Abigail Bergdoll - 2017 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

At the time, I wanted to go to med school, and wanted to shadow doctors and go abroad at the same time because I love to travel. I found Love Volunteers, who are relatively inexpensive, so there I went! 
Why did you choose Love Volunteers’ program in Cambodia?

I chose Cambodia because I've always wanted to go to Southeast Asia, and Cambodia's reputation for being an incredibly joyful place, despite their tragic past, drew me. I chose the medical fellowship because, as stated above, I was pre-med and wanted to get more medical experience in a third-world country where medicine is very different than it is in the U.S.

Port in Koh Rong, Cambodia
Typical island fishing boats on Koh Rong

What was your favorite part about Phnom Penh?

I stayed in Phnom Penh, and though I have so many things I loved about it, the people and the food both stood out to me. There are probably five restaurants on every street, each better than the next. There are so many choices and it's so cheap. I loved just exploring all of the street food and different eateries. 

The people, however, really made the experience. They are very welcoming and will always try to help you. If they don't speak good English, they will find someone who does and continue to help you. I am a young female traveler and was usually by myself, and I never felt unsafe, even at night. I felt truly at home, and it was all because of the people! 

What made your experience abroad unique?

Everything about my experience was unique, but again, the people stood out. At the hospital, they were very accommodating and tried to make sure all of my questions were answered and I understood the procedures happening. They even taught me how to do IM and IV injections, and let me do them by myself! They were so fantastic! 

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff, specifically Sreng and Mey, were absolutely incredible and helped me plan weekend trips, sightseeing, and more. They made sure I knew how to get to my placement and felt safe, and organized tuk tuk rides for me when I needed them. They also accommodated by vegetarian diet, which isn't always easy in Southeast Asia.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

I wish I could have stayed longer! 

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

I would wake up around 6:30 a.m., eat breakfast, and then walk to hospital at 7:40 a.m., about 20-25 minutes away on foot. I would help wash the newborn babies that were in the hospital and then observe some procedures or deliveries. Then I would help give injections, and then walk home around 12 p.m. or 1 p.m., depending on the day. I would eat lunch at the guesthouse, then do some sightseeing or exploring; basically whatever I wanted! I would get home for dinner, or have it out, and hang out with the other volunteers. Sometimes they had movie nights, and sometimes we went out. Then bedtime, and do it all over again!

Russian Market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Shopping at the Russian Market in Phnom Penh (it's a must-see)

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I did a lot of sightseeing around Phnom Penh and took weekend trips to see Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, and Sihanoukville and the islands!

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I shared a room with two other girls who arrived the same day as me. We each got double beds and mosquito nets, as well as towels and personal fans. You can have AC, but you pay extra for it, and the fans were fine for us! I liked that the rooms were spacious. We got locked drawers and cabinets with our own key, and we each had a large bureau for our clothes. I also really liked the food they made us; we had three full meals a day. Although, I do suggest exploring other restaurants around Phnom Penh too! 

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Know that there is a language gap, but it is workable and many people speak at least a little English. Also, if you're planning on going, I suggest going for a large amount of time, as jet lag can be hard and you might as well use the time to really get to know the country. 

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

I'm already planning to go back! I fell in love with the country, and the medical aspect reinforced my love of medicine and my desire to eventually work in medicine. I also really would love to volunteer again later in life when I am fully trained in a medical field. 

Would you recommend your program and Love Volunteers to others? Why?

Most definitely! Love Volunteers can't be beat; they have a fantastic support system with a lot of people who really care about your experience. I can't say enough how much Kelly helped me and made me feel safe and supported!