Philippa Harris - Dentistry in Argentina
I hadn’t always planned on having a gap year but through unforeseen circumstances I suddenly had one. I knew that during this year I needed to travel and get some new experiences to set me up for my future. I wanted to go to South America so my choice was between Argentina and Bolivia but I finally decided on Argentina due to its beautiful landscapes, culture and people. I chose to do a dentistry placement with Projects Abroad to help with my university application but also to experience dentistry in a different country.
I was very anxious and scared as I first set foot in Argentina, mainly due to the fact that it was the first journey I had made on my own and also because my Spanish wasn’t proving to be as good as I had hoped. My Projects Abroad coordinator picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at my host family. My host mum was a grandmother and the only other person in the house was another volunteer. I quickly started to grasp more of the language and I was surviving simple conversations but it gave me a lot of comfort that my roommate had a very good level of Spanish and could help with conversations.
I quickly learned that the Argentine people are very friendly and kind and I knew rather early on that I wasn’t going to have a problem with the food; the main problem was getting my host mum to understand that I was full!
On my first morning I was shown around the city, introduced to the bus transport system and shown where I would be based on my placement. I was a little shocked by the size of the city and already started to worry about getting lost; there was no need to worry however as I learned the main routes quickly.
My Dentistry Placement
I was placed in a hospital in central Cordoba. It was a large children’s hospital but has dentistry departments for both adults and children. In my first week I was in the children’s department where there were four dentists’ chairs in one room. I was prepared for a very different degree of dentistry but straight away I was watching extractions on children as young as 9 years old and fillings on children much younger.
I also spent time with the dentists in the adults department where they were also performing many fillings and extractions. Due to my low level of Spanish and lack of dentistry training it was rare that I was able to do things but on occasions I was able to mix filling material and assist the dentists by aspirating.
The longer I stayed in Argentina the more I began to understand the reasons behind the bad quality of teeth I had been seeing, with the high levels of sugar in food and lack of dental education. Throughout my few weeks in the hospital I realised how lucky we are in the UK with the level of healthcare and education we are able to receive.
Each week Projects Abroad would arrange a social for all the volunteers to go to. Once a month there would be one which most of the volunteers would attend, this was normally a meal in the evening. As well as this, on weekends the social manager would arrange a trip to nearby towns. We went to the waterfall at Rio Ceballos and we also had a ‘dirty day’ where we collected food for the local orphanages.
With some of the other volunteers I went to nearby parks and towns including the Quebradadel Condorito, Villa Carlos Paz and Mina Clavero. Visiting these places allowed me to see the true beauty of the country I was in and appreciate how lucky I was to be there. I was fortunate that Cordoba is a safe city which meant that we were able to go out quite regularly at night for meals; the city has a great choice of restaurants and an amazing atmosphere.
When I arrived in Argentina I felt horribly homesick and wondered whether I had made the right decision to travel away from home. Once I had settled in I loved my time over there. The experiences I had in Argentina have given me great memories. I hope that I have made some lifelong friends during my stay and dream of the day I can go back to Argentina.