Nepal simply took my breath away and I still dream about going back there one day.
I had done international volunteering once before, high school, to Morocco. But because that was through a school program, I wanted to try something a little more independent and adventurous. A university friend referred me to Projects Abroad who had gone the year before.
I honestly didn’t know anything about Nepal. I saw pretty photos prior, and that was it. I signed up for the program because I was pre-med in college and wanted a chance to see different perspectives of medicine, and Projects Abroad had a medicine program placed in Chitwan, Nepal.
The process before the trip was straightforward. The flight there was very long, a good two days worth, coming from the states. No problems, though. I was taken to Hotel Exelsior first, where I made my first friend in the program – we got to explore Kathmandu together! And then we embarked on the 6 hour bus ride to Chitwan.
Chitwan was HOT. I went in June for a month and it was right around monsoon season, temperature peaked at 120 degrees. This is something you simply get used to.
I could talk about how Nepal is great, but since this review is strictly about the program I was in, I’ll keep my points at that. The medicine program places you in a 5-day a week placement at the Chitwan Medical College, a teaching hospital. You are able to choose where you would like to volunteer. I choose pediatrics and emergency for the first two weeks, and then spent the rest of my time in the Operating Room since my main interest resides in surgery.
You are given a lot of independence in the program. With friends from the program, you learn together how to navigate the village until it becomes second nature. You get to the hospital, and it is your call to talk to the doctors and nurses or not. So this program is entirely what you make of it! You must be forward and vocal. Language barrier is no excuse, because all the staff I worked with could speak great English! The residents there would teach me about taking vitals, detecting symptoms for the various diseases and conditions, what its like doing rounds, what its like going through medical school in Nepal, etc. Beyond medicine, it is also a great opportunity to really share with each other about the cultural differences. If I wasn’t talking with the doctors, I was talking with the patients. I remember distinctly I had a lengthy two hour conversation with a patient about morality and the importance of philosophy, when I told them I was studying philosophy and medicine in school. This conversation holds great memory with me today.
The staff of Projects Abroad is SO friendly and incredibly kind. My host father was actually one of the leaders of the program in Nepal (Binod!) and he was so funny and friendly. In the few weeks I spent in Nepal, I felt so connected to everyone. I miss the program so much, would do anything to go back and relive it.
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Nepal simply took my breath away and I still dream about going back there one day.
My name is Hannah Elliott-Higgins and I am currently a junior studying psychology and art/art history at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. During my senior year of high school, I spent some time debating the idea of taking a gap year and volunteering before heading off to college but eventually decided against this idea as the excitement of starting college set in. However, half way through my sophomore year of college I began to think again about how wonderful it would be to be able to take some time to simple volunteer and experience the world through my own eyes and not through a strictly scholarly lens.
I worked with a gap year/semester coordinator to decided what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with children and if possible work with those with developmental disabilities. I was put in contact with Projects Abroad South Africa (Cape Town) and I could not be happier with the way everything went. From my first email contact with Projects Abroad I could tell it would be a wonderful experience. They were prompt to respond, answered every question I had, and provided me with all the information regarding my placement and living situation in a very timely manner.
During my time in Cape Town, I volunteered at the Sunrise Special Care Centre 5 days a week and had the weekends to myself. I absolutely loved the work, which consisted of basic occupational therapy and physical therapy as well as care taking. There was a bit of an age range with the majority of the children being between the ages of 6 and 14 and then a few young adults (early 20s). Everyone I worked with was kind and welcoming and spoke very highly of being there past Projects Abroad volunteers. Every week, I would meet with volunteers from other projects to talk with one of the volunteer coordinators from Projects Abroad. If there were any issues, they were always available to help out.
I lived with a host family who lived one street over from the Sunrise Special Care Centre and I cannot speak highly enough of them. They were wonderful and made me feel completely at home.They gave me and the two other volunteers I lived with breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the mother was a wonderful cook. I have certain dietary restrictions and they were wonderful about making accommodations for me.
Overall, this was an incredible experience for me and I would strongly recommend Projects Abroad for anyone who is looking to take a gap year, semester, or even just a few weeks off doing service work. It is an unforgettable time and I would do it over again in a heartbeat.
Almost two years ago, I decided that I wanted to do some sort of volunteer work in a foreign country. At the time, I was a pre-med student, so I settled on a medical internship. That was the easy part. After I decided what I wanted to do, I had to choose a program and a country. I googled something like "volunteering abroad," and one of the first sites to pop up was Projects Abroad. After exploring the site and reading reviews, I decided that the program was perfect for me! At this point, I had the two of the three parts needed to start my trip. I looked at the Projects Abroad map, and looked for the country that was farthest away from my home. That's how I settled on Nepal as my temporary home for a month.
