So the big question remains: was it worth it?
The chance to travel and be exposed to an entirely different way of life is invaluable. In that sense, it was worth it. However, I wasn’t as involved in the healthcare setting as I had originally hoped. The program was a bit unorganized and the communication barrier was difficult to overcome.
Many of the volunteers in my placement were bored and disappointed but we didn’t mope. My dorm room was dubbed the “Rebel Room” because we were all prone to “wandering” through random placements due to restlessness or curiosity. We stayed busy and became involved in whatever way we could. We even found our own volunteer placements (outside the sanction of our program, which was frowned upon playfully but with no repercussions). Can they truly yell at you for volunteering at a soup kitchen in your spare time? I think not.
What does this mean for you if you’re looking into volunteering abroad? It means learn to go with the flow. I floated through the hospital, asking departments if they needed help (which some did, like speech therapy, so I stayed gladly to help). I bought candy for the patients and we handed that out one day (candy knows no language barrier). I walked across the street to the daycare for disabled children; we painted fingernails one week. I taught English at the college one day, which was SO FUN. I should have picked the English placement to begin with. Most everyone wants to learn English (even in the hospital, they don’t talk to us about medical stuff, they ask us how to say “X” in English) so it’s a good placement if you’re looking to genuinely help people.
Also, I would volunteer after you’ve established yourself a bit more in the medical field (maybe senior year). At the very least know how to do wound changes, IVs, foleys, med administration and fundamentals. And remember to enjoy things as they come b/c life holds all kinds of possibilities when you’re a rebel 🙂