One co-op, two countries

After a long year of nonstop classes, Bryan Muñoz knew that he wanted to spend time at home in New Jersey. But he also wanted to work abroad.

Rather than choose between two equally appealing options, Muñoz made an easy decision: He decided to do both, splitting his six-month co-op stint into two blocks.

The fifth-year physical therapy major worked for four months at a rehabilitation clinic near his family’s home in Teaneck, N.J., and then completed a two-month experiential-learning opportunity in Quito, Ecuador, working as a therapist for the Red Cross.

Muñoz’s co-op in Ecuador was funded through the Presidential Global Scholars Program, which gives students grants in support of their international experiences.

In the first phase of the two-part co-op, which ran from January through April, Muñoz worked at Excel Physical Therapy in Hackensack, N.J., a position he found via a Northeastern alumnus in the area who referred him to a colleague with a job opening.

“I was  able to spend a lot of time working on exercises with patients and working as part of a team committed to our patients,” Muñoz said of the co-op. “I learned a lot of the team aspect of physical therapy there.”

He described a completely different experience in Quito, Ecuador, where he worked with patients in a one-on-one capacity. He spoke fluent Spanish and incorporated the skills he developed in class at Northeastern and on co-op in New Jersey, training the local therapists with cutting-edge techniques that they had never used.

“In Ecuador, I had no idea what to expect,” Muñoz said. “I got there after my work in New Jersey and it was just a 180 degree turn. I knew I just had to be flexible and roll with the punches — and it completely paid off.”

Muñoz worked with two patients on his first day but his workload increased after his colleagues recognized that his skill set was exactly what his patients needed.

“After that experience, I feel so much more confident in myself and my skills,” said Muñoz, who will graduate with both a bachelor’s and a doctorate from the Bouvé College of Health Sciences in 2014. “It made me see that I want to work with underserved communities that have a very real need for the kind of care I can provide.”

Next year Muñoz will have the chance to return to Quito. As part of a faculty-led experiential-learning opportunity over spring break, he and his fellow physical therapy students will provide care to patients in underserved communities like the one he worked with through the Red Cross.