Kacie Kline - Alternative Spring Break, Public Health in Mexico
As a freshman in college, I wanted to spend my spring break doing a service trip. I am on the pre-med track and majoring in cognitive science, therefore the Public Health Alternative Spring Break trip to Guadalajara was perfect for me. Especially with my plans to go into the medical field, it is very important for me to have hands-on experience with patients to make sure that health promotion is what I want to go in to.
Arriving in Mexico
I arrived in Guadalajara in the evening and was greeted by the smiling face of one of the Projects Abroad staff, Fernanda. Fernanda, the first person I met in Guadalajara, ended up playing a significant role in making my experience in Guadalajara so special. Her and her father drove me to my accommodation, which was about 30 minutes from the airport. Once we arrived at the house, my host mom, Irene, greeted me. Although Irene and her husband spoke no English, we were able to communicate through my knowledge of Spanish (I had taken Spanish class from middle school to my first semester of college).
Four other girls lived in the same house as me. In our accommodation, Irene provided us with breakfast and dinner every day, as we would have lunch during the day with the other volunteers. The food that Irene cooked was great and gave me a great taste of what real Mexican food is like. The house we stayed in was very nice, with clean bathrooms and showers and a garden outside.
Volunteering in Mexico
Our day-to-day schedule was packed with activities. We woke up for breakfast every morning and then were picked up to go to the Projects Abroad office. There were 14 volunteers altogether, almost all in undergraduate college. The volunteers were from all over the country, so it was interesting to hear how each person came to volunteer on this trip. The staff would tell us our plan for the day and then we would start our day’s journey.
The first day, one of the staff, Miguel, took us all on a tour of the city center. We were able to see the beautiful churches and get a sense of what Guadalajara is like. The city is absolutely beautiful. We went to a local restaurant for lunch. For the rest of our first day, we did a Spanish workshop to go over the basics of the language. We also did a medical workshop, where a doctor showed us the sheets we would be filling out for each of the patients for the medical outreaches.
Public Health in Mexico
The medical outreaches were definitely the highlight of this trip. This is where we got to interact with patients, ask them questions, diagnose them, and then ultimately give them medicine or medical advice. We worked at various places such as an elementary school and an orphanage, all in extremely poor communities on the outskirts of the city. I also was able to improve greatly with my Spanish, as we had to ask them the questions and fill out the medical sheets in Spanish.
During the medical outreaches, each volunteer was paired with a doctor, who assisted us along the way. The medical sheets that we filled out for patients included the patient’s family medical history, daily hygiene, what they eat, what their living is like, their symptoms, and their own medical history. We also took their blood pressure, heart rate, weight, height, BMI and checked their lungs and throat. The doctors helped us come to a diagnosis and decide whether or not the patient needed medicine. The medical outreaches were the most rewarding aspect of the trip, and something I will cherish forever.
We also visited a hospital, called Cruz Verde Delgadillo Araujo Guadalajara. Here we met a chief surgeon, who spoke to us about the medical field in Guadalajara. He shared with us many important facts about how the healthcare in Mexico is different from where we live. We learned what it takes to become a doctor in Mexico and about his specific journey in becoming a surgeon.
Free time in Mexico
On the day of the trip, we took busses to Tequila Town. The first stop was at the fields where they grow the agave plant. This was beautiful and right in front of the Volcano Tequila. One of the workers showed us how they grow the agave plant, and what part of the plant they send to the factories to harvest the tequila.
Next, we took a tour of the Jose Cuervo Tequila factory in Tequila Town. This was interesting to learn about, and something that I know all the volunteers loved doing. We also had free time after this to do some shopping and explore Tequila Town. The freedom that Projects Abroad gave us throughout the trip was great, because we were allowed to do a little extra exploring on our own.
Something I would advise volunteers to do is to take advantage of everything the staff offers you. They are there to make your volunteer work as efficient and easy as possible, and they also want you to get the most out of your experience. When working with the patients, I was allowed to fill the sheet out on my own and ask the patients all the questions, with some help from the doctor. With this, I was able to get the most out of my experience. It was definitely difficult, considering I am not fluent in Spanish, but the doctor was there to help me if I ever needed it. I advise all the volunteers to not be afraid in their new environment, and wake up every morning ready to make a difference.
To this day, I am friends will all of the Projects Abroad staff and volunteers on Facebook, and we are still in contact. They are all truly inspiring people that I will never forget. The combination of the amazing volunteers and even more amazing staff members made my time in Guadalajara unforgettable. The staff made sure everything went smoothly and that we always felt safe. I have never had a more rewarding experience than going to Guadalajara through Projects Abroad.
I recommend this trip to anyone who is interested in medicine, community outreach, or just want to make a difference in the world while also being exposed to a new culture. This was an unbelievable experience I will treasure forever.
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