Service-Learning and Community Service Reflection Post

The main activities of my STEP Signature Project included: teaching the children of Valley View Elementary School literacy and to maintain equity and determination throughout the school’s daily routine. The main goal of my trip was to increase literacy in both the English and Spanish languages.

Before going to California, I had many preconceived assumptions. For example, I had assumed that majority of the children I would be working with would be coming from a “well-brought-up” family only because of the stereotypes of Californians seen in the media. I was not expecting to see many poverty-stricken children, and because of that I was not mentally prepared for the other issues that I would come to encounter besides school related issues.

While at Valley View, I became more aware of worldly problems that are significantly more serious than the literacy rate. Poverty and home life situations were just a couple of the main problems that I noticed. I realized that these two problems can really create an impact on what a child’s life at school can be like.

There was a student that is a Syrian refugee and could not speak English nor Spanish, which were the only two languages I could use to communicate. These were the only two languages that the school teaches as well. This created a huge barrier between the student and I, and I was not sure how I would approach this challenge. Over the next few days, I realized there are more ways to communicate than just verbalizing.

I began using hand gestures, objects, anything that I could to get some sort of understanding between the two of us. By the end of the week, she was able to recognize a few English words. This was a milestone for her and I both! I figured out a way to communicate to someone that could not speak the same language as me and had a timid personality on top of that; she was breaking out of her shell and learning to communicate in English.

After this experience, I appreciated the life I was given so much more as I saw the effects of what a life in another country could be like. This little girl seemed so frightened when I first met her, and it made me think of the horrible things that she must have experienced. Valley View might have been the only place where she felt safe, and I had the honor of being there to help feel safe and adapt to her new environment. It was an experience that led to my transformation that I will never forget.

The experience noted above is relevant to my professional goals because I am hoping to become a Physician Assistant and work with children in some way. The children that I will be working with in my near future may not all have the “perfect” life and may be dealing with hardships such as this, or any hardship at all. These kids will need more than just medical assistance; they will need a counselor and someone who truly cares about them. This is the type of care that I want to provide for my patients one day. I want to be more than just their Physician Assistant; I want to be anything and everything that I can to make their lives better.


Buck-i-Serv: Antigua Guatemala

In May 2016 I traveled with a group to Antigua, Guatemala to begin a service trip. Each day my group and I traveled to a local school just outside of Antigua to begin our work. At the work site, I performed jobs dictated by local masons. Most of the work was construction oriented, such as, mixing concrete, cutting wires, carrying bricks, and collecting scrap wood. The goal of the construction was to add an additional, second-story classroom on to the school. By adding this classroom, more children from the neighborhood could attend school and work towards getting an education. While most of the time was spent aiding the masons in manual labor, there was some down time during the day in which we were able to play games with the school’s students. This was an awesome way to connect with the work that I was doing.



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Before travelling to Guatemala, I had never been outside the United States. The only expectations I had came from pieces of information I had acquired from media sources and the internet.  I assumed that Guatemalan culture would be much different from what I was used to and that it would be hard to adapt to, even for just a week, to the cultural differences in Guatemala. Further, I believed I would be unable to communicate with the locals. I lacked confidence in my ability to speak and understand Spanish, and I was worried I would be unable to work effectively with the Guatemalan workers because of this hindrance.

Once arriving in Antigua, I realized that many of my assumptions had been misguided. During this amazing experience I learned much about myself and my ability to adapt to situations. My initial fears about acclimating to Guatemalan culture were quelled shortly upon our arrival. The people in Antigua were extremely inviting and were willing to share bits and pieces of their culture with our group. When it came to my ability to understand the language, I realized I had shortchanged myself. Although I did sometimes have difficulty understanding some of the conversations with Spanish speakers, I had a better grasp on the language than I thought. As a result, I became more confident in my ability and was more willing to communicate with the Spanish speaking individuals. Even at times when I was unable to understand something, there were other ways to effectively communicate with others.


While in Antigua, there were several people and instances that aided in my transformation. First, our group spent a good amount of time immersing ourselves in the culture of Antigua. We walked around the town, looking around buildings, shops, and taking time to watch the procession of some everyday events such as weddings and quinceañeras.  Additionally, we ate several meals in cafes, and even took salsa lessons at a dance studio not far from our home stay. During most of these experiences, we met Antiguans that were excited to share bits and pieces of their culture with us. This aided in my adaptation to the culture, as I was able to learn a little more about the people and the society we had entered. I realized that although Guatemalan culture is extremely unique, it functions on many of the same principles and values as I am custom to in the United States. This vastly shifted my world-view as I saw the more interconnectedness on a global level.

