Rachel Perez studies Kinesiology Pre-Physical Therapy at San Diego State University. In December 2021, Rachel interned on Intern Abroad HQ’s Physical Therapy internship in Costa Rica for 4 weeks, enabling her to gain valuable career experience in a cross-cultural setting. Here’s how she got on…
Settling into Costa Rican life with my host family
My experience was vastly different from what I had imagined prior to interning in Costa Rica. I thought that I would be alone and discovering Costa Rica independently, however, my host family welcomed me with open arms and took me to see so many different cities. We travelled to Cariari, El Tortuguero, Zarcero, and San Carlos - all within the first week! I could tell that my host family took care to ensure I could take in as much of Costa Rica as possible during my time on the internship.
I was grateful to have been placed with such a loving and caring family, as they made this transition so much easier for me. They showed me the best and fastest way to walk to my internship placement and they also took the time to help me understand Colones (the colón is the currency of Costa Rica). The most memorable moment during the first week was driving through the Braulio Carrillo National Park. It was so beautiful and lush that it quite literally took my breath away.
My role on the Physical Therapy internship
As a Physical Therapy intern, I took on a role similar to that of a physical therapy aide. I prepared treatment rooms for use, administered TechaTherm therapy to the patients, retrieved equipment and supplies for the physical therapists and observed physical therapy sessions, which enabled me to learn about different diagnoses, conditions, and modalities of treatment.
Key learnings from my Physical Therapy internship
Getting hands-on experience with administering TechaTherm therapy to the patients was a significant learning for me. This was something that hadn’t yet gained experience with, in my studies as a college student. So, having the physical therapist take the time to teach and guide me through the process was very beneficial to my experience as an intern.
I also got quite a bit of face-to-face interaction with patients throughout the day and I believe that learning to navigate different social situations in the workplace will greatly benefit me as a physician in the future.
I learned so much from the different procedures and protocols of this clinic, as it differed greatly from the clinics I have observed and volunteered at in the past. During my time here I was able to see how the therapists and staff navigated various situations and obstacles when it came to administrative tasks in the clinic.
How interning abroad develops a cross-cultural intelligence
From the start, I noticed that multiculturalism was greatly supported by my internship placement. Each staff member took great interest in learning where I am from, where my family is from, where I go to school, and how the school system works. They noticed that although I am from California, I have a Mexican accent when I speak Spanish. This sparked interest in the environment and culture I grew up in.
I felt extremely welcomed and accepted at my placement. They cared that I felt comfortable during my time working there and were genuinely interested in learning about my culture and background, as well as helping me learn about and acclimatize to theirs.
I grew up in a large and diverse family with backgrounds from Mexico, the United States, the Philippines and China. Growing up in this environment helped me to understand that coming from a culture different from those around you allows you to bring a new set of views to the table. These different views may have the power to change your perspective on a situation or change how you view it.
Overcoming challenges on my internship abroad
A challenge that I encountered at my internship placement was the language barrier. Although I grew up in a Spanish speaking household, I am not familiar with Spanish physical therapy terms.
However, after a few errors, fetching the wrong equipment for the therapist, I was able to get the hang of what equipment he was asking for was and what he wanted me to do around the office. I greatly appreciated the time and effort that he put into making sure that I learned from each session and understood how each aspect of the practice worked.
My advice for future Medical and Physical Therapy interns
I would recommend that future Medical and Physical Therapy interns complete a Spanish medical terminology course prior to starting the internship if they have not already done so. It didn’t occur to me until the first day of my internship, that the anatomical terms, names of equipment and modalities would be different because they would now be in Spanish.
I would also recommend that future interns get comfortable with asking questions and not to be afraid to politely ask both the therapists and the patients to repeat themselves. This will make your time interning so much more enjoyable, and you will be able to get the most out of every interaction.
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