HES Guatemala Service Trip

img-1514494950On the 4th of May 2016, I along with 10 other students from the Humanitarian Engineering Scholars Program at the Ohio State University visited Guatemala to perform a comparative study on solar panels and cooperating with Mayan Families. My main focus was to find an effective method to assemble a solar panel system that could be used by the residents. I was also involved in building cook stoves to the locals as well as implementing STEM projects for elementary and middle school students.

The project was transformative to me because it was a critical learning point in affordable product design. It allowed me to apply my academic knowledge in electricity and energy efficiency in order to find the best solar panel system that is affordable by families and offices. The project also reinforced my Humanitarian Engineering background. As a Biomedical Engineer, my career goal is to make affordable medical equipment available to third world countries. While expensive equipment offers the best results, it is only accessible to people who can afford it. This project has reinforced my understanding of methodologies that may be used to develop inexpensive products. Living in the United States, I often forget and become less appreciative of the assets available to me. Directly witnessing the challenges that the Guatemalan residents face has furthered my appreciation for the privileges I have.

In order to attain a better understanding of the living situations that the Guatemalan families live in, I was given various opportunities to interact with the residents. My first opportunity was interviewing a family about their living conditions in order to understand the problems they face and provide a reasonable solution. This was an important event because it refined my ability to find the root cause for problems, a very useful skill in the engineering field.

After coming up with the recommended product, my team came up with a technical report and we presented our findings as well to Mayan Families. I participated in running STEM projects for elementary and middle school students. For the elementary children, we taught them to concept of force by building catapults made out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands. These events allowed me to develop as an engineer because producing a technical report is commonly seen in the engineering field. I was also able to learn how to communicate ideas to people without necessarily using the English language.

During the day, our Humanitarian Engineering Scholar group embarked to different rural regions to install cook stoves for the residents. The residents typically cook over open fire, which is a health hazard for everyone in the house due to the large amount of smoke released. Witnessing the living conditions that the residents live in has further driven my passion for focusing my career goals in helping struggling countries reach the standards that we enjoy.

I truly enjoyed going on this trip and more so in the work I’ve done. It was a nice break from tackling problems that solely impact my grades. I am content with my own personal growth, but I am fonder of the growth that happened around me. I participated in inspiring children to go on through their education as well as bringing light to the residents. This trip is valuable because it allowed to develop both as an engineer as well as a leader in my community and other’s.

St. Petersburg, Florida Reflection

On our trip we travelled down to St. Petersburg, Florida to help the Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves on different spoil islands in the area. On these islands there are many invasive species that have over populated the islands and the native plants are unable to grow on these islands. Every morning we would take boats out to different islands and cut down, pull out and remove these invasive species, one of the most present was the Brazilian Pepper.

Going into this trip none of us had a real understanding of how intense and important our helping the aquatic reserves was until we actually got there. Our advisor had been on the trip several times before and completely downplayed the intensity of the work. This trip changed my view on how little everyday things that you do can have an overall larger impact on this world. This trip made me more optimistic of the idea that every little thing counts in protecting and repairing this early.

The first day when we reached the Marina was the moment I realized how important our group was to the Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves. The twenty of us arrived to meet up with the team from the Aquatic Preserves which ended up being only two people. Only two people are working for this non-profit to preserve over twenty spoil islands and the aquatic life around them which is much more work that the two of them can handle. They extremely rely on volunteer groups from colleges such as LSU and UNC along with Ohio State to assist them in their efforts in preserving these islands.

The spoil islands are all open to public and their size ranged from anything from 100 yards in diameter to five acres. Some of the islands that the Aquatic Preserves spent more time on clearing have grown native plants now and are great places for people to stop their boats and even camp out on. Along with native plants, some animal species are found to have returned to these islands. This was cool to see what an impact we could make in the end.

The main thing we did once we reached a new island was cut down the invasive species that were overgrowing on the island. These ranged from small bushes to even large trees. Other than just cutting down plants we actually got to plant over a hundred plants to help regrow on these islands. Last thing that we did was clean up the garbage. Because these islands were open to the public there was so much trash on the islands that we went through and picked up or even garbage that were in the water that floated up onto shore.

This trip showed me how important it is to protect our environment. Over the course of the week our group went to many different islands that each had different levels of progress. Most people go on and believe “I am just one person and I can’t affect much on my own” but in reality that statement is just the opposite. Just one person can do so much for our environment as a whole. I saw how much I, individually, accomplished in just one week on a couple islands in the Tampa Bay area. And in opposition, one person can do just as much harm to the environment by small acts they aren’t conscious about.

Learning what I could accomplish is extremely valuable in every aspect in my life. I’ve been told my whole life that I could do so much for myself and everyone as a whole but didn’t really believe it because I never had a situation in my life where I have impacted someone or something in a larger aspect. Now that I have experienced this, it gives me hope throughout my life. This trip made me more aware of how I am treating our planet and has made me make decisions that are positive to this Earth.  Academically, I want to go on and become a Physician’s Assistant. Now instead of just wanting to help people with their health, I believe I can inspire someone to be driven just like the people who inspired me to strive to be a part of the medical field.

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Finding Passion

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The view from our front porch in Tapasle.

In my STEP Signature Project, I participated in a Buck-i-SERV trip to Nicaragua, where I completed a public health practicum with an organization called Amos Health & Hope. I spent the first four days learning about cultural immersion and privilege, the next 6 days in the rural community of Tapasle where our team collected data on the use of water filters and helped in a health clinic. In my final week, I helped analyzed the data our team collected and reflected on how my experience applied to public health and transformed my outlook on the world and myself.

As someone who started to lose their motivation and clarity after a less-than-desirable freshman year, this trip allowed me to re-find and reaffirm my passions. It gave me renewed purpose. I came home with a new fire in my life to go get the things I want and to change the things I want to change. It definitely gave me confidence and empowered me that I can make a difference, I can go to medical school, and I can continue to grow as a person.

Going into the trip, I was well aware of many of the differences I was likely to see. Different food, different atmosphere, different language. However, I was surprised to see how similar people are at their core. Even with a completely different social upbringing and way of life, it was still easy to find similarities, whether it be in food or animals or religion. Even the children in the rural community in the central mountains of Nicaragua taught us games that were so similar to the ones I played as a child. I learned how to start focusing on the similarities that bring us together rather than the differences that have the power to drive people apart.

