Looking to enhance your Spanish and gain practical experience assisting local therapists with complex treatments? Then a Physical Therapy internship in Guatemala is ideal for you! If you’re a student or recent graduate, physiotherapy internships in Guatemala offer placements in local clinics, treating diverse local populations. Read on to see how Thomas found his internship abroad and how you could have a similar experience of your own!
Hi Thomas! Why were you motivated to intern abroad?
My main motivation behind doing an internship abroad was to immersive myself in a culture that was vastly different that the one I am used to, to improve upon my Spanish, and to contribute and share the knowledge and experience I have within my work field with other countries.
Learning about different cultures and languages has always been a passion of mine and I am very open to new experiences, people, and changes. Going forward in my career, I want to be able to integrate a bit of every different culture I have experienced and transfer this onto the way I treat my patients, as well as to have a better understanding and communication with others, especially with those of different cultural backgrounds.
How did you find settling into your new environment in Guatemala?
I have to admit, when I first arrived in Guatemala, I was quite overwhelmed by all the changes. The weather, culture, food, architecture, infrastructure, language, jetlag, my new “home”, left me feeling a bit nervous. However, after spending just a week in my new environment, I definitely felt a lot more comfortable in every aspect.
My host family was extremely kind and caring, they made me feel at home immediately and accommodated me to their fullest capacity. The patients and colleagues at my placement were also incredibly supportive and kind. They bought me snacks I liked, shared their culture, and helped me in any way they could so that I would feel welcome in the country I would be staying for the coming months.
I learnt quickly that all it takes is a little bit of time and space to let yourself adjust.
Tell us about your Physical Therapy internship role - what did it involve?
I was placed in a clinic aimed at rehabilitating, preventing injuries, and maximizing the physical function of its patients. The patients were anyone in need, of any age group, profession, function, or ethnicity. My internship role involved treating conditions related to vertebrae as well as the upper and lower extremity with manual and exercise therapy. I also assisted with patient evaluations, treatment, follow-ups, research and knowledge exchange through classes and weekend courses.
This experience not only improved my understanding and capabilities as a physical therapist, but also my communication skills. In addition, the clinic worked with advanced technology, like pressure plates and iso-inertial YoYo machines that worked with eccentric overload, which was very educative.
How has this internship helped progress your career goals?
It has been great learning from the different cultures, improving my language skills and understanding people’s struggles as well as their highlights and achievements. It has definitely broadened my view of the world and made me appreciate the comforts I enjoy back home.
In addition, it made me cherish the small and simple things and the importance of spending quality time together with friends and family. As I see myself working abroad, learning from different cultures and in return, teaching them about mine, is incredibly relevant.
What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
During my internship I had the opportunity to evaluate and treat patients by myself. I was unsure if my Spanish capabilities were good enough, however, it went really well! What I initially saw as a challenge actually resulted in a better patient-therapist relationship. I learnt a lot more information about the patient, their condition, how it started, and what they do for work. Being able to just talk and listen made both of us more confident and comfortable with my capabilities.
Because the patients come to the physical therapists straight away, I was able to see certain conditions that I have never seen before in Belgium. Like patients with chronic tendon ruptures, subacute dislocations, acute fractures, and more. These encounters were kind of terrifying but very interesting at the same time. Figuring out what to do, working with support from my local physiotherapy colleagues, I was able to recommend treatment methods. It was definitely an amazing experience, which made me realize how much knowledge I actually possess.
What was one of your biggest takeaways from the internship?
My professional takeaway has been that the internship taught me quite a lot regarding the operation of an organization. Not only is there the “face” of the organization (the reception, the physical therapists, the facility), but also the work behind the scenes (photos taken, publications made, maintaining social media profile). This is all done by employees, lawyers that make and revise the contracts, human resources employees that inform physios regarding their contracts, and how to treat the patients in the best manner. The organization revolves heavily around all of these different disciplines working, functioning and being present like a well-oiled machine.
