Africa Co-Op Narratives

Job Title: Nursing Assistant or Friend?

Story by Caitlin Do

I had no idea what to expect when I landed in Cape Town.  The only pictures I had in my head were the ones I had found online, specifically of the hospital in which I’d be interning with, as well as the home that I’d be living in.  I couldn’t have expected nearly how truly incredible these two months would be.    

Months prior, three fellow nursing friends and I decided it was time to travel abroad. Unlike many of the other, heavily global majors here at Northeastern, nursing students have very limited exposure to studying abroad.  Eager to travel, my friends and I looked into international internships, which is where we found Connect 123, an organization that helps match students with internships across the globe.  

Through Connect 123, I found Maitland Cottage Home for Disabled Children, a government-funded hospital for children with orthopedic disabilities.  My previous co-ops had been at highly ranked Boston hospitals, which had prepared me to work in various hospital environments.  However, unlike the American hospital services I had grown accustomed to, it was a truly eye opening experience to work with a hospital in a developing country.  Maitland was incredibly under resourced, which became shockingly apparent within my first few days.

Although my official title at the hospital was Nursing Assistant, I found myself taking on much more valuable role: friend.  During my time at Maitland, I grew close to many of the children, and cherish the fact that I was able to be that pillar of support for them.  Although there are many differences between South Africa and America, such as the language, the hospital protocol, and even simple things like greeting someone in the morning, the one thing that’s the same anywhere you go is relationships. The bonds I made with these children were incredible. They didn’t know why I was a different color than them or why we spoke different languages, but those differences didn’t diminish the love and appreciation they had for me.  I loved knowing that I could make a difference in these kids’ lives and that I could be the reason they smiled after various surgeries. Similarly valuable were the bonds I made with others throughout my travels, from the tour guides, to the hospital staff, to the cab drivers… they were all unforgettable, because they were all part of my global experience.

Living in South Africa gave me the opportunity to explore the lifestyles of those who live continents away from me.  Although you can learn about lifestyles, cultures and histories other than your own from reading textbooks, you can’t truly develop an understanding until you physically move and experience it first hand.  From bungee jumping and shark cage diving on the weekends, to the endless failed searches for iced coffee, I returned to America with a heavy heart of memories and the best learning experience that I know will never go forgotten.   

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