Alumni Spotlight: Carolyn O'Donnell


Carolyn O'Donnell is a second-year pharmacy student at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Why did you choose this program?

Our university had worked with IVHQ in the past and had gotten great reviews, so we decided to follow their example and travel to Guatemala. The previous class before us had posted amazing photos of their Guatemala experience and we had a chance to hear about their trip, so we were all very excited to choose this program to travel to Guatemala.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The great thing about working with IVHQ is there is very little that we had to do to organize our trip. They provided us with date options as well as a list of excursions and the costs for each. As a group, we voted on the excursions and IVHQ handled all of the coordination.

All of our clinic sessions were also set up for us, so it was nice that we did not have to organize much at all on our own, which made the trip very stress-free.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I wish I had stayed longer! The program was amazing, but once I arrived in Guatemala, I realized there was a lot that I wanted to do that I would not have time for in a week. I would have also loved to stay longer and get more clinic experience because I felt like I learned so much and grew as a person during the week we were there.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

During the week, we were provided breakfast by our host family at 6 am, then we would travel to clinic and provide medical services to patients in a local community between 7 am - 12:30 pm. Each day, we traveled to a different town, so we were presented with a variety of experiences.

In the afternoons, we had free time where we could either explore or go on an excursion, such as visiting Mayan ruins, visiting a coffee farm, etc. We had weekends off, which we used to book excursions, such as hiking volcanoes. We were able to do an overnight volcano hiking experience, which I would highly recommend.

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 is that I was going to Guatemala knowing little to no Spanish. During our trip, we had an amazing coordinator who was fluent in both English and Spanish, which helped me a lot.

Because I had experienced so much Spanish immersion during the trip, I started picking up on some basic Spanish. This experience has made me very interested in learning Spanish for future trips, but for someone who is not fluent in Spanish, I would not let this stop them from going on the trip.

What was your favorite excursion experience?

We did an overnight volcano hike and this hike was very intense. We were not quite prepared for the difficulty level of the hike, but the challenges we faced ended up making this an incredibly rewarding experience.

There is nothing quite as impressive as seeing a volcano erupt at night and seeing different cities in Guatemala from a volcano. This was such an amazing experience and I will always have great memories of our volcano hike.

What was the most rewarding clinic experience?

We provided medical services to a group of coffee farmers. This was a very touching experience because we provided hand-washing education, a toothbrush, toothpaste, vitamins, anti-parasitic medications and medical services to the farmers and their families.

Many of the people we saw were so grateful and thankful to wash their hands that it was a very humbling experience. I can say for certain that I came back from this experience as a different person and I would recommend most people have an experience like this because it really does help shape your perspectives.