Samantha Shames - Medicine in Argentina
Volunteering in Argentina
When I was in high school, I distinctly remember the foreign exchange programme the languages department ran throughout the year. Students from Russia, Germany, France, and Spain came over to the United States to live with a host family and have a taste of what everyday American life is like. By the time I graduated from high school, I had never hosted any students, and never intended to be a foreign exchange student in another country. However, upon exploring and researching extracurriculars for studying medicine, I came across Projects Abroad. After applying, it was only a few weeks until I was receiving emails about what Córdoba, Argentina would be like, who I would be staying with, and the types of activities we would be participating in throughout the week. Before I knew it, I was flying alone on an international flight to an unfamiliar city almost 5 000 miles away from home. I was nervous, jet-lagged, and my Spanish was more than a little bit rusty. However, after spending just one week with my host family and Projects Abroad leaders in such a lively and welcoming city, I fell in love with Córdoba. My Spanish skills improved, my passion for medicine was stronger than ever, and I was a confident in navigating a completely foreign city.
Right off the bat, I was experiencing a typical day in Córdoba. I ate Dulce de Leche, drank mate, and spent time walking through a local market filled with homemade housewares and popular local food. It was refreshing to see the differences that Argentina had to western culture, and how different their way of life was than what I was familiar with. My favorite part was always being greeted with ‘besos y abrazos’, making me feel like part of the Argentinian family.
My Medicine placement
I was of course in Argentina to learn about medicine, observe fascinating surgeries, and learn about new medical opportunities for the future. At the beginning, our Projects Abroad leaders took our group on a tour of Córdoba, and then to the office to learn about medicine in Argentina, and how medicine and increased awareness of diseases has impacted the overall health of Argentinians. As the week progressed, I had increasingly interesting experiences, from learning how to respond in emergency situations, to dissecting corpses, and finally getting to watch a surgery.
After visiting the anatomy museum, our group ventured down into the stereotypically cold and damp basement to dissect a human corpse. The most memorable part of that experience was learning and implementing different methods for suturing wounds, and, of course, the unforgettable smell of formaldehyde.
Although I enjoyed the anatomy museum, my favorite activity of the week was when we visited a hospital to explore different departments and observe surgeries. Our whole group had spent the previous night bowling and exploring downtown Córdoba, but despite my lack of sleep, I was completely awake the minute I stepped into the operating room. I stood quietly in the corner, hoping not to be a distraction, and watched the doctors prepare themselves and the patient for surgery. Although I was not informed on the type of surgery being performed, I listened closely to the doctors’ conversations, and used my improving Spanish skills to determine that they were removing a cyst from a young boy’s hand. I quietly peered over all the arms and tools as the doctors poked, prodded, and cut open the boy’s hand to remove the cyst. While it was a relatively quick and minor surgery, the whole experience was by far one of the most fascinating things I have ever done. I’ve heard stories about surgery, and seen pictures, but nothing beats observing a procedure up close. I left the operating room with a rush of adrenaline, and forgot that I had only had five hours sleep the night before.
Knowing that I could handle the somewhat unsettling nature of corpses and surgery was very comforting, and reassured my future goals. Although I have always been interested in medicine, this trip confirmed my aspirations, and made me aware of the passion I have for medicine and its abilities. Even simply putting on scrubs before visiting the hospitals gave me a unique sense of pride and accomplishment. I learned that medicine is the now, and will always be in the future.
Home away from home
Even if my medical career doesn’t end up working out, I truly found a home away from home in Córdoba, Argentina. I spent only one week in a completely foreign country, and enjoyed every minute of it, securing the fact that Córdoba has a special place in my heart. From my host family, to my Projects Abroad group, and my unforgettable Projects Abroad leaders, I have found a network of like-minded people who share the same passions and aspirations as I do. I don’t think I will ever forget the one week I spent in Córdoba, Argentina, and I will always remember to visit in the future.