I started to recognize privilege in a clearer state. Not only for what privileges do I hold, but what I don’t have and how that affects me. I learned many ways that I can inadvertently promote inequality and how I can also stop it. I developed a passion for recognizing adversity and how I can close the gap.

I learned the discomfort of being in a place where not many people speak your native language, and the difficulty of communicating with broken Spanish. I recognized the dependency I developed on translators to help me. It was very humbling and expanded my perspectives. It allows to better understand students and immigrants who come to the United States and deal with backlash for “not speaking English”. I think the trip mostly allowed me to be able to empathize with a larger group of people.

Everything I did changed my outlook on life and the world. These four experiences were perhaps the most transforming:

  • Overcoming the Language barrier/International Travel

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A picture of the beautiful AMOS compound we stayed at during our time in Managua.

     As someone who has never traveled internationally before, experiencing a new country was slightly overwhelming. I constantly found myself trying to relate my new experiences in Nicaragua with my United States experience. Not to forget, the actual “travel” aspect was all new to me as well! Flying internationally and having to spend an impromptu night in Houston on our way home (not to mention temporarily losing our bags) was a lot of flexibility I was forced to display. However, I found that I enjoyed myself most when I started experiencing travel and Nicaragua for what it was, and taking things as they came. I think that there was something about using a different currency, seeing a different political system, learning a new historical perspective, and seeing a whole new way of rural life that showed me that there is indeed a whole other world out there. We see too much in textbooks and on the internet about these places that are so foreign to us, but until we actually experience them, you don’t completely realize that they are reality. Having the opportunity to travel abroad was something that really showed me that the United States isn’t the whole world, and that there is a lot out there to experience and learn from and love.

  • Learning to Salsa

            I’ve never taken dance lessons, although I am musically “seasoned”. Even though our trip involved a large portion of classroom and public health application, we had an opportunity to experience something so integral in central American life: salsa dancing! A Nicaraguan couple came and gave our group a beginner salsa lesson. We learned the fundamentals and then went to a salsa club. It was one of the most fun experiences of my life. I fell in love with the way salsa can be so easily improvised, but looks as smooth as if it had been planned and practiced for months.

  • Living in a Rural Community

At first, many of the kids didn’t smile. This picture was taken by one of the girls in the community, who really loved playing with my camera.

Not only did I spend time in the capital city of Managua, learning and experiencing urban life, but our project involved going to the rural community of Tapasle to track their community’s health progress. The people in the community live on less than two dollars a day. I have never experienced poverty so first-hand. We slept on military cots in a small shed-like building, under our mosquito nets.

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Our sleeping quarters in Tapasle.

We ate food prepared for us by AMOS’s chefs, which was a majority of rice and beans. We used latrines at the school next door to our sleeping quarters, which required a few initial stomps of the feet in order to send the cockroaches running to the back. All of this, although seeming very rugged, was better than many of the people in the community. Shocking at first, I quickly realized that these people have a beautiful community and way of life. They’re all very smart in so many ways that I am not. Being here for a week, although taking me way out of my comfort zone really reinforced that no one is superior to anyone else—we merely have different ways of life.

 

 

  • Facilitating Health Stations
After the health stations, some of our group went to the top of one of the mountains, where some of the kids in the community taught us games and helped us with our Spanish.

After the health stations, some of our group went to the top of one of the mountains, where some of the kids in the community taught us games and helped us with our Spanish.

One thing we did in the rural community was set up a day-long health clinic, where children under 5 years old and pregnant women could get a free medical exam and possible vaccines and medication. I worked at the anemia station, where I helped prick fingers and collect blood to test for anemia. This reinforced the fact that I want to be in the medical field. I loved what I was doing all day long. Even when it was hard: we had children screaming and wrenching their fingers, which obviously wrenched my heart. I loved being able to be of service to their community in helping them gain access to services they don’t have. It also gave me an opportunity to check my privilege. I had to be very conscious that I wasn’t presenting myself as a “white savior”. Being able to feel the excitement inside myself during the health stations really reaffirmed that this is where my heart belongs and where I want to see myself in the future.

As a pre-medical student (with a global public health minor), this trip gave me my first and in-depth look into public health (specifically internationally) and international healthcare. Even this semester in my public health classes, I am able to relate nearly every classroom concept to the field work I did in Nicaragua. Not only does it apply to my coursework, but my job as a resident advisor as well. The conversations I had in Nicaragua about privilege and cultural immersion gave me real experience and made much more comfortable with those topics. Personally, I was able to experience a whole new part of the world, which made me very sensitive to diversity.

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A classic O-H-I-O picture with some of my new friends on the top of “Volcan Mombacho” overlooking Lake Nicaragua.

It also made me passionate. One of the last activities we did in Nicaragua was calling “Pouring out Anger”. Our practicum teachers asked us to think of something that made us angry. We heard a lot of varying responses. Mine was the disparities between men and women in the math and science fields, but I realized later that I’m angry about much more. I’m angry that people don’t have access to health care, I’m angry that there is an opiate epidemic raging through Ohio, and I’m angry that sexual, racial, and economic discrimination is still prevalent. Once we shared our anger, we poured it out, changing our anger into a fuel and a passion for making a change. It was inspiring. To put in to words the issues that our generation wants to improve was amazing. This trip not only transformed me by showing me some of the greatest disparities in the world, but also transformed me by giving me a little bit of power to do something about it. It is an experience I continue to share and will be passionate about for the rest of my life.

Guatemala Service-Learning Reflection

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My project was to research and design a waste management system for rural communities in Guatemala that was affordable, simple, and healthy for environment and users. It began with a semester long class with a group of four doing the research for possible waste management solutions, and ended with a trip to Panajachel, Guatemala with a nonprofit called Mayan Families where we did further research, interviewed community members, and concluded with a power point presentation and technical report that we gave to the nonprofit.

