I left Sea-Tac around 9PM on Thursday night and arrived at the Tarija airport at 9AM on Saturday morning. The five of us who arrived together were picked up by the program’s medical director and we were then taken to our different homestays. After meeting our host mom and getting situated in our rooms, we began to unpack. Lunch was ready soon after and then we later went to the market. This day was a more “getting situated” kind of day.
On Sunday we met up with three of the other students and went to a local festival that was occuring in the park. We got to see some llamas before meeting up with the other two students at our orientation meeting with the medical director and the local coordinator. At this meeting we received local phones and our clinical assignments for the week. I was assigned to the Chagas clinic with a partner.
At the clinic we met with one of the doctors and completed a quiz on what we knew about Chagas disease, then we sat in on consultations. It was quite interesting to watch these patient-doctor interactions while also trying to keep up with the Spanish.
Afterwards we returned home for lunch and then walked to the main plaza to meet our Spanish teacher for our lessons. Later we went to eat dinner together and this became our general routine: clinic, lunch at home, Spanish class, and group dinner.
The rest of the week at the Chagas clinic was very interesting, I got to rotate between the three doctors, go into the lab, and also in the infirmary. I got to learn a lot about Chagas through observation and asking questions.
Our first weekend we were joined by one more student and the eight of us went on a wine tour visiting vineyards and learned about Tarija’s status as the “wine capital” of Bolivia. We also went to various museums/cultural locations in the city. We were then joined by the last two students.
The next week we were assigned to a more rural general clinic where we were able to see a variety of patients from newborns to elders, as well as a variety of procedures. Some that stood out was a birth control implantation, observing a sonogram, and a cleaning of 5 day old infant’s umbilical cord. We were also able to go out into the community some days and observe as vaccinations and vitamins were given to children and adults.
The first two weeks in Tarija have been an interesting experience, and overall I am really enjoying myself. It is interesting to see how different healthcare is here compared to at home and to also be immersed in a completely new culture. Being able to view this study abroad program through a medical lens has been amazing, but to also experience these cultural aspects, like visiting museums, eating at local restaurants, and trying to communicate in Spanish, has added another exciting perspective.