Cultural Experience | Jamaica

Interning in Jamaica Changed my Life

Jamaica made me question my career path, discover the beauty in embracing the unknown, and sparked a new passion for travel

After I settled down as a Health Science major and studied diligently for two years, the time to choose a career path and complete an internship approached rather quickly. The counselor showed me some positions at the local hospital, but this was far from appealing since I grew up in my college town. Caldwell, Idaho was the last place I wanted to be, and at that moment, I decided to pursue an internship abroad.

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The Search Begins

The power to forge my own destiny was at my fingertips as I began searching for programs and positions online. I didn’t want to limit myself by choosing a specific location, so I decided to conduct a broad search. The results showed thousands of programs offering medical internships all over the world, and I was overwhelmed with excitement. After looking through dozens of  program descriptions for a couple weeks I finally decided on a six week unpaid nursing internship at a hospital in Jamaica through Projects Abroad.

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Island Time

Before I knew it I was on the plane and anxious to experience my first adventure outside the United States. After getting through customs, all I had to do was look for my driver who was supposed to be holding a Projects Abroad sign outside. Overwhelmed by 80% humidity, the sweaty search for my driver failed miserably. I lugged my bags over to a restaurant and anxiously waited for an hour and a half before he arrived.

This was my first time coming face to face with Jamaican “island time”, where being late isn’t impolite and life’s all about enjoying the moment with no stress. I tried my hardest to embrace this mentality as we drove like madmen for four hours on a narrow road littered with potholes to my host family’s home in Mandeville. Luckily we arrived safely and I was greeted by my host mom with traditional Jamaican curry, fried plantains, and rice with beans. Settling in the first night was easy, and I felt very comfortable until I was taken into town the next morning.

Culture Shock

The volunteer coordinators gave us a quick tour of the Mandeville City Center where we exchanged currency and got temporary phone plans while trying to memorize the layout of the town. My senses were overwhelmed by the energetic buzz of the city, colorful stone buildings, and noisy markets filled with exotic fruit and pushy vendors. Afterwards they brought us to the Percy Junor Hospital in Spalding where we would be working for the next couple of months.

The excitement from the city quickly wore off as soon as we stepped foot in the hospital. The building was in terrible shape and most of it was open to the outside, which meant no air conditioning and hoards of flies. The floors were uneven from broken tiles, and injured patients were waiting on dirty cots outside the two-bed emergency room.

Hello, culture shock. I was absolutely mind blown, and the fact that I was in a developing country and not a luxurious island paradise stared me straight in the face. I knew this when I decided to take the internship, but reality didn’t sink in until I experienced it firsthand at the hospital.

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The Work

Each volunteer was scheduled to work in a different department each week. We shadowed doctors and nurses, helped stock supplies, and socialized with the patients. Since I didn’t have a medical degree the only interaction I had with patients involved taking blood pressure, vitals, and conducting physical exams. The doctors were always willing to answer questions during rounds, which made for great learning experiences.

After settling in with the work at the hospital and interacting with a different culture for a few months, I gained a completely new perspective on life. I acquired gratitude for the small things in life, and felt like I was actually making a difference by giving back to the community with my help at the hospital.

 The Tables Turn

Going into this internship I expected to receive some grand inspiration that would fuel my passion to become a nurse and continue my education in the medical field. To my surprise, the absolute opposite happened. While I enjoyed my time volunteering at the hospital, I also realized that I wasn’t passionate about traditional medicine. Watching doctors write dozens of prescriptions each day without consulting on lifestyle changes made me think twice about the industry and how natural treatments could be more effective.

A Call to Travel

Jamaica made me question my career path, discover the beauty in embracing the unknown, and sparked a new passion for travel. After having extraordinary adventures during this trip, I knew that my next steps in life had to involve travel.  Instead of jumping right back into school after I got my Bachelor’s, I wanted to visit India and Thailand with plans to eventually study abroad.

From Me to You

If you’re thinking about traveling or interning abroad, I have some final advice to share with you. First, travel as light as possible and try to only pack a carry-on. I brought two huge suitcases and quickly realized that I didn’t need half of the stuff that I packed. Also remember to journal! It’s eye-opening to read about your experiences and how your perspective changes during the trip.

Be prepared to possibly hate your internship position, and have a backup plan. While I didn’t necessarily feel that way about my internship, I did realize about halfway through that I wasn’t going to pursue a career in nursing. Look into your volunteer program to see if there’s a secondary position you would want if your first choice doesn’t work out.

Finally, while you’re abroad take every opportunity that presents itself and don’t let your fears get in the way. Pushing your comfort zone is the best way to grow in life, so don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and take baby steps into the beauty of the unknown.


Bree Allen

The College of Idaho | 1 story

Bree is an aspiring travel blogger with a passion for exploring music festivals across the United States. Eventually she wants to study herbalism and incorporate that into nutritional counseling after traveling the world. Twitter handle: @BreeAllen11

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