When and where did you intern abroad?
After completing half of my Spring 2012 semester abroad studying Spanish, I interned at the Hospital de Las Mujeres in San Jose, Costa Rica. I spent seven weeks observing the doctors, nurses and medical staff as they performed anything from check-ups to delivering babies.
What made you want to intern abroad?
Two of my life’s goals and aspirations are speaking fluent Spanish and practicing medicine as an M.D. Therefore, gaining medical experience at an internship in a Spanish speaking country was the absolute perfect combination for me!
How did you conduct your search? What made you select your program/company?
I came across the internship program offered through SUNY Brockport in Costa Rica. They had internship opportunities in many different fields, but with my interests lying in medicine, I chose a hospital listed in the health-related field. It wasn’t until about a week before I was set to leave for Costa Rica that my internship director sent me an email detailing the items I would be required to purchase before my “social work internship”. Social work?! I was extremely disappointed, and met with my director upon arriving in Costa Rica. He informed me that because I do not possess a medical title, I would not be allowed to complete the internship I wanted. I realized at this point that I needed to take matters into my own hands. I emailed about eight of the local hospitals, and after interviewing with one I was accepted as a student interested in medicine!
What made your experience abroad a success?
Many things constitute success. I learned a ton about women, the birthing process, and how a public hospital functions in another country. And I also made an abundance of friends and medical connections – and did it all speaking a second language!
What was the most important thing you learned about communicating in a foreign culture?
You have to be open to try new things, because language is not the only difference in communication between cultures. By studying in a certain culture, you want to learn about their customs and how they communicate so it is important to observe how they do things.
How did you deal with the cultural divide?/What differences did you notice?
Some interesting aspects of culture I noticed: they use Tupperware for leftovers, but do not use covers when placing the containers full of food into the fridges! Also, when I would arrange to meet local friends, we would say, for instance, 12 noon, but I would always be waiting for 10 to 30 minutes. Their lifestyle is just not as fast-paced as ours!
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I actually have three tips – don’t be afraid to make mistakes: it’s how you learn. Seize every opportunity, studying abroad is something that most people don’t get to do, and if you do, you don’t want to leave with regrets. Lastly, if something about your program isn’t fulfilling your expectations and what you wanted to take away from your study abroad experience, take matters into your own hands, as this is a valuable life skill anyways!
Stephanie put herself into a challenging situation that forced her to beef up her Spanish language skills in a short amount of time while learning the ropes in a high-pressure work environment. We commend her for taking the plunge! Stephanie’s professional goal is to be an MD, which will open up a wide variety of professional and volunteer opportunities around the globe. Health care professionals – especially those with extensive international experience and language skills – are highly sought-after by NGOs in developing nations. Stephanie should consider pursuing one or more health-related volunteer terms abroad, ideally in regions of the world that she has not yet visited. Consider the personal and professional benefit of undertaking a six-month volunteer term with a clinic or hospital in Ghana or Cambodia. The adaptation and cross-cultural communication skills you build volunteering in a developing nation will be highly valued by future employers. Undertaking an English teaching term or going abroad for a working vacation on a summer term are also excellent options for undergraduates looking to build cross-cultural skills.
- Check out the All NGOs listings to start researching international volunteer and internship opportunities with North American organizations.
- Gaining Experience and Targeting Your Job Search is a point-form list geared towards helping you determine a career path in the health care field abroad.
- Also consider reading What Expat Health Workers Say: The International Experience from health care workers abroad.