Therapy Abroad is a unique program for undergraduate students interested in speech therapy and travelling abroad. In August, I had the privilege to go on the therapy abroad program to Belize. The two weeks flew by so fast, but it was a one-of-a-kind experience that I will forever cherish. Here are seven things that I learned from this amazing trip.
1. Observe carefully
We had the valuable opportunity to observe Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) that came along with us. The Community Based Rehab (CRB) gave me a chance to learn more about home therapy and screenings in Belize. I was surrounded by three SLPs with different experiences. Each person led their sessions differently and I took away something different each time. I took detailed notes of each child using the student observational guide that the SLPs had prepared. From practicing an oral motor screening to observing a bedside swallow, I made sure to note it down in my notebook.
2. Think fast!
Our group was responsible in leading a communication camp for kids with various disabilities. At the Behavioral Regulation station, I lead the group in the classic game, “Red light green light”. We had finished the activity earlier than I expected. Seven children (“little friends”) and nine of my colleagues (“big friends”) stood waiting. My mind raced and I yelled, “Instead of walking to the line, let’s hop!” The time flew when I altered the activity and introduced variations to the game. Having back-up plans under your sleeve is very handy. But when worse comes to worse, sometimes you need to think on the spot.
3. Be Flexible
No, I don’t mean being flexible like doing the splits (but that’s a pretty neat skill). It’s not the end of the world when things don’t go exactly as planned. We were told that the weather forecast predicted torrential rain and a storm. The Inspiration Centre was in a flood zone, which meant that communication camp was cancelled the next day. Instead, we went to a Physical Therapy clinic for more speech assessments and screenings. I didn’t mind the change of plans and I was happy to see that the other students agreed as well.
4. Cultural experiences
What would an abroad experience be without the cultural experiences? I was blown away when I visited the excavations of the Mayan Temples. Not to mention, I snorkeled in Belize’s Blue Hole, zip lined past a rain forest, and cave tubed through the Caves Branches River. There were countless opportunities for everyone to try something new. If you were daring enough to eat a termite, you had the chance! Get in a cage under a Jaguar? Sign me up. I also learned that the kids in Belize can definitely dance (play slow tornado and they’ll be shaking in no time).
5. Teamwork makes the dream work
As a Speech Language Pathologist, there will be countless opportunities to work with staff members, parents, etc. The SLPs on the trip worked together during the assessments. One speech therapist discussed strategies with the parent while the other interacted with the child.
The Inspiration Center is another example. From the doctor to the physical therapist to the speech therapist, everyone works as a cohesive unit in the same space. Our group had the chance to help out with the Inspiration Center’s annual Family Fun Day. It was a jam packed day full of games, activities, and music with the families. All the stations were split up and we all worked together to prepare everything. Teamwork was key to making sure everything ran smoothly and it proved to be a huge success!
6. Power of giving
Many families in Belize don’t have access to a speech therapist and most children are placed on a waitlist for speech therapy. Our “little friends” from the Communication Camp seemed to love us “big friends” – one child cried on our last day. I was delighted to offer my time to play with the kiddos while working on their speech.
Therapy abroad also announced a partnership with Pathlight. Each group that went on the trip to Belize sponsored one child to help go to high school. Most of the time, the families cannot afford to support their child for further education. It’s inspiring that Therapy Abroad is finding ways to give back and create sustainable change.
7. Dissect and self-reflect
After the day was over for our communication camp, we went around the circle to discuss our “glow and grow”. Our “glow” was a highlight that we had done well as an individual and group. The “grow” was an aspect that we need to work on next time. Although it was hard, the exercise made me contemplate about my strengths and weaknesses. From the start of the camp to the end, I saw massive improvement in everyone. After the trip, we all truly grew as individuals and professionals.
Author Bio: Lisa Nguyen is currently a Speech Sciences student at the University of British Columbia. She hopes to become a Speech Language Pathologist and help other students on the same path. Lisa is a budding blogger and you can find her blog at reachforthespeech.com.
Support Lisa’s participation in The Therapy Abroad Program: https://www.gofundme.com/belizeplease