Ohio State Takes On Nicaragua
By Casie Jingle
For my STEP experience I did a service learning abroad project in Nicaragua. 35 people and I traveled to a small town, El Naranjo, to provide basic medical and dental care to the members of the community. We shadowed doctors, filled prescriptions, taught children to brush their teeth, and watched teeth extractions. For the second half of the week we built a bathroom, shower, and washing station for three local families.
Having traveled to Panama with the same program previously, to complete an environmental project, I was expecting the experience to be similar. However, this project was different on many levels. The main cities were nothing like Panama City, which can be described as comparable to NYC. They were flat, with one story buildings and appeared impoverished right from the airport.
Through interacting with the community members I learned how little I know about the world. Even with four years of Spanish, I struggled to communicate with the patients and had trouble understanding their responses about medical history and allergies. If I were to return I would become fluent in conversational Spanish so I could have meaningful conversations to learn more about the citizens’ ways of life. However, I did pick up some key phrases that could be helpful in a future medical profession and some of my forgotten Spanish came flooding back.
Many of the people worked on farms or made/built objects with their hands. Their labor to make a living on wages that most of us could not imagine living on, is something that we take for granted here. I got to be a part of this way of life when I hand mixed concrete, laid a floor and built walls for a bathroom and shower. The job 10 of us completed could have easily been completed faster by more experienced people but it gave us the opportunity to experience first hand the every day lives of many Nicaraguans. I saw the world in a different way and realize how lucky we are to have clean drinking water, access to health care when we need it, and even something as simple as a roof that doesn’t leak.
Not only did I learn about the cultures of other countries but I opened up. The fastest way to make friends and break out of your bubble is to travel across the country with 35 strangers with similar life goals as you. Usually I will not be the one to start a conversation and keep to myself. But being in close quarters with the students and working together to translate what the patients are saying is the easiest way to get to know someone. From there we built the relationships. I learned that once I get over the initial nervousness of meeting someone new, being their friend isn’t difficult. Now I have 35 friends that are potential connections for the future, can introduce me to clubs on campus I never considered joining, and could provide study buddies for classes. I even met a doctor and a dentist, parents of two of the students on the trip, that could provide me with references, shadowing, or career advice.
When I applied to the trip I was pre-med. Right before the trip I was considering pre-vet, making me wonder how this experience could be relevant, and by the time the trip was over I was seriously considering pre-PA (physician assistant), and still am. I learned there is a Physician Assistant Club on campus and that one of the girls on the trip is president. I also learned that others were having internal debates about taking a GAP year after graduation to gain more experience in preparation for grad school which gave me comfort because I was considering the same thing.
The trip was eye-opening. To be able to learn about the world while providing service to others was everything I aspire to do, combined into one. I am now inspired to continue learning Spanish so that next time I can communicate better. Because I was struggling to pick between Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, this trip reinforced that I do like helping people and working in the medical field. It solidified my decision to continue down the path I had always imagined myself on. Given the chance I will definitely participate in a Global Brigades trip again.
Not only did this project fulfill my goals of serving others and gaining experience in the field I would like to go into but it is also helping me accomplish my goal of traveling the world, eating authentic food and learning about the culture. I would recommend this trip to anyone.