Volunteer Service Trips Abroad - Volunteer Story by Ying Liu
When I first arrived in Argentina, I remember being a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by excitement, by friendly faces, by meat, and by my own self-doubt about my ability to work in a hospital where my work will depend on my Spanish skills. I was a nineteen year-old student from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I had chosen the Projects Abroad programme in Argentina because I wanted to experience medicine in a metropolitan hospital while practicing my Spanish. By the end of my placement I was no longer overwhelmed by doubt, but by a feeling of contentment that I had learned a lot, grown a lot, and even contributed to the lives of the people around me.
My first day at the hospital began in a relaxing manner. The Argentina Projects Abroad coordinator, two other volunteers and I met our supervising doctor in a coffee shop. He gave us an introduction of his work as a surgeon and the hospital we would be working in, and even though I could only understand a portion of what he said, he struck me as kind, intelligent and very energetic.
There were two other volunteers working at the hospital with me, and our diverse appearances sparked questions and excitement everywhere we went. On a typical day we would sit in on surgery classes in Spanish with the medical students at the hospital from 8am-10am. Then our supervisor would meet us at a cafe and we would talk about what we had just learned. Afterwards, he would conduct his rounds in the hospital and we would shadow him as he examined patients, charts, and chatted with his residents. Then, we would head off to a different hospital that specializes in infectious diseases, especially AIDS. The differences between the two hospitals we worked in were very stark, as the afternoon placement served a population that was much less fortunate. We usually spent the afternoon observing surgeries or consultations.
Initially the language barrier was very frustrating, but as our Spanish improved we were able to do more hands-on tasks like taking vitals and preparing and handing out tools. On select days, we would shadow other doctors with different specialties, including one who worked with AIDS patients and a breast cancer specialist. We were also able to spend time in the Intensive Care Unit and read many patient histories in detail. In the end, we shared both our language skills and new found knowledge and gave a presentation about AIDS in Spanish to a group of Argentinean doctors.
In our free time we enjoyed talking with our wonderful host parents and travelling around Argentina with the other volunteers, who had also become like family. We also got to know our supervising doctor very well, and we went with him on many trips filled with unforgettable conversations about everything from Che Guevara to his passionate opinions on social issues. Argentina was a beautiful country to explore, and the people were especially caring and welcoming. Despite the language barrier and being on the other side of the world, I always felt like I was at home.
After two months, I had heard the stories of many patients and talked to some of them personally. I will never forget one unruly patient who stole his neighbour's meal when he was only allowed liquids after just having his gall bladder removed! I had observed many unforgettable surgeries like the removal of a giant breast tumour, the removal of an intestinal tumour, and even a few plastic surgeries. Most importantly, I had met many caring and intelligent people and learned a lot about medicine, Argentina, the world and myself.Ying Liu