University of Alberta occupational therapy students in South America

University of Alberta students adopting a global perspective

A group of nine University of Alberta students learned some important lessons while conducting clinical placement in Bogotá, Colombia.

The students gained valuable insights into issues surrounding art therapy, music programs, safe sex and clean needles throughout their experience which began on march 21 until may 3.

The students, enrolled in the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine occupational therapy master’s program, gave credit to Liliana Alvarez, a PhD student in rehabilitation science and assistant professor at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, for being granted the opportunity to work in South America.

“In 2.009 an agreement was signed between the two faculties, which has led to a number of collaborations. 

Tim Barlott, an occupational therapy master’s student, was doing his thesis work in Colombia and came up with the idea of giving students from the U of A the opportunity to do their placement there,” said Alvarez in a story by Jeannine Guérette of the University of Alberta.

“I have to admit that one of my initial concerns about going was the thought that I might be missing out on a really structured Canadian placement, but the things that I’ve gained through this experience, I wouldn’t change for anything,” said Kelsey Hagg, a second year student who is a member of the group.

Hagg and the rest of the group underwent a two-day orientation before getting their respective assignments.

Hagg was stationed at Batuta Fundación National, a national organization that offers community music programs for kids that have been displaced by violence.

“Working with children from ages five to 18 in a single group setting was a very new experience for me. 

Often kids in Canada are grouped by age, so my placement required a lot of creativity in developing interventions that were appropriate for the whole group,” explained Hagg.

Meanwhile, fellow second-year student Jillian Franklin spent six weeks at the Fundación Procrear, an area sitting in the centre of Bogota’s red-light district.

“The work we did in this area focused on harm reduction. 

This involves minimizing the risk of harmful activities; it could include handing out clean needles to drug users or condoms to sex-trade workers. 

Our site also used art therapy, which was really cool and different from some of the techniques I was used to. Most importantly, our site provided a safe place for community members to come and enjoy activities,” said Franklin.

“I think that we were all under the impression that our host students would be our interpreters, but we found out very quickly that they weren’t. 

When we met them for the first time at the airport, they asked us if we spoke spanish, and we asked them if they spoke english. 

When we realized the answer was no, we all just said ‘whoooooa,’” said Franklin.

“Though there is some contrast in the way that Colombians practice occupational therapy, the core of what we’re trying to do as occupational therapists enabling participation in meaningful activity is unchanged. 

The important lesson is that we’re all about the same thing regardless of our country,” said Hagg.

“This placement stretched our students both professionally and personally. 

It pushed them to think outside the box and broadened their view of occupational therapy to a global perspective,” shared Alvarez who hinted that the Department of Occupational therapy plans to offer the same placement for next year’s students.

“It was our first time doing this placement, so we will take what we learned and improve upon it for next year. 

With this said, though, it was a great first time and the overall feedback has been very positive,” added Alvare.

“Definitely be sure to practise saying the word ‘therapist’ in Spanish,” offered Hagg as advice to future students. 

“Normally I would pronounce it fine, but one day it slipped out with a funny accent, and I ended up accidentally saying a pretty inappropriate word. 

Thankfully there were no kids around!”

“Be really open and ready for change; it’ll make the experience a lot better,” added Hagg. 

“Each day, you could be at a different site and with different people, so be sure to go with a willing mindset.”

Berny Polanía

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