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How do I spin my "voluntourism"?

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Grizz3246

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Long story short, I did 2.5 years at a university thinking I wanted to go to medical school but due to a lack of study skills, motivation, depression, etc. I did not have the highest GPA. Realizing that I really needed to reevaluate my priorities I took a semester (which turned into 2 years) off and worked 7 days a week with full time at the doctors office I've worked at. In my time off I decided to do something I had always want to do and travel, volunteer and really find out what it was I wanted to do. I had my EMT license and on one of these trips I decided to go to an East African country for 3 months alone and volunteer in a clinic. This was a life changing trip for me and really reignited my passion for medicine but also my perspective on life in general in all the experiences in those few months. Since coming back from Africa I decided to do similar things in my hometown and volunteer at my county free clinic, mentor a little sister through "BBBS" and do various other volunteer activities I am passionate about. I have transferred to another university and have a high upward trend and am finishing my second year now with one left. My concern is from lurking this forum that time after time people have said not to include volunteering abroad as it is seen as "voluntourism" and harmful. I have heard horror stories of volunteers doing things they had no business doing but having my EMT license I only did things in my genuine scope of practice and even learned about the different diseases common to the area looking at samples in the lab.

This is concerning for me because it ties into my whole narrative of wanting to pursue medicine. My biggest goal has always been to work with MSF (doctors without borders) and with a free clinic in my home state. I have 2 boys I've been sponsoring in the last 3 years since I was last East Africa that I hung out with in my time there and am trying to teach myself a little swahilli. I am actually going back to East Africa this summer for a trip. Is it possible for Adcoms to see the genuine commitment and desire from my trip abroad or will they just think I am like every other pre-med and I should leave it out..?

Thanks!
 
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Justice1071

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Definitely include it, it’s your story and something that makes you unique.
 
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DO2015CA

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The volunteerism they are referring to is the “hey I went to this African country for 1 week, took a bunch of pictures with the locals, oh and I helped a little in a pop up clinic too”. It’s a vacation they are spinning as humanism. Screw that crap. Yours doesn’t fit... you went and immersed yourself for 3 months and helped.

The stuff that drives the irritation with volunteerism is that these people show up for a week once per year and act like it’s helping these communities. Great you diagnosed them with diabetes type 2 and you’ve provided them with 30 days of metformin. What are they supposed to do for the next 11 months until you come back?
 
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Grizz3246

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The volunteerism they are referring to is the “hey I went to this African country for 1 week, took a bunch of pictures with the locals, oh and I helped a little in a pop up clinic too”. It’s a vacation they are spinning as humanism. Screw that crap. Yours doesn’t fit... you went and immersed yourself for 3 months and helped.

The stuff that drives the irritation with volunteerism is that these people show up for a week once per year and act like it’s helping these communities. Great you diagnosed them with diabetes type 2 and you’ve provided them with 30 days of metformin. What are they supposed to do for the next 11 months until you come back?

Even though I only did one long trip you think it would ok? Hoping me wanting to work with MSF doesn’t come off as a white savior complex. My state DO school I’m aiming for in MI does international volunteer trips too so who knows.
 

DO2015CA

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Even though I only did one long trip you think it would ok? Hoping me wanting to work with MSF doesn’t come off as a white savior complex. My state DO school I’m aiming for in MI does international volunteer trips too so who knows.

White savior mindset is exactly what I’m referring to without saying the words lol. Your essay needs to focus on the lessons you learns, the attributes of the physicians you worked with that inspire you, idealistic ideas, etc. Not focusing on you went X and did X. Now you want to be a doctor
 
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Grizz3246

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White savior mindset is exactly what I’m referring to without saying the words lol. Your essay needs to focus on the lessons you learns, the attributes of the physicians you worked with that inspire you, idealistic ideas, etc. Not focusing on you went X and did X. Now you want to be a doctor

Perfect. I think the essay will be the deciding factor. Appreciate it!
 

DO2015CA

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No worries. One last thing, in the volunteerism for show vs committing to global health work can also be displayed through what seems like questions about other topics. An applicant will talk all about their 3 mission trips and how it changed their life so now they want to be a doctor. Yada yada yada. But then they will go on to write/ talk about in their interview that the specialties they are interested in are ortho, derm, urology, neurology, gen surg (pick X specialty those were just examples). Well that makes me to believe the mission trips were a show. Yes, those countries need those specialists too. But by far PCP specialties will make the most difference in their lives. You don’t need to go groveling about wanting to do FM, IM, Peds nor must you choose those specialties. But just appearances, if I have someone telling me how this mission trip revolutionized their life yet they don’t seem to be interested in the specialties that would offer the most help to these communities.
 