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My host mother, Amparo, was another individual that was influential in my transformation. Each day our group would come back to our home stay from the job site and Amparo would have dinner waiting for us. During dinner, Amparo would talk to us about our day. Although she didn’t speak English, we always had interesting conversation and she met myself and my group members with patience as we attempted to communicate our day’s experiences in Spanish. It was through our everyday dinner conversations that I realized my assumption about my Spanish speaking ability had been wrong. I was able to follow much of the conversation and even contribute with some responses. This encouragement increased my resolve to communicate more in Spanish.


Lastly, the school’s children aided in my transformation. These children were the happiest children I had ever seen, with creative imaginations that were constantly making up games. Most of them knew very little English and could often not understand my sub-par Spanish, but they still loved to get me and the other volunteers involved in their play time. During these times, I learned how to bridge communication gaps in other ways. It became clear with the children, that it didn’t matter if we could speak to each other, it was more important that we were laughing and having fun together. This was a big take away for me because I often worry about how I will be able to communicate with individuals that don’t speak English in my future career. These kids gave me confidence that I am able to communicate even without common language.

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This transformation is important to my goal to become a physician. As a physician, I will have to be able to effectively communicate and work alongside colleagues and patients that my come from a different culture or speak a different language. The confidence that I now have in myself to be able to adapt to situations such as these, and find ways to communicate with others will be vitally important for my role in this career. This transformation will also make me a better global citizen in general. Before travelling to Guatemala, I had never been outside the country. I had assumptions of what life outside the United States looked like, but until my trip, I never had an accurate depiction. After travelling to Guatemala and having the experience I did, I understand better the importance of global relations and acquiring perspectives outside of my own everyday life. Overall, Guatemala transformed my view of myself and my connection to the global community as a whole.


Volunteering with Columbus Speech and Hearing Center

cshc_megan2015-copy Megan Phillips

During the summer months of 2016 I was fortunate enough to complete my STEP Community Service and Learning project with the Columbus Speech and Hearing Center in Columbus, Ohio.  As a speech and hearing science major in pursuit of a career path in speech-language pathology, I was particularly excited about being able to experience a new setting in my field and network with current professionals.  I was a volunteer assisting two lead speech-language pathologists with a group at the center called “Tiny Talkers.” The Tiny Talkers group was comprised of young children ages two to three years with expressive language delays.  As a volunteer, my duties included setting up for group sessions and helping run the group during the session by participating in activities and encouraging the children there to participate as well.

Growing up I was always a shy child, especially when it came to situations where I did not know anyone or was forced to step outside of my comfort zone in anyway.  I was afraid of being judged negatively by others and was very concerned with the way others viewed me.  I never wanted to appear ignorant or inferior and was always concerned that I would be.  As the years have passed and with the more experiences I have had in the world, I began to face my fears of engaging in new experiences with new people.  Having the opportunity to be a STEP participant has contributed significantly to my growth in this area. It helped me to build confidence in myself and increase my faith in those around me.  I was nervous to go into a facility, to which I had never been, to seek any volunteer opportunities they may have had available.  Furthermore, having to open up to and get to know people I had never met was also a challenge.  However, my time at the Columbus Speech and Hearing Center turned out to be a truly wonderful experience.  I made great connections with the people I was working alongside with and learned so much about my professional field.

Going into this activity I had the mindset that each session would be very structured and have set speech and language activities that each child was supposed to attempt.  However, upon the group’s commencement I was intrigued by how the leaders of this group structured it like any other summer day-camp that a child might attend. We sang songs, played with toys, and many other fun activities that the children actually wanted to participate in.  While presenting these activities, the speech-language pathologists would incorporate different speech and language prompts into the activities to promote speech and language production.  While one speech-language pathologist would lead the group in a certain activity, the other would listen to the children’s responses and take data on their speech and language abilities.  They told me that with the children being so young, it would be premature to conduct any formal testing.  This group was a form of Early Intervention, or services that support the development of children in various areas during their earliest years of life.  The data that they collected for each child would later be used to help determine what additional services may or may not be required as the children grow older.

I had never seen this aspect of a speech-language pathologist’s career before.  I have observed other speech-language pathologist in the past, however it was always with elementary-aged children and above.  In settings like that, it is easier to have a formal and structured setting where there are specific speech and language activities that must be completed during a session.  Before the group started, I had wondered how the leaders of the group were going to accomplish such as a structured setting with children so young. Without prior experience with early intervention, my past experience with older children was all I had to go on.  My curiosity was peaked and I knew that the only way I could learn more about how to work in this setting was to ask questions and seek advice from the professionals whom I was working with.  This was difficult for me at first, because I have always had this sense of awkwardness when it came to asking about things I did not know, especially with unfamiliar peers.  As time went on though, I became more comfortable talking with these professionals and they were incredibly kind and understanding when explaining their work to me.

