International Buck-I-SERV Experience – Antigua, Guatemala

For my STEP Signature Project, I got the opportunity to spend a week in Antigua, Guatemala. While there, I not only got to explore the sights and sounds of this beautiful country, but I also got the chance to learn about its economic system and the idea of poverty within Guatemala. Over half of this country’s population in below the poverty line, living outside, without a roof over their heads, without plumbing or running water. Through Constru Casa, a non-profit based in Guatemala, I was able to assist in the building of a one bedroom, one bathroom, cinderblock house for an amazing family who deserved nothing less.

Because of STEP and Buck-I-SERV, I was lucky enough to get to travel abroad for the first time in my life. Being an out-of-state student, money has always been tight, so I never really had the means necessary to travel outside of the United States. I am so grateful that I was presented with this opportunity. It allowed me to appreciate the world around me and all of the opportunities that have been placed in front of me my entire life. I came from a smaller town where my family would be considered lower, middle-class. I would have never considered myself or my family well-off. Coming to Guatemala, however, showed me just how fortunate I have been throughout my entire life, even having less than the average person. The average student in Guatemala only makes it to second or third grade. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to further my education at Ohio State. Though I complain about the workload and loans and everything that comes along with obtaining that college degree, I have learned to appreciate the fact that I am at this point in my life. A lot of people all across the globe will never be able to further their education to the point in which I have thus far. I cannot take for granted all of the opportunities our education system has presented me so far in my life.

Going abroad for the first time also allowed me to appreciate the beauty and culture around me much more, noticing things that I would have never thought twice about before this trip. Each and every day of that week-long trip, I was able to spend a majority of my day outside. I got to bask in the warm weather and the sunshine, while also doing something that I love, which is helping those around me. Living in the Midwest, I am faced with all four seasons in a week span, sometimes in one day. I will complain all of winter for it being too cold, and then will complain all of summer for it being too hot. I will spend a lot of time inside, with air-conditioning. I never really appreciated all the possible beauty around me, even in Columbus, Ohio. There is so much that this world has to offer and before this trip, I never really took advantage of it. You only live this life once and because of this trip, I have learned to appreciate those little things in life so much more, taking advantage of the warm summer days, exploring this city that I have called home the past three years.

During our trip, we stayed in Antigua, which is a tourism-centric city of Guatemala. When volunteering and building the houses, we traveled about 20 minutes outside of the city to Alotenango. It was crazy to me how stark of a difference there was between where we were staying and where we were working. The quality of living just dropped; I had never witnessed conditions like that before. Seeing how these people live on a day to day basis just made me appreciate everything I have been given throughout my life. Though I was never well-off, I always had a roof over my head, running water, heat and electricity. I never had to worry about shelter during bad weather. I never had to worry about when I would eat next or when I would get to bathe myself. Seeing the conditions in which a majority of their population had to live made me realize and understand all the privileges that come along with living in the United States.

Even with these horrible conditions, these families never took anything for granted. They were always happy, always appreciative, even of the smallest things. On our last day of volunteering, we stopped at a market beforehand and picked up some presents for our families. Since we were on a budget, it was nothing big. We got our mom a floppy hat and a blanket and got the kids bubbles, water guns, and one toy each. If I were to hand my ten-year-old cousin a water gun and bubbles, she would probably question my choice of gifts and would go back to playing on her phone. The smiles that lit up these kids’ faces made that trip entirely worth it. We helped them fill up their water guns and they enjoyed themselves for hours afterwards. Working with this family, living and taking in this culture for a week, showed me how important it is to focus on the positives and to appreciate everything that life has to offer. These families were living in horrible conditions, but not once did I see them complain. They embraced what they had, took pride in their family, and put in the effort to better that home for themselves and their children.

