Bilingualism An Asset to Students Wanting to Make a Difference


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Speaking two or more languages can make it easier to travel, but it can also open up some interesting opportunities for those travelers who want to help communities in need instead of just visiting a country as a tourist.

The WindsorPatch reports that speaking English and Spanish gave two high school students from New York and New Jersey the chance to help doctors treat patients in a week-long program in Guatemala.

Put together by the non-profit group Children of the Americas, or COTA, the program brings more than 100 doctors and medical workers to the Central American country every year. Over the course of a week, COTA's doctors treat as many patients as they have time to see, many of whom cannot afford medical care otherwise.

But while COTA has seen massive interest from medical professionals, not all of them speak Spanish themselves.

"When our team arrives in Guatemala for the week, the number of people seeking care far outweigh the time we have," COTA Coordinator Jennifer Christmann told Patch. "Having hardworking and skilled interpreters can have a measurable impact on the overall patient experience."

That is where Kevin Caba of Ridgewood, New York, and Kelvin Gonzalez of Pennsauken, New Jersey, came in. Both students share family roots in the Dominican Republic and grew up speaking both English and Spanish. Along with the help of Charlie Bour, a Spanish teacher from Caba's school, the two students were able to help in the communications between doctors and patients.

"The work involves 12 hours every day under some grueling conditions, but everyone is so flexible," Bour said of the program. "All of the volunteers, from doctors to interpreters, end up working more hours every day than they would at home and the results are amazing."

Aside from having the chance to help people in need, Kelvin noted that the pair got the chance to immerse themselves in an entirely unfamiliar culture as well. Since they spent all their time there talking with patients, they were even able to make a few friends.

The Corpus Christi Caller Times reports that a rising number of students in the U.S. are taking the chance to volunteer overseas, rather than go on more traditional vacations. Volunteer as well as cultural exchange organizations offer volunteer opportunities and more, with a great diversity of programming that supports volunteers in overseas assignments that can last a few weeks or as long as a year.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation