“Yes, I made mistakes, but they didn’t prevent me from holding an actual conversation, and I cannot convey how satisfying communicating successfully in a foreign language was for me.”


Radhika Rani is a junior in biochemistry at Muhlenberg College. She recently served for four weeks at the “medical assistance” Volunteer Abroad in Cusco. Radhika is a Certified Medical Technician (EMT) and the president of the Neuroscience Club at her university. Originally from India, Radhika moved with her family to the United States when she was three. She has volunteered as an EMT at an ambulance serving a hospital near her home in New Jersey, but this was Radhika’s first experience volunteering abroad. Radhika has traveled many times back to India but this was her first time in Latin America. Here is her interview.

What motivated you to seek this volunteer opportunity in Cusco?
Prior to my experience in Cusco, I had participated in various types of volunteering in the US all through middle school, high school, and now college, for it was something that just became a part of my life. My volunteer experience ranged from performing clerical tasks for the American Cancer Society to volunteering as an EMT for my hometown ambulance and rescue squad.

I had been searching for a new type of volunteer experience and I thought volunteering abroad might be the best option. I knew I wanted to go to a Latin American country because I had an intermediate level of Spanish and I thought it would be a great experience to gain somewhat of a degree of fluency. Cusco appealed to me in particular because I recognized it as a subject of my high school Spanish classes, as well as the fact that it offered opportunities to volunteer in the medical field. Lastly, Cusco’s scenery is to die for, and not to mention that it’s located relatively close to Machu Picchu!

What are the three most important characteristics of a successful international volunteer in Cusco?
In my opinion, individuals who are interested in volunteering abroad must be open-minded, adaptable, and proactive. You can’t exactly anticipate what you will encounter when you first arrive in a foreign country, but what matters is that you clear your mind of all judgment and expectations in order to make the most out of your experience.

What did you learn about yourself in Cusco?
After my experience in Cusco, I truly can say that I thrive on basic human interactions with others. I’m a conversationalist. When I first arrived at the Lima airport and was required to speak Spanish with an airline employee, I immediately became overwhelmed. I was able to understand what he was saying, but I couldn’t find the right words thus making it impossible for me to continue the dialogue.

At first, I couldn’t let go of my personal discomfort during conversation, but as my days in Cusco progressed I gradually was able to let go of my reservations and stopped getting caught in the diction of my sentences. Rather, whether I was talking to my peers, the local staff, the hospital staff who I worked with, patients, or complete strangers in the Plaza de Armas, I just spoke whatever words came to mind. Yes, I made several mistakes, but they didn’t prevent me from holding an actual conversation, and I cannot convey how satisfying communicating successfully in a foreign language was for me. I anticipate continuing volunteering abroad in different countries, as well as learning other languages and interacting with people from cultures different from my own.

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