My experience with Columbus Speech and Hearing would not have been the same had I not had the pleasure of working with the two exceptional speech-language pathologists that I did.  Observing them work, being able to discuss after sessions why they did something or said something a certain way was so informative to me and helped me to learn and grow as an individual as well as an up-and-coming professional.  Having their support and access to their knowledge made all the difference for me and I hope that I have the opportunity to go back and work with them again in the future.

During my experience, I was able to interact with all of the wonderful children in our group and build relationships with them.  I loved talking and playing with all of them.  While all of these children were just as capable and intelligent as any typically developing child, after spending time with all of them I could notice the delays that were present.  Some were very subtle and I had to ask one of the lead speech pathologists about what to look for, but because they were all so different I now feel that I have a better understanding and knowledge of what to look for in the future as well as what to discuss with the parents of a child in that situation.  I was very impressed with how these speech pathologists communicated so clearly with the parents of these children.  Going into this career, one of my major concerns was being able to talk with the family members of a client, to be able to communicate clearly what my professional opinion was and answer all of their questions.  The speech pathologists leading our group did this so fluently.  It helped me to observe how effortless it was for them to talk with the parents and see how confident they were in their work.  To watch the very thing I was so timid of be done with such ease was intimidating, but both of them assured me that it comes with time and experience and that I would be just as capable one day.

I was also educated in a method of gathering data on children this young that I had no prior experience in.  In a typical evaluation setting, there are specific forms and skills that must be filled out and assessed.  In this particular setting, which was not a formal evaluation, it would have been rather difficult to fill out forms for each individual child while trying to manage a group of two-year-olds.  Thus, someone would take impromptu notes about what they heard or witnessed each child say or do during each session and they would discuss it further with each other after the children and their families had left to make sure they were aware and conscious of each other’s opinions.  While I would have previously considered this rather unorthodox in a way data collection, it was just as effective in doing so.  They explained to me their process and what they look for in each child; they even let me attempt to collect data in this manner during one session!  It was great to see how they accomplished this and helped me to really grasp a better understanding of what the group’s purpose was and how it functioned.

This experience was so valuable and enjoyable to me in more ways than one.  As a student, one learns things that one knows will be used in one way or another in that profession.  However the beauty of having real-life experiences like mine at Columbus Speech and Hearing Center is that I saw these skills and topics that I have so diligently studied be put into practice.  While not everything was in ‘cookie-cutter’ form like the textbooks make it seem it should be, the same information was still present and relevant.  I feel that is one of the most important lessons I will take from this experience.  Life does not always follow the plans we draw up in our minds and we have to find a way to manage and make the most of things.  In this particular example, having a thorough knowledge of what to look for in each child, what things needed to be noted, and having a general activity plan for how to evoke certain behaviors or actions from each child was all that was needed to be successful.

This was such an important lesson for me because all of my life I have been a planner.  Having a set plan was comforting to me because it reduced the amount of spontaneity I would encounter and thus less uncomfortable situations I would have to contend with.  I love knowing what is going to happen next and I used to become very disgruntled when things in my life deviated from that plan I had made for myself.  But I had the revelation that things that will not always follow the plan and yet still give rise to a positive result.  In fact, sometimes the best things come forth when the reality completely defies the expectation.  After all, no one ever achieved all that they could be by remaining sheltered in their comfort zones.

US Together

Ben Gilbert

Service-Learning and Community Service

This past summer I spent 5+ hours a week volunteering with a local refugee resettlement organization called US Together. Throughout the summer I helped employees and clients (refugees) in classrooms where they learned valuable information about personal finance in the U.S. and basic English language skills. While volunteering I got an insight into the commitment and determination put forward so clients can begin a self-sustaining life in the Columbus area and the U.S.


While volunteering with US Together my opinion of myself, the Columbus community, and refugees significantly changed. To begin, volunteering/interacting with clients in an environment where I was the minority was a unique learning experience. Being the minority in a classroom, it was important for me to quickly breakout of my shell and introduce myself as a person who could be trusted and asked for advice or assistance. Normally I am the student sitting down so it was important for me to go to volunteering ready and eager to help and lead.

I had assumed that US Together worked with only a handful of clients within a year and that most of the clients would be seeking refuge from a particular area of the world, this was not correct. Working with US Together staff, and clients, I was also surprised at the simple things I take for granted and assume adults know, but many clients had never heard of. Simple tasks like adding and subtracting to create a monthly budget were a momentous task for clients, especially if the idea of having a job was a new concept. I quickly learned even though English seems like a simple and easy language, many of the clients had a difficult time simply pronouncing words. This opened my eyes to the fact that the clients I was helping were not just moving to a different area but moving to a whole different culture and using a new language.


I was aware that Columbus was a central stop on many refugees’ paths to a sustainable and rewarding life in America, but the diversity and number of clients that US Together assisted surprised me. US Together’ s office was constantly flowing with new clients and clients were not just from the Middle East or Syria (like the media suggests). On one of the days I volunteered I had the pleasure of attending a refugee orientation. When I walked in, a classroom of clients from Africa, Asia and the Middle East greeted me. This was a shock, but it was also important, because it shattered my assumption that the only place with harsh enough circumstances to create refugees was the Middle East. I assumed that most countries in Asia were prosperous because the typical images presented by the media are of middle class families in well-developed countries. This is not true because many of the clients I worked with came from Southern Asia.

Volunteering this summer also changed my assumptions about life in other countries because I was exposed to clients that never had rights and privileges like Americans. Many clients were not offered a government provided education when they were younger and the concept of coming to a country where employees were protected by rules against discrimination was foreign to many clients. In the ESL classes I volunteered with, clients had to learn simple things like how to write addresses and numbers so they could navigate around Columbus. In financial literacy classes I helped clients understand the importance of composing a budget, how to write checks and how to open a bank account. These are all tasks I do everyday without little effort but I incorrectly assumed people coming to the U.S. would know how to do this.

Throughout my STEP experience I was amazed by the dedication between US Together staff and clients, which significantly changed my assumption about refugees in general. According to the media it sounds like refugees get a lot of government assistance if they come to the U.S., but US Together functions off of donations and grants; in return, clients will attend classes and learn important skills to allow them to be self-sufficient within a year of coming to the U.S.. The dedication staff had to helping clients obtain a job and live in the U.S. was not surprising, but I had wrongly assumed the attitude of clients. Many of the clients I worked with felt embarrassed to need help and they could not wait to get a job, yet alone begin living life without help.


Volunteering with US Together and seeing the diversity of clients that live in Columbus changes the way I look at my life. Personally, I would like to travel abroad in the future so that I can experience other cultures and be globally engaged. Living in the U.S. my whole life I take a lot of things for granted and working with US Together has made me appreciate simple things like knowing how to use the internet, online banking, credit cards, and education to name just a few. By traveling to other countries I hope to solidify my feeling of appreciation for my background and experiences, just as I appreciated my circumstances while helping clients. In the future, I will also be more accepting of refugees because they have chosen the daunting task of coming to America in hopes of a better life.

MEDLIFE trip to Riobamba, Ecuador

Nicholas Mitchell

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My step project was a service-learning trip to Riobamba, Ecuador with MEDLIFE. MEDLIFE is a national non-profit that seeks to empower low income families across the world through access to healthcare and healthcare education. I spent my spring break last year setting up medical mobile clinics for underserved communities, learning about the Ecuadorian healthcare system, and completing the construction of a house for a boy and his family in desperate need.

My STEP experience totally shook up my view of healthcare and our obligation as aspiring health care professionals. Living in a country where healthcare is a “hot topic”, healthcare issues on a global perspective seem to be swept under the rug. Going to Ecuador and serving  populations that have little to no opportunity to receive healthcare treatment opened my eyes to the bigger picture of healthcare inequality across the world. I also now see my obligation as an aspiring healthcare provider to raise awareness for healthcare on a global scale, and to promote public health initiatives and education.

The best way to display these personal changes is from sharing my experiences in Ecuador. The first occurred when I was assisting the dentist at one of our medical-mobile clinics. The dentist, as filling a cavity for a young boy, was showing me and other students a film that covered the boy’s teeth. The dentist explained to us that this film consisted of parasites that infested the water supply of this community. According to the dentist, there was no point in scraping this film off, since they have to drink the water and the parasites would be back within days.

Another experience that shook me was learning of Ecuador’s “universal” healthcare. Basic healthcare is technically free in Ecuador. However, a large population is not able to access this healthcare due to lack of transportation, lack of understanding on the importance of seeing the doctor, and prejudice against indigenous communities.  In fact, while we were in Riobamba, we saved the life of an elderly lady just because of transportation.  An elderly female had stomach ulcers.  She had no way to get to the city to see the doctor (she lived in the Andes Mountains, 45 minutes by car outside of the city).  Furthermore, she had seen a doctor in the past who dismissed her symptoms.  MEDLIFE was able to provide transportation for this lady, as well as advocate for her at the hospital.  This really was impactful to me because you see just how different the world is when you step out of the comfort and security of the US system.  This experience fueled my passion to advocate and educate on these realities across the world.  It also showed me why we fight for rights for all.  It’s all about “the one”.  The one person who is marginalized and left out is worth fighting for.