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Long story short, I did 2.5 years at a university thinking I wanted to go to medical school but due to a lack of study skills, motivation, depression, etc. I did not have the highest GPA. Realizing that I really needed to reevaluate my priorities I took a semester (which turned into 2 years) off and worked 7 days a week with full time at the doctors office I've worked at. In my time off I decided to do something I had always want to do and travel, volunteer and really find out what it was I wanted to do. I had my EMT license and on one of these trips I decided to go to an East African country for 3 months alone and volunteer in a clinic. This was a life changing trip for me and really reignited my passion for medicine but also my perspective on life in general in all the experiences in those few months. Since coming back from Africa I decided to do similar things in my hometown and volunteer at my county free clinic, mentor a little sister through "BBBS" and do various other volunteer activities I am passionate about. I have transferred to another university and have a high upward trend and am finishing my second year now with one left. My concern is from lurking this forum that time after time people have said not to include volunteering abroad as it is seen as "voluntourism" and harmful. I have heard horror stories of volunteers doing things they had no business doing but having my EMT license I only did things in my genuine scope of practice and even learned about the different diseases common to the area looking at samples in the lab.

This is concerning for me because it ties into my whole narrative of wanting to pursue medicine. My biggest goal has always been to work with MSF (doctors without borders) and with a free clinic in my home state. I have 2 boys I've been sponsoring in the last 3 years since I was last East Africa that I hung out with in my time there and am trying to teach myself a little swahilli. I am actually going back to East Africa this summer for a trip. Is it possible for Adcoms to see the genuine commitment and desire from my trip abroad or will they just think I am like every other pre-med and I should leave it out..?

Thanks!
Three months shows dedication. Your story is a very different one from the kids who go to a developing country for a week.
 
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TragicalDrFaust

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Being there for 3 months and actually being qualified should reflect more favorably than a week long mission trip. I recommend naming the country specifically in apps though to show you tried to understand the complexities of the people and culture. Most people, if they visited Tokyo, would say they went to Japan and not just generic "Asia". Some specificity will help show readers you don't think of Africa as a monolith.
 
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Grizz3246

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Being there for 3 months and actually being qualified should reflect more favorably than a week long mission trip. I recommend naming the country specifically in apps though to show you tried to understand the complexities of the people and culture. Most people, if they visited Tokyo, would say they went to Japan and not just generic "Asia". Some specificity will help show readers you don't think of Africa as a monolith.

For sure. Just stated “africa” for the point of trying to have a little more anonymity on here given all the other details lol. I spent time in a few other countries when I was there the first time and a lot of people are VERY ignorant to the fact of africa in general and where the countries are so I sometimes just call it my “africa trip”. Really against the misconception that Africa is one big (poor and dangerous) country as opposed to many culturally independent states. Definitely will be specific in my apps when that time comes. Hoping my other trips (for leisure not volunteering) to the region will show that I have a strong interest to the area and am not completely culturally inept.
 
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8YearsLate

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I did two mission trips, both less than 2 weeks, both in developing nations, and if anyone ever referred to my sunup-to-sundown hard work paid for by community fundraising as "voluntourism" I would just laugh. I had 11 interview offers, 5 attended, and all of them asked about my travels. That being said, I've realized since then that there's plenty of work to be done here at home and focused my efforts that way. Anyone who downplays someone's accomplishments or calls someone a "white savior" had their own issues going on.

Definitely mention your story, especially considering it's still ongoing. It's very obvious you weren't just checking a box on an application.
 
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Mad Jack

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You were an actual EMT that had useful skills you provided overseas for 3 months. That's legitimate volunteering. Voluntourism that we look down upon is when some kid pays $3,000 a week to sleep in a nice hotel by night and play doctor by day with no license in Africa when they have no actual skills to provide. That's not you, you're fine
 
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DO2015CA

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I did two mission trips, both less than 2 weeks, both in developing nations, and if anyone ever referred to my sunup-to-sundown hard work paid for by community fundraising as "voluntourism" I would just laugh. I had 11 interview offers, 5 attended, and all of them asked about my travels. That being said, I've realized since then that there's plenty of work to be done here at home and focused my efforts that way. Anyone who downplays someone's accomplishments or calls someone a "white savior" had their own issues going on.

Definitely mention your story, especially considering it's still ongoing. It's very obvious you weren't just checking a box on an application.

