‘We feel stupid and we shouldn’t.’ Towards developing a communication support system for Cuban-trained medical students

  • Jessica Gasiorek University of Hawai'i at Manoa
  • Kris van de Poel University of Antwerp


This article presents a case study of a small group of South African medical students who have returned to South Africa after six years of medical education in Cuba, where they were trained in a different language (Spanish) and medical system (Cuban) from what they will ultimately practice in as South African doctors. This study sought to better understand the linguistic, cultural, and communicative challenges that this group faced upon returning to South Africa, with the ultimate goal of creating materials to support the students’ language learning in the clinical domain.  The researchers found that students reported considerable difficulties with (re-)integrating into South African culture and clinical contexts; specific issues included encountering different types of medical issues in South Africa compared to Cuba and difficulty in understanding and using medical terminology in English and Afrikaans. This case study concludes with specific recommendations for developing learning materials that address these students’ unique linguistic and communicative needs.

Author Biographies

Jessica Gasiorek, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Jessica Gasiorek is an assistant professor in communication at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Her research is on communication accommodation, social cognition, and intergroup dynamics.
Kris van de Poel, University of Antwerp
Kris Van de Poel teaches Applied Linguistics at the University of Antwerp and is extraordinary professor at North-West University (Potchefstroom). She specialises in curriculum and syllabus design and coordinates the Medics on the Move project.E-mail address:  kris.vandepoel@uantwerpen.be