibility of following a military career path, others are more adept at expressing their emotions, or are interested in following the path of substantiated truths. What we realise is that none of the students we spoke with were completely lost on their way.
They have certainties, ambitions and the will to add value to a path that belongs to everyone.
And on that shared path, we will surely find, further on, some of the many potential students who came to us and promised to return to the Faculty of Medicine.
We are waiting for them. And we all hope that you keep the will that brought you here.
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