Hands-on experience in physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy is hard to come by when you stick with traditional education. Fortunately, you have other options. Whether you’re studying nursing, speech pathology, physical therapy, or another medical or healthcare field, there are a wide variety of internships available in countries around the globe.
When you intern abroad, you have an opportunity to gain real-world experience. Better still, you make a critical contribution to disadvantaged communities that rely on volunteers to help care for their most vulnerable citizens and their families. Volunteer oportunities can give you enough hands-on experience to broaden your perspective and boost your skills. The following organizations are leaders in designing and facilitating the world’s best international internship programs. These are just a few of the projects waiting for you:
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When it comes to family values, Maximo Nivel leads the way. It’s an organization that has been family-owned and operated since it was founded in 2003. Every year, more than 4,000 travelers, students, volunteers, and other participants lend a hand to community-building work at one of the agency’s four education institutes in Latin America.
Maximo Nivel specializes in creating programming for citizens of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru – three of the most beautiful countries in the world. Because the organization is concentrated in just three countries, it has strong connections with local residents. You don’t have to worry about obstacles with language and customs – there are plenty of people on the ground ready to assist.
There is an opportunity for Special Education (including Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy) interns and volunteers in all three countries served by Maximo Nivel. Of course, your exact responsibilities will vary by program and placement. These programs require a minimum commitment of four weeks, and you should arrive with intermediate Spanish language skills for maximum impact.
Costa Rica was one of the first countries in the world to pass legislation guaranteeing appropriate education for children with special needs. While lawmakers and educators remain committed to this philosophy, limited resources can make it challenging to deliver. That’s where you come in.
Special Education Internships in Costa Rica give you an opportunity to get hands-on experience while you provide special needs children with the support they need to develop their skills. Under the supervision of certified Special Education teachers, you will assist with planning lessons and appropriate therapeutic activities, and then you will put your plans to work in the classroom.
Though Guatemala is still a developing nation, education has been a priority. Over the past 30 years, enrollment in school went from just 39 percent to nearly 100 percent. Children with special needs are included in this figure, and teachers are working hard to provide the right support. However, there simply aren’t enough special education teachers and staff to go around.
When you participate in the Special Education Internship in Guatemala, you can look forward to making an impact. You will work with individual students to ensure that they are getting the most out of material being presented, and you will have an opportunity to create lesson plans and design activities that are customized for your students’ needs.
The city of Cusco has a distinctive history, and was once the bustling capital of the Inca Empire. Today, you can still see remnants of that history in the streets and buildings. Education is a priority in Peru, and there has been a lot of focus on improving quality and access over the past 20 years. While legislators and education professionals are working hard to ensure there are appropriate services available for special needs students, the truth is that demand far outstrips the supply of resources available. In many special education classrooms, the student teacher ratio is 15:1.
Your work in one of Cusco’s special education classrooms will have an immediate and lasting impact on the lives of your students. Through your Special Education Internship in Peru, you will provide one-on-one attention and support, in addition to developing and delivering lessons to the entire class.
If you want to participate in an affordable project with a proven organization, look no further. A sister program of International Volunteer HQ (one of the largest volunteer travel organizations in the world), Intern Abroad HQ is a leader professional internship programs and has been recognized for safety, responsible practice, and support. Programs are available year-round, and focus on professional and personal development. They offer multiple medical internships, including occupational therapy internships.
The Occupational Therapy Internship in Cape Town, South Africa requires a minimum four-week commitment. However, you will need far more than a month to explore everything the city has to offer. This bustling port is a hub of activity, and there is always something to see and do – such as spending an afternoon visiting with penguins at nearby Boulder’s Beach, or even heading out of the city for a hike, bike, or cable car ride to the distinctive flat top of Table Mountain.
During work hours, you will be placed in a children’s hospital, special education school, or a care facility for those with disabilities, where you will offer much-needed therapy to residents. You will be matched with local professionals to help people with various injuries and health conditions regain and improve their skills and mobility. For instance, patients recently released from the surgery center may spend time with you as they work to regain muscle and mobility. Many interns remark that they can see visible progress in their patients as a result of their efforts.
If you can spare two or more weeks, and you have basic verbal Spanish language skills, a Special Needs & Childcare Internship in Costa Rica could be the right choice for you. This small Central American country is known for its diverse geography. In a single day you can travel from an uncrowded beach to the heart of the rainforest, stopping at a volcanic lava field along the way.
Interns spend their working hours at day care centers and special needs facilities, so you may work with children ranging from infants to young adults. Depending on your skills and interests, as well as the needs of your facility, you may assist with structured activities, help with caring for the children, or prepare educational materials that are designed to support development of independence and self-esteem.
The Physiotherapy Internship in Cusco, Peru takes you to one of the world’s most fascinating archeological sites. Once upon a time, this city was the capital of the massive Inca Empire. The buildings that formed the ancient city were never completely demolished; instead, they were integrated with more modern architecture to create stunning results that you won’t find anywhere else. Once you have explored the city, take a side trip to hike the Inca Trail high into the Andes Mountains, where you will enter the sacred Incan citadel of Machu Picchu.
This project is designed for a minimum of four weeks, and participants are asked to come with intermediate Spanish language skills. You can look forward to advancing your Spanish even more during your stay. The program has opportunities for those at every stage of their physiotherapy education. If you are just starting out, you will assist a qualified physiotherapist in settings like local primary schools. More experienced interns may work with patients in the local physiotherapy center.
The city of Valencia, Spain is nestled between the Turia River and the Mediterranean Sea. It attracts visitors with a passion for the arts and sciences, thanks in part to its creative architecture, interactive museum, oceanarium, and planetarium. When you choose the Healthcare Internship in Spain, you can spend your off-hours pursuing all sorts of passions, from sunbathing at the beach to touring a Medieval castle.
A physiotherapist internship requires a minimum two-week commitment, and you can look forward to a placement at one of the local hospitals. Under the supervision of an experienced practitioner, you will have opportunities to assist with direct patient care, participate in research, and perhaps even teach your skills to others. No matter what your assignment is, you can be sure that you are contributing to the well-being of your patients.
The historical city of Athens is a dream destination for many travelers. Its ancient ruins like the Acropolis or Poseidon’s Temple are world renowned and date back to an important time in human history, and it never fails to draw crowds from around the world, no matter the time of year. During a medical internship in Athens, you can enjoy these iconic locations in your free time, from exploring the beaches to hiking the nearby Mount Parnitha National Park.
A physiotherapy or occupational therapy internship in Athens requires a minimum stay of two weeks, with placements available in local hospitals and clinics. Come prepared to shadow under the supervision of a licensed medical professional, support clinic staff, and rotate across various departments.
When a group of volunteers couldn’t find the type of programming they wanted, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They founded Plan My Gap Year to ensure that students, interns, and volunteers around the world could contribute their skills and enjoy the rewards of this critical work in projects that are affordable, safe, and responsible. Today, Plan My Gap Year offers opportunities ranging from one to 36 weeks in 17 countries around the world. Among many other programs, they offer internship and volunteer opportunities for students pursuing a career in the medical field.
If you are preparing for a career in occupational therapy – or you are already practicing – you can develop your skills by tackling the challenges in a developing nation as a general medical volunteer or occupational therapy volunteer.
The Ecuador Medical Volunteers project is carefully designed to support the needs of Ecuador’s economically disadvantaged communities. You will be placed at the Hospital Pablo Arturo Suarez, which is the second-largest public hospital in the capital city of Quito. You will travel to work past buildings constructed on the foundations of ancient Incan ruins, and you will spend approximately five hours a day on-site, working under the supervision of experienced professionals.
Your exact responsibilities will depend on your level of skill, as well as your mastery of the Spanish language. You will encounter patients with a variety of medical conditions, and you can expect an introduction into the world of holistic medicine, which many citizens still rely on almost exclusively.
Alternatively, you can contribute your talents to a project in the sprawling city of Delhi when you join the India Medical Volunteers. Though there is excellent health care available in India, it is out-of-reach for a large percentage of the population due to the expense. As a result, many of the poorest citizens experience a range of significant medical conditions.
Depending on the project you choose and the duration of your stay, you may be placed in one of Plan My Gap Year’s free medical camps. These are located in several of the area’s hospitals, as well as in local clinics and throughout economically challenged neighborhoods. You will have an opportunity to observe licensed medical professionals as they work, and they will supervise you as you assist with and deliver care for the people who need it most.
This program allows you to be an occupational therapy volunteer in Ghana. Kumasi is one of the largest metropolitan areas in this country. It is located in the southern part of the country, just 300 miles (500 km) north of the equator. Some refer to Kumasi as The Garden City, because the tropical climate encourages the growth of an astonishing array of flowers and plants.
Participants in the Physical Therapy Internship can make a significant impact on the health of this community, where limited resources and poor access to basic sanitation permit disease to thrive. One of the most fascinating aspects for health care professionals is the opportunity to assist with conditions that are rarely seen in the Western world.
All participants in the Physical Therapy Internship are placed in Kumasi’s main government hospital, Manhyia. Exact responsibilities depend on level of education and previous experience. Often, you will have the chance to make a hands-on contribution to patient care under the supervision of staff members.
In 2009, a brother and sister team from New Zealand decided that the high fees required by other volunteer-abroad organizations were preventing many talented participants from joining a project. They designed a new organization to focus on safe, responsible volunteer and intern abroad opportunities at an affordable price. Ten years later, Love Volunteers is an award-winning member of the travel abroad community. If you are looking for a program that will give you real-world experience in Physical, Speech, or Occupational Therapy, LV has opportunities for you.
When you participate in the Disabilities and Special Needs Internship in Cusco, Peru, you are stepping into a bit of history. Spend your free time exploring the streets and admiring the unique architecture or visit sites with strong ties to ancient communities such as the Plaza de Armas or the Santo Domingo Convent.
The education of children and young adults is a priority in Peru, but the area lacks staff and financial resources to meet the needs of those with disabilities. If you choose this project, you will be placed in a daycare or other educational facility to support the care of disabled members of the community aged 3 – 25. Depending on your interests and skills, you can choose a project where you work alongside a Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, or Physical Therapist to ensure that students get the specialized care and individual attention needed to thrive.
Quito, Ecuador, is another city that dates back to the Incan Empire. In colonial times, it played an important role in settlement of South America. Today, there are a variety of 16th and 17th century buildings to visit when during off hours, as well as a rich culture of food, music, art, and dance to enjoy.
Participating in the Disabilities and Special Needs Internship in Quito, Ecuador, exposes you to strategies for managing the care and treatment of disabled children from birth to age 14. The facility that Love Volunteers supports is focused on ensuring that the most vulnerable members of the community are given the tools and resources needed to reach their full potential. You can assist with hands-on therapies, in addition to designing and facilitating activities and games that add some fun to the day.
Albania is struggling on multiple fronts when it comes to caring for its disabled citizens. Financial resources are scarce, and experienced professionals are in short supply. Love Volunteers is one of the few intern-abroad organizations with a program in this area, and volunteers are urgently needed to fill staffing gaps.
The Disabilities and Special Needs Internship in Tirana, Albania partners with a special care facility in the small village of Prush, which is just outside the city. The center provides comprehensive services for 50 young people ranging in age from 6 – 25. You will assist staff members in delivery of daily programming, as well as individual support in the form of speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.
Projects Abroad prides itself on being one of the first to create opportunities for students and individuals to contribute their skills in communities around the world. After more than 25 years, their vision has developed into a thriving network of current interns, alumni, staff, and community partners. There are a variety of projects available to ensure you can pursue your passion. These are some of the most popular for current and future Physical, Speech, and Occupational therapists:
Participating in Projects Abroad’s Physiotherapy Internship in Nepal gives you a rare opportunity to observe the treatment of complex conditions first-hand. Perhaps more important, you will work with seasoned professionals to teach family members how to support disabled loved ones. This is an under-trained skill, but it is critical for the patient’s long-term success.
Your time in Nepal will be spent in Kathmandu or Chitwan, depending on your interests and the area of greatest need at the time of your application. On your off-hours, you can travel the streets in a rickshaw, stopping to explore these cities’ elaborate Buddhist temples, shops, and eateries. You’ll return home with a deep understanding of Nepalese culture.
If you prefer to work with children, the Occupational Therapy Internship in Cambodia is an excellent option. You will partner with local staff members to assess abilities and design comprehensive treatment plans to support skill development.
You will share an apartment with other volunteers in the nation’s capital city of Phnom Penh. That means you get to build new friendships, and you will have company while you sample the delicious local cuisine.