Through this project and trip, I realized how much infrastructure is necessary for me to be able to live the life I am living. Simple things like using the restroom involve such a complicated behind the scene process that I always took for granted and never questioned now are a luxury. I also realized how much influence the U.S. has on the rest of the world through learning about how we impacted the Guatemalan government and internal relations with really disastrous consequences. Lastly, I realized that the luxury of having information and a proper education comes with great power, responsibility, and privilege. I realized that a lot of people in the world do not have the ability to attend school and learn about history and the world because they are too busy worrying about surviving or because their government restricts them.

One thing we explored in my STEP project was the United States influence on the military coup and genocide of the Mayan people that occurred between the 50’s and 90’s in Guatemala. We found out that an American food company lobbied in the U.S. government to sponsor a coup on the basis that the Guatemalan government was turning “communist.” This led to the placement of a military dictator that wiped out hundreds of thousands of Mayan people with the logic that these people were trying to overthrow the government, when only 1% were a part of a rebel army. The worst part of this tragedy, is the government and people pretend like it did not happen, meaning that children and also rural Mayan people do not think this happened, or it was never explained to them why people came into their villages and killed their families.

Through learning about Guatemalan history and the American politics behind it, I realized that 1) It is incredibly heartbreaking that these people don’t have the basic right of their own history, and 2) That I did not learn about this until I traveled there and studied beforehand. This was simply something that I did not learn in history classes growing up. I realized that any perception I have of the world needs to be taken with a grain of salt because I will never fully understand what turns the world around.

On a more positive note, I was able to communicate and connect with people who have far different assumptions and live far different lives that I do. We had the opportunity of traveling to community homes, install cook stoves in their homes, and also converse with the people who lived in these homes. Seeing where somebody lives really puts everything into context about that person, and I believe this applies for anyone you meet not just people living in rural villages in Guatemala. The craziest part of this was that these people were incredibly grateful and proud of what they owned, and also were so grateful for the service we provided them, which really seemed like next to nothing as far as the impact they left on us. However, each of these families gave us some sort of gift – whether it be a bottle of water, food, or soda, they gave us something. And what was beautiful about this exchange is that in their culture, it would be rude for us not accept these gifts because these people were so genuine and sure that they wanted to give us something, and they were not worried about the cost it took out of their own wallets for this gesture.
Finding value and meaning in my future opportunities is what I am constantly searching for. What is really making an impact on the world for the better? How can I leave this world better than when I came into it? These are constant questions where I am searching for answers. Although, I don’t believe that going into unfamiliar communities and trying to be a savior is beneficial in the end (history can tell that story), I do think making connections with people across the world teaches me one thing: we are all of the same. One of my favorite quotes is “Cut me arm, I bleed red. Cut yours, you bleed red. We are of the same,” and I am not sure where it comes from, but it always reminds me of my place and role on Earth. I think this experience was crucial to helping me continue down a path of trying to impact the world for the better.

Guatemala

Participating in the STEP program at Ohio State was no doubt one of the best extracurricular activities I have partook in at OSU, including the STEP cohort activities and the project itself. The final project of STEP was to use a fellowship towards a transformational experience. The experience that I participated in was the May 2016 Buck-I-SERV trip to Guatemala, where I acted as the leader of 12 students and 1 faculty advisor. This was definitely not my first time out of the country, but I had never been to Central America before, so this was also an eye opening experience for me.

After we arrived at Guatemala, we took our taxi towards our accomodations for the week. When I first saw Guatemala in person, I was in shock at how different the country was from the United States. I knew immediately that this would be a third world country. There were little boys and girls selling crafts outside the streets as well as people lying in the shade. I knew from seeing this that they would be homeless. Our host for the week was Amparo Cuellar and her family. Living with a homestay was one of the best experiences of the trip, as we all got to stay in an authentic Guatemalan home and enjoy the delicious food that Amparo made for us every day.

The organizations that were hosting us for the week were HANDS of Guatemala as well as Constru Casa, a Dutch nonprofit organization. Both organizations were sponsoring the construction of a nearby school in Ciudad Vieja, a town outside Antigua. Going from Antigua, a tourist town to Ciudad Vieja was also an eye opening experience. Ciudad Vieja was quite a different city from the touristy laden Antigua and showed why Guatemala has been known as a third world country. Antigua featured upscale restaurants, bars, and most importantly, credit card usage which was quite rare in Guatemala! On the other hand, the tiny town of Ciudad Vieja overlooking the volcano was tiny, dirty, and quite poor.

The whole town did not have any access to good medical care and was situated on dirty roads. There was one unique situation which I noticed while working. When we were taking breaks from the project, we would often go to buy beverages at a nearby stall, which sold them for less than a dollar. The owner of the stall definitely struggled to sell his items, and when he ran out of drinks, he would not be able to afford another supply for at least a couple of days. Although he had two refrigerators, only one was working and he could not put his whole supply into that refrigerator. This was sad, because he could only sell cold drinks as that was what he wanted. However, he was happy at us coming to his stall every day and made sure he had enough cold drinks for all of us. This was where I noticed the kindheartedness of the people in the town, however poor they were.

Our task was to finish the roof of a newly remodeled classroom in the town’s school. The work consisted of removing the waste of the previous room, building the structure needed to support the thousands of pounds of concrete, and then finally pouring the concrete in! This work took the whole week, but we had the help of a second group with us called Students Offering Support from various universities in Ontario and Quebec in Canada. It was quite special partnering with the Canadian students, as it showed that teamwork can really be useful when volunteering. It also showed that even though we were from different backgrounds, we could definitely partner together to make a difference in what we did. What was hard about the whole project was that it took the entire week, from nine AM the Monday we got there till 5 PM on the concluding Friday. Friday’s work was the hardest part of the entire project. It was the hottest day that we were there in Guatemala and we were finally pouring the concrete on the roof. The mason said that it would take at least 80 bags to do the entire roof and to make the work go faster he hired the help of a professional concrete mixer who brought a special machine in. Even with this help, all of us were exhausted after lunch.  But we stuck to our cause of finishing what we were asked to do to leave the school in good shape! Once we finished the concrete roof, we knew we did something extra special. We finished the work much faster than expected, allowing the school to deliver the finished room faster.

