Advice From Past Global Impact Fellows

When Global Impact Fellows return from abroad, they submit "advice for future participants." Included below is a selection of advice from recently returned Global Impact Fellows.

Preparation

"I think future Global Impact Fellows should seriously study the training modules so that they have a firm understanding of international travel details before they leave. There is wealth of information in those modules, and if taken seriously they provide the volunteer with all of the intellectual knowledge necessary to prepare. That knowledge is the foundation for the experiences a volunteer will have on site."

"Please do take the training seriously. While I was doing the training online, I felt like it was too much and wondered why we must learn so much extensive material. But when I got to Ghana, I really appreciated learning all of the things in the training modules because they seemed to be really helpful to me when I was there."

"Give yourself enough time to go through the training. It's good stuff that shouldn't be rushed at all."

"As soon as you know you are accepted, begin to work through the training modules. They are full of extremely helpful information, and you will get much more out of them if you actually have the time to read through them and process all of the information."

"My advice is to take advantage of the online training courses, and to research the local culture prior to their trip."

"Future Global Impact Fellows: Go prepared! Be ready to immerse yourself into the program because then you will give and get back all that you can. It truly is an experience that you will look back on for the rest of your life. Don't take a second for granted!"

"I liked the preparation that we were made to do, completing all the courses on eye health and global health, because I think it helped me understand a lot that was going on at the hospital."

"There is much that one needs to be prepared for before one can truly understand and appreciate the experience."

"Expect the unexpected. A thing that I never like to forget about traveling is that you can never learn enough before you go to a new country."

"Review the learning materials, especially concerning cultural norms, the environment, the Volunteer Manual, and information about how to conduct visual acuity, etc. immediately prior to departure."

"My advice would be to get through the Global Impact Training early so that they are prepared and have plenty of time to get all of the materials completed. Also the Online Course is very helpful to getting to know the human eye. The staff will talk to you about the eye and in order to know what they are talking about, it is important to know the names of the structures to keep up and avoid them having to explain the structures as well."

"Take the training seriously and do it WAY ahead of time or else you may become piled with work to do."

Advice While Abroad

"Engage yourself deeply in the program. The more you do, the more you'll get from it."

"I realized the importance of volunteers being prepared. I also see that it is important for them to be kind and polite in order to preserve trust relationships."

"Make the most of your experience.  Not many people have the opportunity to do what you're doing and it is up to you to ensure that you get what you want out of it."

"My main advice for future volunteers is to remain open minded above all. In light of the language and cultural barriers it can be hard to understand what is going on at all times. Rather than rush to jump to conclusions, try to leave some time and space for uncertainty. Secondly, make an effort to actively look for things to do that you may not have considered. For example, you can clean out the boxes with the glasses. Finally, always keep the bottom line in mind: the patients. Make a conscious effort to revisit these questions on a daily basis: how did my presence impact patient barriers to care? Could my behavior in any way have alienated community members and made them less comfortable seeking services? Did I observe any new barriers to care that I personally could have done something about?"

"Try to make time to really get to know people, from the other team members to the patients. It will enrich your experience immeasurably."

"Prepare as much as you can, but also remember to remain flexible and open as it is impossible to be completely preparaed for everything you will encounter. That is part of the beauty of living and working in a foreign country."

"Be open minded and willing to immerse yourself in the culture of whichever country you are in. There is a great deal to be learned from not only doing something on your own, but from the local community members."

"My biggest piece of advice is not to be afraid to try something new! You'll have all the time in the world to eat pizza and cheeseburgers when you're back home so try all the food at least once. Also, the locals were EXTREMELY friendly so don't be afraid to stop and chat with them! Overall, keep an open mind and try to get the most out of your time there."

"My advice for future fellows would be to come prepared with an open mind and a lot of energy to work hard.  I would advise keeping a journal or other means of chronicaling one's trip as all of the experiences are quite overwhelming and take time to fully process.  I would recommend bringing pictures or other items to share with the other program participants (nurses, staff, etc.) and children there, as they love learning about us as much as we enjoy learning about them.  I would over-pack on the insect repellent, as many volunteers ran out by the end of the trip.  I would bring a small, pocket notebook in which you could record phrases you learned and for making diagrams when trying to explain things to people...I learned that language barriers do not equate to communication barriers if you are creative and outgoing.  I learned that they can do tremendous things with the scarce money and materials they possess, which I could implement in my own life."

"I would emphasize that every volunteer come with an attitude towards learning, not just about ophthalmology and global health, but also about Ghana.  Volunteers have a great opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture that is quite different from our own, but to really make the best of it you have to be willing to roll with what is going on and be willing to take yourself out of your comfort zone.  Definitely try, as this aspect is just as interesting and important as the medically related stuff."

"I learned that none of these patients can be ignored.  I learned this from the nurses that work so hard to make sure that everyone is seen no matter how long we have been on an outreach."