As a registered UK charity, Agape Volunteers is able to access certain forms of financial support that aren’t available to for-profit organizations. That means you can enjoy more affordable fees when you choose to participate in one of these thoughtfully developed community internships in Africa. Agape’s projects are designed with the needs of participants in mind, and organizers take great care to ensure safe, responsible, impactful community partnerships.
Real-world experience isn’t always easy to come by when you are just starting out in your healthcare career. When you participate in Agape’s Medical Volunteering in Kenya program, you will have opportunities that aren’t available at home. You will work in a community hospital or clinic alongside some of the most talented medical professionals in the country. Under their supervision, you will support therapies for patients with a wide range of conditions. Sometimes, your responsibilities will include outreach projects which involve taking information and care outside of the clinic to the people who need it most.
If you prefer to spend your time in the nation that is home to Serengeti National Park, Medical Volunteering in Tanzania is right for you. During work hours, you will alleviate some of the pressure on staff members who are stretched thin. You will have a chance to observe skilled professionals in action, as well a support patient care hands-on, depending on your level of experience.
You can expect to be on-site at your hospital or clinic five days a week, which means you have two days per week for exploration and adventure. Start by taking a trip to see the chimpanzees on Lake Tanganyika or spending the afternoon on one of Zanzibar’s world-famous beaches.
More Ways To Explore The World
Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive. A variety of additional organizations offer quality internships for those interested in Physical, Speech, and Occupational Therapy. For example, GoEco was founded by experienced volunteers, who know exactly what you are looking for in an intern-abroad program. Check out the Medical Internship in San Jose, Costa Rica to learn more.
A Broader View is distinctive because it is a nonprofit organization that offers short- and long-term programs for individuals and families of all ages. Those interested in gaining physical therapy experience might be most interested in the Ecuador Therapy Center in the city of Quito.
After more than 24 years in the field, Cross-Cultural Solutions projects are well-established. That means your time spent in an internship has maximum impact. Work with younger students through the Early Child Education & Development program in Costa Rica, or contribute to child health in one of the Community-Based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) Centers in Ghana.
Those who love extreme, high-adrenaline adventures will find a perfect fit at Fronteering. This organization is dedicated to pushing limits while giving back to the communities it serves. Programs are unique and include US-based options like the Children’s Autism and Horse Therapy project in Mississippi.
Many African nations are still considered developing, but they are making great strides in the areas of healthcare and education. Naturally Africa Volunteers gives you a chance to support this progress through programs like the Namibia Medical Volunteer Project and the Lake Malawi Medical Volunteer Project.
Since 1989, Frontier has successfully placed more than 103,000 volunteers in projects around the world. The organization offers opportunities in a variety of fields, and it is a leader in publishing evidence-based research on issues in conservation and other areas of focus. Students and professionals in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are sure to find a match with options like the Kenya Healthcare Internship or the India Medical Internship.
Globalteer is a UK-based organization with particular focus in Asian and Latin American countries. This agency is dedicated to responsible programming, with carefully designed projects like the Cambodia Community Project or the Colombia kids Project.
Teens who want to make more of their summer break can find one-of-a-kind experiences through Global Leadership Adventures. This organization places participants in communities off-the-beaten path, so you can get an authentic view of life in other cultures. Check out opportunities like Thailand: In & Beyond the Classroom or Dominican Republic: Global Health Initiative to learn more.
The philosophy behind Raleigh International’s programming is simple. Empowered communities are better able to sustain and build on the contributions of volunteers and interns. You can count on being a part of the solution when you participate in projects based in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Malaysian Borneo, Nepal, or Tanzania.
African Impact has been named a top volunteer organization thanks to its talent for providing cutting-edge solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing the eleven countries where it has operations. Join passionate staff members through projects like Medical and Community Development in Zambia or Hospital and Clinic Medical Support in Kenya to contribute your skills.
No matter what project you choose or which organization you choose to intern with, you can be certain that your life will never be the same. Your time interning abroad is sure to create meaningful change in the community you serve, and you will return with new skills, knowledge, and friendships that will last a lifetime.
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Rachel Roderick · Guest Writer
Based in Rhode Island, Rachel researches and writes about volunteer, intern, and teach abroad programs worldwide. She has traveled to some of the world's most exciting destinations - including Iceland and South Africa - and in her spare time loves skydiving, rock climbing, and canoeing.