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Overseas Challenges Make for a Better Teacher

Scoping Out PT Service-Learning Projects in Guatemala

Dierdra Murphy in Guatemala
Deirdra Murphy, right, taught physical therapy workshops in Guatemala. Murphy is pictured with two graduates of the PT program at the Universidad Mariano Galvez and Cindy Potter, second from left, a volunteer from Pittsburgh.

By Karen Angelo

After six years of volunteering in developing countries as a physical therapy (PT) teacher, Assoc. Prof. Deirdra Murphy is still amazed at how much she learns from each international experience. 

“I am a better teacher because I always learn something new,” says Murphy. “Like my students, I am often shocked at the lack of facilities and physical therapy equipment. But these challenges force us to think on our feet and get creative.” 

For the past five summers, she has traveled to Peru, Nicaragua and Turkey with UMass Lowell students, helping children and families overcome disabilities. This past June, through Health Volunteers Overseas, she taught workshops to students and faculty at the Universidad Mariano Galvez, a private, non-faith based institution of higher education founded in 1966 in Guatemala City. The goal was to help the university strengthen its PT curriculum. 

While there, she scoped out possible service learning projects for UMass Lowell students at a local orphanage. “I really love taking our students to other countries and watching how they handle real-life experiences,” says Murphy. “They learn how to be flexible and creative in almost any situation. If patients don’t have crutches or speak the same language, what do you do?” 

Murphy plans on designing a service-learning project in Guatemala for students in collaboration with alumni fluent in Spanish.