Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Maximo Nivel in Guatemala?
Chrissie: I chose to volunteer abroad with Maximo Nivel in Guatemala because it is highly recommended and is one of the few places that has a medical program that I could volunteer at without an MD. Additionally, I really wanted to improve my Spanish, and Antigua is known for their Spanish lessons because the people speak so clearly and slowly.
What was your favorite moment of the experience?
Chrissie: I had an amazing time in Guatemala and am so thankful I was given the opportunity to work with such wonderful people. While my trip was filled with memorable moments, one stuck out from the rest. I was working in the clinic, towards the end of my three week stay, when a girl and her mother walk in who I had seen in my first week there.
She was feeling much better and was really excited to see me again since she aspires to be a doctor when she grows up. She asked me questions about the US and what it takes to be a doctor throughout the whole visit. At the end of the visit, she asked me if I wanted to have lunch with her family later that day.
Although I wasn’t able to join her because I was still supposed to be working at the clinic, the gratitude and affection displayed by the girl to me, a complete stranger, really touched me. Everybody I met in Guatemala was so open, happy, and grateful.
They were patient with my Spanish and never made me feel bad about not knowing the correct words or phrases. People always took time out of their day to say hello and ask what brought me to Guatemala. The people of Guatemala slowed down their lives so they could enjoy the small things and always welcomed everybody with an open heart.
What did you find most surprising?
Chrissie: Besides how open and loving the people were, I was extremely surprised about the gratitude the patients showed. Here in the United States, we take for granted the clean hospitals and top of the line machines that are used everyday.
In Guatemala, most cities don’t have big hospitals and they definitely don’t have any high tech machines. I was fortunate enough to visit the National Hospital with my doctor from the clinic. There, I was shown where they teach the medical students and got to explore their newest project, a library for the residents to do research in.
I was struck by how little they had, despite being a national hospital. They had a small closet space for their “library” filled with old journals, only in English, that people had donated. My biggest surprise was when they showed me the “new” x-ray machine they had just gotten. It wasn’t a computer like all hospitals in the United States have, it was a light box where slides could hang, something I hadn’t seen in the US in years.
Yet, the hospital was extremely excited for their new equipment and how much more they were going to be able to help the patients. I expected the poverty but I did not expect the gratitude and appreciation the people would have towards what little they were given.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Chrissie: This really has stuck with me and gave me a new perspective in the medical field. They have so little, yet both the patients and the doctors appreciate everything they have. I knew I wanted to be a doctor before I went, but going to Guatemala changed what I wanted to do once I became a doctor.
I now want to become completely fluent in Spanish and go back to Guatemala and be able to make a real difference, not as a volunteer but as an actual doctor. People are appreciative that you just traveled to the country but I want to do more than that. I really want to make a difference in at least some patients’ lives if possible.
What do you the miss the most about Guatemala or your experience?
Chrissie: Since coming back home, I’ve thought a lot about my trip to Guatemala. What I miss most about Guatemala are the people. The kindness and love they show to complete strangers is something that is hard to come by in the United States. They aren’t too busy to say hello as you pass by on the street. The people and their culture embraces you and its hard not to love Guatemala. I can’t wait until I can return!