2015 Boston University: Healthcare in Development

Learning Service for Service Learning

Written by Timothy Cheung, 2015 Boston University: Healthcare in Development

As I sat on my bed at home, packing for this service learning program to Peru, I wondered, “what can I pack to help change lives?”. After all, isn’t that what service learning trips are about: changing lives and making a difference? Here I was, a young and naïve pre-medicine student, expecting to “fix” Peru’s healthcare system; how foolish I was to simplify the situation.

On the day of arrival, we went through orientation with Matt and Lindsey, the Operation Groundswell program leaders. They were great! We played many games and we all got to know each other, but I was confused as to why we didn’t review any medical terminology, basic physiological concepts of medicine, or at least review the fundamental principles of cardiopulmonary resuscitation! Instead, many of our meetings were focused on the Peruvian economy, government, and many other facts of Peru that seemed random at the time.


As we sat down to eat our late lunch due to rainy weather and a steep hike to our destination, someone at my table brought up Peru’s national debt. What the heck; where did this come from? Nonetheless, the conversation continued. And so I learned: politics, greed, corruption. In short, these 3 words controlled the amount of funding the government provided to Peru’s public hospitals. And it was that moment when I realized my contemporary significance to the Peruvian healthcare system: nada. Nothing was the amount of change I could make on this trip alone. So I went to sleep that night wondering what the purpose of this whole trip was, and I think I found it.

The final outcome of this trip was a paradigm shift. Initially, I was so interested in providing service, that I forgot what service I could supply. It was not until I sat on the very same bed back home and started unpacking from Peru that I realized that I developed a newly found respect for different cultures and societies, outside of the U.S. and especially Peru. I had lived in the adobe huts, hiked in the highest elevation of my life, and made so many Peruvian friends to merely fathom the complex situation of which we call Peru.

Timothy Cheung with local Peruvians

Thus, the realization of this complexity is the importance of my trip. It is to learn how to serve by understanding the culture and society of which I’m serving. It is only when I learn how to serve will my service truly help others.

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