I landed in Kathmandu, Nepal with an information packet and a list of contact numbers. My airport pick-up was arranged by Projects Abroad through the hotel that I would be staying at for the next couple of days. The next morning, I was met by one of the Projects Abroad coordinators, who went over my information packet with me and answered my questions. The coordinator was incredibly helpful and made me feel very comfortable.
The next morning, I boarded a bus to Chitwan, a small, rural town four hours away from Kathmandu. I was escorted by a Nepalese man employed by Projects Abroad. I was shocked when the bus finally stopped in the middle of nowhere--which turned out to be my final destination. I have to say I absolutely LOVED Chitwan, which was largely due to the amazing host family I stayed with. My host family consisted of a husband, wife, and their two sons. They were all so welcoming and helped me get used to my new surroundings.
Every morning, I walked about 8 minutes to a tuk tuk (rickshaw) stop, and rode it to the equivalent of main street in Chitwan. I then walked a short distance to the hospital where I had to opportunity to be assigned to a variety of departments. I learned a lot about how medicine is performed in Nepal and I even got to observe a few surgeries. I had an absolutely priceless and life-changing experience and I never once felt unsafe while in Nepal. Projects Abroad provided some amazing coordinators and staff who were on site to help guide me and the other amazing volunteers.
Volunteering abroad through Projects Abroad was one of the best decisions that I have made. This program was very helpful during my initial process of finding a program. They assisted me with all of my questions, helped me to navigate their website, and even held Skype informational meetings to answer all of my questions. I was able to have a contact through the organization who helped me with the registration process, and he even helped me with formulating ideas for raising funds, through sending me a packet of ideas. I was quite apprehensive at first, but the money that I spent on travelling and volunteering abroad was well utilized. I was shown and explained where all the money was going, and my room and board were covered within the expenses. I even had the option of having my flights arranged and the tickets purchased by Projects Abroad. Letting them take care of this detail of my travels took a lot of stress out of the planning process, and I was quite thankful that I left this detail in their handling. The paperwork process that needed to be completed before travelling and serving with children in an orphanage, was a bit complicated. It required much patience and a large amount of communication between myself and the representatives, but eventually, we figured out all that had to be accomplished before my arrival. Upon my arrival, I had three square meals a day, a great orientation process, and was picked up from the airport when I arrived. I was also dropped off at the airport when I departed, and this was wonderful because I did not have to worry about arranging a taxi for the three hour road trip from Bucharest to Brasov. My driver even assisted me with obtaining all of my luggage and helped me recover from the culture shock that I experienced upon my first international trip. During my time in Brasov, Romania, I was able to learn much about the people and my service site through my experiences. The memories that I made during my experience were formed significantly by the assistance and involvement by the employees of Projects Abroad. They even helped me to communicate with the other volunteers in the area and themselves by providing me with a cell phone and minutes during my time abroad. They also arranged group projects for us to do service together, as well as other social outings and gatherings. I could really feel their care for all of the volunteers during the four weeks that I spent in Romania, as they were always interested in our safety and comfort. They regularly checked in with all of the volunteers, and even assisted us in planning our outings around the country during the weekends. We were able to live independently, explore the area, and interact with the culture, but always had the support and encouragement of the Projects Abroad staff. I loved the time I spent in service and truly appreciated all of the structure that was available within that setting. There was plenty of room for myself to make my experience my own, and to invest in the lives of those that I served with and lived with. I have made lifelong friends through my time with the other volunteers also, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have traveled through Projects Abroad.
Projects Abroad was a great program, and I would highly recommend it especially for first time travelers and those that want to get credit at their university.
I had never traveled internationally, and Mongolia was a huge leap for me. Projects Abroad got me in their system quickly. After my first advisor was replaced (she was not that great), I had fantastic communication with them. My new advisor answered all my questions, no matter how ridiculous, and made sure that the in-country office was aware of my school forms that I needed to receive credit for my time abroad. My advisor even checked in with my by phone before my trip to make sure I had everything I needed.
Once I got to Mongolia, the in-country office made me feel welcomed and prepared for all that I was to experience, and their check-ins throughout my trip were really helpful. They made sure my placement organization and my host family were taking care of me, and that I was satisfied with how things were going.
One of my favorite parts of Projects Abroad is how well they connect volunteers with volunteers while in abroad. I quickly because a part of the community of volunteers living and working there, and this helped me immensely with my transition. It was great to have fellow English speakers to talk to and spend time with.
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