Finally, the best part of the trip for my personal growth was the development project for Rodrigo.  Rodrigo had a cleft palate.  When MEDLIFE went to visit Rodrigo, they realized that his living conditions were not suitable (by any standards).  Their family of 5 was living in the back of an abandoned family-members home.  It was heartbreaking to see.  MEDLIFE was able to raise the money to build Rodrigo and his family a new home.  We were the team that got to finish the project (and by fate, Rodrigo was the project that MEDLIFE-OSU had been fundraising for all year!).  As a group, we changed their lives forever.  To be honest, this was the first time I was able to have that kind of impact on a person or community, and it was something I will never forget.  It leads me to want to live not just a week of impact, but a life of impact. (One of the attached photos is some of us from the trip with Rodrigo’s cousin at the new home).

Going into my STEP experience, I was pretty sure that medicine was what I wanted to do with my career.  But even more then that, I thought I wanted to specialize when I entered the field.  Next fall I will begin medical school at the University of Toledo College of Medicine.  And, to my own surprise and the surprise of many around me, I think I will end up in primary care.  This is almost entirely because of my STEP experience and seeing the need for primary care that educates and empowers people all over the world.  As it says in the breeze way at my church: “see a need, meet it”.  I see a need, and I am committed to fighting for all peoples through my career in medicine.

It is absolutely critical that healthcare professionals are committed to empowering and educating communities around the world so that they can take control of their health. Having this experience in Ecuador has shown me just how important that commitment to our communities is, and the power of access and education for basic healthcare. I am forever grateful to STEP for funding this experience and allowing me to affirm my desire to serve in the medical field.

MEDLIFE- Riobamba, Ecuador

Name: Reed Franklin

Type of Project: Service Learning/Study Abroad

During spring break, I went on a volunteer trip through MEDLIFE to Riobamba, Ecuador. MEDLIFE is an organization that works with underdeveloped communities throughout South America and Africa to provide medicine, education, and development to the people of the community. During my week in Riobamba, I was able to travel to several rural Andean communities and aid various healthcare professionals with caring for the people of these communities.

My trip to Ecuador was absolutely life changing. This was the first time that I have ever been on a volunteer trip, and the first time that I have traveled to a destination that was not meant to be touristy. Before traveling to Ecuador, I was aware that native Andean communities face high levels of poverty. But, I was completely oblivious to the harsh realities that these communities face on a daily basis. My viewpoint on how fortunate I am to live the life I live, with easy access to proper healthcare and education, became extremely clear during my trip to Ecuador.

On our second day in Riobamba, we went on a “reality tour” which was essentially a tour of some of the communities that MEDLIFE has worked with in order to prepare us for the communities that we would be traveling to throughout the week. We traveled to a notorious hacienda that has been employing Andean natives for centuries. We were able to see the types of labor that are required to run a successful hacienda. Also on this day, we visited Maria’s casa, the house of one of our MEDLIFE nurses. This was my first real eye opening experience of the week. Maria owns several animals including cows and donkeys, which she is solely responsible for tending to. Unlike in the U.S., Maria’s farm did not have machinery or tools. The climb up and down the hills necessary for tending to her animals was treacherous. Many of us struggled, while Maria was totally unaffected. This was the first of many times that I saw first hand the hardships that these people face everyday, and have become used to.




Day three in Riobamba was the first day of our mobile medical clinics, and was my favorite clinic location of the entire trip. This clinic was extremely busy because we stationed it at a local elementary school. The school was extremely small, and was more of an indoor-outdoor facility. Stray dogs were in and out of the schoolyard while the kids were in class. For the majority of the day, I worked with the dentist, Dr.Pedro. Most of the MEDLIFE staff surprisingly spoke little to no English. This made communication pretty difficult and patchy for some people who had little or no Spanish knowledge. At this point I was glad that I am a Spanish minor. Dr. Pedro allowed us to be his dental assistants for the day at this station. We were very hands-on and assisted with filling cavities of the young children and adults of this community. Many of the children did have cavities, as many of them have never been taught the correct way to brush their teeth (and many did not even own a proper toothbrush). At the end of the day, every kid was sent home with a better education on proper dental hygiene and a new toothbrush. This clinic day was hectic, but ended in a way that I will never forget. One family from the clinics invited us into their home and prepared our entire group dinner. This was a very emotional experience because this family had almost nothing, but still graciously invited us to share a meal with them. This act of kindness showed the heart and the graciousness that the people of Ecuador showed us each and every day.

