Katelyn Alvarez - 2015 Program Participant

Medical interns in Ourense, Spain

Ourense Group July 2015

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

Applying for an international program meant I got to the best of both worlds; I was able to combine my passion for traveling and my desire to participate in a hospital shadowing experience. I knew that participating in an international program would stretch me outside my comfort zone and give me the opportunity to become completely submerged within a new culture.

As a member of society, it is important for me to become culturally aware of worldwide values, beliefs, and perceptions. We learn to tolerate intercultural ambiguity and be aware of our own values and biases. As a cultural ambassador of the United States, my goal was to develop a more sophisticated way of looking at the world and to facilitate the knowledge I have gained over seas into my everyday practices.

Why did you choose Atlantis Project? 

I specifically chose Atlantis Project because it had everything I looked for in a hospital shadowing experience. I was able to observe many different specialties, I got to learn about the European healthcare system, and I was able to travel to different parts of Spain. I knew I wanted all of these qualities in a shadowing program and Atlantis Project had all of the above and more.

Spanish medical intern in her uniforms

Daily attire in the hospital

What was your favorite part about Ourense?

Without a doubt, my favorite part about the location was becoming part of the culture. With its old Spanish charm, Ourense is not a touristy location, meaning it gives you the opportunity to learn the language and the ways of the Spaniards. It was the kind of town where the locals would soon recognize you and greet you when you walk past their store. It was was the kind of town where you would come across the doctors taking an evening stroll with their families. It was the kind of town where you would easily become attached.

What was your favorite part of your program?

My favorite aspect of this program was that it was specifically tailored towards pre-health students. Not only did these students have an interest in healthcare, but they also had a passion for travel. Many other abroad programs specialize in other fields, such as business or education, but Atlantis Project solely focuses on giving their participants the best possible health care experience they need in order to prepare for their future careers.

How did the local staff support you during your program?

The local staff made this program exactly what it was: phenomenal. Both my coordinators, Alba and Serxio, were helpful beyond expectation and they were always willing to offer assistance. They were approachable and charismatic and, more than anything, amazing people to create life-long friendships with. Every Monday and Wednesday they would walk us to our proper hospital assignment, and every excursion day they organized the meals and tours. This program was highly organized and professional and I feel that it is mainly due to the incredible coordinators.

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

Honestly, I wish I documented my experiences daily. I was caught up in a new country, with new friends and new adventures that I forgot to journal my experiences. I forever remember what I did in Ourense but I can't exactly say that I remember the way I felt. To anyone reading this, I highly recommend keeping a journal and writing in it as much as you can. Your future self will thank you later.

Medical intern shadowing a surgery in Spain

My first day of shadowing

Describe what a day in the life of your program looked like. 

Around 6:30 a.m., I would wake up and get dressed in business-casual attire. I would go next door around 7:00 a.m. and eat breakfast with the Atlantis Project fellows, ordering my usual: Spanish tortilla, toast, yogurt, and fruit. I would start walking to the hospital no later than 7:40 a.m. (although there is the option to take the bus).

At 8:00 a.m., I began shadowing depending on where I was scheduled for the week. What happens between 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. can vary by specialty and by day. Some days are full of consultations while others are filled with surgeries. No matter the specialty or the day, the doctors always had something to teach you. After approximately five to six hours of shadowing, you had free time to do whatever you wanted. Sometimes Atlantis Project fellows and I would go out for some ice cream or relax by the natural hot springs near the Millennium Bridge.

What you did between 1:00 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. was your time, and more often than not, it was filled with adventures with other Atlantis Project fellows. On group dinner nights, everyone would meet up at 7:45 p.m. in the meeting room and walk together to dinner. After that, you had free time once again to enjoy the late evenings of Spain.

What was your favorite activity outside of your placement? 

My favorite activity was listening to the orchestra play every Thursday evening near the Plaza Mayor. It was really great to see the people of Ourense come together and feel like you were part of the community as well. Afterwards, my friends and I would go for an evening stroll down to the river and perhaps indulge in some tapas or dessert.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

In Ourense, we lived in a hotel in the middle of town in one of the plazas. It was great because there was always life all around you, no matter the time of day (except during siesta time, of course). I enjoyed staying in a hotel because room service would keep your space tidy and laundry service was included. There was also 24-hour desk service, so if you needed scissors at 3:00 a.m. in the morning they would be happy to oblige.

Orchestra playing near Plaza Mayor in Ourense, Spain

Thursday night orchestras in the plaza

Now that you're home, how would you say interning abroad has impacted your life?

Now that I am home, I have a hard time actually staying home. Ten days after my program ended, I hopped on a plane and settled in Costa Rica for a semester in order to complete my Spanish minor.

This experience has definitely broadened my horizons both as a student and as a global citizen. I’ve learned that the best way to experience culture is to live it.

I also learned that my view of the world is only as wide as my experiences and as long as I am immersing myself in new cultures, there will always be something new to learn. By participating in Atlantis Project, I gained an appreciation for the vast diversity that is dramatically increasing in the United States and have also developed a greater sense of independence and adaptability.