This experience with Buck-I-Serv, Constru Casa as well as working with the students of SOS was very valuable to my life for many reasons. It allowed me to work with many diverse individuals and also allowed me to understand their values and ideas, especially that of the Guatemalan masons and the Canadian students, who were also getting used to the culture and language of Guatemala. This trip also exposed me to another country’s culture-that is the culture of Guatemala, unique in itself. We learned that the lives of the people are much different from our lives back home, and that they may not have enough sources of food or even a decent house to live well. What I noticed about the people wherever we went was that they were very happy in their lives and learned to adjust to a different way of living. During this trip, I saw a lot of the things that other people didn’t have and was definitely thankful and appreciative for what I had back home. Being in Columbus as a student, you don’t get to venture out of the country for experiences like these a lot, so I definitely was thankful for having an experience like this. This trip also allowed me to use a language I love-Spanish, and with the people that speak it well. I learned that a different dialect of Spanish was spoken here and was amazed at how many versions this one language can have!

Leaving the school was definitely sad, as I was not only leaving the community that we served, but also Guatemala. We learned that the school was having a hard time finding sources for funding the construction of another part of the school. It was then that we thought of starting our own fundraisers to help the school out. One thing I realized when I left Guatemala is to be thankful for what I have. A lot of the people that we saw were very poor and survived on less than the American minimum wage every day. It was noticeable that they did not have very clean clothes or even good sources of water. I was definitely thankful for being able to go on this trip and to learn about a different culture. Guatemala will always have a place in my heart!

 

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Nicaragua Buck-i-Serv

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For my STEP signature project I traveled to Nicaragua with an Ohio State Buck-i-Serv trip. On this trip we were able to pair with a Nicaraguan nonprofit called Amos and participate in a 3-week practicum, which consisted of a week and a half in the classroom and a week and a half of field experience. In the classroom we learned about public health and the healthcare models of rural Nicaraguan communities, and in the field experience we were able to see these health models in action and participate to help make them sustainable.

I did not realize how capable of change in a 3-week-period I could be until I returned from my trip with a whole new perspective on culture, community, and healthcare in the third-world. It is easy to get wrapped up in the idea that “our” way of life is the best way of life in all aspects but my STEP project helped me destroy this false mindset and open up my mind to the beauty and richness that encompasses cultures all over the world, some of which are drastically different from my own. I suddenly look at people who are unlike myself as “unique” as opposed to strange or different. I went into the project hoping I could better some individual’s lives by providing them with some much-needed healthcare equipment and training. Instead, I shared what I had learned in the classroom with the community members of Tapasle, a rural Nicaraguan community, and was humbled to learn about the vast knowledge of healthcare and community outreach they already possessed as a community.

I also learned more about the concept of service. I have engaged in a lot of service work in my life but none that was as give-and-take as this experience was. It did not take me long to realize that service is excellent in its own accord, but what many individuals and communities in the world need is empowerment. The individuals I interacted with were working hard to create healthy, happy lives for their families and friends utilizing the things Amos and other individuals had taught them. They were not reliant or dependent as they could have been if an organization had stepped in just to perform work for them, or force their healthcare ideals upon them. Instead, Amos had empowered them to build lives for themselves, and as a result, my view of service has forever been changed.

As I mentioned before, STEP experience in Nicaragua consisted of both a classroom and a field experience portion. Contrary to what I expected from the trip, both portions were equally as engaging and transformative. I originally regarded the classroom portion as a means to an end, or even a rite of passage to get to the more “interesting” field work. This proved to be remarkably inaccurate. In the classroom portion of the practicum I was able to learn about topics that are not a part of my Ohio State curriculum, such as social justice, community health, race and economic status, and many more. Each day we engaged in powerful discussions and activities that helped me break out of my narrow mindset regarding the third world. I began to see how important it is to respect all communities, regardless of how different or unique they may be, and that there is infinitely more value in providing solidarity and helping hands for impoverished communities, rather than “fixing” their problems with handouts and surface-level service.

Among the most transformative aspects of the trip were the individuals I was able to meet, starting on the first day with the volunteers and employees at AMOS. While many of these individuals were Nicaraguan, many others were from all over the world, having felt pulled to work in public health in the third world for a variety for reasons. I have never experienced a group of individuals as selfless and genuine as these people. One individual in particular, a doctor from California named Renee, made a monumental impact on me. While Renee, originally an OBGYN, could be living a comfortable, high-class life in America, she instead chose to live and work in impoverished communities in Nicaragua, making just enough get by day-to-day, but impacting the lives of the most vulnerable and forgotten. Suddenly, after spending 3 weeks with Renee, I no longer feel completely confident in my original “college, grad school, work, marriage” plan, and have strongly been considering spending some time abroad or engaging in work with impoverished communities.

The final transformative aspect of this trip was the week I spent in the rural community of Tapasle. Working with the vibrant, selfless, welcoming people of Tapasle has shattered any predispositions I had about impoverished communities, and the role that First World countries should have. We are so inclined to feel sorry for these individuals, and to have a desire to “fix” their lives (and healthcare systems). While these are good intentions, the lifestyle of impoverished individuals are not “broken,” and I met an entire community full of people living fulfilling, joyful lives despite their economic status. I learned that it is our job to stand in solidarity with them, and lift them up in any way we can without eliminating their familiar lifestyle to instill one we believe would work better.

As I continue to pursue a career in the healthcare field, the transformations I encountered in Nicaragua will play an important role in my future. Not only did I get the chance to practice providing healthcare on a small-scale, but I was able to see from an outsider’s perspective a health model that is completely different from what I am used to. This, along with the transformation in thought-process I have undergone will allow me to move forward with an open mind, making me more flexible and willing to learn what the healthcare field has to offer. These transformations also will have a personal influence moving forward. I have a much greater appreciation for community and culture, and a new understanding that economic standing is a far more complex concept than simply “rich vs. poor.” Like I mentioned before, this trip has encouraged me to rethink the rigid structure I had planned for my future and allowed me to consider taking more opportunities to broaden my horizons before settling into a career in the healthcare field. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I was granted to engage in a rich community like Tapasle, and encounter as many extraordinary people as I did. The impact of this trip has stuck with me thus far and will continue to do so in my future endeavors.

