Feature Stories Campus Events

Speaking with Confidence Julia Poppenberg '19 spent the summer as a translator in Guatemala, helping doctors and patients alike and learning to "talk strong."

“Thank you Surgicorps International and Washington and Lee University for giving me the opportunity to give back and talk strong.”

Julia Poppenberg ’19 spent the summer in Guatemala, helping doctors and patients alike, and learning to “talk strong.”

Hometown: Sewickley, Pennsylvania
Majors: Accounting & Business Administration and Spanish

Q. What did you do this summer?

This summer I was given the opportunity to do an international trip with Surgicorps International. Surgicorps provides access to medical needs in areas where it is not easily obtained. Although I am not studying to be a doctor, I applied as a volunteer to help translate between American doctors and Spanish-speaking doctors and patients.

Q. Where were you located for this opportunity?

Antigua, Guatemala. Each building in this beautiful city is a bright color with a unique door.

Q. What does an average day for you look like?

I would spend from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day at the hospital. While there, I would translate between American doctors and nurses and Guatemalan doctors, nurses, and patients in the pre-operation, post-operation, and operation rooms.

Q. If you can choose one part of your experience that has been the most rewarding and fulfilling, what would it be?

Speaking Spanish allowed me to comfort the patients who were scared and in pain before and after surgery, and allowed the doctors to do the medical procedures to help them.

Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced?

I was faced with a 15-year-old mother who was terrified as her sleeping son coughed up blood after his clef lift repair. I was faced with a 4-year-old, shrunken orphan whose mother had the Zika virus when she was pregnant. I was faced with an 11-year-old girl who cried when she woke up from the pain of her surgery and the loss of her brother the day before.

Q. Who has served as a mentor to you this summer, and what have they taught you?

My roommate on the trip, Amelia Hare, who had been on three trips with Surgicorps beforehand, taught me the medical terms I needed to know, but also showed me the comfort in communication.

Q. What have you learned at W&L that helped you in this endeavor, and what will you bring back to your life on campus?

The communication skills and my improved ability to speak Spanish were both valuable assets on my trips. Because of this trip, I will speak Spanish more often and with more confidence.

Q. Has this experience impacted your studies or future plans in any way?

This experience solidified my pursuit of a Fulbright in Mexico or the Teaching for America program as well as a career path that includes Spanish.

Q. Why is this kind of experience important to W&L students?

Washington and Lee is teaching me how to give back by giving me the opportunity to give. Without the Johnson Opportunity Grant or my education at Washington and Lee, I would not have been able to have this opportunity.

Q. Describe your summer adventure in one word:

Inspiring/Moving/Challenging

Q. What advice helped you during this opportunity?

A Guatemalan woman told me, “Whether you talk in English or Spanish, talk strong.” So it was for her that I talked strong to the 16-year-old mother who watched her son cough up blood after his cleft palette repair, the tiny orphan whose mother had Zika when she was pregnant with him, the girl who cried in the recovery room from the pain of her surgery and the loss of her brother the day before.

Thank you Surgicorps International and Washington and Lee University for giving me the opportunity to give back and talk strong.

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