I was lucky enough to get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Before summer break started a couple months ago, my parents asked me if I wanted to visit another country alone for volunteer work. Although I was a bit nervous, I jumped at the opportunity. So, paperwork was filled out, some research was done and soon enough I found myself sitting on a plane waiting for an eight hour flight from New Jersey to Peru to start.
Once I arrived in Cuzco, I felt immediately welcomed as a Projects Abroad staff member told me a little about the town and people in a taxi on the way to my host family. I slept that day off and woke up refreshed for my induction. The volunteers were introduced to the rules and a Spanish lesson was given to help us get through the two weeks in a foreign language-speaking country.
While volunteering and shadowing doctors in a local clinic, I got a taste of the fascinating Peruvian culture. The placement was cantered in Cuzco, a town in the Andes. I wasn’t sure how I would adapt to all the new food, climate, culture and people but within a few days, I fell in love with Cuzco.
A kind, bubbly and excited host family gladly welcomed me into their home. They prepared a delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner for us every day.
Almost every day, the volunteers were shuttled off in a taxi with a very friendly driver to the clinic, where we signed ourselves in and then went to our assigned departments for the day. Not only did I get to see how Peruvian healthcare differed from healthcare in the US, but I was able to see various types of doctors actually working with patients. For example, I observed a psychologist giving various tests to examine patients. I also assisted and watched doctors giving shots to babies. I was happy to have gained so much knowledge and experience at the clinic!
Doctors and local people were kind enough to talk to us about diseases, practice CPR with us, teach us how to suture and discuss overall health in Peru with us. Every day, I looked forward to getting involved.
Weekend trips and my advice
Our weekend trip to Machu Picchu was absolutely incredible! Seeing a wonder of the world with new friends is something I will never forget. We had so much fun taking pictures (some of them with llamas) and learning some history.
Make the most of your time there! Although you will be working in a clinic and learning about medicine, sightseeing and touring the area is also important. If you have friends or family in the country of your destination, I suggest going there a couple of days or a week earlier so you have time to see some tourist attractions and adjust to the new food and climate.
Brush up on your Spanish! Although Quechua is the original language, Spanish is the main language there. People do speak a little English there, but they will appreciate it if you try to speak the local language. Also, in the clinic, the doctors may try to explain something or give you directions to assist them with something.
Immerse yourself in the culture and try new food. I was hesitant to try guinea pig but I was happy I ate it, because I may never get a chance to experience Peruvian culture again.
From eating guinea pig to putting fluoride in kids’ teeth to feeding disabled children, my trip to Peru was amazing; probably one of the best in my life. All while making friends from all over the globe; I learned about medicine and healthcare in a foreign country while immersing myself in a completely different culture.