I chose this program because I have always wanted to visit Mexico and experience its rich culture. Whenever I spoke about my desire to go to Mexico, I was often times discouraged because of the negative stereotype that surrounds the country.
Kelly is currently a second-year master of science candidate for occupational therapy (MSOT) at Thomas Jefferson University. Her passions include volunteering, running, learning about different cultures, and trying new (and bizzare) foods. She currently resides in the greater Philadelphia region.
Why did you choose this program?
I wanted to prove to my family and friends, that we cannot always live in judgment but we have to experience new environments and people in order for us to truly grow.
I wanted to be able to challenge myself and develop my knowledge of Spanish by visiting Merida, Mexico. I was lucky enough to be placed in a special needs program where I was able to implement what I have learned from my current program of study and also improve my language skills.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
I organized the experience through IVHQ. The volunteer coordinator at IVHQ provided an extensive list of what needed to be completed prior to volunteering. It was really helpful that the volunteer coordinator kept an open line of communication.
The program fees included meals (breakfast, dinner), accommodation, and airport pickup. While in Merida I was responsible for organizing my transportation to/from the volunteer placement along with purchasing water for the duration of the experience. In addition, airport drop-off for departure was organized on my own.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Relish the experience! Get to know your fellow volunteers and the locals around town. Don't take for granted the time that you spend at your volunteer placement and remember just have fun.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
The day usually starts early in order to get to the volunteer placement. The shift usually starts around 9 am and ends around 1 - 2 pm. The rest of the day is yours to explore the city, visit the beach, or to simply relax. It is not required to volunteer on the weekends, so it is a good time to visit some major landmarks.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear going abroad was getting lost in an area that I am not familiar with. However, I found that a lot of the locals in Merida were extremely friendly and willing to help provide directions.
I was also nervous that I would not be able to effectively communicate with residents at the special needs facility. This was a struggle for me for the first few days but I found ways to non-verbally communicate with some of the residents.
Also being at the facility for two weeks and reflecting on the experience, I feel as though there is a universal language of caring and compassion that can be strongly reflected through non-verbal communication. I feel as though that was one of the major driving points that helped me develop a sense of trust with the residents at the facility.
How did this experience benefit you academically?
As an occupational therapy student, I found that my placement at Pastoral de Amor was absolutely amazing. The main philosophy of occupational therapy is to promote individual independence through daily activities and I was glad that Pastoral de Amor used that as their philosophy as well.
I was bit nervous when the staff therapist asked me to provide therapy for the clients but I was so glad that I did not let my fear (not being able to communicate well and not knowing what to exactly do) get in the way of a wonderful opportunity.
Working one on one with the residents in a rehabilitative setting opened my eyes and will always be a valuable experience. The experience of meeting the wonderful individuals at Pastoral de Amor has truly shaped and created a positive impact in the way I would like to be in my professional career in the future.