Constance Shaw - Medicine in Argentina
It was 5.30pm in the UK on the 4th of August 2012 that I began my journey to the other side of the world. Little did I know that I was embarking on what was soon to be the most interesting and eye-opening three weeks of my entire life. The 26-hour journey, including two flights, one bus journey, and one taxi ride, took me to a small bungalow on the outskirts of Córdoba, the second largest city in Argentina. This would be my home for the next 21 days of my life in South America, where I would be volunteering in five different hospitals and helping in one of the poorest day care nurseries in the whole of Córdoba.
Why I decided to volunteer in Argentina
I have always been a keen explorer and having never experienced South America before, Argentina was an extremely attractive destination for me. I had heard of the colourful, vibrant culture that envelops the region and I was eager to experience it. I also wished to improve my language skills, and Argentina, being a Spanish speaking country offered the perfect opportunity to do this.
My host family
While in Argentina I stayed with a host family of three, a mother (Laura) and two children aged 7 and 9 years old called Clara and Vera. At first, staying with people I had never met before was an extremely daunting prospect and communicating with a language barrier proved extremely challenging, forcing me initially to resort to hand gestures to get my point across. However as the days progressed and I became slightly more apt at the language, settling in to my new environment became easier. I began to feel comfortable in my new home, and was able to enjoy the unfamiliar experience, immersing myself in their culture and using all the Spanish I could.
During my stay I grew very close to my host family who accommodated for all my needs both inside and outside the house, advising me where in the city to go and the best places to visit. Laura, my host mother, was also an absolutely amazing cook, and while there I enjoyed delicious meals full of Spanish tradition. I also had two beautiful, kind sisters keeping me entertained while I was at home, and this feeling of security and homeliness made my stay in Argentina that bit more special.
My Medical Placement
Each morning from 8 until 12/1, I would spend my time volunteering in local hospitals in Córdoba. Observing diagnoses, watching operations and exploring various departments became my every day occupation, leading me to obtain some eye-opening and invaluable experiences that I will never forget.
What I loved the most about my medical placement was that every single day was different and I never knew what to expect. On entering the hospital each morning, I was greeted with new faces and new challenges and this is what made my visit to Argentina so interesting and varied. I would thoroughly recommend this trip to anyone wishing to study medicine in the future, as I am yet to hear of a placement offering better experience than this.
My Care Placement
After two weeks of working in the hospitals, I decided for my third week I wanted a change, so for the next few days I helped out in a day care nursery in the outskirts of Córdoba. It was one of the poorest of its kind in the city and all the children came from under-privileged families. This was my favourite placement, as I got to play with the kids and teach them basic lessons, such as counting and singing in Spanish which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Improving my Spanish is one of the biggest benefits that I have taken away from my experience in Argentina. Every day from 2 until 5 I, along with the other volunteers had a 3-hour Spanish lesson with a professional tutor. For this we were split up into groups of abilities and this made it really worthwhile and valuable. With my host family not being able to speak English, I was forced to talk in Spanish for the majority of my day and this is what ultimately helped to improve my language skills. This is definitely the best way to learn a language and speaking Spanish really helped me appreciate the amazing culture that Argentina offers in a much more personal way.
Social/free time in Argentina
One of the nicest aspects of the trip was making new friends with the other volunteers who had travelled from all around the world, including Canada, USA, England, Italy and Switzerland. This cultural diversity is something I really enjoyed about the trip, and in the evenings and weekends Projects Abroad organized several events for our pleasure and entertainment.
My personal favourite was the Tango lesson, which forced us to take to the dance floor and was an evening full of laughter. We also had a bowling night and at the weekend took day trips to Alta Gracia and La Cumbrecita, two beautiful tourist destinations, which boasted beautiful views and great local shops. There was a great balance of work and play when I was in Argentina, and I feel I have truly made friends for life.
Leaving Argentina – back to reality!
Saying goodbye to the local people, the city itself and all the new friends I had made on the trip was extremely hard. Although only there for three weeks, I had settled into the way of life and leaving this behind was more difficult than I had predicted. I believe my trip to Argentina has really benefitted me as a person and has taught me some crucial life lessons.
It has definitely given me greater responsibility; being alone on the other side of the world, I was forced to deal with problems on my own and this has installed me with greater initiative and self-confidence. More than anything I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and would recommend it to any kind of person looking for a great adventure.