In the final year of my degree, I was told I didn’t have many opportunities when it came to overseas study.
Even so, I took myself to my university’s Study Abroad Office. It just so happened that one of Work the World’s representatives was there.
We had a chat there and then. Within a week, I secured a place on Work the World’s programme in Arequipa, Peru.
I woke up to a call from the Work the World team on March 16th — my 21st birthday — confirming my placement. How’s that for a birthday present?
Travelling South America was always a goal of mine. The plan was to save some money after university and get there just as soon as I could. The Work the World team helped bring that distant dream forward into reality.
The Work the World team and I were in regular communication. They were always on time with scheduled phone calls, and checked in to ensure I had no concerns.
The team eased doubts I had about travelling to a developing country with an unfamiliar language. I couldn’t have felt more comfortable about the trip.
Work the World’s professionalism reassured my parents, who were (as parents tend to be) a little worried.
When I arrived in Arequipa, I was overwhelmed by its beauty. It was a vibrant, colourful city, ripe with culture.
I was surprised to find that when I arrived at the Work the World house, there were only three people there. It turned out that all the other housemates were away for the weekend on different trips. My apprehension turned to excitement, as I knew that would be me the following weekend!
Entering my bedroom for the first time, I saw a little note on my bed from my absent roommates. It was a little ‘G’day’ letting me know which bed to take, where to put my bags, and when they’d be back. I felt part of a little family and I couldn’t wait to meet everyone!
Monday morning came around and eight of us headed off to Work the World’s Intensive Spanish Course. I spoke very little Spanish before I arrived. I could point at an apple and say manzana, but that was about it. Not massively helpful in a hospital setting!
Even though we were a large group, we all had individual tutors. They stayed with us for the whole week.
My tutor became a good mate. I even ended up having coffee with him weeks after I’d finished the course.
My time at the hospital was amazing.
Every person I worked with was intrigued by the methods we used in Australia. They really wanted to learn about the differences between our two healthcare settings.
I was in the hospital’s physiotherapy department. My role there encompassed jobs which are normally separate in Australia. The local physiotherapists actually performed a few separate allied-health roles, such as occupational therapy and speech pathology.
The department was split into trauma (predominantly outpatient musculoskeletal cases), ward rounds, paediatrics, neurological, and speech pathology. I alternated between trauma and ward rounds, as these involved the most exercise programming.
For ward rounds, a doctor provided a list of patients in the morning. They outlined the type of therapy and exercises to focus on for each. I visited all wards, and patients conditions varied a lot.
Space for exercises was limited to patients’ beds and the area around them. There was no equipment available.
The trauma department needed the most exercise prescription as it predominantly saw outpatients. There, we used balance, stability, and resistance equipment. This allowed for more extensive programs (when compared to the hospital’s outpatient services).
I chose to focus on providing patient education within the hospital for my university project.
I observed that no patients undertook physical activity without supervision, and supervision was limited to what patients could afford.
With the assistance of my mentor, who was very interested in the role of exercise physiology in Australia, I began to advise patients how they could move independently.
For some, this was restricted to exercises in bed. But that was a large improvement from only moving every two or so days.
Like people in many Latin American countries, Peruvians were all about family. This was reflected within the hospital. Families surrounded many patients, providing a strong support network. They wanted to be directly involved with patient care.
We offered education to family members too. They learned how to assist with passive ROM, encouraging good mechanics (minimal use of walking aids), etc. Family compliance helped build patients’ confidence when undertaking exercises in between physio sessions.
On my final day in the hospital, I elected to go into surgery — a very rare opportunity for an Exercise Physiologist in Australia. In absolute awe, I observed a few routine surgeries. I was unbelievably grateful for the experience.
A few hours later, a pregnant mother was wheeled into theatre for a caesarean. Then it hit me; I was about to witness a birth, the start of a life. It was one of the most extraordinary things I’d ever seen.
Like any placement — whether in Australia or overseas — I got out what I put in. Local staff appreciated effort and enthusiasm. That was true of using Spanish, taking initiative with patients, or staying a few hours longer than everyone else.
During the first weekend, roughly half of the housemates (about 15 of us) travelled to Huacachina — a barren, but beautiful oasis near the Nazca lines.
Sand dunes and sunshine.
We drove around on dune buggies and went sandboarding until sunset. I managed to break my tailbone, but it was one of the best experiences and a must-do in Peru!
I had intended on travelling to Machu Picchu for my second weekend. But thanks to my injury I had to give it a miss. I spoke to the Work the World house team for somewhere close I could visit.
I ended up travelling to a small town called Corire, roughly three hours from Arequipa. I stayed with a family in a little Peruvian home in a charming valley.
The valley was staggeringly beautiful, and I ended up exploring the fields and waterfalls around the area.
I ate with the family who cooked traditional food for me. It was the authentic experience I’d hoped for.
Despite missing out on Machu Picchu, this little weekend trip was a highlight of my experience. It gave me a real appreciation for rural Peru, and time to reflect on everything I had done up until that point.
I cannot wait to go back to Peru. I am so grateful for Work the World providing my first little taste of South America. The experiences I had have not only informed my practice as a clinician, but also influenced my attitude toward life.
Adios Arequipa. For now.