From Berks to Buenos Aires: Santos finds purpose during study abroad internship

Caring for other people has always been second nature for Penn State Berks senior Aidee Santos Acosta. Naturally, it makes sense that she would want to pursue a career in the medical field, and this summer, she got a front-row seat to her future.

Santos, of Reading, Pa., participated in an international medical internship in Buenos Aires, Argentina through Penn State Global’s Perreault Fellows Program, which prepares students for global leadership through participation in intercultural learning opportunities, a workshop through the Rock Ethics Institute, community service, and a presentation on their learning outcomes to the Provost’s Global Advisory Council.

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After receiving an email about the opportunity, Alexa Hodge, coordinator of student support services, the Aspiring Scholars Program, and the Pathway to Success: Summer Start Program at Penn State Berks, encouraged her to pursue the opportunity.

“Alexa took the time and the effort to sit with me and go through the whole application process,” Santos said. “I thank her every time for doing that for me because this experience changed my life.”

As fellows of the program, students get to choose where they want to study abroad. Santos chose Argentina because growing up in the Dominican Republic, she would watch TV shows about the country and took an interest in the culture.

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Despite now being biology major, with the genetics and developmental biology option, Santos wasn’t always sure if she wanted to pursue the sciences. It wasn’t until she took a biology class in the spring of her first year with Bryan Wang, teaching professor of biology, that solidified her decision.

Santos interned at Clínica Olivos, a private medical practice, where she shadowed surgeries, internal medicine appointments, and emergency room and intensive care unit treatments. While she enjoyed the freedom of choosing her role for the day, it didn’t come without some challenges of learning how to navigate daily situations.

“I learned how to manage certain things on the spot. It’s not like when you’re in class, and you’re looking at a PowerPoint,”
Santos said. “I was there watching everything happen firsthand.”

One of the key differences between the healthcare system in Argentina and the United States is the interpersonal approach that Argentines take when providing care, ensuring that patients have the support they need to recover at home.

“The way the doctors in Argentina communicate with their patients, it feels like they’re talking to their family,” she said. “They make sure that they’re well taken care of, and they make sure that the patients know that they care for them.”

When she wasn’t interning, Santos took the opportunity to step outside of her comfort zone and immerse herself in other cultures. Along with horseback riding and skiing and getting a taste of Argentine cuisine, she met people from all around the world at Mundo Lingo – a free social event that invites individuals of all nationalities to get to know each other. While it was hard to be the only person from a Penn State campus, she wasn’t alone in meeting people who were in a similar situation; however, this experience furthered her personal growth.

“I came back with a different perspective on life and how to talk to people,” Santos said. “In Argentina, I was able to talk to other people from other countries and connect with them on a personal level because we were all in the same boat. We were trying to navigate what being in another country was like.”

Of course, Santos attributes her success so far to her time at Penn State Berks.

“The people here ensure that you know that they care for you and that they want you to succeed,” Santos said. “I feel like if I wasn’t here at Penn State Berks, I don’t know where I’d be.”

The Perreault Fellows Program is a competitive global leadership and internship program that prepares students from multiple disciplines for personal and professional excellence through learning in cross-cultural leadership, ethics, service, personal mentoring, and an internship abroad related to health and the betterment of human condition broadly speaking. Each year the program seeks to enroll a diverse group of Penn State undergraduates in a two-year, co-curricular program, the centerpiece of which is an internship abroad during the summer between the junior and senior years.

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