My personal takeaways have been that humans truly are very adaptable. No matter where you go and what your cultural background or ethnicity is, you can find a home and adapt to a different lifestyle anywhere in the world, even if it initially feels hard. You can find family and friends in all parts of the world and I know the friends and the family I have made here will last a lifetime, which is something I am so grateful for.
Why do you recommend that interns choose Guatemala?
When I was first looking for an internship abroad in a Spanish speaking country, my first thought was “Mexico”! However, searching online I came across this program in Guatemala. My knowledge about Guatemala was very limited, but soon I started doing some research and fell in love with what I saw.
Guatemala is such a beautiful, diverse and (in my opinion) underrated country. It has mountains, beaches, volcanoes, jungles, lakes and more! I have absolutely loved traveling around this country and getting to know all its beautiful locations. From the amazing ancient ruins of Tikal, to hiking the active Fuego volcano, to relaxing at Playa Blanca with some coconut juice, to trekking through the jungle to reach the beautiful Semuc Champey. Guatemala has everything to offer.
To me, Guatemala is so unique in that sense that a vast majority of the country still practice the Mayan culture, use the typical Mayan clothing, and even speak the Mayan language (with a total of 23 different ones!).
In addition, the people are so so kind, generous and grateful. They always tried to help whenever they could and always treated me with the utmost respect.
I never felt unsafe in Guatemala either, I believe the country mainly receives a bad reputation from some of the areas in the capital that should be avoided. Nothing bad ever happened to me during my 5-month stay and even while looking like an absolute foreigner with my blonde hair and blue eyes, the people always treated me very fairly and never scammed me.
An example of the kindness I experienced from the people in Guatemala is when I lost my air pods while traveling to Semuc Champey during the last days of my stay. A McDonalds employee found them, and she was so kind to send them to me by mail.
I fully recommend everyone to travel to Guatemala to experience its culture, beauty, and people firsthand.
Do you have any other travel tips you can share with future interns?
Sure! Traveling to the main tourist places in Guatemala is pretty easy. Depending on your placement, there are always busses from the Litegua company (with are bit cheaper but might take a bit longer) as well as shuttles from Roadrunner (a little more pricey but faster and potentially more comfortable) to travel from one tourist hub to another, with Antigua Guatemala and la Ciudad Guatemala being the “main hubs”.
If, like me, you are placed in a little village outside of the touristy areas, your other option is to travel by camioneta or “chicken bus”. These are very cheap options, though they need to be taken with a certain risk. It is definitely an interesting experience to travel on one of these, however caution must be held for pickpockets and occasional robberies or accidents (however rare these may be!)
The weekends are always free to travel and some destinations I recommend are the following:
- Antigua and the volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango
- Lake Atitlán and the surrounding villages of San Juan, San Pedro and San Marcos La Laguna.
- Tikal and Flores, Semuc Champey, Rio Dulce and Livingston.
- And finally, El Paredón to go surfing!
What advice would you give to others considering an internship abroad?
I would advise all future interns to keep their mind open. A willingness to learn and an openness to change are essential when working in a culturally diverse setting. Not only will the locals appreciate your efforts, but it will also develop your own character and teach you about yourself. If in doubt, stop thinking about it and just do it!
I can say with 100% certainty that I deeply appreciate and cherish the experience I have had in Guatemala. It has made me come face-to-face with myself and it has showed myself how resilient I truly am.
It has made me find a new family on the other side of the world. My internship abroad in Guatemala has been an amazing experience from start to finish and I would do it all over in a heartbeat.
Ready to start planning your own internship abroad? Here’s how to started!
Our step-by-step guide on how it works provides you with more information on how to get started. The process is user friendly - just submit your application to get started. It doesn’t cost anything to apply and won’t take more than 5 minutes. However, your formal expression of interest provides the foundation for us to help you take the next steps.