"The only advice I have would be to really appreciate this opportunity and to embrace it."

"Participating with Unite For Sight, I learned that every one can help others.  It is how to help.  Some people can donate, some can help with supporting doctors in providing eye care. Every one can help!"

"My advice to future volunteers is to keep an open mind at all times and to take in as much as you can from the culture. The time you spend there goes extremely fast so make sure you utilize everyday to the best of your ability. I would also advise to keep a journal and write in it daily as to remember your experience to the fullest when you return. It also makes it easier to tell others about what you did/saw."

"Future fellows need to go with an open mind. Time schedules are irrelevant in Ghana."

"Be very socially and culturally aware - it is far too easy to come off as ignorant and disrespectful and the quality of your experience may be significantly diminished if this is how you are percieved. This was well documented in the preparatory materials but not everyone took it to heart."

"The more you speak to the doctors and nurses, the more knowledge you will obtain."

"Be ready to work hard, but to work hard with good people who are very dedicated and motivated people, ready to make sure you love your trip to Ghana. Ask questions to them."

"Remembering to be flexible, with an open mind and a willing spirit goes a long way, especially when unexpected circumstances or situations can arise. (Rains storms, traffic, language-barriers)"

"Definitely go with an open mind. Trying new things such as the food is a way to truly get a know a new culture. If one goes with a closed and/or ethnocnetric viewpoint, they will surely not get anything out of the experience."

"My advice would be to make the most of each experience. Sometimes people may be concerned to try new food or cultural experiences, but jumping in and experiencing it fully is such an enriching experience."

"There is not only one way to look at things. Patience is a virtue. I learned that you have to have an open mind and accept different cultures. "

"My advice is to go into this experience with an open mind, and to above all, remain flexible.  Flexibility allows for both an enjoyable and rewarding experience."

"Most importantly, go in with an open mind.  Let go of all of your expectations and preconceptions.  Don't be afraid to ask questions, to strike up a conversation with a local, or to try some new food.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it will be wasted if you try to mold the trip to your own expectations."

"Probably the biggest lesson learned in Ghana was to be patient. The time scale and way things operate is completely different than the time schedule we have in the U.S. A volunteer just has to relax and be ok with being late. Traffic is responsible for this a large amount of the time, but other times we would just take random side trips, drop-offs, or pick-ups. I've learned that to appreciate the place, the people, and the situation, I had to modify my personal lifestyle and adapt to the Ghanaian lifestyle. Of course, this goes without saying that this process requires patience and time."

"The power of a smile and a handshake can help reduce the anxiety and fear that many patients may have while waiting."

"Bring LOTS of books (to read while waiting for vans/buses) and LOTS of food."

"Bring lots of toilet paper, and come prepared with a first aid kit in case of blisters, cuts, etc."

"To really get something out of Unite For Sight, one cannot sit back and wait for the culture to come to them. This was crucial to realize early on, so that the trip could be most fulfilling."

"My best advice to a future Global Impact Fellow is to maintain an open-minded, positive, and enthusiastic attitude for the experiences that they will have abroad. It was not easy to volunteer in a developing nation, and I found that I was challenged in some way almost every day. You may become frustrated in what seem like the simplest and most mundane tasks, like finding tasty and safe food to eat or overcoming the weather, but these frustrations can build if you do not have the right attitude towards them and will make your experience one that you may want to forget for all the wrong reasons. When you find yourself getting upset, just remember that this is a great adventure and a great opportunity to be the change that you would like to see happen, take a deep breath, and laugh it off if you can because it's not every day that you're in Ghana, India, or Honduras!"

"Be flexible and try not to stress out if something does not go as planned. Experience the sights of Ghana and especially the culture to the fullest extent."

"I would say stay open-minded.  It is very easy to come to these communities and judge the people there.  However, being compassionate and trying to understanding their way of life and seeing the world through their eyes will make a difficult experience more enjoyable.  We are lucky that we come from a wealthy country that we return to once our program is complete.  These patients have to remain there and so it's important to show them respect rather than a critical eye."

"My advice is to go into this experience with a very open mind. Be prepared to both learn and teach and you will get the most out of the experience."

"Remember to bring a mosquito net! And ask a lot of questions, because this will help you understand all the various things going on."

"One advice is be realistic that nothing is ever perfect and concepts of perfection differ from culture to culture.  Time is fluid and just gotta go with it, stay open and welcoming even if it takes 2-3 hours wait."

"I feel like I learned a great deal about the local culture. The culture as I have learned, is very different in many different aspects ranging from time management, to how people interact with others. I think the cultural aspect really allowed me to broaden my views."

"Around the world health care is different but the people involved are all very knowledgeable in their field. There are differences and boundaries to health care and it was good to see it rather then just learning it from a book in a classroom."

