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Volunteer Review: Aysha H., Medical School Elective in Vietnam

Medicine volunteers teaching first aid

I’m Aysha, a final year medical student at Cardiff University in the UK and I’m doing my Medical Elective in Hanoi, Vietnam with Projects Abroad. For four weeks, I have been volunteering in the National Children’s Hospital in the surgical department.

Arriving in Vietnam

After very little sleep on the journey to Vietnam, my first couple of days were a bit of a blur! I met Viet at the airport, who took me to the volunteer house in the early hours of the morning. At this time, I remember thinking Hanoi seemed like a quiet little town. Little did I know, that's far from the truth!

One of the biggest challenges in the first couple of days was getting used to crossing the roads and realizing that red lights and zebra crossings mean very little in Hanoi! Adjusting to the constant honking and buzz of the roads was also difficult for me at the beginning, having just traveled from the countryside, where all you can hear is a cow in the distance!

Volunteers exploring Vietnam during their free time

As I had arrived in the middle of the Tet holiday, I would start work in the hospital a few days later, so I made plans with another volunteer to travel to Sapa and Ninh Binh. It was great to ease myself into life in Vietnam and experience some of this beautiful country whilst it was celebrating the New Year. I loved how friendly and welcoming everyone was, which made the transition a lot easier.

My host family

After the Tet holiday, I moved to live with a host family, as I wanted to experience the Vietnamese way of life to the fullest! The family took me on trips to see their homeland and pagodas, and they showed me the best places to eat in Hanoi. They made me feel at home right from the start.

Aysha shadowing doctors at a hospital in Vietnam

I spent my evenings teaching their six-year-old daughter how to play piano and making spring rolls with my host mum! Having experienced living in both the volunteer accommodation and with a host family, I found living with the family suited me more. It was the perfect balance of independence and being able to immerse myself in the Vietnamese culture.

Before coming to Hanoi, there was one particular aspect I was quite apprehensive about. I go to the gym regularly and train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu back at home, so I was concerned about how I would be able to keep up with this in Hanoi. With the help of my host family, I was able to find a gym and Jiu Jitsu classes. This has helped hugely with keeping up a routine, but it has also given me a great opportunity to train with people from around the world!

My Medicine Elective

Aysha spending time with her host family

The main aspect of the placement I struggled with was the early morning starts and long days in comparison to the UK! Luckily, my body clock got used to this after the first week, but I will admit that sometimes I am in bed before 9pm! Having done a fair amount of work experience in less developed countries like Sri Lanka and Peru, the stark differences between Vietnam and the UK were significant, but maybe not as shocking to me as to other volunteers.

All the doctors were incredibly friendly and the doctor who I was shadowing did everything to ensure I was happy and getting the most from my placement. This made a huge difference and I looked forward to seeing the various surgeries every morning, or interacting with the children and families in the ward. During surgery, I was provided with opportunities to scrub in, assist and practice suturing. I really enjoyed this hands-on aspect! Furthermore, I was able to discuss cases and see patients in the examination rooms (the Vietnamese equivalent of clinics). The project has definitely improved my medical knowledge, particularly with interpreting medical imaging.

Free time in Vietnam

Medicine volunteers give a presentation about first aid

During my time here, Projects Abroad arranged for a group of us medical volunteers to teach first aid to teachers at a nearby school. This was incredibly rewarding and I feel we made a significant difference. I’ve also had the chance to complete case presentations and support a local charity event, and I have been given time to reflect on my experiences. The staff have gone above and beyond all expectations. They are eager to help me get the most out of my trip and have really made me feel like a valued member of the volunteer group. My Medical Coordinator responds quickly to any of my queries or questions and I’ve felt cared for and supported throughout my placement.

Final thoughts

For any future volunteers, I would advise to keep an open mind and be willing to try anything and everything, and you will undoubtedly have an amazing time! I’ve had an unforgettable experience with Projects Abroad in Hanoi and I cannot thank the team enough for all the work they’ve done! Thank you. I will be back!

Aysha H.

This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.

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