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STEP Project: CRU Summer Mission 2016

Name: Katie Frost

 

Type of Project: Service Learning and Community Service

 

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

 

My STEP signature project was participating in a CRU Summer Mission for two months in Vail, Colorado. On my summer mission, I participated in several activities where I learned and grew individually and as part of a group. These activities included ministry activities in the community, participating in Leadership training and Bible Study sessions, participating in community outreach activities, volunteering and attending a church in Vail, and working at a horse stables for the summer.

 

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

One major focus of my Summer Mission was learning how one’s cultural

background affects their view of God, and how important incorporating one’s cultural values into one’s faith is. For this reason, our Summer Mission was through a branch of CRU called Destino, which focuses on ministry with the Hispanic community. Before my Summer Mission, I did not realize how much people’s identity influenced their faith and their religious views. However, with a diverse group of eight students on the summer mission, and through meeting people from all over the world while in Colorado, I learned how important it is as ministry leaders to incorporate cultural values into the church.

Secondly, the simple fact of living in a new place for two months opened my eyes to cultural diversity and the different forms it could take. I never expected to experience “culture shock” when traveling within the U.S. However, after spending all my life in Ohio and getting to live in Colorado for two months, I realized how culturally different areas of the U.S. are, and that travel to another country is not required to experience this. From family values, to behavioral and social norms, to racial demographics, Colorado was vastly different from Ohio, and I learned so much getting to experience and embrace these differences.

 

  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

While in Colorado, the other students on my team and I were able to form friendships with people worked with, people at church, or just people we met around the community. Through these relationships, we were able to understand the types of people that live in Vail. Two individuals that really impacted me were brothers named Mickey and Jason. Throughout our two month stay, I learned how Mickey and Jason had moved from Minnesota with their mom three years prior to start a church in Vail. They saw a need for a church specifically for the Hispanic community, and met that need. I learned the values and principles of their church, how the church has prospered since its beginning, and how they meet the cultural needs of Hispanic Christians in Vail. This contributed to me gaining an understanding of how culture and diversity should be emphasized, valued, and celebrated in the church.

In addition, my job at Vail Stables helped me to gain exposure to cultural norms in Vail, and all over the world. First, my coworkers showed me what the culture of Vail is like. While “white” is commonly the dominant racial demographic in Ohio, in Vail it was much different. I got to work in a very diverse environment at Vail Stables. In addition, I learned that most people in Vail move there while in their twenties, and few people are actually born and raised in Vail. From this, I observed a lack of community in Vail, and saw how this affected the community.

While working at Vail Stables, I was also exposed to people from all over the world. Vail is a common vacation destination, and Vail Stables provides horseback riding services for tourists. So, while leading trail rides, I met people from all over the country and world and was able to learn about their home and culture. In addition, Vail Stables provided half-day and one-day children’s camps that I helped lead. Through this, I got to spend an extensive amount of time with children from other countries, and learned so much about their culture, their family values, and the way they are raised. Working at the stables and the relationships I made in the community were so valuable to experiencing different cultures from my own.

 

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

In the future, I hope to become a food animal veterinarian that works in developing countries to help develop their animal agriculture. Ultimately, a goal of mine is to help relieve world hunger through developing sustainable agriculture. In addition to my passion for agriculture, my faith is the most important thing in my life, and figuring a plan to incorporate my faith with my career has been a challenge for me.  My Summer Mission experience in Colorado was so valuable in learning how I can combine these passions.

A theme of the whole summer was to incorporate our faith at our jobs. In doing so, we were encouraged to be very intentional in our relationships with our coworkers and with individuals we met in the community. Throughout the two months, I learned a lot on how to do this, and felt very encouraged that I will be able to do this in my future career as a veterinarian. In addition, experience living in a different culture is invaluable as I hope to work in developing countries. While these countries are even more different from Ohio than Colorado, I believe this experience was an amazing gateway to being prepared to work in other countries. This summer was an experience that I will never forget. I grew more than I could have ever imagined, learned about myself and others, and was able to solidify my career choice.

Guatemala: A Trip to Remember

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Antigua, Guatemala through Buck-i-Serv from May 7th to May 14th. Through non-profit organizations HANDS and Constru Casa, I worked with local masons and fellow Buckeyes to build a two story classroom building at a local school for young children. Throughout the five days, we worked from 8:30-4 doing various construction tasks. At the end of the week, we finished all structures for the first floor.

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Some simple scaffolding being built at the beginning of the week

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The first story, now with many support beams. The next steps included laying the rest of the concrete blocks and pouring cement.

I had never been to another country to do service work and with Guatemala being under-developed and impoverished in places, I didn’t know quite what to expect. After working with the local masons, living with a host family, and just exploring the country, I was humbled and realized how lucky I am to have such simple things as clean water and a bed. I also had never been to a country where I was primarily around people who spoke a different language. Besides my fellow Buckeyes and the Constru Casa partners, mostly everyone spoke Spanish including our host mom, the local masons, the children at the school, and various townspeople. I had never taken Spanish before so there was a language barrier for me. Because of this, I was more inclined to learn the basics and to ask my Spanish-speaking friends how to properly ask questions or say phrases. I noticed that even with the language barrier, I still connected with the locals as they were willing to help me understand words I was struggling with. We also would laugh at certain situations and could connect sometimes without speaking. Because of this, I feel I gained an appreciation for this different culture and the non-verbal communication methods that all humans can understand. These were just a few aspects of many that made the experience incredible yet transformative.

When I first arrived in Guatemala, it was apparent that the country was less developed than America. On the first van ride, I noticed that the air had a constant diesel smell due to the pollution and the roads were extremely uneven and bumpy. After getting settled in at our house, we walked around the town square area where crowds of locals were selling souvenirs to tourists. It was surprising to me that many of these vendors were just small children, likely trying to make quick money for their families. Though the area around our host home in Antigua was more developed and touristy, we drove through a more impoverished part of the country on the way to one of our tourist destinations. This area had a much higher population density and there were many small shack-like houses crammed together. Experiencing all of these conditions made me grateful to have such seemingly simple things like clean air, paved roads, and a comfortable home.

