Teaching English to Children in San Jose, Costa Rica

Costa Rica OHIO

Name: Maranda Gammage

Type of Project: Teaching English to Children in San Jose, Costa Rica

I feel so thankful to have been able to use my involvement with STEP at Ohio State to plan a trip to rural San Jose, Costa Rica. While in San Jose, I spent two weeks exploring the language and culture of this Central American country, while also teaching English to children in an after school program.

One of the most valuable takeaways of this experience was my ability to put myself in the shoes of my students. While I was teaching English to these children, I felt many of the emotions that students who are learning another language often feel: fear, excitement and intimidation. I was surrounded by strangers, eating new food, and speaking only Spanish with those around me. This was very impactful for me as it allowed me to gain a small glimpse into what it feels like to be in a new and uncomfortable environment. From this experience, I was able to gain a glimpse into the different ways that others live and how despite these differences, we all can be united by a desire to learn. Additionally, I realized the value of keeping an open mind and heart no matter the circumstance.

I arrived at the airport in San Jose with absolutely no expectations of what the next two weeks would bring. From the moment I stepped into the airport, I was shocked that nearly no one was speaking English. I was uncomfortable; my phone didn’t work in the new country and I only recognized some of the words being said around me. After panicking a few minutes, I took a moment and took a deep breath. At that moment, I knew that I needed to begin opening my mind to the new experiences to come. I followed the directions I had received before my flight, and looked for the woman who would pick me up and take me to my host family. This woman spoke no English, so I was immediately forced to rack my brain for all the Spanish that I had learned in high school. Although my Spanish was awkward and broken, the kind woman and I laughed and chatted the entire 30 minute ride to my host family. Beginning in that moment and continuing for the rest of the trip, I was constantly shown love, acceptance and interest from the children and families I worked with. From this first experience, I realized the value of being kind even when (and perhaps especially when) there is a lack of understanding.

I feel so blessed to have had this experience to travel to Costa Rica to work with these students and to open my eyes, mind and heart to the world around me. Following my service trip, I hope to become more involved in helping students whose first language is not English here in the Columbus community. Eventually, it’s my hope to take more trips abroad to teach English to underprivileged students. While these students may have learned some English during my short visit to help them, I know that I learned far more about myself, my goals, and what it takes to make a difference in the life of another.


Zaire Sims & The Department of Social Change

My STEP project consisted of volunteering and working with the Department of Social Change in many aspects of the Columbus Community. I worked three different populations within the program. The kind of work I did ranged from helping 2nd-4th graders academically, holding conversation about leadership and empowerment with 6th-8th girl and playing games and making arts & crafts with the elderly.

I have learned that as a college that there is so much work to be done outside of the community that we are all used. What I mean by this is living the university’s motto “Education for Citizenship” out. Yes, we all may be busy college students and we are coming here to get an education to better ourselves, but what I found out is that we should work to better the community around us. Through the work that I was doing, I became more aware of how everyone needs somebody no matter what in every aspect of life. The smallest things could make someone’s day. Doing work with the populations that I worked with made me more humble and grateful for the opportunities that I have

When I was working with the elementary students, I helped them with their homework, we did science experiments and play academic focused games. When I was working with those children, they were giving a healthy after school snack. This was done because there were some children who only ate at school and didn’t eat anything when they were at home. This really hit home for me because I know what the feeling of not being able to eat a full, healthy meal feels like. Being in college, and having access to literally all different types of food makes me forget about how little some families have to eat. This experience has made me become humble.

In regards, to working with the middle school girls and the elderly, I have learned that relationships are important. One of the things that really stuck with me when having those conversations with those middle schools, was the conversation we had about bullying. It was a surprise lesson for me because it was not on the curriculum that I was follow, but there was bullying happening outside of the program. We talked about what being a bully was and shared experiences of being a bully and being bullied on. The conversation somehow shifted to a talk about suicide. The girls were telling about some of their friends trying to commit suicide because of the bullying. It just took me by surprise because I have never experienced personally friends at that age trying to kill themselves, I just heard of stories on the news. I didn’t know that bullying was that bad. As a social work major, I did inform them of numbers they could call in case themselves or someone else have suicide thoughts. I did make sure that an older adult knew about the situations when we were talking. Relationship with people really matter because I simple smile or how are you doing, could change someone’s life.

