Volunteer Review: Natalie E., Medicine in Argentina
Traveling to Argentina was such a multifaceted experience which I didn’t expect initially when signing up to volunteer on the Medicine project. I heard that the South American healthcare system was uniquely different compared to the American way of practice, so that was my primary attraction for this trip.
Then I thought I would check another part off my list of things to do and say that this trip would cover my shadowing hours needed to become a physician’s assistant; a career that I am eager to pursue.
Lastly, I thought this trip would allow me to become more independent and learn to cope with language barriers. All three of those aspects were in fact pieces of the puzzle that led me to this amazing project, but none of which were the reasons I could say I was fully able to immerse myself into such an unfamiliar culture and grow to love every day spent there.
Arriving in Argentina
On day one, I met my host mother and immediately felt alone because we did not speak the same language. At dinner I used my iPhone to translate what she was saying and she would use her Spanish to English dictionary to do the same. We continued this for the first week, making small talk until our meal was complete and we parted ways for the night.
It was not until the next few weeks that I understood and respected the warm Argentine culture. The people were so friendly and genuinely nice. I was lost on my bus ride home and a young woman took the time to use as many hand gestures as possible to give me directions so I could return home safely. I never felt alone with the people on the streets always smiling and the love given in the restaurants, hospitals, and homes welcoming you with big hugs and kisses every time you entered.
Once I began to learn more Spanish; more so because I wanted to be able to communicate with these lovely people and assimilate my relationship with my host mother grew. Our conversations got deeper and I began to recognize how interesting and empathic she and her family were. It was not until I let my guard down and detached myself from my American habits that I was able to let this new way of life in and embrace it for my short stay abroad.
My Medicine project
The assimilation over time allowed me to gain more experience in the hospital as well. Knowing more Spanish and always keeping a positive attitude and smile on my face went a long way. The doctors and other nurses saw how eager I was to learn and see more procedures and allowed me to do so because of my newly changed demeanor.
I went from my first week of hospital shadowing at La Clinica del Sol feeding neonates, to a drastic change of seeing spinal cord reconstruction and brain tumor removal surgeries the following week. Over my month and a half stay I saw 15 surgeries, 11 births, and several other injuries or illnesses that were examined and treated in such different ways than in the United States.
To be able to experience all of this before I even graduate was such a blessing. It reassured me that healthcare is the profession for me and regardless of the method or quantity of care given to a patient, all that really matters is the quality of care and it was evident that each Argentine healthcare professional was adamant about that part.
In due time, I finally met the other volunteers from Projects Abroad. There were not only volunteers from America, but from all over the world. It was fascinating to hear their stories and their passions about such similar things to me, even though we had such completely different lifestyles.
It was the traveling to different parts through Argentina that made us all so close. The first trip to Mendoza, Argentina was the most unforgettable. We spent four days together in a hostel - sleeping, eating, talking and experiencing some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen all within 96 hours. We started off our trip with a sunset horseback riding trail through the Andes Mountains and ending with a hardy asada - the girl who used to not eat red meat even loved this aspect of the trip.
Argentines have such a way of making any type of food look appetizing, and the asada which is just like an American BBQ, is still talked about by myself and the other volunteers today! The next day we hiked the Andes and then relaxed in the hot springs for hours until the sun went down.
The next two days we did a bike tour to three amazing wineries and one brewery and all shared a typical Argentine favorite - empanadas. We laughed the entire trip and shared personal stories about our lives and careers. I created an unbreakable and treasured bond with this amazing group of people and thank them for making each of my days spent in Argentina even more memorable than I ever expected.
So I came into Argentina with some ulterior motives to get in and out and do my medical work Monday through Friday. Although that definitely filled my requirements for school, it was not half the reason I enjoyed this lovely country so much. The energy and presence of everyone wanted me to let down my inbred American ways and embrace this culture to its fullest.
Their cuisine and way of life was something that shook me at first, but also made me appreciate my life more. I created such a strong bond with my host mother, her family and my fellow Projects Abroad volunteers. I am so grateful for my opportunity to study abroad and forge lifelong friendships. I became so much more independent in a way that I was able to learn more about myself and understand why I am pursuing to be a healthcare professional.
Argentina will always hold a special place in my heart and I am so thankful for all the memories such a beautiful place allowed me to have. Mi corazón está lleno de amor por este hermoso lugar siempre!
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.