The work ethic of these families is something else that absolutely blew my mind. One of the children in our family has just turned six. Even though he was small, he still put in as much effort as he possibly could to help us in our endeavors to build that house. He carried those cinderblocks up the hill, cinderblocks that even I struggled to carry, without hesitation. Our mother did the same. She was much smaller and shorter than me, yet her strength was ten times what I could ever have. She mixed that cement, carried the cinderblocks, put in the work, and never wanted to stop. She would tell us to take breaks and have a snack, but would then continue to work like that was all that mattered. I am so used to a world where people put in the least amount of effort necessary to get the job done. The society that we live in encourages this as we need to constantly be doing many things at once. These families had a strength inside of them that pushed them beyond their physical limits, a strength in which I never possessed. I have always worked for what I have wanted, but my life never depended on it. Their lives and their futures depended on the work and the effort that they were willing to put in. That was going to be their home, their future, and they made sure to put their heart and souls into it. Never again will I take for granted the opportunities that I have come across, opportunities that would not be possible if it were not for the hard work and dedication that my parents and I put into my life and my future.

Learning to appreciate everything around me, to appreciate all the opportunities I have been fortunate enough to experience throughout my entire life, will allow me to notice those little things even more, which will in turn allow me to take advantage of all this world has to offer, instead of being lazy and letting it all go to waste. I have always appreciated everything I have been afforded in this life, but I never realized how good I have it until I saw how a lot of the world lives. I will complain about school, hating having to sit around in class, listening to teachers drone on about subjects that may bore me. After seeing the education system in Guatemala and how many people do not have the opportunity to get a formal education makes me appreciate mine so much more. Yes, it may be annoying at times, but I am so lucky to be able to pursue something in which I am passionate about, something that I wish to turn into a career. I live a life where I am able to turn those passions into professions. A lot of people do not get that lucky, and instead will work wherever there is work, work that will help their family live and survive. This trip definitely opened my eyes to ideas that I was blind to before, and helped me appreciate everything that I have been fortunate enough to experience in these twenty-one years of life. This trip will have an impact on me for the rest of my life, not only pushing to find and appreciate those little positives, but also opening me up to new ideas and ways of thinking.

Engineering Service Learning at Montaña de Luz

Sunrise at MdL

My STEP signature project was an engineering service-learning trip over spring break 2018 to Montaña de Luz, Honduras. MdL is an orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS. Before the trip, our class, our class split up into four engineering teams. I was on the water team, and our project was to install a water filter underneath the kitchen sink at the orphanage, and to chlorine shock the three water tanks. We also had an educational component of our project, where we let the kids at the orphanage make their own water filters out of 2-liter soda bottles. They would pour dirt and water into the top and watch the “clean” water come out of the bottom (don’t worry, they didn’t drink it!).

This trip absolutely changed my life. Before the trip, I was definitely aware of how people in third world countries lived, but I definitely wasn’t prepared to experience it myself. Before this trip, I was interested in applying for the Peace Corps after graduation, but I didn’t want to commit to that until I had traveled outside of the U.S and get a feel for what I was signing up for. I decided that this trip to MdL would be the deciding factor in whether or not I would continue to pursue humanitarian aid services in my career. I had developed an interest in humanitarian engineering (declared it as my minor) a few semesters before the trip, but of course there is a huge difference between talking about serving people to actually doing it. I feared that I would realize on this trip that I actually wasn’t interested in humanitarian aid, just interested in the idea of it. That was not the case. I loved every minute I was in Honduras, and I often dream about going back to MdL. Being able to bring clean, drinkable water to children who already live without so much was such a transformative experience.

Even with the water filter being installed, I think MdL impacted me more than I was able to impact them. The way of life is completely different than the way we live here, and it definitely made me reflect on how I live my life in the U.S. Everything there is centered around family and friends and being kind and welcoming to everyone you meet. You can’t walk down the any street in Honduras without being greeted with “hello, how are you?”. That is definitely not the case in the U.S.  When I walk to class, I purposefully avoid eye contact with anyone, let alone say hello. After coming back from this trip, I started to wonder why we do that. There are so many missed conversations and connections when we choose to stare at our phones before class starts in a lecture hall full of peers. I also realized that I miss so much when I choose to be wrapped up in my trivial problems rather than to sit and listen to everything around me. When I came back, I didn’t completely change all of these things about myself, but I am definitely more mindful about it and I make more of an effort to reach out to people that I come into contact with every day.