When I was working with the elderly in the nursing home it was fun, but also a little sad.  It was sad because more often than not, the residents that are there just get dropped off there and no one comes to visit them.  They would tell me every time, that I came that they were glad I was there and after every time, they would be excited for the next time. Recently, I threw them a party and they were so grateful. I had numerus of people who worked at the nursing home telling me that the work that I do there is just amazing because I was so committed to showing the residents love and to be a listening ear. There have been a couple of time in which residents would come up to me and tell me about their problems because I was one of the only people to listen to them.

This change is so valuable to me because having had different experiences as such will make me a better social worker. As a social worker, building rapport is one of the most important things when sitting and talking with your clients. I feel like the work that I did with the middle school girls and the elderly was a great experience I building rapport. I was able to learn how to sympathize with the elementary kids. Sympathizing being another important skill to have as social worker.

Global Health Initiatives: Peacework Service Trip, Guatemala

Matt Belardo
Peacework Service Learning Trip: Guatemala

Description: For two weeks, a group of OSU students traveled to the city of Santiago Atítlan, Guatemala. From builiding beehives for struggling coffee
farmers to working in a school for special needs children to planting
gardens to building stoves, we did everything we could to improve
the lives of the local people. Parterned with Peacework and Pueblo a
Pueblo, we strived to make a difference in local lives while also learning
about the vast and rich tradition of the country and its unique mix
of Mayan culture and “Western” ideals.

Building a community garden with the local elementary school so they can have healthy snacks at school

Building a community garden with the local elementary school so they can have healthy snacks at school

What changed: Experiencing a country so vastly different from the United States is always an eye-opening experience. experience. People from first world, Western countries always seem to have a pre-conceived notion that the whole world is just waiting to “upgrade” to the ways of life that we are so accustomed to. A culture so different from the one we have here gives you a real appreciation for the values of other cultures. There is a kindness and familiarity that no longer exists in the materialistic society in which we live today.

When you see the way that these people work together despite their difficult circumstances, it changes your viewpoint. Too often, we are caught in the hyper-competitiveness that comes with being a young college student. Curved grades, competitive post-grad programs, and a struggling job market all encourage conflict over cooperation, even among friends. This attitude is not nearly as prevalent in Santiago Atítlan, where the community works together in so many ways.

Students of ADISA with the OSU students just after the hotel pool party

Students of ADISA with the OSU students just after the hotel pool party

How they changed me: One of the ways that the people with whom we interacted demonstrated this sense of community was the work done by ADISA, the local school for the developmentally challenged. The children who attend these school all have their own personal struggles, but they come to school every day excited to learn and interact with their friends. My absolute favorite experience was the pool party we held for the students of ADISA. An opportunity for something like that is very rare for those children, many of whom come from poor backgrounds. The looks of enjoyment on their faces as they got the chance to splash around, push the adults in, and just generally enjoy the
day and be themselves for a few hours was magical. It’s not often that you have the chance to provide that kind of experience for kids whose lives, frankly, are filled with plenty of hardships. I cherished that time with those kids more than anything else I did during those two weeks.

To see a place where so many people work together to fight the unfair treatment of the developmentally challenged in Guatemala is incredibly inspiring. The teachers and other workers do not receive significant money, and many times the large numbers of students can be quite overwhelming. But these people showed me what it is to truly care for someone. Not just treat illness and fix broken bones, but truly care about the well-being of fellow citizens, no matter how difficult it may be to help them.

The coffee farmers we assisted enforced this sense of camaraderie even more. This was a group of workers devastated by coffee virus and struggling to get by. Yet they did not turn against each other. Instead, they collaborated to build beehives to supplement their income, and they worked together to sell this product collectively at a fair price. They could have easily become the sort of cutthroat economy that plagues the United States, but they chose cooperation, and the results have been more than rewarding. I was lucky just to be a small part of that experience when I worked with this group to build new beehives, and it was obvious from the way they treated us, as foreigners, with food and drink and hospitality, that their compassion knew no bounds.

