I left my heart in South Africa- two week pre-veterinary program

Name: Alexandria Armeni

Type of Project: Study Abroad

Because of the STEP program I was able to spend two weeks volunteering at De Wildt Shingwedzi Cheetah and Wildlife Ranch in South Africa. The project I participated in was a pre-veterinary program through International Student Volunteers. My two weeks living and working on the ranch allowed me the opportunity to interact with amazing animals, assist in various veterinary produces, and expand on my knowledge of conservation.

It has always been a dream of mine to travel to Africa and as a pre-veterinary student with Veterinary school ambitions I have a keen interest in wildlife and conservation medicine. This program exceeded all expectations and allowed me to immerse myself in a life, culture and world wholly different to what I’ve known. I was nervous at first as this was something completely out of my comfort zone. I was worried about so many things from the food I would be eating to the 20 strangers I would be volunteering with. Looking  back now, though, I realize all of my nerves and worries were for nothing, the 20 strangers because my family, the food was amazing, and I was more comfortable and at home on Shingwedzi then I had ever been before.


I completely fell in love with South Africa, and I treasured every single moment of my time there. I surprised myself by how quickly I adjusted and how much those two weeks changed me. My ISV project leader told us our first day there our time in South Africa would change us in so many ways, and at the time I didn’t believe her. She was right, though; I am in no way the same person I was when I left for Africa. I am more confident, more comfortable with myself, more willing to try new things, and more extroverted.

While participating in my STEP signature project I learned an African phrase, “UBUNTO,” which means you are who you are because of other people. I believe this phrase sums up my experience. Every single staff member at Shingwedzi was welcoming, and made us feel like we were an integral part to the ranch. All of the projects we did on the ranch from painting enclosures, to feeding made the trip feel successful. It made me feel accomplished and proud that I was able to contribute to the ranch and ultimately the continued survival of the cheetah.


One of the main reasons I changed and grew as a person as much as I did was because of my ISV project leader, and the Veterinarian leader. These two women were able to bring all of the volunteers out of our shells, make us feel comfortable and at home, and show us there was no need to feel intimidated or nervous. They made even the dullest of tasks interesting, and were always there to make you laugh or smile. While they were the leaders of the project, they also played the role of teacher expanding our knowledge through daily lectures. From my project leader I learned about South African culture and history and from the veterinarian that traveled with us I learned about wild dog hunting behaviors, big cat diseases and so much more.  They were the center of group, our instructors, our leaders, but most importantly our friends.

This trip meant everything to me in terms of my professional goals and future plans. I have an interest in wildlife and conservation medicine and this program allowed me the opportunity to see if I would be interested in pursuing it in veterinary school.  From doing annual exams on cheetahs to vaccinating wild dogs, this trip was a trip of a lifetime. I grew as a person, as a student, and as a future veterinarian. I can’t wait to return to Shingwedzi and spend more time with the cheetahs.cheetah dogs elephant giraffes group me and africa ohio sunet

Brazil Global May

Name: Amelia Gagnon

Type of Project: Study Abroad

For my STEP Signature Project, I completed the Brazil Global May program. My four weeks abroad allowed me to visit three major cities within the diverse country of Brazil; Sao Paulo, Salvador, and Sao Jose do Rio Preto. This program provided lectures and field trips to expose me to the history, culture, and social problems facing this country.

When I applied to this trip, I was not sure what to expect of the program or of myself. As I have had the time to reflect upon my time abroad, I believe that this program has allowed me to blossom as a student and a person. Before beginning my experience, I was reserved. My time in this program helped me to break out of my shell. The Brazilian customs of friendliness and openness have become instilled in me. My Signature Project has shaped me into a more vocal leader.

Another aspect of this trip that surprised me was the similarities between the two countries. Current affairs, in both United States and Brazil, are extremely influenced by our histories of slavery. Racial injustice is one of the biggest problems facing both countries. This trip has opened my eyes even further to the racial injustices present here in the United States. It has also shown me that other countries around the world are not as different from the United States as one might think.

