UB Physician Assistant Students Reap the Benefits of Cultural Immersion in Peru
From January 19-26, 10 UB Physician Assistant students traveled to Cusco, Peru for an eye-opening learning experience. Under the oversight of Adjunct Professor Dr. Monica Lockwood, they undertook this trip as part of an optional educational lab that would lay foundations for capstone course projects, a part of their final semester before clinicals that is now underway.
In Peru they visited several orphanages, women’s shelters and a more remote town, where they conducted sessions focused on health and wellness. They covered topics ranging from hygiene to exercise.
They also brought a variety of donated items with them, which they had gathered from generous sources from within the University and around the Bridgeport community. This included mannequins for learning CPR, donated by St. Vincent’s Medical Center, reading glasses and sunglasses from Americares, a local not-for-profit, and athletic clothing for the children, from a local businessman. The students also started a GoFundMe page through which they raised money that went exclusively toward purchasing medical supplies, such as blood pressure cups, stethoscopes and more.
As the students prepare to practice in their field, this experience working with people from another culture, and in another country, was invaluably beneficial. Skylar Miers emphasized the meaningful experience of confronting “the challenges that arise with a language barrier.” Kelly Hafers embraced the opportunity “to learn how to adapt to new situations.”
All the students stayed with local host families, providing further immersion into Peruvian culture.
Scott Runner, UB’s director of study abroad who was intimately involved in preparations, spoke about the benefits of international experience: “Studying abroad is an amazing way for students to grow personally and professionally. Through it they learn, engage and adapt in diverse situations, equipping them with intercultural skills necessary to make them leaders in today’s job market.”
Lockwood emphasized the relevance of this trip to medical practice: “By immersing yourself in other cultures you learn how to treat a wider range of people properly.”
The trip was beneficial for both the students and those they visited. Recalling their visit to a girl’s orphanage, Benjamin Contreras said, “They welcomed us with open arms, and that was the most rewarding part of the trip for me. I would definitively go again.”
For each of the eight days in Peru, Naomi Lowe maintained a brief journal of highlights. It is a pleasure to share it here below.
On day one we arrived in Cusco and were greeted enthusiastically by the local organization we were collaborating with. Our homestay families were also present to greet us. After settling into our homestays we journeyed into town and had a great tour of the historical sights of the city. We were then treated to a gorgeous bus ride up into the mountains that overlooked the city. There we explored some Incan sights like Sacsayhuamán and partook in a ritual with a shaman to praise the mountains and the Earth and bring us good fortune. After this beautiful and exciting tour, we returned to our homestay to have a traditional Peruvian dinner with our host families.
On day two we began our first day of work in Cusco. We visited a Catholic girls orphanage and were met by a swarm of hugs and kisses from all the girls that lived there. Our mission was to educate them about health and wellness. We covered topics such as good oral hygiene, basic disease prevention, basic first aid care, CPR and choking protocols, and a nutrition class to name a few. After lunch we finished the day with some fun stretching, exercise, and dancing to keep the girls entertained and thinking about their physical health.
On day three we visited a boys orphanage. It more challenging for us as the children were less engaged in the learning and really just wanted to play. We overcame the challenges by keeping the segments short and to the point, and by giving the boys regular breaks to play. At the end of the day I know the boys and their teachers learned really valuable lessons on how to keep themselves and those around them healthy and safe. This day was also very special to us as we got to meet a small group of teenage girls that were rescued from some very unfortunate life circumstances. These girls were incredibly kind and caring, despite what they had been through. They had so many questions for us and were very receptive to learning, and some even said they had plans to attend nursing school. I really hope we made a positive impact on the girls and inspired them to pursue health and wellness despite their obstacles in life.
On day four we journeyed a little further out of town to work at a women’s shelter. This was one of my most memorable days because we met many mothers and their children. The educational sessions on this day felt extra important because the moms really wanted to learn as much as possible to keep their babies healthy. They had so many questions about tooth brushing, CPR/choking, and first aid. It felt so rewarding to help these women by teaching them skills that they can use for many years to watch their children grow up healthily. We also spent time focusing on the mothers by fitting them with reading glasses and teaching them exercises and stretches for back pain.
On day five we visited another girls orphanage. Like previous days, we conducted our educational sessions and spent quality time with the kids. The director of the program was very thankful to us for providing the girls with a memorable day. They got to laugh and play a little more than usual, and hopefully learned something about health and wellness in the process. This evening all of our host families came together for one big dinner. It was lovely to meet all the people that were supporting us and taking care of us during our stay. The people we met could not have been nicer!
On day six, our last day of work, we travelled high into the mountains, and far from the city, to visit a small community. These people were mostly farmers who lived simply. We had another great response from the adults who were very interested to learn and practice what we were teaching. Unfortunately, many of them had experienced dental problems, back pain and choking incidents, so they were very receptive to all of the information we presented. At the end of the day, they gifted us with some of their harvest, including potatoes and beautiful flowers. For dinner that night, we went into Cusco and indulged in traditional Peruvian foods like guinea pig, alpaca, and trout.
On day seven we got up at 4 a.m. to begin our adventure to Machu Picchu! After three bus rides and a train ride, we made it to the sacred Inca ruins. Machu Picchu is incredible. Even the best cameras in the world wouldn’t capture this beautiful space. It is truly something you have to experience with your own eyes. We had a wonderful tour guide who taught us a lot about the Incan Empire.
Day eight was our final day in Cusco. We had no itinerary so we got to do some exploring. We went to the markets to admire and purchase some beautiful alpaca blankets and sweaters, handmade jewelry and woodcarvings, and so much more. After spending most of our Soles (the Peruvian currency) in the market, we had an unforgettable lunch. It was hard to say whether the food or the view from the restaurant was better—both were spectacular! We were really lucky to have beautiful, sunny weather to enjoy our last hours in Cusco before the bus came to pick us up, making the beginning of our journey back to America.