The road ahead:Sometimes, on the road to becoming a doctor, this sense of caring can be lost. The world is sometimes just too cruel and cutthroat to remember why you even set out on this path in the first place. But, for the best doctors and future doctors, the reason should be obvious. To help people. Not just to figure out what’s wrong with their bodies or their minds, but to care about the whole lives of these people. Extending care beyond that basic minimum should be what every doctor strives to do. Because, despite the many differences, we are much stronger as one people who fight for each other than we are when we become locked in constant interpersonal conflict that serves no one. It’s a lesson that everyone has to learn, some more than once, before they can truly become a truly productive and valuable member of society.

Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica STEP Reflection

Brooke Miller

Service-Learning & Community Service

  1.          During the first week of January 2016, I traveled to Costa Rica through The Ohio State University Greeks Go Global Buck-I-Serv team. I indulged in an indigenous culture of Costa Rica, spending time in the rural community of the Bribri tribe, close to the border of Panama, remote from modern civilization. I worked in the village on service projects to help develop their community, economy, and living environment.
  2.       I learned a lot about a culture and way of life much different from my own. I learned about this community’s different economic means than ours in the States, I learned how to make chocolate from cocoa beans, I learned what kind of food this culture eats every single day, I learned how to mix cement, among so many other things. While on this trip I also learned how to surf and how to white water raft, both of which I had never done before. I learned never to take your opportunities for granted, or the company around you.                I can honestly say that this was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Talking about it and even pictures will never do this trip justice. Working with and doing service for the Yorkin Bri Bri tribe community taught me so much about a different culture, and so much about myself. I not only helped to grow this community and the vision and dream they have of bettering their lives, but I also grew internally. I challenged myself and tried things out of my comfort zone, and it ended up being one of the best things that has happened to me in my college career and in my life. This community lives a completely different lifestyle than our own, but they never failed to be positive, happy people with a constant smile on their faces. This is something I definitely took away to apply to my own life- to stay positive even in the difficult times that life throws at you.
  3.     I formed bonds with not only this community but with the people I traveled with. I did not really know any of the people I was going with prior to the trip, but spending 24/7 with them in this amazing country made us grow so close and I made amazing friendships and family. We made an amazing team and had a great group dynamic, allowing us to work so well together to get the projects completed. One key team builder was when we had to do the project of carrying sand bags from the river, to the community. This required us to make a human chain to fill the bags, pass them down the line, and dump them. We had to figure out where to place everyone and which task each person would have to do. We did this so well and I think it was because of the strong dynamic that we had. We still talk almost daily. It helped me to find another group of people at this large university that I can count on, get advice from, and hang out with.                                                                                          Typically, something like this is out of my comfort zone, and it’s hard for me to be in settings where I don’t really know anyone. Going out of the country with a group I didn’t know was something I was nervous about, and wouldn’t typically do, but I wanted to challenge myself and just see how it went. It all ended up being perfectly fine, and I learned that I can be outgoing in these positions and have it all work out.                                             This helps with a bigger picture- that I can branch out more at Ohio State or in jobs or careers and join new things with new people that I don’t know, and it can be an incredible opportunity, to meet new, amazing people, and get new, different perspectives, and experience different team dynamics.
  4.      As a future Speech pathologist or audiologist, I will be working with people of all different cultures and backgrounds, and this was a good experience for this. In this field, you have to be very culturally sensitive and understanding, and being exposed to the environment I was in definitely helped me to practice this sensitivity and respect for values and differences in another culture. I also practiced my Spanish skills, as this is my minor, and having this Spanish practice will help me better communicate with families of patients, as well as the patients themselves, that I may encounter in the future whom speak Spanish.  100_7484 100_7492 IMG_3343 IMG_3380

Computer-Coding Program with Elementary Students – Matthew Memming

My STEP experience consisted of going to Worthington Estates Elementary and running a club called Scratch. Scratch is a computer-coding program for kids that help them learn critical thinking and collaboration skills. My role in this experience was to act as the teacher for this after school club, be a mentor. I taught them how to use the program, and how it connected to critical thinking, collaboration, and skills they could use in everyday life.

My experience impacted me personally in a way that I will never forget it. I got to actually be a teacher, which not many people can say. I got to develop relationships with these children that I was so grateful for. It showed me how much I personally want to be an educator.

