Laura Fieldhouse - Medical School Electives, Nursing Elective in Vietnam
Why I decided to volunteer in Vietnam
I am a nursing student in London and volunteered with Projects Abroad, along with a friend, as an elective placement for our degrees. I was keen to do an international elective to see how the healthcare system worked in a different country. I decided on Vietnam because I have always wanted to travel to South East Asia and felt it offered the right level of development for the type of hospital I wanted to experience.
My first impressions of Hanoi and Vietnam
I was really overwhelmed when I first got to Vietnam. Everyone tells you that the roads are mental but you just don’t quite expect that many mopeds trying to fit into the same gap at the same time. Crossing the road was initially a struggle for us but after a week you get the confidence to just stride into the middle of the road. Another thing that I immediately noticed was how friendly the Vietnamese people were and how willing they were to talk to us. A lot of them said hello when we walked by and were very keen to talk when we thanked them in Vietnamese after serving us in shops and restaurants. Vietnamese people are generally very happy and this was a really nice atmosphere to be in! My first impression of Vietnam was very positive and my fondness of the country grew over the month that I was there.
My hospital placement in Hanoi
We were placed in Viet Duc Hospital on a cardiothoracic intensive care unit. The intensive care doctors on the unit were so helpful! They spoke English very well and tried to explain everything as best they could. It was very nice that they took time out to explain things to us despite being busy. Projects Abroad also organised a translator for us who was very helpful and looked out for us the whole time. The nurses were not as good at speaking English but were still very helpful in teaching us the procedures they use over there. We got to do a lot of wound care and administered medications as well as watching open heart surgery! The doctors took us out for lunch and we went out after work, this was really nice as we all got to know each other better in a more relaxed environment. We bonded with the nurses one day when they managed to persuade us to take part in a tug of war. We thought it was just a bit of fun but then we were rushed into the changing rooms and dressed in a full team uniform, when we arrived at the competition there were hundreds of people watching! Our team did very well but eventually they wouldn’t let us compete because they thought we were giving our team an unfair advantage (due to our size)! This is one of the most hilarious memories I have of Vietnam.
The volunteer house in Hanoi
My friend and I shared a room in the house which had a number of other volunteers in. There were people from all over the world and we got to know each other really well. I hope I will be able to visit them at some point! We all went out as a group regularly and explored the city. The cook was fantastic, she made our dinner every night and there wasn’t a dinner that I didn’t enjoy. The location of the house was also great. It was cheap to get a taxi to the Old Quarter where the majority of bars, restaurants and shops were. Being in a house with different volunteers was good because the people who had been there longer would show the new people around and give them tips on how to handle the city, such as not paying too much for things. My friend and I were abysmal at bartering and always ended up paying double what everyone else was!
Travelling around Vietnam
On the first weekend we went to Ha Long Bay along with another person from the house, this was a weekend cruise trip. Although the weather wasn’t the best when we were there, it was brilliant to see the bay and it is definitely a place you have to see if you go to Vietnam. The second place we visited was Sapa, completely different to the Ha Long Bay trip but equally as impressive. We trekked around Sapa and stayed in a homestay. I wasn’t sure about staying in a room with 20 people and lots of bugs but it turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip. There was plenty of rice wine and beer, followed by musical statues around a fire to techno music. Finally we visited Hoi An and Da Nang. This wasn’t an organised group trip, we planned it ourselves. Hoi An is beautiful and relaxing, a welcomed break from the liveliness of Hanoi. We got clothes tailored in Hoi An and visited the beach. We were only in Da Nang for one night, in a hotel next to the beach so we didn’t explore the city. The beach was lovely and I had a great time away despite getting burnt to a crisp and being in complete agony!
After four and a half weeks I think we were both ready to come home, however we had gotten into a routine of living in Vietnam. When talking about what we would miss and wouldn’t miss, they were often the same thing. The most annoying things about Vietnam are what you love about it. I miss attempting to cross the crazy roads, everyone saying hello to us in the street and the copious amounts of cheap beer! I don’t miss trying to avoid dogs that might have rabies and I don’t miss feeling guilty about flushing toilet paper down the toilet, because I kept forgetting that you aren’t supposed to over there! This was the trip of a lifetime and I would recommend it to anyone.