Tell us a little about yourself.
Jennifer: I am from Iowa City, IA. I am 28 years old and work as a medical resident in Internal Medicine. I travelled to Guatemala in January 2012 as an International Elective opportunity as part of my medical training.
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with IVHQ in Guatemala?
Jennifer: I knew I wanted to volunteer in Guatemala as I had done so in the past so I looked at programs that offered medical volunteer projects. IVHQ had good feedback on several review sites, reasonable rates, and their staff answered all of my questions promptly and effectively.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Jennifer: I started every morning with a fresh, warm, home-made breakfast with the other volunteers in my homestay thanks to my House Mother. I then got on the "Chicken" bus outside of my house and rode it to the neighboring town where I switched buses. My volunteer location was in a medical clinic in a small rural town about 45 minutes away from Antigua. I would spend the mornings in the clinic helping check in patients, taking vitals signs, assisting in the acute care area, and even assisting in the labor and delivery area of the clinic with mothers-to-be and newborns.
I took the bus back for lunch at my homestay and then would walk to downtown Antigua for tw hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons at Maximo Nivel with my Spanish instructor. I would usually then have a couple hours free to enjoy the by using the internet services, exploring the town, or studying. Back to my homestay for dinner. Many evenings I would meet up with other volunteers and students for things like salsa dancing, trivia night, sports games such as soccer and basketball, politics viewing, late night snacks, etc. There were never any shortage of things to do or people with which to spend time. I also had my weekends free to travel of which I took full advantage. I went to Tikal for a weekend as well as learned to surf in El Salvador another weekend.
What advice do you have for future volunteers?
Jennifer: Read up about your host country and know the basics about the culture and the language before you arrive. The most difficult part of my experience was my limited Spanish skills, and while I picked up A LOT of language during my stay, my experience would have been richer had I know a bit more of a baseline before I arrived. IVHQ through the Guatemala experience offers Skype language courses with the same instructors you work with while there. I wish I would have taken advantage of these sessions.
Make sure you talk to you banks and credit cards companies before travelling to make sure your cards will be compatable with the local ATMs and banks. Several of my fellow volunteers had difficulty accessing money.
Know what you want to get out of your experience before you arrive so that you have a sense of direction once you arrive. It can all get very overwhelming otherwise. If your goal is to experience the culture, or practice the language, then the opportunities you seek out will be very different that if it is to see as much of the country as possible or learn a new skill or meet a lot of new people.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Jennifer: This experience was invaluable in several ways. First, it has confirmed my love for medical mission work and inspired me to make this a routine part of my career in medicine. Second, it has proven to me that I am capable of learning and using a foreign language if I am determined to do so. Third, it was an opportunity to use my medical knowledge in a different context and also to see things that I wouldn't get to see otherwise. Fourth, it was an amazing amount of fun, and I met plenty of wonderful people.