The rest of the clinic days went almost the same. Every clinic had an ample number of people who came to us from all over the community for help. Most of these people had not seen a doctor in years and were in serious need of medical attention. We encountered many cases of parasites, due to the lack of running water. Every community had a small community restroom that all the people shared. The condition of these restrooms was atrocious. We also encountered a woman who was immediately transported to the hospital in the city for surgery because she had over 30 cysts in her stomach that caused her body to enter into stages of sepsis. The twisted irony that I realized while in Ecuador was that healthcare is free for all citizens of Ecuador, but those who need medical attention the most simply cannot access it.

I experienced so many emotions throughout my entire trip. I felt sad for the people of the Andes who are suffering everyday without access to proper healthcare and education. I felt pride in knowing that, while we could not help everyone, we certainly did make a difference and actually saved at least one life during our visit. I felt happiness being surrounded by a group of people that were so dedicated to helping others that they had never met. All of these emotions led me to consider steps I could take after the trip to help others to the best of my ability.

The lessons I learned, and the people I met during my trip to Ecuador will stay with me throughout my entire life. I have officially decided to pursue a career in public health after receiving my bachelor’s degree next spring. I am drawn even more now to helping people overcome their circumstances. I have seen firsthand how kind and giving people can be that live everyday with minimal possessions. This trip was so important to me because it allowed me to give back, but I did not realize how much I would also gain from the citizens of Ecuador. I hope to be able to participate in another MEDLIFE trip soon!


(pictured above: Rodrigo’s family. We built them a sustainable house complete with indoor plumbing and electricity in order to create a stable environment for Rodrigo’s recovery. He suffered from cleft pallet and OSU’s MEDLIFE chapter raised money for his corrective surgery. This day, we presented the family with their completed house, which we had painted and built furniture in. Previous MEDLIFE groups aided in the construction of the house. For more on Rodrigo’s story visit


Buck-I-Serv: La Antigua, Guatemala

My STEP Signature Project was centered around service-learning and community service in La Antigua, Guatemala. In La Antigua, we worked with the in country organization, HANDS, to build the second story of an elementary school building.

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

My understanding of myself before the trip was that I could be a leader as well as a team player and that I was able to communicate with other people in any situation. I also assumed that it was very hard to work as a community and family in other countries because that is what I saw growing up in America.  I never thought about other countries having access to certain resources or programs like we do in America.

But with this amazing trip, I realized so much more about myself and the world that I will never forget. On this trip, I realized how flexible I can be in my work ethic and be ready to take on whatever task is asked of me with a smile on my face. The most important thing that I understood about myself after this trip was how passionate I get about things I am doing and how much patience I truly have with myself and others. After going and working on this trip, I have learned about the true efforts of “team work makes the dream work” and the importance of family support.

  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?

On the day that we were supposed to return the United States we had some transportation mishaps that really could’ve delayed us to stay in Guatemala a whole extra day. Our scheduled vehicle to drive us an hour and half to Guatemala City to catch our flight never arrived. The group started to slightly panic because calls were not being answered and we really had no idea what else to do to get to the main city that would have been affordable. However, while working with our faculty advisor for the trip and our home-stay mother we called another transportation company that just so happened to be open on Sundays and they came and picked us and got us to the airport just 10 minutes before our actual boarding time. Dealing with this was not just worrisome but it led me to the realization of my patience and flexibility because I was put in a position to calm everyone down and to handle the situation accordingly.

Hot work day- One of the 6th day there at the working site it was the hottest day of the week and the day we actually had to mix all of the concrete and get it poured all before the work day was over. It was honestly one of the most physical days of my entire life, and I was a three sport athlete, and it required everyone to be trusting and have all hands on deck. We had to carry around 60 bags of concrete and hand mix them with rocks and water from a hose using shovels. Then, because of limited tools, we had to use those same shovels to half way fill up buckets of the mixed concrete to be lifted by hand and assembly line method to the part of the school building that we needed to pour the concrete. Not a single person that day went without a minor scrap or bruise and being covered in concrete from hair to shoes. This day tested the physical and mental levels of us all but with the phrase “team work makes the dream work” we got it completed. It really led me to believe the phrase and find actual value in it because in America you are taught to bring yourself up but in other countries they believe in bringing the group up and leaving no one behind.

While being in Guatemala we missed the observance day of Mother’s Day in the United States, but in Guatemala it was during one of the days we were in the country. So we decided that after one of the work days we were going to get our home-stay mom a gift and learn about her life and family that evening. The expression of love and thankfulness when we presented her a gift at the house was priceless and so heartwarming. She explained to us that she did not get to see or talk to her kids that often because they were always out trying to provide for their own families and working toward trying to move to the United State. Our home-stay mother explained to us how much they put family first and really make sure everyone is cared for and fed from the newborns to the elderly first before they do for themselves. They really put family first in their culture and make every decision around the thought of how it will impact the family. That experience with conversing with her in only Spanish really led me to the thought transformation of how important family is and their support and to the things that they have access to to improve their lives on a daily basis.