I would laugh at you thinking you accomplished something amazing spending 2 mission trips less than 2 weeks a piece. Show me your sustained impact and I will applaud you. If you don’t think white savior is a thing you are just speaking from a place of privilege.

Timeframe is also not the deciding factor impact is. Those spending weeks building water wells have a huge impact. Mad Jack said it best above.
 
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8YearsLate

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I would laugh at you thinking you accomplished something amazing spending 2 mission trips less than 2 weeks a piece. Show me your sustained impact and I will applaud you. If you don’t think white savior is a thing you are just speaking from a place of privilege.

Timeframe is also not the deciding factor impact is. Those spending weeks building water wells have a huge impact. Mad Jack said it best above.
Exactly the type of person I'm talking about who obviously has issues. You can calm down now, it's the internet. Anyone who gets into medical school is privileged, the end.
 

Grizz3246

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I did two mission trips, both less than 2 weeks, both in developing nations, and if anyone ever referred to my sunup-to-sundown hard work paid for by community fundraising as "voluntourism" I would just laugh. I had 11 interview offers, 5 attended, and all of them asked about my travels. That being said, I've realized since then that there's plenty of work to be done here at home and focused my efforts that way. Anyone who downplays someone's accomplishments or calls someone a "white savior" had their own issues going on.

Definitely mention your story, especially considering it's still ongoing. It's very obvious you weren't just checking a box on an application.

Can I ask you what kinds of questions they asked?? Did it seem like they were genuinely interested in what you were doing and your travels or they were trying to see if you were “one of those people” and ethics and all that?
 

Grizz3246

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I would laugh at you thinking you accomplished something amazing spending 2 mission trips less than 2 weeks a piece. Show me your sustained impact and I will applaud you. If you don’t think white savior is a thing you are just speaking from a place of privilege.

Timeframe is also not the deciding factor impact is. Those spending weeks building water wells have a huge impact. Mad Jack said it best above.

You saying timeframe isn’t necessarily what matters the impact is is exactly what makes me afraid to list my experience. I know that to have a sustainable impact, most of the time that really can’t be done as pre-medical student or even as a medical student. Thats why I am really trying to learn from my experiences, to educate myself on the ethics and becoming as culturally competent as possible. So someone/another med school applicant giving vaccines abroad may have had a bigger “impact” than me or someone shadowing in the eyes of some people but its really not as ethical. It becomes so confusing how certain adcoms will view what you did with their own perspective :(
 

8YearsLate

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Can I ask you what kinds of questions they asked?? Did it seem like they were genuinely interested in what you were doing and your travels or they were trying to see if you were “one of those people” and ethics and all that?
One was medical, and one was teaching. The only questions brought up with the medical one were along the lines of, "What clinical experience did you get?" in which case I was able to talk about the minor role I played, but I always branched off into the greater cultural implications of our being there and how it changed my views on medicine. With the teaching one, they generally just asked, "How was that?" and I was able to elaborate a little more because that is my background and I still correspond with the orphanage. I think I got lucky with interviewers because all but one were very conversational and just curious about my experiences. I had one weird interview but that was for other reasons.
I truly have never heard of the term "voluntourism" or the concept of seeing if someone is "one of those people" until this thread, and I don't think schools are picking out people so they can scrutinize them. If they picked you for an interview, they already feel like you're serving for the right reasons, and if you are, there is no reason to worry about being misunderstood.
 

DO2015CA

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Exactly the type of person I'm talking about who obviously has issues. You can calm down now, it's the internet. Anyone who gets into medical school is privileged, the end.
No ones upset. No one said they wouldn’t get in to medical. What was said is people that do bogus medical mission trips then act like their lives were miraculously changed and now that’s why they want to do medicine. These people do exist, apply to medschool, and are screened out preinterview.

Education is a lasting impact. That I would applaud you for.

Edited for typos
 
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Mad Jack

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One was medical, and one was teaching. The only questions brought up with the medical one were along the lines of, "What clinical experience did you get?" in which case I was able to talk about the minor role I played, but I always branched off into the greater cultural implications of our being there and how it changed my views on medicine. With the teaching one, they generally just asked, "How was that?" and I was able to elaborate a little more because that is my background and I still correspond with the orphanage. I think I got lucky with interviewers because all but one were very conversational and just curious about my experiences. I had one weird interview but that was for other reasons.
I truly have never heard of the term "voluntourism" or the concept of seeing if someone is "one of those people" until this thread, and I don't think schools are picking out people so they can scrutinize them. If they picked you for an interview, they already feel like you're serving for the right reasons, and if you are, there is no reason to worry about being misunderstood.
The problem many people run into is when they do medical volunteering overseas and provide services it would be unethical to provide. If you're over there handing out blankets or checking people in at a clinic, that's fine, but if you're doing procedures or engaging in the practice of mddicine without any license to do so it is viewed as unethical and will generally land your interview in the trash. Short term voluntourism that doesn't breech ethical guidelines will generally be viewed as a neutral thing. The reason we ask about short-term experiences most of the time is specifically to explore whether there are any ethical concerns. I've seen more than one applicant get rejected because they were essentially practicing medicine without a license on unsuspecting people in developing nations
 
