Shad­owing doc­tors, dressing wounds and admin­is­tering antibi­otics on co-​​op at a public health clinic in Cusco, Peru, inspired North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dent Shane Smith to con­sider a new chal­lenge: med­ical school.

I would rec­om­mend inter­na­tional co-​​op to any stu­dent who’s not sure what field he wants to go into,” says Smith, a fourth-​​year bio­chem­istry major. “Immersing myself in a new cul­ture and lan­guage made me realize that I can do anything.”

Smith worked closely with doc­tors and low-​​income patients at Belem­pampa Health Center, in Cusco. He dressed the wounds of a 19-​​year-​​old patient who con­tracted a flesh-​​eating dis­ease from a sand fly; gave infor­ma­tional pre­sen­ta­tions on dis­eases, such as tuber­cu­losis; and orga­nized mater­nity rooms for obste­tri­cians. One doctor even taught him how to stitch a wound.

The expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity sparked his desire to give back by helping patients get well.

As Smith puts it, “I’m one of those people who worry about how others are being treated. Being able to help other people at the clinic was just another step in growing up.”

He wants to make vol­un­teering in Cen­tral America a rou­tine part of his life, and he’s not wasting any time.

Smith plans to do part of his next co-​​op in Costa Rica and Guatemala, where he fig­ures he’ll have a chance to work in a larger, more tech­no­log­i­cally advanced, hospital—an expe­ri­ence more akin to his first co-​​op at Brigham and Women’s Hos­pital in Boston, where Smith ana­lyzed blood sam­ples from heart attack survivors.

He says that working and living in Peru pre­pared him for what­ever a doctor or patient or local might ask of him.

I learned that I can adapt really well to my sur­round­ings,” says Smith, who notes that his Spanish-​​speaking skills improved greatly during his co-​​op in Cusco. “Being com­pletely immersed in some­thing is the only way to learn.”