One of the most transformational aspects of my trip was the home stay. I was matched with an amazing family that took me in with open arms. I bonded immediately with my new mother and brother. Even though they did not speak any English and I did not speak any Portuguese, my experience with them is something I would not trade for the world. My time in their home taught me how to express myself without words and to be more assertive. Living in a home stay for those short two weeks made me see that a language barrier is something that can be easily overcome.

Another aspect of this trip that shaped me was the relationships I formed with Brazilians. During the trip, we visited many schools and met a ton of students. These teenagers were so loving and excited to learn about us, where we come from, and simply interact with us. It was an overwhelming, yet amazing experience to see how open Brazilians are to everybody. Not only these students, but my server at a restaurant, college students, and random strangers I have met are now my friends. To this day I am still in contact with many of them. This trip showed me that being open is the key to understanding others.

A final transformative aspect of my STEP experience was a trip to a non-profit company called the Steve Biko foundation. During my time at Steve Biko, I learned about the college-prep services they provided, but they also provide culture and language classes. We soon began discussing the root of the need for their services; racism. Brazil and the United States both have similar stories about slavery, but Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish slavery. Minorities in both countries feel the impact, but it is much more prominent in Brazil than I expected. My time at this organization showed me the progress that still needs to be made in both countries.

My signature project has transformed me into a more vocal, open, and confident individual. I hope to become a doctor one day, and I believe my time abroad has brought me closer to achieving that goal. As a more vocal and confident doctor, I am not afraid to speak my mind. As a more broad-minded doctor, I am understanding of new circumstances, cultures, and people. These qualities may not make me the most intelligent doctor, but it will make me a doctor that people from all walks of life will feel comfortable going to see. I will work on the smart aspect on my own time.





Exploring and Understanding Chile

1. My STEP Signature Project is a study abroad experience in Chile. I took classes for 4 weeks at a local university, and now I’m starting a 6-week service-learning experience at a children’s rehabilitation center. Additionally, during my time here I have been living with a host family, so I am really being integrated into the culture.

2. In the 4 weeks that I have been here so far I have definitely noticed a difference in my Spanish-speaking abilities. Not only that, but I have learned a lot about Chilean culture and history. Being in a classroom can only teach you so much about a language or a culture. You have to actually go experience the place to fully understand what it’s all about. Before this experience I didn’t know anything about Chile, and I just lumped all of the South American countries together into one group. Now I have learned that each country in South America is truly distinct. I have learned a little bit about their similarities, and a little bit about their differences.

I have also learned some things about the U.S. and our involvement in the development of these countries that I was never taught before in the U.S. I can’t say that I was proud of my country when I learned these things, but it also really forced me to begin to question more things. Not just about the U.S. government’s past, but also in my own beliefs. I have been faced with a lot of cultural differences here in Chile. I can’t say that Chile’s way of doing things is better or worse than the U.S.’s way of doing things—they are just different.

3. The factor that has had the biggest impact on me is probably my host family. They are so kind and have really welcomed me into their family as if I was their own daughter. They have made every effort to show me their culture and their city. They are as interested in learning as much about my culture as I am interested about learning theirs.

Secondly, my classes also had a great impact on me. Even though I was in classes with only other foreigners, I learned so much about Chile’s culture and history. My teachers weren’t robots. They give me their honest opinions on things instead of just reciting the facts. I think their genuine opinions really helped me better understand the kind of emotions that were, and still are, felt about certain topics and events in Chile.

Finally, just walking around town doing daily tasks has helped me better understand the culture as well. I can observe how things work from a far, and also within the interactions I have with people. Of course people know I am a foreigner so they treat me a little different and stare at me a little too long, but even that helps me understand a little bit about their culture.

4. One of my personal goals for this trip was to improve my Spanish proficiency. Already I can see a huge jump from the day I got here to now. I can understand the fast and “messy” Chilean dialect, and my speaking has made some big improvements too. I can credit this to my family and professors who talked to me as if I were any other Spanish-speaker and didn’t slow down or change their manner of speech for me. Also, after completing my classes I have completed all of the credits that I need to fulfill my Spanish minor. As for my professional goals, I will see what happens in the next month and a half at my service-learning placement in the local children’s rehabilitation center.

Link to blog: www.accordingtothegringa.tumblr.com

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