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Our host home in Antigua

Something else that prompted a change in my perception was seeing the culture and traditions of another country. I have visited other countries before but the areas I saw were either very limited and touristy or similarly cultured and developed like the US. Being in Guatemala, I was completely immersed in the culture and the land and was able to appreciate these differences. The area around our host home had several really neat historic churches and on one of our first days, we hiked to see Cerra de la Cruz and were able to look down and see the entire town. This was one of the first experiences that made me appreciate the scenery and culture.

At Cerra de la Cruz, with Antigua in the background

Other experiences included watching girls take Quinceañera pictures, vising local shops, enjoying authentic Guatemalan food, visiting the nearby Lake Atitlan and exploring surrounding islands, and hiking Volcan Pacaya. Making it to the top and seeing all the surrounding volcanoes was awe-inspiring and one of the coolest adventures I have ever embarked on. It is things like these that I would not be able to experience in America and therefore am really grateful to have been able to do abroad.

At the top of Volcan Pacaya!

At the top of Volcan Pacaya!

Probably one of the most important and transformative experiences I took part in was the actual service work building the classroom. The things I did included shoveling dirt, tying and cutting wire, cutting rebar, mixing and pouring cement, laying concrete blocks and structural supports, and completing several other small jobs. It was so cool to see our progress and to watch the supports and ceiling of the classroom come together. We constructed almost all the small components used in the bigger structural supports which was neat because it wasn’t like we just received all the parts and laid them down, we actually built them. Some of the jobs we did like mixing/demolishing concrete and sawing rebar were a lot more strenuous than other jobs like cutting and tying hundreds of wires, which were more tedious. No matter the job, I definitely felt the physical effects at the end of each day, which was so worth it and made me appreciate the kind of work that the masons do every day.

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Sawing one inch rebar was one of the more strenuous jobs!

One last thing that I enjoyed so much and am so grateful for was the opportunity to connect and work with such kind, dedicated, and helpful people, whether it was my fellow Buckeyes, the five local masons, the children at the school, or members of our host family. I made some great friends and learned a lot about everyone and what they gained from the service trip, working towards a common goal really brought us close together. I was very humbled by the masons, as they were all extremely kind and very patient, especially with those of us who did not speak Spanish and had some trouble understanding what to do. I eventually picked up on common phrases and vocab but even with the language barrier, I could still connect with them, whether it was by laughing at a funny moment together or learning things through hand gestures. It is incredible that they do this kind of construction work every day and were still effective and patient even when a group of primarily English-speaking college students was thrown into the mix. By the end of the week, we had learned a lot about them and their individual personalities and it was cool to see both parties become more and more comfortable with each other in the work environment. They truly made the whole experience unforgettable and I am so happy that I got to work with them on this project.

Our group and the masons on the last day

Our last day working with the masons was bittersweet

While at the school, many of the classes would have recess and groups of young kids would come out to the courtyard to play games. Most times, we took our break then and were able to join them in playing tag, jump roping, and other activities. Some of the girls would hold my hand while playing games or they’d spend half their recess taking selfies and pictures of others on my phone. I thought this was so sweet and it made me happy to know that I was helping to build a classroom for these accepting, kind children.

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The girls were so sweet and loved taking pictures

Our host mom Ampora was also incredibly kind and so motherly, making us homemade meals throughout the week, seeing us off to work in the morning, and opening up her home to us in general. We were actually in Guatemala over Mother’s Day and were able to give her a small gift and a card that we all signed. It was sweet to see her reaction and I’m glad we could show her how thankful we all were for what she was doing. This project would not have been nearly as amazing if it weren’t for the people I met in Guatemala, they are what really made the experience transformative for me and I’ll always remember their kindness.

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Ampora reading our Mothers Day card

While this experience did not relate directly to my major (biomedical engineering), I still got to experience what hands-on service was like, solidifying the idea to do more projects in the future. I really enjoyed the construction aspect and the process of doing and making things as opposed to more sedentary work. This parallels the type of job I would like to have someday. Designing, building, and creating medical devices is very different than doing construction work on a classroom building, but there are similarities in that both are hands-on, require patience and attention to detail, and ultimately help those in need. That was the main goal of this service trip and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do that while also exploring a beautiful country.

STEP Reflection: Nicaragua BUCK-I-Serv

 
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For my STEP Signature Project I went on a Buck-I-SERV trip to Managua and Tapasle, Nicaragua. About a week of my trip was spent in the classroom learning about Global Heath and the many implications of it. We discussed power, privilege, history of Nicaragua, various theories, looked at many case studies and the best solutions, and so much more. About five days of my trip was spent in the field in Tapasle, Nicaragua, a rural community. Here we used all that we had learned in the classroom in order to supervise water filters and conduct health stations for children under five and pregnant women.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? It is difficult to put into words the transformation that I went through will on my STEP Signature Project. My eyes have been opened to a way of life that I had only imagined before. The new culture that I had experienced has given me new thoughts on my own. It helped to put my life into perspective and see the difference in needs in Nicaragua versus the needs in the United States. Even in my own life the contrast is massive. This experience opened my eyes to the danger of a single story which has lead me to not judge someone by stereotypes before I get to know their story. My eyes have also been opened to injustices, my own privileges, , and so much more. I found joy in stepping out of my comfort zone, which is not something that I did often. However, this trip has transformed me into a person who is now more willing to do so. I also found peace in not having cell phone service and being completely cut off from life back in the United States. Since we live in a world dominated by technology, it was refreshing to be in a world that is not dominated by technology. I learned how to live in the moment with the people I am physically with instead of being preoccupied by the people who I am not. This experience has transformed me to see that the people I am with are the most important things at the time. I learned so much about Global Health which is something that I have thought about but never have explored so deeply. I spent a week analyzing health policies in place in Nicaragua and their effects on Nicaraguans. This gave me a look at a health care system which is in no way similar to the one I am accustomed to. This really changed my perspective on my future career in Occupational Therapy. Most people in Nicaragua do not receive basic health care let alone Occupational Therapy. It has transformed me to not take health care in the States for granted and be aware of the privileges that my patients may or may not have. Most importantly this experience has transformed my thinking from serving others to empowering others. Instead of just giving people things, water filters for example, we should give them the most information we can. Without having information water filters, along with many other things, are useless. We need to give them the most information possible and let them make their own decisions. After all, knowledge is power and empowering others is better than serving others.

