Written by Afton Chavez, MD, PGY-1 at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Internal Medicine Program while on Global…
Written by Arielle Randolph, MD, PGY-3 at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Pediatrics Residency Program while on Global Health rotation at Cacha Medical Spanish Institute (Cachamsi) in Riobamba, Ecuador in August 2017.
My experience in Ecuador was a memorable one to say the least. I remember flying into the country ,after a brief layover in Bogota, Columbia, and being taken aback by the breathtaking landscape. Most striking were the clouds. At 10,000 ft elevation, it literally looked as if you could touch the sky. The clouds hovered barely above the ground. Interestingly enough, the weather was surprisingly similar to my home in California. Not too hot, but not quite cold either. There was a cool breeze as well. I immediately observed the warmness of the Ecuadorian people as I was welcomed into the hotel I stayed for a few nights prior to going to Riobamba. This warmness that I…
initially felt was nothing compared to the welcome I received from my beloved host family. Hilda and her husband Rodrigo each gave me huge smiles and tight hugs as I entered their house for the first time. They shouted greetings in Spanish. Normally I am very talkative, but my Spanish was borderline proficient at best making me a woman of few words. Despite my seemingly shy nature the Pantoja-Calle family (which included : Hilda, Rodrigo, Lorena, Angie (16), Lori (12), Daniel (10), and Mateo (9) ) always engaged
me in conversation. They even slowed down their speech when they could tell I have having a hard time understanding the language. That first day, I immediately thought of how many immigrants to the United States must feel when initially entering our country. I now realized how overwhelming being in a country where do not speak the native language fluently could be. Needless to say my Spanish speaking skills improved immensely by staying with the Pantoja family alone.
The next step of my adventure was working at the local government run clinic. Dr. Campos was a wonderful mentor a guide throughout this experience. On the first day, I was happy to learn that she was a general practitioner who happened to cater her practice towards children (obviously my favorite type of patients)! I was immediately thrown into action when she had me interview patients and their parents in Spanish on the first day. She also taught me how to guide a patient though the physical exam in Spanish. Needless to say, by the end of my time with Dr. Campos 3 weeks later, I was performing full neurologic exams and interviewing all the patients that she saw. I could not believe the amount of medical Spanish that I learned in such a short period of time.
Each day I would spend the morning in clinic with Dr. Campos followed by lunch at home and a brief siesta (a tradition which I am always trying to bring to the US). Every afternoon I would walk 20 minutes to Cachamsi; the educational center where my Spanish would grow the most! I was very fortunate in that I was the only student during the month of August. Thus, I was able to have one on one teaching with the one and only Pablo (AKA the greatest Spanish instructor ever). Pablo had a doctorate in linguistics, and thought about learning language in a way that had never occurred to me before. He stressed that being truly familiar with the culture and customs of a population was imperative when learning any language. He also challenged my abilities by constantly pushing me to the next level. Although the classes were tough, I can now see that I learned more Spanish in 3 weeks at Cachamsi than I did during 4 years of high school.
I will never forget my time in Ecuador; from the beautiful lands, to the warm and welcoming
people. I just hope that I have the opportunity to return in the near future. I would definitely recommend this global health experience to any medical professional!