Grace Ferguson STEP Service Experience, Australia

Grace Ferguson

Leadership and Service Learning in Australia

My STEP experience took me to the other side of the world to experience the benefits of service and engaging leadership with peers, while learning about a new culture first hand. For more than three weeks, I was incredibly fortunate to travel to various areas of Australia, including the impoverished and neglected Outback. It was in Alice Springs, the center of the vast and barren continent that our service and engagement with the country started. Our day-to-day interactions with aboriginal tribes, and citizens of the Australian Desert opened my eyes and mind to a world unlike my own, with people so very similar to myself.


This trip pushed me out of my comfort zone in a number of ways. Throughout the trip we were tasked with leading our group on hikes, through the airport, or just to dinner. But guiding a group of 22 strangers through  strange country is not an easy feat. By taking on this responsibility I pushed myself as a leader in ways I couldn’t have in the United States. I was able to navigate in a strange city, far away from my home by finding my leadership style and adjusting it for the situation and group I was given. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to further develop my leadership qualities. In addition, forcing myself to stay in new areas and fully experience new things and places allowed me to experience a side of life that I so greatly enjoy. It is much easier to stay in my comfort zone, but it is much better (and more fun) to experience life! I now feel more comfortable traveling and seeing the world!

This project was the first time I had seriously interacted with a native tribe of any kind. I was given the opportunity to learn about, interact with, and understand the problems surrounding the Aboriginal People of the Australian Outback and some of the problems they have faced. Primarily, I was given a first hand look at the severe displacement and discrimination these people have faced. Forced from their home after British Colonizers landed in Sydney, the Aboriginal people have been mistreated and neglected since. To this day, the people of Aboriginal descent are still looked down upon by the rest of the Australian Population. I witnessed the severe mistreatment that has led the Aboriginal people to have far worse health outcomes, extremely higher rates of unemployment, and devastating rates of alcoholism. Seeing the effects of racism and systemic mistreatment towards a population has led me to have further faith in my major and my designated career choice. My classes, in the College of Public Health, routinely discuss the impacts that continual racism and systemic discrimination can have on a population, but seeing it in person allowed me to take what I have learned and apply it in a practical sense. By witnessing systemic racism, I am better able to understand the difficulties are society is facing on a global scale, in addition to some of the ways that we can work to fix them.

In addition, I saw the systemic poverty afflicting these areas of Australia and the work that was being done to correct it. Many of the tactics and plans put in place were similar to one I had studied at Ohio State or were learning about in my classes. It was incredibly insightful and interesting to see these dynamic, multi-faceted plans supported by sociological and public health institutions in place. This experience further helped to reinforce my love of public health and preventative programs.


However, seeing these people suffering and in pain made me uncomfortable and out of place. At first I was nervous, shaken, and displaced. It took me time to realize that being uncomfortable was the purpose of the trip. By witnessing the inequities in our world and accepting that many people live in poverty and poor situations, I was able to put my self in this position, and grow from it. I am now much more comfortable in difficult situations, and feel more confident in my skills and abilities to work with discriminated populations. This trip helped me find a part of myself that wants to empower unequal populations and help to lift them up. My experiences with the Aboriginal Populations of Australia has helped to transform me into a much more courageous, confident, and outgoing person.

My desired career path, an advocate for Global health and wellness, will find me in a variety of uncomfortable and difficult positions. If I don’t learn how to deal with these and accept them, I will not be successful. This trip helped to prepare me for my future and many of the difficult topics I know I will be faced with in my career.  My making a change to a much more confident person, I feel better prepared to enter my career field and tackle new and more challenging topics than before.

I am so grateful for my experience and the lessons I learned while in Australia. I truly believe that my time in Australia has helped to shape me into a more confident person that is willing, ready, and able to tackle the Global Health and Inequality Issues of the world. Leaving my comfort zone, experiencing uncomfortable situations, and processing those situations, are life lessons I could not have learned anywhere else. The lessons I have learned from the Australian Culture, Aboriginal People are ones that will stay with me forever.


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