My experience impacted my academic goals in the sense that I actually got to teach and got first-hand experience of running my own “class” and how my personal ideals of teaching came to fruition. It also showed me how difficult many aspects of teaching can be. In the sense of my personal goals, it just put me a step closer towards actually becoming an educator and working with children. Actually being able to be in that experience, and getting that feeling of “this is what I want to do” made this experience amazing and makes my drive to become an educator even greater. As far as my life goals, they really match up with my personal goals. I just am so excited that this emphasized my goal of becoming an educator.

The transformation of myself through my STEP experience was all of the interactions I had with the students, and how excited they were! I was expecting only about 25-30 or so students to sign up, and I ended having over 80 students sign up. It was amazing to see that students really wanted to participate in my club that I was starting. While actually running the club and talking with them, you could see their enthusiasm soar and how excited they were to do this. They always had a ton of fun, and always liked to just talk while working, so I got to know more about all of them through this.

A specific event that showed me that I can inspire and engage students was actually when I was babysitting twin boys that were in my club. When I went over there to watch them, I asked them what they wanted to do. Immediately, they ran upstairs and told me to follow. Confused, I went upstairs to see what they wanted to do. Then they showed me their projects on the program we use in the club! They were doing their own side projects without telling me and wanted to show me as a surprise!

After that event, I went back to teaching the club the next week (it was the last week), and it seemed that all the students did the same thing! They wanted to surprise me, so they all made their own projects to show me how much they’ve learned. Some of the students even went above and beyond what we learned and made these incredibly complex programs that blew my mind! It was just such an amazing experience that I will never regret.

I learned so many things during my experience. I developed and learned how to be a better management of time and organization. With only an hour for the club 2 days a week, it really pressed on me to plan accordingly, as well as creating back-up plans in case something went wrong. I also learned how I want my classroom atmosphere to be in the future. This experience gave me a chance to utilize my own teaching style and how I may need to alter it to best fit my ideal philosophy. Sometimes the kids got over-excited, so I had to learn good classroom management techniques to help with that.

These changes/transformations are significant to my life as well because it showed me how passionate I am about my future career. I’ve never been so sure in my life that I am on the right career path. It is also valuable to me because it has shown me that I can be an inspiration to students, and I can engage them in learning with my own style. This whole transformation has supported my personal teaching pedagogy, what I think it means to be a teacher, and that how I want to teach can actually be an effective teaching style. In summary, this whole experience has given me the transformation of being a more confident, risk-taking, and friendly teacher, no matter what grade I end up teaching.

Buck-I-Serv Boston Urban Outreach

My signature project was going to Boston, MA and serving with the Boston Urban Outreach program. A group of OSU students went on this trip under Buck-I-Serv, and we aided several organizations in the area with their purpose of serving those in need of food, shelter, and guidance.

I never realized how much homeless and food challenged people there were in the east coast. I think in general when people are asked to ponder the idea of extreme poverty, we automatically think of third world countries and the troubles that they are facing. It was eye opening to see that even in this country, there are so many people living their lives without a home and without food. The average age of homelessness in Massachusetts is 9 years old… Never in my life would I have guessed that. 1 in 4 children in east Massachusetts is food challenged, meaning they do not know when or where their next meal is coming from. It’s not like I was oblivious to poverty in the United States; I know it exists and that it is increasing right before our eyes. But I didn’t know how extreme it got in the country where people come to achieve the “American dream”. That angered me even more, however. Why is it that we as a country are willing to give billions of dollars a year to Israel to “defend” their selves against an oppressed Palestinian people, when that money could be put towards the American people. Those billions of dollars come from American tax dollars. We have people here who are suffering greatly—have no homes, no food, struggling with addiction, can’t pay medical bills—and they are hardly being attended to how they should be. We as a people should look out for each other and get each other back on one’s feet. What was so beautiful about the Boston area was how many organizations there are that are willing to aid these underserved communities.

So many people come together to feed the homeless and those who are addicted to drugs. It was amazing to see that even those people who are suffering from these previously stated challenges were coming together and serving their community. It starts with giving back. The area also had free health and dental clinics. One of the organizations that we collaborated with (Boston Rescue Mission) would help employ their visitors so that they can stay in the residence for free and get the help they need as well as work to help others by providing them with meals and people to talk to. That was my favorite day of service because the people there were genuinely kind and were working so hard to better themselves. They were extremely grateful for the shelter they were given, the amazing meals that were provided, and the conversations that they were able to have with the residents, others like them, and with us.

