For my Signature STEP Project, I went on a Buck-I-Serv trip to Guatemala. The trip consisted of twelve OSU students who helped build homes for families with the local masons. While there, we worked diligently four days of the week and expired the country the other three days. We hiked a mountain and got to see an active volcano. We even walked over ashes from a previous eruption a month before the visit. We also went on a ferry trip that took us through several locations where we swam, collected souvenirs, and took great pictures of the country.
This definitely was a transitional experience for me. Being a homeboy growing up and never wanting to leave the house, I would have never imagined that I would leave the country and explore another culture. As nervous as I was to leave the country for the first time, I had a wonderful time. This trip only made me want to travel more. One aspect of the trip reminded me of everything we take for granted in the United States. Our families were very poor and so were the areas that they were living in. They did not have access to clean water, wore old clothes, and didn’t have systems like plumbing where they were. Working on the house, I realized that in America, we take so much for granted. Not only that, but we expect certain things for our standard of living that other countries do not have the luxury of doing. I was glad to not only explore the culture but help a family and actually creating bond with the while doing so.
One key experience was observing the environment around us. There were basic necessities that we take for granted such as flushing the toilet with tissue. Our host mom was well off, so the food she had was organic and nutritional. She had a garden where her food was provided and would go to the local market to get fresh produce. What I realized was that other communities surrounding her neighborhood were not as well off. They drank carbonated drinks such as Pepsi like we would drink water. This would sometimes be a preference but often times because there was no clean water. Another thing I noticed was that some of the families didn’t actually have shelter before we got there. They were sleeping under pieces of roof from neighbors before we actually built the homes that we did. Although it was only a week, the impact we made was evident in the families excitement. Just to see that an act that seemed so little to us made a life changing impact for the families mad the trip well worth it in the end.
Another key experience was interacting with our families children. The children only spoke Spanish excluding Jose, who was learning English in school. I had taken three semesters of Spanish and am not fluent. However, those three semesters really helped me with communicating with the family. Speaking with the children helped us stay energized to do the psychical work. they often laughed at us or our mentor, who really struggled with Spanish, due to our terrible accents. But they also would correct us or help teach us words that we didn’t know before. We were also excites that we could actually understand what they were saying most of the time. The interaction with the children was the highlight of our work day. It made leaving them on Friday so much harder as well.
Another key experience that contributed to the trip was being able to explore the culture and actively participate in it. There was one day that we helped our host mom prepare a flower garden for a parade that they were having that evening. For their Catholic religion, they were preparing for a tradition where they created decorative beds out of flowers, fruits, vegetables, leaves etc. After the decorations were completed, a group of priests would walked down the streets in their robes, arms linked to celebrate. We were excited to be a part of their tradition and the community loved our finished product. This is just one of the many cultural ideas that we were able to take part in.
This experience impacted more than I thought it would. One of the greatest impacts that it left with me is a new perspective. This study abroad trip gave me the understanding that studying abroad wasn’t in further reach than I thought it was. Leaving the country was always something that seemed like a dream or a fantasy. But its a lot easier than I thought it would be. I now know what resources are out there for me to travel even after graduation. This is something that I can take with me and continue to explore after I graduate.