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TragicalDrFaust

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You saying timeframe isn’t necessarily what matters the impact is is exactly what makes me afraid to list my experience. I know that to have a sustainable impact, most of the time that really can’t be done as pre-medical student or even as a medical student. Thats why I am really trying to learn from my experiences, to educate myself on the ethics and becoming as culturally competent as possible. So someone/another med school applicant giving vaccines abroad may have had a bigger “impact” than me or someone shadowing in the eyes of some people but its really not as ethical. It becomes so confusing how certain adcoms will view what you did with their own perspective :(
You may be overthinking this. Most adcoms won't care if you have a white savior anyway- they are perfectly satisfied with "good intentions" as long as no harm is done. Perhaps you and I live in the same bubble lol. The majority of people don't really understand what a white savior complex is if they've heard of it at all. If you can describe how you cared about the culture and the sustainability of your impact (which you have here several times) that will be more than enough. A significant chunk of medical students are probably accepted with applications that bely a serious savior complex. Being able to explain your understanding of how you may have fed into that, although it sounds like you were qualified to be working where you were, and will consider it in future volunteering endeavors is a huge bonus, not a requisite.
 

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I did two mission trips, both less than 2 weeks, both in developing nations, and if anyone ever referred to my sunup-to-sundown hard work paid for by community fundraising as "voluntourism" I would just laugh. I had 11 interview offers, 5 attended, and all of them asked about my travels. That being said, I've realized since then that there's plenty of work to be done here at home and focused my efforts that way. Anyone who downplays someone's accomplishments or calls someone a "white savior" had their own issues going on.

Definitely mention your story, especially considering it's still ongoing. It's very obvious you weren't just checking a box on an application.
Do you realize your $1000+ for a flight and lodging could have paid for hundreds of hours of skilled local labor to help the community in sustainable way? Also...do you have any acceptances from your 5 attended interviews...?

Thank you for the nice chuckle about your free vacation though :)
 
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LizzyM

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I did two mission trips, both less than 2 weeks, both in developing nations, and if anyone ever referred to my sunup-to-sundown hard work paid for by community fundraising as "voluntourism" I would just laugh. I had 11 interview offers, 5 attended, and all of them asked about my travels. That being said, I've realized since then that there's plenty of work to be done here at home and focused my efforts that way. Anyone who downplays someone's accomplishments or calls someone a "white savior" had their own issues going on.

Definitely mention your story, especially considering it's still ongoing. It's very obvious you weren't just checking a box on an application.

Don't confuse what you get asked about with what is important. Interviewers get bored with the same-old, same-old so asking about travel mixes it up a little bit. It could also be a trap to see if you have negative stereotypes about "the natives" or other issues that would raise a red flag with regard to service trips.
 
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Vivid_Quail

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Don't confuse what you get asked about with what is important. Interviewers get bored with the same-old, same-old so asking about travel mixes it up a little bit. It could also be a trap to see if you have negative stereotypes about "the natives" or other issues that would raise a red flag with regard to service trips.
Exactly. That logic of "they asked about it therefore they loved it" is optimistic at best. Not saying voluntourism trips are as bad as an AI, but would you brag about how all of your interviews asked about your AI? Just because they asked, doesn't mean they loved it.

I personally would be very engaged when asking about voluntourism trips, not because I respect it or find it inspiring, but because I want to know more about how a premed possibly thought it was a good idea.
 

8YearsLate

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Well I got accepted at all of my interviews with the exception of 1 waitlist, so I'd say no one hated what I had to say. I get that you're all playing Devil's advocate here, but OP asked about the perception of their travels, and I shared my experience. That's what we're supposed to do here. This site has a tendency to become an echo chamber of "you're not good enough," and I'm not going to get on that train. It's also quite presumptive to assume anyone has "negative stereotypes about 'the natives'" and in fact, travel is the very device by which we break down such stereotypes. OP should have no hesitation about mentioning their travels.
 

