Taking a break abroad

This spring break, while many students take a breather from classes, some Gamecocks will be getting hands-on health care experience, helping rural villagers and getting a taste for world travel. The service-learning trip to Belize promises to be a life-changing experience for the 24 students. 

One of 10 study abroad class trips during the weeklong break, “Service learning in Belize, health care in developing countries, will give students a firsthand look at how a health care system works, the a taste of health care global systems for pre-med or pre-pharmacy students, says Eileen Korpita, director of pre-professional advising and host for the trip. 

The students will observe doctors working in rural villages in the Central American country, from finding patients to taking medical histories and watching diagnoses to distributing prescriptions. 

“It gives them a great observational experience for health care. They see a lot more in one week than they have the opportunity to see in the United States typically,” she says. 

Back home, it can be difficult for students, especially undergraduates, to get this kind of hands-on experience and shadowing opportunities because of health care privacy laws. Although a trip like this isn’t going to make a break someone’s decision to go to medical school, it does provide an opportunity to expand students' exposure to health care and see doctor-patient interaction. 

“Most of these students are going to Belize because they are going to see patients from start to finish,” Korpita says. “We try to make sure students know what they are getting into with medical school, that they know what they need to do to be competitive and that they have the opportunities that they need to be competitive. This is one of those opportunities.” 

The trip is more than just health care and patients, though. For many students, it’s a chance to travel, see new cultures and different ways of living. 

“The thing I am looking forward to the most about this trip is getting to interact with individuals of a different culture who may understand their health and sicknesses in different ways than our own,” says Alex Radke, a senior anthropology and biology double major. “I am fascinated with how people conceptualize their diseases and how they understand them in ways that are different than the ways we do in the United States. It will also be a pleasure to experience their culture and experience the different ways in which they live to try and get a better understanding of how people live all around the world.” 

Radke, who hopes to work in health care and travel as a part of his career, says he thinks the trip will give him medical experience in global health and help him grow. 

“I wanted to be able to travel to a new place, live on the edge of my comfort zone and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity while I had a chance to do it,” he says. 

The program, in its third year at Carolina, has a big impact on the students, Korpita says. 

“The biggest impact is that they’ve never seen living conditions like that. I think that’s a stark reality to them,” she says. “That’s what I hear them talk about the most.”  

Alysia Washington, a senior psychology and biology major, went on the trip last spring break to Costa Rica, and she knew she had to return.

“I’m excited about having the experience of being able to give health care to people who haven’t had access to health care for years. It’s nice to be their support,” says Washington, who hopes to go to medical school. “The people, they just need something, and I like how we were able to be a little bit of something for them.” 

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For more information about study abroad opportunities, see the Office of Study Abroad's website. The Office of Pre-Professional Advising provides undergraduate students with the competitive edge in gaining admission to law school, medical school and other health related institutions. The office also offers a Maymester study abroad course for pre-law students. 

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