Learning & Growth in a Community Development Practicum Abroad

Student nursing practicum placement in Mexico
Author: Megan Brooke

I had the opportunity to travel abroad during my VIU Nursing Degree and had an amazing experience working as a practicum student with Apoyo A Gente Emprendedora, a non-governmental organization in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I experienced huge learning every single day, as we navigated our group environment, new surroundings and cultural differences.  It was not always easy and I encountered challenges along the way, but the learning will stay with me forever. When I think back, there are a few main themes in what I learned, about my profession and about myself.

Group Dynamics
Through this experience, I found I could apply a lot of my classroom learning in a practical way, to better understand and contribute positively to the dynamics of our group of travellers. In our group of nine practicum students and two VIU Faculty, we started out the program by discussing and developing group norms in a safe, non-judgemental environment to address the needs of each group member and work respectfully and effectively with our community partners.

I learned that it is important to check back with the members of the group, to continually reflect on our experiences together and ensure that we are all upholding our principles of solidarity. We also strengthened our bond through collective decision making in our needs assessment of the community, when conducting our literature review, and when we would lesson plan in the evenings.

Community Development
I learned the importance of assessing the needs of the community prior to developing a strategy to overcome said need. For example, during our practicum, we developed lesson plans for the community based on our understanding of their current needs. A task I learned that is complex, particularly when working for a short period of time in a new community, developing country and among a variety of cultural, political and social situations that we can only begin to understand. Still, we would seek out feedback during and after our teaching sessions from the community, translators, and the agency staff to adapt our teaching strategies and plans on a regular basis. This allowed us to further engage with the community, to better meet their needs, to do our best to provide relevant education, and to continue our learning through the process, hopefully becoming better Nursing professionals.

Taking Care of Yourself
My greatest challenge during my international experience was developing a new routine. Everyone has different needs and when you are living in close proximity with other individuals, and you have to be mindful of everyone’s experience, emotions and outside stressors (there can be many).

It was hardest for me in the first week, because I wasn't able to have much needed alone time to reflect on this highly stimulating experience and refresh before the next day. By the end of the first week, I made sure I found some dedicated time away from other people to take care of my mental/physical health.  Everyone had different challenges, and for this reason, my recommendation is that before the a group program abroad, take time to discuss individual needs as a group, giving everyone an opportunity to share their current routine, what they need to be their best, and share strategies to ensure that everyone can meet their personal needs and support one another along the way.  

Reflecting on International Experiences
My nursing practice has been strengthened from this experience because I developed skills to effectively deal with conflict, power imbalances, stress, a lack of resources, and connecting across different cultures. By interacting with individuals in a different culture and self-reflecting on this experiences, I experienced growth and developed a greater sense of self.

I would recommend going on an intercultural experience to all students; the learning is more than you could ever express in words and it will impact your entire life. By participating in an international practicum, my way of thinking has changed, and I am more mindful of my approach when interacting with others. My awareness of the social determinants of health, culture, empowerment, advocacy and privilege has expanded. This personal growth has also impacted how I approach, engage and communicate with others; furthermore, it has positively influenced how I take care of myself, and my worldview has broadened.

My career goal of becoming a Nurse Practitioner has become a reality because of my learning in San Miguel de Allende about health promotion, empowerment and the power of knowledge. I want to empower others by sharing my knowledge, offering support, and by providing nursing care, and I am on my way to realizing these goals!

Megan Brooke
VIU Bachelor of Science in Nursing Graduate & Education Abroad Alumni