Analiese has written all about her time volunteering in Japan from her placement duties to the culture! Carry on reading to find out what she has to say!
What made you volunteer in the first place?
During my last year of high school, I had a couple of ideas about what I wanted to do with studying and following my interest of medicine, but nothing set in stone. I have always loved travelling and wanted to make sure I got as much in as I could before I settled down for the long years of university ahead of me. A Lattitude brochure was thrown in front of me (by their very well thought out advertising) and I decided to have a read out of curiosity. Seeing the incredible opportunities presented made me really think about the other options I had coming out of school, and seeing the medical placement in Japan really interested me in regards to following a desire to study medicine.
Japan was one of the few places that presented such a specific medical role, and through previous travel around Asia I wanted to discover more, so it fitted in quite well. I knew little about Japan before I went, but it didn’t take long to discover the unique history, advances in technology and the vibrant colours and people who called Japan home. One of the questions I got asked most before I left was “Do you speak any Japanese?” and “Do you like sushi?”. I can happily say the answers to those questions have changed (positively).
Can you describe your placement in detail?
I was placed in Kumamoto, in the of the southern island of Kyushu. It has a population of around 700,000, which is a lot bigger than my home town. It is classed as a ‘rural’ town, being surrounded by beautiful mountains and laced with thousands of rice fields and sakura (cherry blossom). It is home to extensive history shown through the endless shrines and the 400 year old castle and township. The lack of foreigners was different at first, but I came to love the uniqueness and serenity of this small town. Alongside it being small, the range of languages spoken was quite minimal, which encouraged me to learn as much Japanese as I could so I could communicate within my placement and out in the community.
I worked in one of Kumamoto’s biggest hospitals, Saiseikai Kumamoto Hospital, where the standards were high and the staff were unbelievably talented. The technology in this hospital was astounding, providing care and resources beyond what I’ve seen in New Zealand.
What are some examples of the duties you performed there?
The hospital specialised mainly in the care of older patients, so the majority of my duties were based around patient care such as transporting patients between wards or testing rooms, showering and cleanliness of patients and beds, assisting patients when walking throughout the wards and even just talking to the patients. On the less medical side of things, I also helped out with the hospitals ‘Dementia Recreation’ program, where we sat down with a small group of patients and just went through small games, sang songs and just got the patients talking. This was very rewarding work as it gave me a better understanding of the roles non-clinical staff do, and how it can affect a patients life within the hospital. I definitely got a lot of smiles out of those sessions!
I also got to assist with trauma round, seeing the most severe cases in the hospital. I was allowed to assist the doctors by providing their tools to tend to patient wounds and really see up close what the doctor was doing, as well as see the steps of patient recovery. At the other end of the scale I got to volunteer in the staff nursery located in the hospital. This was a good balance between seriousness within the hospital and having a bit of a rest while hanging out with some cool kids!
Can you describe your accommodation?
I was lucky to get my own small apartment, with a washing machine, bed, kitchen ware and bedding, as well as a bicycle to get around. I was right beside the other volunteer who was with me at my placement, so we did things like our grocery shopping together and biked to worked together. This was a great spot as you could relax and have your own time to yourself, especially after a hectic day at the busy hospital. It was a 5 minute bike ride from the hospital, and a 10 minute bike ride from the closest supermarket/general store. I was lucky as Kumamoto is very accessible by bike.
How did you cope with the big differences between Japan and home?
There are many differences between Japan and New Zealand, but that’s what I like about it! There was always something new waiting around the corner, so I tried to explore and discover as much as I could. Language was of course going to be a barrier, as I didn’t learn any in school. But with intense study before I left, as soon as I had stepped foot in Japan I had forgotten everything I had learnt. However, being immersed in the language helped more than anything. I was constantly writing down new words I heard during the day and asking my mentor what they meant so I could try and incorporate them in my vocabulary. Also finding the correct food at supermarkets took a little getting used to, but by the end I (think) knew what was what.
Favourite moment/ best thing that happened to you whilst there?
I don’t think I can pinpoint one favourite moment however! Being able to see surgeries is probably a biggie though, I would never have had the opportunity to do that in New Zealand, and I have learnt so much from it. From orthopaedic surgery, to open heart, to even brain surgery; seeing the surgeons and nurses in action was an incredible experience and has sparked an interest in a field I didn’t know too much about.
Can you give examples of any personal development you may have gained during your time there?
Being in Japan, a very punctual, well structured country, I have developed the importance of having a good routine and keeping things in check. This has helped with transitioning into university and going back to learning and studying. I feel I have also learnt a lot about solo travel as throughout being in Japan I did a lot of traveling by myself (as well as with other volunteers), but with this I have learnt a lot about preparation, organisation, time management and independence.
What are your future plans, and how do you think your volunteering experience might help?
Now, I am currently in my first year of university, studying a Bachelors of Health Science, with the hopes of getting accepted in to medicine next year. From being in the medical placement in Japan it enabled me to get a first hand insight of what the roles of the doctors, surgeons, nurses and other staff were, and gave me a better understanding of how they contributed to the health system, as well as helping patients in their road to recovery. I got to experience what the different wards within the hospital did, such as neurology, cardiovascular, oncology, ER, surgery and orthopaedic wards, seeing the differences in care and expertise provided by the staff, which gave me a new appreciation for the work that goes on in those places, as well as let me know if I want to spend the rest of my life in that area of work.
Also coming back home and starting University after a gap year I was a little sceptic about studying after a year off, as I thought I would be in the small minority that would have done that. Boy was I wrong! So many other students I had talked to, even within the first day, had come from a range of different backgrounds. Some have come straight out of school, but others have taken a gap year, or sometimes two or three, and using it for volunteering and to gain life experience, as well as using it to see the world.
Why should others consider heading to Japan with Lattitude?
Why should you consider going to Japan with Lattitude? This is why! Japan is such a unique country with so much to offer, and you don’t have to like anime to go. With the programs Lattitude provide you are fully and entirely looked after, but you do have your own independence. Japan is an incredibly safe country to roam about by yourself, and if you do get lost, the friendly people there are more than happy to help you find your way. This truly was one of those ‘once in a lifetime opportunities’ that you will look back on and smile, because it was just such an unreal experience. The sense of appreciation you gain from working in the same environment as the role models you look up to is forever rewarding as it will always be something I am grateful for having the opportunity to do.
If you are now itching to go to Japan check out our placements on our website!