Why did you decide to volunteer with Projects Abroad in Ghana?
Ali: I knew I wanted to volunteer overseas, but arranging the entire trip on my own without an organization to help seemed to overwhelming. I did a lot of research about various organizations. I liked that Projects Abroad wasn't affiliated with any particular religious group, political party, etc. - it was strictly a volunteer organization rather than an organization with another agenda.
It also seemed to me that they were very well organized, with a helpful website, helpful employees, etc. They provided me with contact information of former volunteers so I could get answers to some of my questions about the program, which was also really helpful. Overall, after a lot of research, Projects Abroad was the organization I most trusted to handle such a big responsibility.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Ali: That's a little hard, because it completely depended where I was working at the time (what facility, and in what department). On weekdays, I would wake up, have breakfast with my host brothers and sister, and then walk down the street to the "line taxi" station. I might take the taxi to the hospital, where I would report directly to my assigned department and start helping. For instance, I spent a lot of time working in the lab, so when I would arrive I would begin doing the testing needed that day. My host mother always sent me to work with a packed lunch.
At the end of the work day, I would get a taxi back home and might either spend the evening at home with my host family, or meet up with other volunteers for a meal out and socializing. On weekends, I was most often traveling with a few other volunteers from the program. We would catch a "tro" (van) or bus and use our guidebooks to help us navigate around the country. I was able to see a huge amount of the country this way in a series of weekend trips.
I also journaled every day, which I highly recommend to anyone who travels for an extended period of time.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Ali: Really in too many ways to count - but I can name a few. First and foremost, the trip reaffirmed my desire to be in the health care profession. My world view changed a lot as a result of my trip, and I learned to see the world in a different way; my experiences abroad helped to put many things into perspective. I left with an enormous appreciation for a foreign culture and a new way of life, but also full of gratitude for how fortunate I have been in my life. I became very close to my host family, and still cherish the relationship I have with them. We are in touch regularly and I still send Christmas gifts to the kids every year.
A year and a half ago I was accepted into my top choice graduate school after writing my application essay about my time overseas. When I applied for a summer job a few months back, the manager of the department spent nearly our entire interview asking me about my volunteer work, and she was extremely impressed by it. Having this sort of experience will change you in many positive ways, but it will also positively change the way others see you.