Y-Lan Nguyen - 2015 Program Participant

Genghis Khans statue in Mongolia

At Genghis Khan's statue with my fellow intern, Satchel Tangonan, and my host family

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

As a life-long New Yorker I have grown up exposed to very diverse cultures, which only amplified my desire to travel abroad and see what else was out there. By applying to an international program, I hoped to gain an unforgettable experience that would teach me more about my place as a global citizen and what I could do to be involved in an increasingly interconnected world.

Why did you choose a medical internship in Mongolia with Project Abroad? 

I chose to apply for the Projects Abroad international medicine internship because I plan to pursue a career in medicine and was curious how healthcare systems in other countries worked. By applying to an international program that gave me the rare opportunity to work in a hospital abroad, I was getting everything I wanted. I got to learn more about global medicine while having the excitement of traveling to a different country.

What was your favorite part about Mongolia?

My favorite part about Mongolia has to be the people. It sounds a bit cliche, but I met some of the best people in Mongolia. I lived with a host family and they were incredibly welcoming and are still my pen pals to this day! My host family always included me in all of their activities from cooking to shopping to just hanging out with the family at parks. I also met some medical students at the hospital I worked at and because Mongolia's medical school learns terms in English, it was easy for us to communicate. Like my host family, they were very open and often asked us about our lives in America.

Shastin Central Hospital in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia

Standing in front of Shastin Central Hospital with my fellow intern, Satchel Tangonan

What characteristics of your program made it unique?

The program I participated was unique in two ways: being set in Mongolia and the amount of access to surgeries up-close. Mongolia's culture is an interesting mesh of western and eastern cultures. In one block, you could see trendy Western fashions and then an Eastern medicine clinic. Mongolia, known for its blue skies, also had a beautiful countryside to explore. Just an hour from the city, you could find majestic mountains and ancient monasteries.

In addition, because Mongolia sends students to medical school directly after high school, medical residents were around their early 20s. Therefore, as an undergraduate in the U.S. I was given the same access to surgeries and lectures as the medical residents. At one point, I was standing literally one foot from the incision in a cholecystectomy and the head surgeon was explaining every little movement to me. I would never be able to get such a close experience in the U.S.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff was very supportive. My main contact, Zoloo, gave us a quick orientation on Mongolia and its culture to ensure we settled into our host families easily. She was also very easy to contact by phone and helped us get whatever we needed from cash to car rentals. I could not thank her enough afterwards.

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

I wish I was able to stay in Mongolia longer. Since I was not eligible for financial aid, I could only afford two full weeks in Mongolia, which was not at all enough for me. While I had countless unforgettable adventures in Mongolia and developed a great relationship with my host family, that only made me want to stay around longer.

Describe a day in the life of your internship.

Since the hospital I worked at opened at 8 a.m., I had to wake up at around 6 a.m. every morning and catch the bus. A normal day at the hospital varied from day to day. Usually, I was able to see three to five different surgeries a day. Then, I would follow the nurse around who checked up on patients post surgery; she would check their wounds and replace their bandages.

For a couple days, we also did rounds with the doctors and medical residents when they checked up on certain patients with interesting cases for the medical residents to learn. The work day would then end around 5 p.m., at which point another intern and I would eat dinner with our host families and then go to a cultural performance or walk around the city for shopping.

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your placement?

My favorite activity was when a fellow intern and I hired a driver to drive us out the countryside where we got to ride with camels and play with eagles. We also hiked up a mountain to visit a monastery and the climbed Turtle Rock in Terelj National Park. The air outside of the city is so refreshing and the famous blue skies of Mongolia were on full display.
Camel riding in Mongolia

Riding a camel in the countryside of Mongolia

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

I stayed with a host family, which was the best part of my time abroad! It forces you to try communicating with people whose first language is not English and it is the fastest way to expose yourself to the local food and culture. Projects Abroad also promises that your accommodation includes a private room, so they recruit families that have a spare room for you. That way, no matter what you have a private area to yourself where you can safely put your belongings.

Now that you're home, how has interning abroad in Mongolia impacted your life?

My experience abroad has helped me better understand what I want to do with my career. While I have always dreamed of a career in medicine, I could never fully understand what that would entail. After my experience working in a hospital with the amount of access I had, which is rarely found in the U.S., I was able to draw a detailed path to what exactly I want to do.