I enjoyed it so much that when our few hours of service were over, I, along with the trip advisor and another student, stayed and served the afternoon group while the other students went out to explore the area. I loved what this organization was about; I loved how they served the community, so I gave up my free time to be a part of their agenda. What drove me to make the decision to stay for another round was how thankful the people were to be receiving a homemade meal and to be surrounded by others who are struggling yet giving it all they’ve got to find their way in life.

I became close with two of the guys who were running this organization on the day we went. Their stories were amazing. Both suffered from addiction, but thankfully recovered and wanted to give back to their community.  They worked hard for years to get where they are today. They too began as residents and then worked their way up to actually running the place; each of them improved their lives and made sure to share their stories as motivation for others. No matter the conditions that they were living in, they made sure to help the other residents out and get them onto the right path. What really amazed me was how each organization had a schedule of when other organizations around the area were holding events and having meals to give out so that the people could travel together and build friendships. Many of the people that we saw on the first day, we saw several other times at different locations throughout the week. They know each other on deep levels, help each other out, and support one another.

My goal after school is to be a dentist. Health care is something that I think needs to be modified. There is no reason that there should be people who don’t have access to some type of health care facilities. What I loved about Boston was that they had many free dental and medical clinics for those who really cannot afford a visit to the doctor/dentist. With my time, I want to not just focus in the United States, but I want to travel to other countries and hold free dental clinics in communities that lack these facilities or are underserved in general. I’m from the Chicago area, and hopefully if I get residency there, I want to use my time to not only work in an office but hold dental clinics in the area at least twice a year. If I hopefully am established enough, I will travel to different parts of the country and do the same, and then take it to the next level and go abroad every once in a while and continue my work. I will also continue to serve my community and if presented with the opportunity to do another community service/service learning project, I will take it. Serving the Bostonian community is a time in my life that I will not forget.

Making My Legacy at the CRC

Name: Sean Duffy

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Leadership

During my STEP project, I volunteered at the Clintonville Community Resource Center (CRC), which is located ten minutes north of the Ohio State’s Columbus campus. After taking guidance from the CRC’s full-time staff, I was able to purchase children’s books, a children’s table and chairs set, a vacuum cleaner, and play mates for use at the CRC’s food pantry. These contributions  brought a new energy to the food pantry and have improved children’s experience there tremendously.

While completing my STEP project, I was able to gain a new perspective on poverty in the Columbus community. I originally believed that I should focus on helping the adults at the food pantry. However, a member of the CRC staff pointed out to me that the food pantry focused on helping Columbus adults. I should, according to her, focus instead, on helping the children that come with their parents to the food pantry. Originally, the food pantry had a children’s area where children could play and read while their parents waited for the appointments. Upkeep of the children’s area, however, was not a priority for the CRC staff. They would try to keep it clean and lively, but often it would fall into disrepair. The food pantry’s time and effort were focused on catering to Columbus adults. Additionally, several Columbus families came to the food pantry monthly. They were stuck in a cycle of poverty that affected both the lives of parents and children. Limited time and effort, as a result, could be given to improving children’s experience at the food pantry.

After discussion with CRC staff members, it was suggested that I could help improve children’s food pantry experience by improving the food pantry’s children’s area. This would be done, first, by renovating the children’s area. With new play mats, books, and furniture, children would feel that they were cared for at the food pantry. They would not have to make their own entertainment with outdated toys and crinkled books. Second, I would improve children’s experience by helping to keep the children’s area clean. With a clean area, children would be at less risk of getting dirty and, as a result, receive their parents’ consent to use the area more often. A clean child, I have found, means both a happy child and a happy parent. By renovating the children’s area at the food pantry, I provided an area where children can temporarily forget their family’s financial situation and enjoy being kids.

As a future member of the U.S. Armed Forces, I know how important it is to know why one is serving others. Without knowing why, one can become self-obsessed and believe oneself better than others. This STEP project has allowed me to humble myself and to develop my reason for service. I know now that I will serve this generation so that future generations will have a better future. Specifically, today’s children in poverty deserve to know that their future can be better. With my time and effort renovating and ensuring the cleanliness of the CRC food pantry’s children’s area, I know I have made sure that is known. I hope in the future to continue serving the Columbus community and my nation in any way I can.

