Manjit Bhandal - 2015 Program Participant
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
I wanted to gain medical experience which is difficult to do in the States without being a licensed professional, as well as learn more about global public health issues.
Why did you choose a volunteer program in Peru?
Along with the beautiful destinations Peru has to offer, I was able to practice my Spanish and take advantage of the more personal patient experience smaller clinics in Peru have to offer.
What was your favorite part about Cusco?
My favorite part was the spectacular scenery. It is very different than California, which is where I grew up, and the mountains and lack of light pollution at night making the stars visible all added to Cusco's beauty.
In your opinion, what makes your program unique?
My program is very unique because not only did the homestay provide excellent accommodations for all the volunteers, but my placement allowed me to interact with the patients on my own, allowing me to grow as a medical student.
What surprised you most about Peru?
What surprised me the most about Peru was how modern it is, even in Cusco, which is a relatively small city. There are McDonalds, KFCs, and Starbucks in the city, along with all types of international foods, such as Indian, Italian, and of course, American.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
Having some Spanish background, it was not very difficult for me to communicate with the locals. With that being said, there were times where I really wished I had the ability to use Google translate. But it's part of the learning process, and my Spanish got better as a result of this trip!
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff gave great suggestions on food, currency exchange, and were very supportive when I wanted to take some time off to explore Peru.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish that I could have stayed longer! My trip was only for a week, and while it was great, I felt that another week would have offered me a chance to see more of Peru and experience more in the clinic.
Another view of Machu Picchu
Describe a day in the life of your program.
My day typically began around 6:30 a.m. with breakfast and a taxi to my placement. I began volunteering at 8 a.m. and finished around noon. Depending on the needs of the clinic, I either assisted in triage, gave injections, or helped in the lab. On my way home (also via taxi), I would get lunch with my friends from placement and then either explore Cusco city or head home and hang out with the volunteers in my house. We all ate dinner together and then went out to explore Cusco at night!
What did you like doing on your free time?
I loved hiking and traveling within Peru!
What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was in a volunteer home, which was excellent. It was very big, clean, and we had breakfast and dinner provided to us, which helped my budget quite a bit!
What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?
The hardest part about volunteering abroad is the uncertainty. I went alone so I was nervous about being in a foreign country without anyone to assist me. I do know some Spanish, however, I still did not feel 100 percent comfortable getting around alone. The good thing was I found many other volunteers like myself and this trip definitely reaffirmed my confidence to travel alone internationally.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Peru?
One thing I wish I had known about Peru before getting there was how cold it gets at night! While I packed sweatshirts and socks, I should have brought a jacket and some thicker socks. Also, I wish I had known that the currency exchange is extremely strict. Foreign currency that looks "old", is bent, has any markings on it or tears, is not accepted ANYWHERE. Bring pristine bills or just use the BCP bank ATMs to withdraw money.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
The biggest benefit of volunteering abroad, in my opinion, is being able to actually travel and see new places, alongside gaining meaningful experiences in your field of interest. Sometimes, as students and professionals, we have to set aside travel for leisure for the sake of academics or work. By volunteering abroad, you get to enjoy the area you're staying in, make a difference in the local community, and ultimately you learn more about the country because of your interactions with the locals. It’s a super win-win!
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Peru?
In terms of packing, I'd recommend to always bring sweaters, a jacket, warm socks, and hiking shoes to Peru (at least in the winter months, which is May to August there). Cusco especially has many hills and hiking shoes are a must. I'd also recommend bringing PRISTINE bills or just getting currency from the ATMs at BCP bank which is trustworthy.
Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad impacted your life?
The program gave me perspective into the daily lives of the Peruvian people and definitely helped encourage my Spanish skills. The humility I gained from this trip is definitely something that will resonate with me throughout my medical career, and I'm so thankful for being able to speak better Spanish now that I needed to speak it! Finally, this trip encouraged me to volunteer again and explore more places!
Would you recommend International Volunteer HQ to other aspiring volunteers?
I would DEFINITELY recommend IVHQ to other aspiring volunteers. IVHQ has very reasonable fees, excellent accommodations, and is all over the globe! Plus, the local team (at least in Cusco), was extremely supportive and it's hard to find that in volunteer programs.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
If I could volunteer abroad again (which I am planning on doing), I would go to Bali, Indonesia. I have been to Asia, but only to India, and I would like to discover more of that continent. Indonesia seems to be a great place to start!