Ida, a junior at the University of Michigan, won a LIVFund Scholarship to fund her upcoming volunteer abroad experience in Guatemala. This is her application essay [photos added by the staff at LIVFund].

Before the summer of 2011, I had never been extremely passionate about anything. I entertained the idea of being a doctor, and holistic medicine interested me, but the thought was an intangible illusion. I had never practiced medicine, hadn’t had any patient contact, nor any striking hands-on clinic work.

When I decided to go to Guatemala to volunteer at the Centro de Salud medical clinic in Alotenango, Guatemala through Maximo Nivel, I had no idea what to expect. My Spanish, or “Spanglish” was murky at best, and the mere thought of speaking to a local Guatemalan turned my cheeks a bright crimson.

My lack of medical knowledge was overwhelmingly frightening. However, my day-to-day constancy frightened me even more, and I knew that I had to experience, to do. My mind was begging for newness, uncomfortably, and knowledge from in the field itself. So, wide-eyed and with far too much baggage, I set off for Antigua, Guatemala in hopes of discovering the exalting world of medicine.

What I experienced was indescribable. From day one to my final day at the clinic, I was immersed in medicine; from assisting in vaccinations, to taking triage, the clinic gave me exactly what I had expected in terms of medical experience. However, the unexpected had nothing to do with medical technique; and had everything to do with the human experience.

My time at the clinic, and the ultimate reason why I feel the pressing need to return, is how my experience changed my stigmas and opened my eyes beyond the sheltered suburban lifestyle I’ve always led. From my long afternoon chats with Dr. Gonzalez de Leon concerning Guatemalan political corruption, to my one-on-one discussion with a patient about why condom use is important, and even in listening to the doctor’s consultations with patients regarding clean drinking water and food safety, I realized that medicine is my purpose; I had fortuitously stumbled upon passion.

Guatemala changed me. I didn’t know how much I would learn about the medical profession, the people I would meet, or the rich Guatemalan culture I would be immersed in. I didn’t know that I would start an organization at the University of Michigan to help garner medical supplies, or that I would keep in touch with Dr. Gonzalez de Leon, or that I would begin a love for volunteering so strong that the need to go back to Guatemala is unrelenting. I couldn’t have known all of this, for all I had were feelings of apprehension, and ruminations in which I alone wouldn’t be enough to evoke change.

I now know that a part of me is still in Guatemala, in that stuffy, overcrowded Alotenango clinic where I spent my time helping the sick inhabitants and soaking in Guatemala’s rich culture. A part of me will always be in Guatemala; I just hope that I will have the chance to be reunited with her, and to once again be able to do something bigger than my world, bigger than myself.