8YearsLate

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Do you realize your $1000+ for a flight and lodging could have paid for hundreds of hours of skilled local labor to help the community in sustainable way? Also...do you have any acceptances from your 5 attended interviews...?

Thank you for the nice chuckle about your free vacation though :)
Skilled local labor? The very reason for our going to this remote village was the very absence of this resource. Your self-righteousness may help you sleep better at night, but it's not changing the world. I didn't claim to be, either, but I know I made a positive impact, and the organization I worked with goes back every six months for continued care, which is highly welcomed by the community. And by your argument that it was a "free vacation," you should also go around making fun of all charitable organizations who effect their work through donations.
 

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Skilled local labor? The very reason for our going to this remote village was the very absence of this resource. Your self-righteousness may help you sleep better at night, but it's not changing the world. I didn't claim to be, either, but I know I made a positive impact, and the organization I worked with goes back every six months for continued care, which is highly welcomed by the community. And by your argument that it was a "free vacation," you should also go around making fun of all charitable organizations who effect their work through donations.
Congrats on your acceptances.

I seriously recommend reading into the economics of your trip and others like it. I don't think you necessarily hurt the community you visited, but the donated money could have gone a lot further than paying for a 18-22 year old unskilled kid to visit for <2 weeks. It is okay to admit that the trip was mutually beneficial (although most likely biased in your favor): it was a vacation and adventure for you and it was of some benefit to the remote village.

Refusing to acknowledge that you got a chance to travel and have an adventure at the expense of giving more money to this village is an immature denial of reality.
 
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DO2015CA

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Well I got accepted at all of my interviews with the exception of 1 waitlist, so I'd say no one hated what I had to say. I get that you're all playing Devil's advocate here, but OP asked about the perception of their travels, and I shared my experience. That's what we're supposed to do here. This site has a tendency to become an echo chamber of "you're not good enough," and I'm not going to get on that train. It's also quite presumptive to assume anyone has "negative stereotypes about 'the natives'" and in fact, travel is the very device by which we break down such stereotypes. OP should have no hesitation about mentioning their travels.

Your last part is quoting Lizzy who is a well respect adcom who has interviewed thousands of medschool applicants. If Lizzy said it, then she has witnessed it. You are also the only one in your corner making claims that white savior doesn’t exist and these trips couldn’t be viewed as anything overwhelming positive. Those of us that are further along than you and have interviewed medstudents/residents are disagreeing with you. We aren’t even saying that they WILL be viewed negatively. Just that you need to be careful so that they are not viewed negatively.
 
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Dr.SPAC3MAN

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OP, sounds like a great experience. I would suggest doing plenty of volunteer work in you own community as well. One criticism of "voluntourism" I've heard is why did the applicant travel half-way across the world to volunteer when they haven't done anything in their own backyard? I am not saying this is you OP, but may consider this in planning your ECs from here on out. good luck.
 
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8YearsLate

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Congrats on your acceptances.

I seriously recommend reading into the economics of your trip and others like it. I don't think you necessarily hurt the community you visited, but the donated money could have gone a lot further than paying for a 18-22 year old unskilled kid to visit for <2 weeks. It is okay to admit that the trip was mutually beneficial (although most likely biased in your favor): it was a vacation and adventure for you and it was of some benefit to the remote village.

Refusing to acknowledge that you got a chance to travel and have an adventure at the expense of giving more money to this village is an immature denial of reality.
- I read almost exclusively about economics when I am not reading not reading scientific review or novels and I would absolutely love to read any peer-reviewed economic data you have on mission trips
- I am 30
- 9 Americans (2 physicians, 2 PAs, 3 nurses, a medical student and myself, a pre-medical student) and 4 local medical students who served as translators partnered to conduct the clinic which served over 150 people during our time there and also assigned them to primary care providers in the city which is 90+ minutes away over mountainous terrain
- It was absolutely an adventure but I fail to equate your definition of "benefit," unless you mean the fact that A) I enjoyed myself (which I do equally in all my volunteer roles) and B) I learned about a new culture and expanded my concept of global citizenship
- If you suggest that instead the organization be dissolved and they instead convert their US currency to Dong and forward these cash funds to the community, you can write to them with the suggestion: [email protected]. It still doesn't solve the problem that these individuals are not receiving the medical care they WELCOME and deserve
- As I mentioned before, it largely prompted me to understand that there is plenty of work to be done here at home, so there is no naivety to garner here. Think about that before you call someone a "kid," "immature," "in denial," or someone who acts at the expense of others.
- If you still feel the need to argue your position, feel free, but I won't be revisiting this thread. I communicated what I wanted to OP.
 
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