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?

While on my trip we spent almost every second of every day with the AMOS staff. These people were our main influence while in a foreign nation and acted as our guides. They lead us in our global health practicum and taught us everything we now know. These people have given up so much of their life to help bring health care to others in rural Nicaraguan. They facilitated many group discussions about privilege, injustices, and the impacts we want to make on the world. Many on the staff were doctors and some were public health interns but they all have given so much of themselves to this cause. The work that they do with these rural communities is inspiring. They bring hope to these people who would not receive any health care otherwise. The many relationships I built with the staff has really inspired me into taking a gap year to volunteer. They showed me how rewarding and important it is to serve and empower others.

A great transformation happened to me when we went to the rural community. I was able to see how citizens of a third-world country truly live. We always see pictures and videos, but nothing will ever compare to seeing this first hand. Living without electricity, running water, having to filter drinking water, sharing a room with more than ten others, etc. really puts normal life in the United States in perspective. We got to live just like real Nicaraguans. I learned how difficult language barriers are. This made me feel very isolated from the people of the community, but it also made me realize the struggles of people in the United States if English is not their first language. However, the last day that we were there we played games with some of the children and it was like language did not even matter. This transformed me because I realized that children are so open and were willing to have fun with us even though we did not speak the same language. The night before we left, the whole community got together to say goodbye to us. They sang songs, prayed, gave thanks, and hugged us, but the way in which they worshiped was astonishing. These people do not have much by American standards but they were so thankful for every thing that they did have. Also, they kept thanking us for visiting their community even though I felt that our impact on their community was small it was evident that they were truly grateful for our presence. The love that the community members had for us complete strangers was incredibly inspiring.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  This experience has transformed me in all aspects of my life. I find myself thinking about the discussions, lectures, and hands-on experience that occurred on my trip. When analyzing injustices in daily life I often to think about the power and privilege lessons and activities. I know I will use these lessons in my professional life when I start interacting with patients and learning about their abilities. I will be able to be more sensitive to their situation and understand how their privileges may affect their abilities. In my daily life I find myself appreciating all of my belongings, education, home, and autonomy so much more. I try to appreciate all that I have and not want more because I know how appreciative the people of Nicaragua are with the little that they have. My goal is to be like them and love my life no matter the amount of belongings. Analyzing other health care systems will help me in my professional life when I explain our health care system. It will help me to see why the U.S. does health care differently than other places. Also, professionally, I think that I will work to empower my patients so that they may live the best life possible even when they finish therapy. This experience has encouraged me to look into more volunteer opportunities that are longer than only a few weeks. I now have a goal to find an experience where I can see a lasting impact in the lives of the people who I am empowering. Being in a country where I do not speak the language has given me better understanding of non-English speakers in the U.S. I will feel more compassion and have more patience because I know what they are going through. It is difficult, frustrating, sad, and lonely when you cannot be understood. Since I have experienced this first hand, I will be better equipped to handle situations with people who do not speak English. It is difficult to put into words how much this experience has changed me. But, I now have a new experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life and will help me to set the standard for how I want to live my life.

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Chicago Summer Mission

Name: Sara Robinson

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service

 

For my STEP signature project I went to the city of Chicago on a 10 week mission trip with Cru, an international Christian organization. While in Chicago I was given the opportunity to serve those on different campuses across the city, do homeless outreach, and work with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. During this trip I was also trained in leadership and ministry and met with a mentor each week to reflect on the project and process what happened that week.

 

When I was choosing a signature project to pursue with STEP I wanted to make sure that I chose a project which would be transformational in my life. Little did I know how transformational this trip would be when I chose it. First off, it transformed my view of the world. While in the city of Chicago I sent a lot of time interacting with others from around the world from different age groups, but mainly college students. Throughout our mission I spent a lot of time discussing different spiritual beliefs with those from different countries and different walks of life. After just the first week of getting to serve and speak with these people I knew that I was going to learn a lot this summer and be exposed to many different cultures and beliefs. I was given the opportunity to have discussions with those from many different forms of Christianity, a few cults, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and those with no spiritual background. Not only did I get to dive into their lives and learn more about their beliefs and where they stem from, but I also got to hear their opinions on my life and m beliefs. While this was not the only part of the trip, it opened my eyes to the ways in which cultures around the world differ and how open many others are to talk about life and beliefs. I got to step out of the American self-centered culture and enter the world of those from places such as Brazil, India, China, the Middle East, and many other countries.

 

Another major way in which I experienced transformation was in my understanding of myself. Being introverted, I always took this as a negative trait and used it as an excuse to hide rather than using it to connect with others. Because of being introverted, I am more easily able to connect with those who are quieter, am more likely to notice those sinking into the background, and am gentler going into conversations with others. I learned to ask good questions so that I could fall into the role of being a listener, I learned how to effectively have quiet time to reflect and rejuvenate myself, and I learned to connect with others in deep ways which I did not think were possible. My view on my introverted nature changed from a negative aspect of myself to a positive trait which I could use to care for those around me better. I also learned a lot about myself as a leader. While on this trip there were many times in which I was asked to lead various events and was given the opportunity to lead a small group and be a mentor with 3 girls one on one. From these experiences my understanding of leadership and it as a quality which could be seen in myself changed. While before I only saw myself as a leader in certain situations, I learned that others see many qualities within me which make me a leader. After diving into this with my mentor, I have been able to use these skills more in order to be a good leader not only throughout the trip, but as I have come back home to Ohio State. Finally, I learned a lot about my love for others and serving them. On the trip I was given the opportunity to serve many other people of different backgrounds than myself. I came to understand that my passion for serving others stemmed from my love and care for others. I got to hear their stories and meet them where they were at in order to best serve them. I got to learn from them and from their experiences. Each person has a story and that story is beautiful. I was able to invest in the lives telling these stories and care for each of them individually and serve them.