"To accomplish the same goal, there are many paths. Be culturally sensitive and respectful, one can discover a great deal of wisdom."

"I learned about the needs of people all around the world. Although many people have conditions that went untreated for years, often because of money, from talking to donors and friends and family, I learned the reverse of what I thought I would have learned. While most praised my courage and willingness to travel abroad to help with eye care, there were several people that pointed out that our help is very much needed here at home too. I raised awareness about preventable blindness in general, which led to interesting discussions about where help is needed and how others can help."

"My advice is that you take everything you can from this great opportunity."

"The best advice I can give to others is to understand that there are many differences between India and the Home country; cultural, organizational, physical. As a visitor from another country, in order to enjoy their experience, volunteers have to accept these differences,enjoy themselves, and learn as much as possible."

"Mainly not to get bogged down by the different culture initially; all the other volunteers are in the same position as you and after a few days, you'll get used to it...Personally, I learned how incredibly fortunate I am. AC, cold water, fresh fruits, cleaniness are basics for me, but for many people, these are luxuries. Professionally, I learned how to fundraise for a cause and how to convince higher ranked people in a short period of their time to donate. Academically, I learned a lot regarding eye care health and how to communicate with patients even if I did not know how to speak the language."

"Keep an open mind and be ready for anything.  Please know that it is different than you will ever expect.  Always remember your purpose and enjoy your time there because it is so short.  The days seem long but the weeks fly by and you may find yourself wishing you could stay just a little bit longer -- I know I did.  Connect with other volunteers about projects or ideas.  While most are there for a short time, we are energetic and willing to further the cause."

"I learned so much about interacting with people from a different culture. I learned a substantial amount about various eye diseases and surgical procedures. It showed me to slow down and stop living such a high stress lifestyle. In addition, I noticed that many are very happy, even though they have very little. I hope to remember that as I go into the rest of my life and make important decisions."

"I learned that it's important to get past feelings of discomfort in order to have a richer experience."

"Sometimes the patients will not know what is in their best interests, and as a medical professional in training, we must always look out for the patient.  One of the most important things that can be done is educating those in developing nations of the healthcare options, and dispelling the myths surrounding healthcare in these areas."

"I would say when you are there try to really experience Ghanaian life.  Eat their food, participate in their celebrations, kick around a soccer ball with the local village children...live as a Ghanaian in your time in Ghana.  You have your whole life to be an American and live in American culture so absorb its rich history, talk to the locals, and create a personal Ghanaian experience."

"Have an open mind and be excited to learn. Ask questions and have fun!!"

"Do not let any preconceptions you have affect your attitude to those you meet. Go with an entirely open mind, prepared to learn from everything and everyone. Do not think that your participation and your experience is central to the project, it is valued but your role is very much to provide the resources and to perform whatever tasks you are set, in return for receiving an invaluable opportunity to try and understand more about another country, its people  and its culture. Learn to accept contrasting viewpoints and value those who hold those opinions, even if they are different to your own."

"I would love to share with future volunteers the notion that more than a resume building opportunity this experience is one that teaches the compassion and understanding that everyone needs to find at some time in their lives. One may feel happy content and satisfied in their lives but there is always a fire needing to be kindled, and an experience such as this one will unleash the flames."

"Make the most of any down time you have by talking to the locals!  Also, cooperation is invaluable in this effort.  Each person volunteering is helping move a coordinated effort along, and slackers slow things down!"

Research Advice and Entrepreneurial Volunteering

"I would suggest to future volunteers to have projects of their own formulated before they go to wherever they are volunteering because it will give greater purpose to the trip and there will be more incentive to work with the local staff or learn something for yourself."

"My advice would be to create a project that involves patient interaction. Having a project really enriched my experience."

"I wish I had thought to do some research on the knowledge that people in the rural villages have of eye healthcare in general, why they start to go blind and don't seek help (is it due to lack of awareness or lack of desire to seek help, or both)."

"Future volunteers can initiate more educational projects to help local patients understand eye diseases, medicine, and especially surgeries and eye disease prevention more."

"An interesting research topic: from my interview with local patients, it seems that a patient's perceptions of eye diseases, medicine, eye-glasses, and eye surgeries are strongly similar in one region (ex a village), while significantly different across different regions. Study what social factors led to these group perceptions."

"I would have loved to conduct before and after interviews with patients undergoing cataract surgery and with the few elders that chose not to do the surgery at all."

"I would tell them to really develop their idea and amass all the necessary material before arriving; to be flexible and not to neglect their volunteer duties as part of the team."

"I would have been interested in writing the stories of the people working for the clinic from the doctors on down.  Maybe a collection of personal narratives of their experiences in public health."

"post-op!! visual posters on the technique of how to use eyedrops."

"I wish I had pursued a project investigating personal histories and stories of patients, as the patients I had a chance to talk to one on one had fascinating and inspiring tales to tell."