America, We’re not Selfish… Are We?

Ah, medical volunteerism. You know, sometimes I really do feel bad about the amount of blog posts you might end up reading about medical volunteerism on this website, but honestly, there is just much to say on the topic, and everyone has contributed such meaningful and thought provoking sentiments to the blog… So, is it really a bad thing?

In this one in particular, I’d like to briefly comment on Avery’s very eloquent blog post entitled “Studying Abroad: What’s your Real Purpose?” I think Avery was incredibly attentive in her writing and brought up some interesting points about the medical volunteerism industry being tainted by American’s selfish motivations.

First off, I’d like to say that I’ve seen PLENTY of articles expressing the belief that Americans, especially millennials, are selfish and feel entitled. And like the Washington Post article Avery refers to, I’ve seen Americans being called “lazy” and “unintelligent” many times before. They’re just labels that we wear now, but that we often fervently try to fight against.

In my personal opinion, I do not think this is true. In fact, I think we are an extremely hard working, motivated group of people. I think it’s definitely easier to point fingers and find someone to blame, but I don’t think that sentiment is true. This article written by author, adviser, and entrepreneur Richie Norton,  debunks all the myths surrounding millennials in particular. Overall, it seems to highlight the idea that our times are rapidly changing with technological advancements and all, and millennials are doing extremely well given that we are not in the same place our parents and grandparents were.

Avery’s post was incredibly knowledgeable and definitely holds some truth. She is absolutely right. I mean, you don’t go on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook without seeing at least one or two people “bragging” or showing off pictures of them basking in the country they’re studying abroad or volunteering in. You only sometimes hear about the actual “helping” part of their trip.

However, I don’t necessarily think the problem lies in America’s “selfishness.” Like I said before, I wouldn’t label us as that. Selfishness might play a minor part in it, subconsciously of course, but I don’t think volunteering is fueled by this.  I think those who look into medical volunteerism do have good, selfless intentions, but they aren’t shown or acted on in the right way. I think people truly want to do good in these areas of the world. But it’s not an easy thing to do when you’re engaging with an entirely different environment and culture that doesn’t do or think the same things you do.  We sometimes go in with this “white savior complex” as we talked about in class. We go in thinking these communities need our help and our pity, and that we can offer that and much more. We sincerely want to help, but the situation isn’t approached in the most sensitive way. Coming from America, we sometimes have the mindset that we know better and are better equipped to help others, so it’s our job to do so. It is difficult to erase that mindset especially if you have never been out of the country. I don’t think this is selfishness or laziness. I think we just need to better educate ourselves and better understand how other parts of the world are.  Despite our good intent, I think we must listen more than we speak, and realize that we are an equal partner when engaging with these communities. No one has the upper hand. I think before we embark on these trips, we should seriously reflect on the reason that we’re going and to become informed on the people and the environment that we are going to be immersing themselves in.

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