Over the last ten years the University of Virginia Medical School has created a highly purposeful study abroad trip for its fourth year med students. UVa offers med students the opportunity to earn course credit toward their residency by working at the Haydom-Lutheran Hospital in rural Tanzania.
As part of our series Study Abroad with a Serious Purpose we interviewed Jessica Davis UVa ’12 because she studied abroad with the program this summer. We wanted to learn how a serious, purposeful study abroad trip like UVa in Tanzania influences the experience of traveling abroad. You can read Ms. Davis’s RateMyStudyAbroad.com review about UVa in Tanzania here.
RateMyStudyAbroad.com: Who are you?
Jessica Davis: I’m in my last year of medical school at the University of Virginia. That means I’ve had about a year and a half of clinical experience. And, next year, I’ll be a doctor somewhere. In other words, I’m finishing up my clinical training.
RateMyStudyAbroad.com: Where did you study abroad?
JD: Basically, I spent one month working in a hospital in rural Tanzania. I got credit for 4 weeks of clinical training for med school. Then, on the weekends, I got to do a little bit of traveling.
RateMyStudyAbroad.com: What was it like?
JD: I had never traveled before for a professional reason. I thought it was an awesome way to travel. We went somewhere where there weren’t many tourists and we didn’t feel like tourists. We quickly made friends with Tanzanian and Scandanavian folks working in the hospital as we worked and played together. I felt that working and immersing myself in the hospital and in the community made it easier to have an authentic experience of normal daily Tanzanian life than traveling strictly for pleasure.
RateMyStudyAbroad.com: How did having a serious study/work purpose make your trip different than a normal study abroad trip?
JD: I felt more grounded than on a trip taken strictly for pleasure and I felt that I worked into the daily life of the place more quickly than on a vacation. We ate the food that the hospital served like everyone else. I played volleyball daily with a group of nursing students that worked in the hospital. My weekend travels were guided by enterprising young men working at the hospital who took foreigners on weekend getaways as a way to supplement their income and network.
RateMyStudyAbroad.com: What skills did you learn?
JD: Working with people from different countries was a new skill I had to learn. Dealing with the patients from Tanzania was also a new skill. I feel like I had to learn to practice in an environment that’s very different from the United States, fewer treatment options and fewer diagnostic tools.
RateMyStudyAbroad.com: What cultural lessons did you learn?
JD: I feel like the Tanzanians have a very relaxed attitude. I was impressed because even under difficult conditions both the patients and doctors were much more relaxed than doctors in the US. They were very protective of us as foreign visitors. And they were obsessed with Obama!
RateMyStudyAbroad.com: What mistakes did you make and learn from?
JD: I began to trust my own judgment more. I think a mistake I made was not being more self-confident in the beginning. I knew more than I thought I knew. I also learned that it’s easy to come in and be very critical but that that doesn’t get you anywhere. Coming in for a month and saying “”you guys do this and this and this wrong” isn’t helpful. I had to figure out how to make chages and get them actually adapted.
RateMyStudyAbroad.com: Did you have a better abroad experience because you had a serious purpose to be there?
JD: Definitely. I learned more because there was a purpose behind my trip. You get more immersed with the people around you, because you’re put into contact with them in a natural way. It pushes you to get to know people and to learn more.
If you are a nursing or med student, or you are otherwise interested in a purposeful abroad trip to Haydom-Lutheran Hospital or Tanzania, you can read more about who to contact and Haydom-Lutheran’s application process here. You can also read our five student reviews about programs in Tanzania.
This article is part of an occasional RateMyStudyAbroad series called Go Abroad with a Serious Purpose. The series explores stories, opinions and interviews about purposeful study abroad trips that go beyond tourism and vacationing. The students and program administrators we meet and introduce to you in this series are what we call the “fur trappers” of the study abroad world: people who understand that having a serious outside reason to study, work or volunteer in a foreign country is the most powerful way to learn a language or to experience a culture. Read more about the series here.