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

Coming to the realization about my flexibility and patience was such a rewarding feeling because on the trip there was many obstacles that we had to overcome but I pushed the group forward and we completed the tasks at hand. This trip correlated so much with my passion for traveling and Spanish culture, my academic struggles, and my lifelong career goals. Not only was it rewarding but it was reassuring about where I can stand in the academic and professional world and how I can adapt and work with different kinds of people in diverse situations. As for my academic career, I have dealt with many obstacles and have been forced to push through and make my way for myself without help and this trip was just like that we arrived in the country and were given a very exhausting, hard task but with time and persistence we accomplished what we set out to do.

My future plans include me moving to North Carolina after graduation and that will be the first time I will really be away from my family and friends and have to start anew and make my own way and form new relationships with my surroundings. My career goals include doing research and working with biomaterials to help improve the lives of people and to implement better healthcare in Spanish-speaking countries so that they have affordable access to medical devices such as coronary stents, hip and knee replacements, prosthetics, and many more. The hard-working people in these countries have serious health issues but cannot stop working because the family needs the financial support and they do not have an affordable way to access these devices. The best way to do that is to look into the cost and design of these medical devices and to work with the healthcare industry to make the implementation of these devices less in the amount of cost and recovery time so that the people can easily and quickly return to their everyday lives. My flexibility and patience being brought forth to my attention is of great importance because it allows me to consciously make decisions and push through whatever obstacles I may face the rest of my time here at The Ohio State University and in my life.

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A wonderful opportunity I felt would be a good use of my STEP grant was going on a Buck-I-SERV trip. These trips are meant to get students involved in community service, while helping them learn about the current issues occurring around the country that call for our attention. I was lucky enough to be placed on a trip to New York City through the Youth Service Opportunities Project. This organization was focused on helping the food insecure and homeless of NYC.
On the first day of service we volunteered at a daycare that cared for children whose mother’s had just been released from prison. While taking care of adorable little babies was extremely heartwarming, it was amazing to see how the daycare was helping the mothers get back on their feet by not only helping take care of their children, but helping them attain their GEDs, find jobs, and even providing housing for them and their families until they get back on their feet. This made me realize that our help goes on for generations. By helping someone in need, that person can be influenced to live a better life and provide a better life for their children, creating a chain. This showed me how truly valuable our help is.
On the second day of service we went to a school for children with disabilities where they also distributed food to the homeless on the side. We helped prepare and distribute food bags for the homeless, as well as cleaning up some parts of the school. On the third day, we organized a dinner party and invited homeless/food insecure people in the area. This was my favorite part of the trip because it was definitely the most eye-opening part for me. We were able to sit down and have dinner with people who have been through so much in their lives, and it helped me realize how much alike we are to them. I was able to have completely normal conversation with a disadvantaged man who didn’t have a place to call home, yet he still had a smile on his face. What surprised me the most was when we offered him seconds, he said no. He only took what he needed and nothing more. It made me realize that we shouldn’t stereotype the homeless/food insecure people because they are normal people just like us who have had to deal with unfortunate events in their lives, but who are still fully capable if given the opportunity. It was heartbreaking to see them leave and not know what they were going back to, but it was a truly eye-opening experience and I enjoyed bonding with them. The main lesson I took away from this day was to not stereotype the homeless/food insecure because the only difference between them and us is that they are in an unfortunate situation, but if given the resources they can prosper just like anyone else.
The fourth day of service was a little short, where we helped stock and organize a food pantry. Lastly, on the fifth day we went to a Synagogue where they held a dinner every Thursday mostly for the homeless/food insecure, but anyone was welcome. It was interesting to see how they didn’t limit the amount of people that could attend, they served food and didn’t ask any questions. What I loved was how they made it like a party for the guests where they set up the tables nicely, we served them and asked them what they wanted to eat and drink, and they even provided entertainment where someone sang and played the piano. I think it’s amazing of the Synagogue to do because it gave people assurance that they had a meal to look forward to every Thursday. This taught me how important continuity is when getting involved in service. I hope to provide this kind of continuity in the future and provide a long-lasting service to those in need.
The first and last days were free days where we toured a lot of NYC. Throughout both free days we were able to visit Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, Chinatown/Little Italy, Washington Square Park, Central Park, the 9/11 memorial, walk on the Brooklyn Bridge, ride the Staten Island Ferry, and go to the very top of the Rockefeller Center that overlooked all of NY.
This trip was especially meaningful to me because as a Syrian American, I hope to dedicate time in the future serving those affected by the Syrian Conflict. Furthermore, being a pre-dental student, this trip relates to my future goals because I hope to provide non-profit dental aid to underserved areas of the world, as well as to those affected by the Syrian Conflict. This trip allowed me to directly provide non-profit aid to those in need, which was great experience for the future as I hope to donate my time to those in need whenever possible. Currently, I am able to use this experience towards helping the homeless/food insecure here in Columbus because they deserve our help just as much as anyone else.
Overall I am extremely grateful I was able to go on this trip. Not only was it amazing to explore New York for the first time, but it opened my eyes to what homeless and food insecure people go through and how many wonderful centers there are in NY that devote so much of their time to helping. I talked to a woman at the Synagogue who was also helping serve and she told me she had been volunteering every Thursday for 16 years, which made me so happy to think about all the meals she was able to serve and how many people she was able feed. She inspired me to center my life around ways I can help. I hope to use this trip as an aid in transforming myself into a more service-oriented person.