 

Being in Chicago for 10 weeks meant that there were many different events, interactions, relationships, and activities that led to the change and transformation previously discussed. While there is not enough time in the day to write down each of these and how they each effected me, I will expand on a few which stick out to me looking back at the trip. One event/activity that stuck out to me from the trip was my time spent serving at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. I was able to serve here once almost every week while in Chicago. This is the food bank which supplies food to many other services throughout the Greater Chicago Area in order to feed the hungry. While serving with them I was given the chance to work in many different areas. These ranged from working in the warehouse packing food to volunteering at the Annual Hunger Walk in order to raise money for all of the local organizations feeding those in need throughout the city. This experience effected the transformation of both my view of myself and of my view of the world. Each time I volunteered I got to interact with those volunteering alongside me and learn about why they were passionate about feeding the less fortunate. I heard heartbreaking stories, and stories of joy. I met people from all different walks of life who were all there for different reasons. I was given the chance to process my reason for serving and my love for those receiving the food that I packed, even though I may not know them. I got to step out of my comfort zone and see first hand the need and hunger locally. My eyes and heart were opened to those I was serving as well as those I was serving alongside and each of these people played a part in the transformation I experienced this summer.

 

While I had hundreds of conversations with different people throughout the summer, one of the interactions which stands out to me is one with two girls from India who practice the Hindu faith. I began a conversation and asked them about their beliefs. From talking to them I got to hear about hardships that they were facing because of these beliefs, especially since moving to the United States because they are the minority. I got to learn about how their culture is different and similar to ours here in the United States. I got to tell them my beliefs and hear about their opinions on those things. When I went to say goodbye to them one of them asked me why I had initiated and sat through that conversation when I did not have to. I had never been asked this or thought a lot about it before so I had to stop and think about it. I realized that I was genuinely interested in hearing their opinions on the matter. I was not starting the conversation to create small talk of convince them one way or another, but I wanted to hear what they thought and believed and how that impacted their lives. I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to serve them because I cared about them and their lives even though I had just met them. I realized that even though I can be introverted and quieter, I love to enter into more intimate conversations with just a few people and I thrive in those situations. From this conversation I not only learned a lot about a different part of the world and different religion, but also about myself because of this simple question asked by a girl I started a conversation with on a college campus.

 

This trip was made up of a total of 96 students, all there to learn and serve the city and the people in it. On thing I noticed about this group was that in our down time everyone wanted to invest into and learn about each other’s lives as well. It is through this group of people that I learned and grew a lot. While conversations with them may not have been the goal or purpose of the trip, it is many times the things that you do not expect that will have the greatest impact on you. My next two examples of things that led to the change and transformation previously discussed are based on interactions with the group that I went to Chicago to serve with (other members of the trip). First, is a friend who I graduated from high school with but fell out of contact with until this trip that we happened to be on together. Almost a year ago he made it his goal to talk to one new person every day. He would go around and find one person to ask a series of questions to and write about each of them in a blog he kept. Over the summer he decided to focus on talking to and learning more about those on the trip. Since Cru is a Christian organization, he decided to focus each week on a different fruit of the Spirit. He would talk to people each day who he believed showed the quality of the fruit which he was focused on that week. As the weeks went on he never talked to me. Then one day he pulled me aside and said he wanted to talk to me about gentleness. Growing up an athlete and being very competitive, this has never been a trait which I exemplified, but he thought differently. During the trip I was assigned to lead a small group and meet with girls each week one on one to help them to process and reflect on the trip. While before I thought that I was only chosen for this because I led a similar group at home, he opened my eyes to how the quality of gentleness was shown in me through that role and how it contributed to me being a good leader. He allowed me to process what gentleness and being a leader meant in my life and he told me the ways in which he saw things play out in my daily life and interactions with others. Through this conversation I began to see how my quieter side allowed me to better invest into others and ways in which I had been a leader in my past and on the trip. This realization allowed me to use these skills more intentionally to invest in others and be a leader in the community, both of which are things that have continued on with me back to Ohio State. This short interaction was one which had a major impact in my transformation of my view of myself and the skills which I possess.

 

Finally, the last relationship I will talk about which played a large role on the transformations listed before are a group that we called “The Squad” in Chicago. This group was made up of 5 students on the trip who all met for the first time in Chicago. By the end of the trip our group was inseparable. While I could write pages on the things I learned from each of them, I will briefly describe one thing about each of them which led to transformation in my life over the summer. Jay showed me what it meant to drop everything in order to care for others and was patient in asking the right questions in order to invest in the lives of those around him. Ryan cared about people around him more than anyone else on the trip and was willing to lose sleep and miss trains in order to show he cared about you and help with whatever was needed. Josh showed me the value of being willing to be open about our struggles to those around us in order to learn and grow from them.  Hannah forced me to see my value and show me how to use different gifts in order to serve different people. Each of them opened up about their personal stories and even though we all may be from the Midwest, each of our stories and struggles are extremely different. By growing closer with them over the course of the summer my view of the world transformed because I no longer saw a lot of struggles as being distant from me, but as being all around me. I realized that I do not need to travel around the world to learn about different backgrounds and hardships because I could find so many different things in just the stories of these 4 other college kids from the Midwest. They also contributed to the transformations about myself by teaching me the different things listed above and helping me to reflect on and see different qualities in myself.

 

This change and transformation is significant in my life because it has shifted the way that I live, the way I view the world, and the way I see myself. Academically, I learned a lot about what it was like to be a leader through the personal discovery previously discussed as well as through the leadership training that I went through as a part of the project. I learned how to effectively take qualities about myself and use them in a positive way which allows me to be the best I can be. I also realized through this experience that sometimes we can learn more outside the classroom than inside of it. While books can teach me about different cultures and beliefs, there is something special and impactful about being able to learn about these things from someone who has experienced them. This transition in view of the world showed me further how I can move forward academically outside of the classroom. It also helped me professionally because many times in the engineering and supply chain career I will interact with those from around the world. By having my eyes opened to other cultures I will better be able to understand and interact with those of a different culture and background than myself. It also was valuable for my future plans because it reveled to me my care for others around me and for serving other people. This has led to me looking deeper into different career possibilities with non-profit organizations which would allow me to use my skills and education in order to serve others. Personally, this transformation was valuable for my life because it revealed to me many qualities about myself which I will be able to use more effectively in the future. The ways in which this transformational experience is valuable to my life are endless and I cannot wait to see the ways in which they continue to effect my future and development academically, person ally, and professionally