STEP Experience- Service Learning Trip to Guatemala with Buck-I-Serv

For my STEP project, I traveled to Guatemala with Buck-I-Serv to work with some great community organizations. We worked closely with Constru Casa, which is a program that families who live in poor conditions can apply to, and they will choose one family at a time to build a home for them. They must show that they are working and have to pay a small portion of the home back to the organization over a certain amount of time. So with Buck-I-Serv, we volunteered and helped build a home for a very wonderful single mom, who was taking care of her daughter, son, and grandson. They lived with dirt floors, no real bathroom, contaminated drinking water, and rusted sheet metal walls of the home. We worked with three masons that guided us on and delegated jobs to each of us to try to speed this process along. Some of which involved moving over 1200 cinder blocks down a long path, wheel barreling dirt and stones, making concrete and filling in the blocks, and much more. Needless to say it kicked our butts every day. But when our time was done there, we had helped finish more than half of the home, which was in a faster time than they normally are done in. Not long after we left, they finished the house. The family was so grateful and I am so happy for them. On our off days, to which we had two, we went to Pacaya (an active volcano), climbed it, and roasted marshmallows on it. We also visited Lake Atitlan which was absolutely breathtaking.

There was something about the people and the atmosphere in Guatemala that was different. It took me some time to figure out what it was and why I felt so comfortable there. I learned a lot from the people. At the work site, a lot of the locals gathered outside of  the path to the house, where we would haul our dirt and rocks from. I could not speak Spanish, but some people on the trip with me understood what they would say. One of my trip members told me that they were talking drama, about who was getting the house and why would they get it. It made me realize that there is not much for them to do. Some work their butts off, but their economy is very low and their area is very poor. To pass time, they live off of each other. They live off of family. Everyone knows everyone. And, what I think is a very important thing is that, they are always there for each other. They do not forget who their family and friends are. They give when they have so little to give. I remember while I, and about three others were hammering some cinder blocks, the neighbor mom sent her son over to us with some fresh cut watermelon. And I can remember it was the sweetest watermelon I had ever tasted. Maybe it was because it was blistering hot and I was wearing work clothes, or maybe it was because there was more to it. It was not just a slice of watermelon, it was an act of kindness and giving from those who have nothing to give. I will never forget that.

One night at dinner, our host family gave us a lecture on love. They may have given some of the best advice I have ever heard. They are such sweet and gentle people. They make you want to be like them. Just like the village people, they made us our own. We became their family. Our host mom made us wonderful food every morning for breakfast, packed our lunches for the work site everyday, and made us dinner every night. Here, we had some of the best conversations and we learned the most.

My views have changed on the world. There are different problems at every part of the world. And sometimes you cannot always fix them, but one step at a time, things can get better. Living in America has been a privilege. I had always believed that it used to be a right since I was born and raised here. Now I know that it is not a right, it is a privilege. It is a privilege to have clean water. It is a privilege to have a home to live in. It is a privilege to have safety and security. It is a privilege to have jobs. It is a privilege to have freedoms. It is amazing. I asked our host family if they had ever been to America. They said they had been to Cincinnati before. They went to a Reds baseball game and had hamburgers bigger than their face, and Skyline Chili. They were amazed how we ate, and how life was so different. I asked if they would ever come back, and they said they would love to, but it is to expensive. That really enhanced my views on how diverse we all are, and how countries can be so close, yet so different. It made me appreciate what I had growing up.

We were able to interact with the village people. Work was work, but it was laid back too. There were village boys that lived at the end of the street. One was Victor, and he would always come around us when we were working. He loved being around us and meeting all of us. Sometimes he even tried to help us. There were days his older brother came around too. They were both young, their ages, I cannot recall. One day, Victor did not come over, but his brother did and he sat and talked with us. He told one of the girls that was able to speak Spanish that his parents have him in school, but after this year, they cannot afford it, and Victor has never been to school. The cost of school was I think $120 per semester. Now to us, that seems like so little money, but to them it was so much. It was absolutely heart breaking. It made us want to all contribute and help pay for him and his brother to go to school because it costs so little for us. But we knew if we did that, everyone would want us to, and that is not what our mission in Guatemala was, as bad as we wanted to help. It made think. How can these kids be so happy all the time, yet not have anything? They had dreams too, and they knew they would not fulfill them because of their lack of wealth. It was truly inspiring being around so many happy people. Happy they are alive. Happy they have clothes to wear. Happy they have a home, even if it is not a stable home. Just simply happy. It made me realize that sometimes I let things that I cannot have get to me and I shouldn’t. They can be so happy with so little. I have so much compared to them, and about half of the happiness. How could that be? It made me reevaluate what life is really about. Making changes for a happier me. Being more grateful for the things that I have and the opportunities that I receive.

