International Opportunities for Pre-Health Students: An Adventure to Central America – Part II

by Rebecca Theophanous

Attention, readers! Are you bored out of your mind sitting in Clapp L9 watching PowerPoint slides flash before your eyes? Are you tired of hearing the cacophony of creaking desks and TB coughs while your professor delivers an eloquent monologue? Well, you’re in luck, because you’re about to learn how to get away from the wonderful campus of the University of Pittsburgh and get yourself onto the next plane to New Zealand (err, or anywhere else besides the good old United States of America).

Hear ye, old school folks: the traditional study abroad program!

If you are a person who has never crossed the U.S. border, who likes meeting lots of new people or who feels more comfortable with safety in numbers (in the possible event that you might get arrested and not be able to return to your homeland??), the traditional study abroad program may be the best option for you.

For anyone tuning in from the last issue, I described my own experiences abroad with International Studies Abroad (ISA) as an example of a Pitt-approved study abroad program. ISA has expanded its number of programs and is currently supporting study at accredited schools and universities in 18 countries all over the world, with the newest ISA programs located in Seoul and Shanghai. Programs can span a semester, an academic year, part of a summer or all summer.

The great thing about studying abroad is that the number of program options is endless. My interest in the ISA program was mainly in regard to my Spanish major, but students can find courses in a multitude of subjects. For example, the program in London offers classes such as Biosciences, Integrated Health, and Psychology that fit well with science majors’ interests, as well as courses such as English Literature and Linguistics, History and Sociology that could fulfill General Education requirements. The Medical Spanish and Health Care summer program in San Jose, Costa Rica that I selected is an excellent program that I would recommend for pre-health undergraduate students.

Some large study abroad programs include IIEPassport, CEA, AIFS, IES, CIEE, KEI, Global Learning Semesters, and more. For example, KEI offers a program in Medicine, Health and Biomedical Science (MHBS). According to its website, options include clinical courses such as Human Gross Anatomy (in a cadaver lab), Operative Surgery and Internal Medicine; biomedical science courses such as Embryology, Medical Microbiology, Clinical Nutrition, Public Health; science courses in biology, chemistry and physics; clinical internships at hospitals and community clinics; biomedical research internships; foreign language courses, some specializing in medical terminology; or regional and cultural studies, general education and liberal arts courses to supplement and diversify your experience abroad. The MHBS concentration is available in Ecuador, England, India, Tanzania and Thailand.

Many short-term volunteer opportunities also exist for students who may already have a full summer and academic year schedule. Some programs can last between one and six weeks, usually taking place in late spring or summer. One example is United Planet, a program for medical, dental and other health volunteers. Students travel to another country where they learn basic medical techniques, participate in cultural activities and go on excursions to other sites in the country.

Another program- ISA’s Experiential Learning Abroad Program, or ELAP for short, is available in seven countries. Students can volunteer at a pharmacy, blind institute, or medical clinic in Santiago, Dominican Republic, or perhaps work at a children’s orphanage or senior citizen’s home in Guanajuato, Mexico. A few students in my summer program had the opportunity to spend six weeks in a public hospital and elementary school in Lima, Peru.

The elusive Fulbright Fellowship is a prestigious national scholarship available to students who have completed their Bachelor’s degree. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Graduating college seniors can apply to participate in academic study, conduct research or teach abroad for an academic year, usually for nine to 12 months.

Another long-term opportunity is the Peace Corps, whose volunteers spend 27 months abroad. Volunteers can choose from 77 countries and receive language, cultural and technical training. Possible openings include positions in education, youth and community development, health, HIV/AIDS and food security

Research opportunities are endless. The DAAD program in Germany is a program strongly emphasized at Pitt and popular among students. Scholarships are available for 4-10 months of study, thesis research or internships.

EuroScholars is a semester-long research program. It is open to undergraduates and post-graduates. According to their website, students will undertake one or two subjects in the classroom and then work under the direct supervision of professors and other academic staff on a specific academic research project chosen by both the student and faculty. Research projects can be selected from several fields of interest, including biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, medicine and biomedical science. 


Tips for Choosing a Study Abroad Program:

1. Remember the basics:

Who? Myself (and my pet Arabidopsis). What? Study, language, volunteer, research, internship, never-ending party? When? Week, month, summer, semester, year, entire life? Where? England, Germany, France, Greece, Peru, Costa Rica, Japan, Australia, Russia, Namibia? Why? Learn, have fun, grow as a person, meet new people, hook up with a hot foreigner?

2. What factors should you consider in choosing a program?

Make sure it’s legitimate! If you do not want to take on Pitt’s direct letter-grade transfer programs (although some students do choose this option), then it would be best to choose a Pitt-approved program. You can confirm this with the Study Abroad Office. Usually, representatives at an on-campus study abroad fair are from a Pitt-approved program.

3. Resources:

It is a good idea to get as much background as you can about different programs before choosing one in particular. Students with previous experience are an invaluable source of information. Also, visits with different advisors such as your respective major advisors and the pre-health advisor, Andrea Abt can help ensure that study abroad will not impact your pre-medical schedule. In many cases, courses offered abroad can substitute for a course offered at Pitt, and students can gain a very different perspective on the subject than they would have in the classroom here. If you are creative, there may be ways to design a trip combining study abroad, volunteering and/or research in back-to-back program.

4. How to fund your trip:

A) Scholarships: Institutions like Pitt always have extra money to go around. (They just don’t always tell you about it.) Students can apply for funds from the Study Abroad Office, Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms, their respective study abroad program and other groups like Golden Key, NSCS, etc.

B) Research stipends: Some institutions may offer funds to conduct research abroad. DAAD, Fulbright, and EuroScholars have been mentioned briefly. Believe it or not, the Internet is full of people who are trying to give away money if you know how to find it and are smart enough to convince them to give it to you and not to someone else.

C) Sponsorship: Sometimes, wealthy people like to help poor college students and will donate some spare change to allow you to do something worthwhile with your life. It’s up to you to find the courage to ask them.


Overall, I hope that something I have written has sparked you to get up out of your chair and dance around from the thrill of the possibilities that await you (well, until you remember about your upcoming organic chemistry exam for which you still haven’t studied). In all seriousness, please make a visit to the Study Abroad Office, meet with your academic advisor, and start browsing the Web. You will not know what you are missing until you are abroad (when it will be too late to turn back!). I wish you a wonderful eureka moment when you finally make your difficult choice. Finally, my apologies in advance when you return to the states. You’ll understand when you get to that point.