Habitat for Humanity: Lake-Sumter, Florida

Tatum Marshall’s STEP Service Project Experience


Over Spring Break, I traveled to Eustis, Florida with twenty-nine other students to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. We spent the week working on different home construction sites painting, laying flooring, installing appliances, caulking, and using power tools alongside site leaders. At the end of the week, the houses we worked on were nearly finished and we had the opportunity to meet the families that would be soon moving in.
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Before participating in this trip, I had never traveled for volunteer work or helped with any service projects on this large of a scale. I  developed strong relationships with strangers in a place I had never been in a very short period of time, which is very bold and atypical for my character. Helping to build houses for low-income individuals both humbled and empowered me. Over the course of the week, I realized that my effort could achieve such necessary and helpful change for others. The hands-on approach gave me a new appreciation for manual labor and the importance of home-ownership. I hadn’t realized before this trip that I had the ability and opportunity to influence other lives in such a positive way.

In addition to this realization, I became acutely aware of the presence of hope and ambition in others. Before our Habitat for Humanity orientation, I had thought that the organization was a charity, providing houses to poor families for free. Once I arrived in Florida, I learned that the home-owners must still pay adjusted rent and provide labor as another form of payment. The home-owners that we were building for left their families to toil alongside us in the hot sun. All of them had other jobs and most of them were raising young children. Witnessing this dedication and hard work in the home-owners and in the other volunteers really inspired me.

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There were several aspects of the trip that played major roles in my transformation. One of the most influential parts of my service experience was relationship-building within my volunteer group. Our trip of thirty was split into three groups, one of fifteen and two of seven. I was assigned to one of the smaller groups, and at first knowing no one made me nervous. However, the seven of us really banded together during the week to accomplish so much for the house. We put in long hours of work every day, but managed to keep good attitudes and make jokes. I learned so much about my fellow volunteers in those working hours and built lasting friendships. Bonding through service helped me realize that human beings can always come together to serve a greater purpose. This experience also taught me to embrace opportunities to meet new people and to be more open to new relationships.

Another critical part of my service experience was the actual hard labor presented by home-building. I had never renovated a house or used a power tool until this trip, and I learned more than I could have imagined about how to assemble parts of a home. Our two site leaders, Bob and Doris, were very supportive, even though  most of us had never done any of the tasks they presented to us. Their instruction gave us confidence and taught us many useful skills. This part of the trip has inspired me to believe in myself when facing difficult tasks and to never hesitate to ask when in need of a lesson.

In addition to these two factors, another major role in my experience was filled by Carlos, our main contact for Habitat for Humanity. On the first day of the trip, Carlos told us about the history of the organization and explained the important role we would be playing in the lives of the home-owning families. Throughout the week, he would stop by with the families and introduce us. He showed me what it looks like to lead a life defined by and dedicated to the service of others. I have the utmost respect for him, and watching him enjoy his position in this non-profit has influenced me on my career track.

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The experiences I had on this service trip have since shaped my life and the choices I have made for my future. One major way that I have changed as a result of this trip is in my application for a study abroad trip. I have always wanted to travel to another country, but previously I was nervous about going so far away with people I didn’t know. After the amazing friendships I made in Florida, I felt confident in my ability to acclimate to a different country and applied for the Literary Locations in Greece trip. Just this week I was accepted and am proud to say that I am excited to travel abroad and I hope to continue to travel for the rest of my life.

Another way that this experience has influence me is in my application for PA school. Prior to this trip, I had been unsure about pursuing a career in the medical field. However, after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, I realized how much I care about the well-being of other people and I have chosen to dedicate my life to protect that well-being. I am applying to graduate school’s next year to pursue my goal of becoming a physician’s assistant so that I can spend the rest of my life improving the health of others.


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.