I see the sun peeking behind the sand dunes in the distance, yet there’s still a hot, humid heat that overwhelms me as I step outside the Jose Chavez Airport. I frantically search amongst the sea of taxi drivers for one who holds my name. I finally find a little man, not more than 5 foot 3 who curiously shows all of the “gringas” his sign. We introduce each other and take off down the highway, which seems to be unusually overcrowded. Cars squeeze into the gaps between lanes, each one trying to get to their destination first. I gaze out the window as I try to take in every detail about my new home in Lima, Peru.
It’s been quite a wild adventure, my international nursing co-op to Lima, Peru. I chose Peru for its rich history and diverse culture, but I never imagined that I would fall in love with Peruvian life. At the clinic where I worked, the nurses took me in as one of their own. They saw how overwhelmed I was the first day, with all of the endless registration paper work for each patient and the chaos of the clinic. All of them reassured me I would be a pro in less than a week. And they were right. I was soon grabbing the medial records from the admissions counter and calling out to each patient to get their medical histories. At first, I was nervous about my Spanish-maybe they wouldn’t understand my accent, maybe they wouldn’t like a gringa talking to them about their personal information. All of my worries were soon put at ease when I realized that most of the patients were fascinated by me, especially my rare blonde hair and blues. “Pareces a una muñeca” they would tell me stroking my hair. “You look like a doll”. They would interrogate me about where I was from, had I tried ceviche yet, how I should marry their grandson and move in with them! I soon got the hang of the clinic life.
It was a great learning experience for me working directly with the community because my first coop had been at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center with a completely different patient population and different setting. I learned first-hand the importance of educating the public. What seemed to be obvious to me, like washing your hands after going to the bathroom or the importance of vaccinating children against diseases, was all new information for the people of Delicas. It was in these moments where I saw the essential need for nurses on a fundamental level. We are caregivers but most of all we are teachers, here to educate and prevent harm to our patients. As a nursing student, this co-op has opened my eyes to the possibilities my profession offers, whether that be on a global basis, or right in my hometown. I hope to return to Lima one day as a Registered Nurse and continue to treat, teach, and care for the local community.
Emma Castelli, Nursing