Volunteering in Vietnam

February 12, 2016

Kasey Cheydleur

Gabriel Hitchcock ’17 spent his winter term in Hanoi, Vietnam, volunteering at a traditional medicine hospital.
Photo credit: Gabriel Hitchcock

Having spent his previous winter terms at home and on campus performing neuropharmacology research, Gabriel Hitchcock decided to try something completely different for his third winter term. The neuroscience major and art history minor investigated his options and discovered ProjectsAbroad, a nonprofit that connects volunteers with opportunities around the world. Through this organization he was able to arrange a trip to spend four weeks in Hanoi, Vietnam, volunteering at a traditional medicine hospital.

Hitchcock, who is originally from Grass Lake, Michigan, says each day in Hanoi began around 7 a.m. with a run and a breakfast of instant coffee and mango. Next came a hair-raising commute to the hospital by motorbike taxi—“Let me tell you, nothing wakes you up like a death-defying commute on the back of a motorbike,” he says. Once at the hospital, Hitchcock prepared drugs, accompanied the head nurse and other interns to check on patients, and administered medicine. After a break for lunch and some time to explore the city, he returned to the hospital in the afternoon to repeat the routine as well as observe or help prepare for surgeries. How he spent his evenings varied, but he says it usually involved a lot of walking and excellent food.

The trip was Hitchcock’s first time in Asia and, while it took a little time to adjust, he says Vietnam is one of the most beautiful places he has ever visited. He says one of his favorite moments from the trip was when he took a day trip and rented a motorcycle to drive the 60 kilometers to Ba Vi, a national park and mountain range. “Driving on deserted mountain roads through the jungle is definitely up there on my list of unforgettable experiences,” he says.

In addition to learning about medicine and the inner workings of a hospital, Hitchcock says he also had several fascinating conversations with local friends about Vietnam’s communist government. “Learning about the political landscape of a communist country from the perspective of its citizens was, for me, a very meaningful experience.”

After graduation from Oberlin, Hitchcock says he would like to work in the health sciences either in a research or administrative capacity. “The opportunity to work and have conversations with the administrative staff at a foreign hospital was invaluable,” he says.

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