Japan Returned Volunteer – Annabel Overton

Posted on the 25th September 2017

Thankyou to Annabel who agreed to chat with us about her placement in Japan 4 years ago. Keep reading to find out how her Lattitude placement helped her to gain the skills and experience necessary to help her achieve a career in Midwifery.

What country did you volunteer in and what did you do?

I volunteered in Japan. Prior to my placement, I was highly interested in entering healthcare, as well as Japan itself, and the placements offered by Lattitude suited me perfectly. I was placed in a Red Cross Hospital in Ashikaga-Shi, Tochigi prefecture, where I partook in a variety of activities throughout the hospital.

I reported to the head of the hospital every morning, presenting him with a diary of what we had done the day and night before, first in English, then in romaji and before I knew it, we were writing in hiragana, katakana and kana. Activities during my working day ranged from helping out in the hospital nursery, to meeting and greeting patients at the hospital entrance and providing directions, to helping on the wards. I was also involved in a variety of observational work throughout the hospital, observing in Accident and emergency as well as theatres. I was able to request an area I would like to experience working in, and the staff at the hospital were amazing at fulfilling that request, enabling me to do my duties on wards I had a particular interest in, such as maternity, paediatrics, rehabilitation, and ears nose and throat wards. My work day was always well organised, and every day bought new memories and worthwhile experiences.

On my days off, I was able to get involved in the local community, with the help of the hospital staff. I went on a hospital staff retreat up into the mountains, and enjoyed traditional hot springs; and on separate occasions partook in tea ceremony, samurai and kimono festivals. I also took the opportunity to visit Tokyo a few times, enjoying Disney Land, Karaoke and Ueno Zoo; and went to see Mount Fuji too of course! My time in Japan was a whirlwind of eye opening experiences, and it has certainly shaped who I am and what I do every day.

volunteering in a hospital in Japan

What was the best part about your volunteering placement?

For me, embracing and learning about the culture was a major highlight for me; I loved every minute of my time out there, and would do it again in a heartbeat. If I had to pick a few individual highlights, they would probably include: trying on a kimono worth over £100,000 (yikes!), eating at banquets with the heads of the hospital, Karaoke in Tokyo, New Years Day visiting all the temples in my local area, going to Disneyland Sea for my 19th birthday, spending Halloween at Disneyland Tokyo then going out in the city afterwards, and watching the sun rise over a snowy mount Fuji. There are so many more memories, it’s hard to pick a “best bit”. Would it be cheating if I put the “best bit” as all of it?

What skills did you gain from your placement?

I definitely improved my adaptability! Moving somewhere so vastly different culturally requires you to adapt the way you live and act very quickly. I now ensure I embrace all cultural differences, and I always keep an open mind to individual differences. I improved my people skills as well, especially reading non-verbal cues. Not all patients are able to talk, Japanese or otherwise, so it is important to listen to what the whole person is telling you, not just their words! I also improved my team working, as I worked closely with others in order to achieve the best we could together.

I learned a bit of Japanese, of course. I was never very good at languages at school, so I opted out of taking a language at GCSE. Before I travelled to Japan I wondered if language might be a really big problem due to my past experience of languages. However, learning a language in the country, compared to being sat in the classroom, was a piece of cake!

My sense of adventure has grown enormously. I now approach life with a “why can’t I?” attitude. I am incredibly optimistic, and know not to panic when faced with a challenge. I hope to be able to use my skills in the future in relief situations, and volunteer my help where it is really needed.

What are you doing now, and how did your Lattitude placement impact your career?

I have just finished Midwifery Bsc at The University of East Anglia, Norwich, and managed to achieve a First! I am now a registered Midwife, about to start my first job in Norfolk. I have applied so much of what I learned in Japan to the last 3 years of my training. From people skills to teamwork, to ensuring that I am always an advocate for every woman I care for; all these skills were improved because of my volunteering. Volunteering in a Red Cross Hospital in Japan prior to university certainly made it easier to adapt into hospital life during my degree. I cannot recommend a placement more to any aspiring medical professional, it really has been essential in making me into the person I am today.

Annabel gained valuable experience in the field of medicine on her gap year in Japan

Are you interested in our volunteering placements in Japan? Click here for more information.

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