On our last day at the work site, Victor asked us when we were coming back to build his family a home. I think that made most of us tear up. His home was probably one of the worst homes on the street. Instead of sheet metal walls, his home was bamboo held together by rope. You could see right through it. It was very sad. We all miss Victor. He brought some positive thoughts and attitude to the site. We got to know him and teach him English too. We worked on colors. Someday he will get an education. I firmly believe that. Although there is nothing I can do for that kid now, I pray for him and his family.

My experiences in Guatemala are ones that I will take everywhere I go. Being there, it made me realize how fortunate I am to have what I do. It made me realize that you cannot always get what you want. It made me want to help people more, because I have the resources to, and I can. This is going to help me with my career plans and future goals because I am a pre-med student. I will be helping people my whole life. There is no saying the type of people I will come across. But I will probably cross paths with fortunate, not fortunate, rich or poor. I have the respect for them and how they do what they have to in order to make their lives better. I want to help more and volunteer more. I want to make a difference in others’ lives. I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, and I know that the experiences I had were meant to show me that, I have a long ways to go, and there are more people I can help. And with that I will. Proud to be a Buckeye.

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STEP Experience- Service-Learning Trip to Costa Rica

I traveled to Costa Rica in May 2015 via an organization called Global Volunteer Network. I was able to customize my travel experience, so once in the country, I was able to take a Spanish class (for my Spanish minor) and I shadowed an Occupational Therapist (interested in graduate school) in a school for the disabled. In addition to shadowing an OT, I was able to incorporate a community service aspect into my work by volunteering at a local day-care that is always looking for extra help.

While on this trip, I was able to better understand myself and how I can adapt and react to new people and new experiences. I traveled to Costa Rica not knowing anyone else there, not having spoken to anyone I’d be working with, and never having been outside of the United States! I assumed that I would be totally alone and isolated while in country, that I would be working on my own the whole time. However, I learned to advocate for myself and speak up when I needed help, and I came out of that month abroad with great new friends and amazing experiences. My view of the world also changed dramatically. On my trip, I learned that other countries and other cultures are not scary, but they have so much to offer to people like me. The culture in Costa Rica was one of the friendliest and happiest people I’ve ever encountered and their country has allowed me to be more open to new places and people.

First of all, the main OT that I was able to work with in Costa Rica was one of the best people I’ve ever met. It turned out that he had spent some time in Wisconsin so he knew a decent amount of English (thank goodness!) so we had a lot of opportunity to communicate. The passion I saw in his work everyday gave me hope and inspiration to not waste time doing things I’m not passionate about- spend everyday doing something you really want to do.

The next big thing that impacted my transformation on my trip to Costa Rica was the children I was able to spend time with each day. Some of the children that these doctors worked with on a daily basis were so severely disabled, but neither them nor their parents ever seemed to be discouraged. When I noticed this, I took some time to reflect on society in the United States and the attitudes of some children who have everything and it made me want to help the children of Costa Rica even more.

The third aspect of my trip that contributed to my transformation was the opportunity I had to build relationships with other volunteers. I was able to meet and spend time with people who were there to work from all over the United States, and even the rest of the world! I was able to build friendships in three weeks that are stronger than friendships I’ve had for years- and I give all the credit to the experiences we shared in Costa Rica.

The transformations that I experienced through this STEP Signature Project are changes that will stay with me for the rest of my life. My trip changed my career goals- I originally wanted to graduate with a sociology degree and get a graduate degree in Occupational Therapy, but after my trip I realized that I would be much more passionate about a degree in Public Health and being able to speak for communities who otherwise wouldn’t be spoken for. Personally, I will never be the same person as I was before my trip to Costa Rica. I have learned to stand on my own in a new place, I have learned to appreciate different cultures than my own, and I have learned that passion will take you far in life if you let it.

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