Alexa Mieses volunteers in Chile through VE Global.
My Experience Summary:
Over the summer I lived in Santiago, Chile for three months where I worked as a Needs-Analysis Fellow and Teacher's Aide with VE Global (VE). VE is a non-profit organization that places volunteers, free of charge, at institutions that help at-risk youth (i.e. community centers, schools and homes); VE also creates and implements educational programs for the children. I was not a traditional volunteer. Instead, I worked in the VE office part-time evaluating VE's programs and institutions, and volunteered part-time as a teacher's aide for autistic children at VE's partner school for children with special needs, Colegio Anakena. I had an opportunity to offer my suggestions for improvement to the Board of Directors, compose a blog entry for the VE website, and submit a grant for funding for VE.
Why I went:
In 2008, I was awarded the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship, a competitive fellowship awarded to promising undergraduates in New York City. The fellowship offers stipends to supplement three consecutive summer internships, the third of which may be spent abroad, as well as professional development seminars. I chose to spend my third and final Watson summer with VE because I wanted an opportunity to work with children, practice my Spanish, and totally immerse myself in another culture.
What I Learned:
Through my work with VE I learned about Chile's child welfare and education systems. As a result of living abroad for three months, I also learned about the health care system and had an opportunity to explore Chilean childhood obesity and sexual education issues. This knowledge will prove to be useful as I aspire to become a physician. I also grew on a personal level as I had an opportunity to improve my Spanish and meet new friends.
I will never forget my first day at Colegio Anakena. I was a bit nervous and felt very out of place. There I stood in a classroom of nine children, all of whom did not speak English. Additionally, it was the first time I had ever worked with children with special needs. The teacher did not speak English either and so I used my broken Spanish to communicate. I quickly learned that hand gestures helped-- a lot! I spent the rest of the afternoon using the hot glue gun for the children as that was the only thing both the teacher and I understood from one another-- not exactly the task for which I had hoped. Over the summer I became more confident in my Spanish as it improved was able to more easily communicate with the teacher and children. By the end of the summer I was leading lessons and assisting the children with their craft projects and homework. In the end, I felt comfortable enough to sit with the teacher and discuss life over a cup of tea. I had progressed by the end of the summer and returned to New York a changed person.
Advice For Others:
In order to succeed one must truly enjoy what he or she does. It is for this reason that a summer experience should truly interest a person. I completed a lot of great work with VE because I enjoyed what I was doing and was interested in learning. As a premedical student the position I held may not have been a traditional volunteer-in-a-hospital premedical internship, however, I learned invaluable lessons about the world that will serve me well as I go on to medical school in the future.
Jeannette K. Watson Website
My Blog Post for VE Global