Preparing for the Internship

In order to tell this story accurately, I need to give a little bit of background. I flew to The Gambia from Australia. I had been living in Brisbane for about five months prior to participating in the Penn International Internship Program. I can honestly say that those five months were some of the best of my life. I loved living in Brisbane, I loved my roommates, and I loved the hospital I worked at. I honestly don’t think I ever would have been ready to leave Brisbane, and I think that having something excited to look forward to helped me to be able to leave without getting too sad. It didn’t keep me from avoiding the reality that I was leaving, though. This is where the problem was. I have never in my life procrastinated on doing something as much as I procrastinated in packing to fly to Africa. I pretty much left myself two hours to put everything I thought I needed into my backpack and a suitcase.


To make my life more complicated at this point, I need to get to The Gambia as soon as possible, but my finals in Australia were scheduled really late. In order to get to The Gambia and still have enough time there, I scheduled my flight to leave the night of my final exam. I walked out of the exam knowing I had to race home, actually pack my bags, and be on the shuttle to the airport in about two and half hours. Miraculously, I made it to the airport on time.


Even more miraculously, none of my luggage was overweight. Since I, literally, had no idea what to expect, I agonized over what to wear. I know, know, such a silly thing to worry about. The problem was that as much research as I did online, I couldn’t quite figure out what was acceptable to wear in The Gambia. I just knew that the country is predominantly Islam, so I felt like I needed to be respectful of the culture, but I also needed to dress appropriately for work. To make this whole process more difficult, I knew that it was going to be hot, like, really hot.


Now that I have arrived (I made it yesterday and after a stupid number of hours in transit). I have realized that:

  • There are so many other things I should have been worried about.
  • No one really cares what I wear. My normal clothes totally would have been respectful enough.
  • It’s going to be a hot, hot summer.


A note on my travel:

Like I mentioned before, I spent an insane amount of time in transit. Thank you Australia for being far from EVERWHERE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE WOLRD. I flew from Brisbane to Perth, Perth to Doha, Doha to Casablanca, Casablanca to Bissau, and finally, Bissau to Banjul. It was actually kind of fun, and gave me a lot of time to think. Mostly I thought, ”What the heck did I get myself into. I’m crazy.” My line of thought eventually transitioned to, “Excited. Nervous. Too tired and hungry to think in full sentences.” I had a super long layover in Casablanca, and thought that I would get out and explore, but I had my checked bags because I used, like five different airlines to get to The Gambia, so I couldn’t just check them through to The Gambia. Conveniently, the airport in Casablanca does not have luggage storage. I was just too tired to handle the thought of schlepping my luggage into the city, etc. I had a bounty bar (coconut covered in chocolate), barbecue chips, and a soda for lunch then napped on hard plastic chairs for about six hours. Exciting stuff.


I really thought that I’d be more freaked out during this whole time, but I was weirdly calm and not freaked out. I really enjoyed seeing the different airplanes, airports, languages, and people as I made my way across the globe. I was a little nervous that no one would be there when I arrived, but I didn’t let myself think about it very much. I did have a funny moment at customs in The Gambia. They wanted to go through my bags, but when they asked what I was doing in The Gambia and I told them I was volunteering in Bwiam at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital, their attitude immediately changed. They said, “Oh, since you’re a doctor here to help our country, we’ll just let you be on your way.” This was one of the only times in my life I didn’t correct someone that, “No, I’m not a doctor, I’m a nurse.” With that, I had successful entered The Gambia with all the wrong business casual clothes that covered most of my body (didn’t want to cause a scandal), and my french press and ground coffee.


Now I am enjoying said coffee, while sitting at the back door of the house I am staying at the hospital, looking across a red, dusty field at an amazing Baobob tree. I’m honestly so happy to be here. I keep pinching myself to see if this is actually real life. I am excited and so nervous about what’s going to happen over the next two months.

-Kaelyn York
Power Up Gambia, The Gambia


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