STEP Reflection

Name: Lauren Tucker

Type of Project: Education Abroad

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

I participated in a hands-on service learning experience during Spring Break 2019 in Choluteca, Honduras. During this trip, other students and I worked in rural villages to provide health education and medical treatment to the community and explored a healthcare system in a low-income area. My role was to translate educational materials before the trip and interpret for the nurse practitioner students on site.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

This program gave me a different view of both Americans and Hondurans. Before the trip, I knew very little about Central America. I have learned a lot about their culture and value the differences. Yet, although customs and traditions change, we are all just people. The Honduran people were excited to meet us and talk to us, but we were truly there to learn from them. All of the students on the trip (other than me) were nursing, nurse practitioner, or DNP students. They were still learning from the faculty on the trip, but also learning culture humility through interactions with patients from different cultures than their own. Through my interpreting, I was able to facilitate that connection. On my end, my language skills improved and I became more and more confident of my own abilities. Additionally, my view of Americans changed. I think that the U.S. has a culture that is very focused on itself. In Honduras, there is world news on every television, and they are more excited to involve themselves in a different culture. For example, a lot of the Honduran students watched American television, yet we as Americans rarely engage in pop culture in other languages. Also, with Americans, there is an attitude that when we lead these missions, that we as the Americans are bringing our resources to help the “less-fortunate”. This is incredibly wrong and I have seen first-hand why this is wrong. These communities are not “less-fortunate” and they don’t need our charity. They are people who have developed communities that look different from ours. Americans are taught to take a very ethnocentric view, that everything should be judged off our culture. It is an attitude change that needs to be made to accept the Honduran culture as different but equal. For the items that we bring, yes, they might be able to be used, but those things will be used up quickly. The most meaningful thing that we can bring is education and a willingness to learn.

My view of myself also changed. I have always had a confidence problem when speaking Spanish. I sometimes would rather not say anything than make a mistake. This experience took me out of my comfort zone and built up my confidence in the skills that I already had. The other thing I learned about myself was that I love teaching. I have enjoyed tutoring in the past and always enjoy public speaking, but this was a really great opportunity to stand in front of a group and teach. I love making connections as I am teaching, and making the material engaging so that the students will absorb the information and remember it. This was an even more difficult task in Spanish, but I think the students really appreciated it.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

There were a few situations where I really learned a lot about the world. I think that a lot of times we go into a country thinking they’re “third world” and that we have more knowledge than they do. At the hospitals at Ohio State, there is better technology than the hospitals in Choluteca, but it is because of a difference in resources/access to resources, rather than intelligence. Ingenuity was the word that stood out to me. At the public hospital in Choluteca, there were all sorts of ingenuous ideas to make up for the lack of resources. In my mind, it was more impressive that someone built a wheelchair from a lawn chair and bike tires, than anyone buying a mass-produced wheelchair. So yes, we taught about health education to the communities, but this is something that can be done in the US. It was more important for me to admire their creativity and learn critical thinking from them.

A situation that helped me with my language skills was working with an interpreter from Honduras. This interpreter was an 18-year-old kid who had learned English through school, watching TV, and social media. He and I conversed in Spanglish and I was able to ask him many questions about the specific dialect in Choluteca and words that I didn’t know. In return, he asked me questions about American English. Through this collaboration, we both learned a significant amount about the other language and became good friends. I find that when I am using Spanish, I sometimes can’t articulate the nuance of my personality and sense of humor. He helped me be confident enough to make jokes and converse with anyone around me.

Lastly, like I said in the previous question, I was given the opportunity to teach. In Choluteca, there is a nursing high school that was on the property where we stayed. These students were in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. I translated materials beforehand, such as presentations and posters about different health topics, but I got to teach CPR and suturing to the students on site. I didn’t have all of the words, and had to act out many things, but the students really appreciated that I knew Spanish. They couldn’t joke around with the other members of my team or talk about life, but with me, they were truly able to make connections. The best part of teaching was when I was able to watch my students teach other students. We went to another high school and the nursing students taught those students how to do CPR. My students enthusiastically spread the information that I had taught them. This really confirmed my idea that education is the most valuable resource that we can bring.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

These experiences are valuable for my academic, personal, and professional goals. Academically, I was able to practice my Spanish and greatly improve my confidence and vocabulary.  This will be useful as I finish my last year of my Spanish major. My professional goals are to go to medical school and be a physician with a diverse patient population. The experience of watching healthcare interactions in a different culture will help me understand how to connect with my patients from different cultures. Yes, I learned a lot about Honduran culture, but I also learned how to approach a culture that is different than my own, medically and personally, with dignity and an open-mind. Finally, a personal goal of mine is to be more culturally aware and put myself in others’ shoes. I truly believe that everyone should learn another language and spend time in a community other than one’s own. The vulnerability that I feel, the lack of confidence I experience, and the way I question my own intelligence, shows me some of the challenges that immigrants face in the US. These experiences have made me an empathetic person and I will use this in my career.