There were several events throughout the 10 days at MdL that lead to my personal transformations. The huge cultural differences between Honduras and the United States, in a way, made me feel more human. Everyone interacts with everyone. On Thursday night, one of the Tias (Spanish for aunt, a volunteer at MdL) invited all of us into her home and taught us how to make Baleadas, a traditional Honduran meal. Her daughter, who was about our age, sang three songs that she composed and played guitar, which she taught herself. It was one of the best experiences of the trip. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a similar instance happening in our culture. The volunteer (Miriam) didn’t know us too well yet she invited us into her home as if we were her children.

Throughout the trip, we all learned that in Honduras (as well as many other countries), time is not of extreme importance as it is in the U.S. Here, we are always working to meet deadlines and maximize our time and efficiency every single day. While that is great for work and projects, its not a great way to live. In Honduras, the most important value to everyone was the relationships you had with your family, friends, and neighbors. Projects and tasks will get done in their own time, but it is more important to reflect and enjoy the people you have around you. I believe this is a better, more pure way to live. This also gave us perspective when working on our projects. We were always pushing for the next thing we needed and often got frustrated when things wouldn’t happen on time, but at the end of the day, our projects were only a small part of our purpose for being there. The connections and memories we made with the kids and volunteers at MdL will outlast all of our projects.

Overall, being surrounded by like-minded people in Honduras was a part of my transformative experience. There aren’t too many people in my major that are interested in Humanitarian work; most of the study abroad trips my peers take are for research or education abroad. Working and living with 13 other people who are interested in doing the same kind of work that I am as a career was very refreshing. We also became close friends on the trip and continue to meet and share and reflect on our experiences in Honduras. Working with people who understand why this kind of work is necessary and beneficial to many people was a key piece in my decision to pursue a volunteer trip through the Peace Corps.

This trip was extremely valuable for my academic and life goals. I used this trip as a deciding factor in whether I wanted to commit 2 years of my life to service in the Peace Corps, and I have chosen to pursue that service after graduation. When I first came to college, I wanted to get an engineering degree and then go to veterinary school. I had no interest or knowledge in humanitarian engineering. Through connections with professors and students who have taken these types of trips before, I became interested in humanitarian engineering and added a minor in it, but I wasn’t sure how I could integrate it into my career goals. I learned about the Peace Corps, and decided that would be a good way to use my engineering skills to help people in developing countries lift themselves out of poverty, but I wasn’t yet ready to commit to two years of service when I hadn’t even left the United States before. After taking this trip, I am sure that I want to pursue a 2 year commitment of service in the Peace Corps, and when I return, I hope to work for humanitarian  organizations like USAID or the United Nations.

Engineering Service Learning Trip to Honduras SP 2018

My STEP project was an Engineering Service Learning trip to Honduras where our group went to an orphanage called Montana De Luz. This was an orphanage for kids suffering from HIV/AIDS. And our group of 18 went there to help fix their water problems, lights and loads, their wind turbine problems and to develop new economic avenues that they could utilize their land for such as building a goat farm and increasing agricultural crops. I was on the electrical team so I assisted in fixing up the wind Turbine and adding light bulbs to light up the courtyard.

Going into this project, I had a few notions about what Honduras would be like. I had only read about Honduras in books and all I knew was that it was a wild country with significant amounts of crime and violence. I was going there to help the people of this unknown country. Looking back, this was one of those moments where I could never have been proven more wrong, because Honduras ended up helping me more.

A little about myself, I am an International student. And being a frequent traveler, I have been to various parts of the world and interacted with numerous individuals from different backgrounds,religions and cultures.  So, I believed that I understood people. The one glaring facet of human beings is that underneath it all, we are all the same. Despite the color of ones skin or the God they follow, we as human beings are the same in terms of fundamental behaviors and mannerisms.  However, after the trip, what transformed me was the realization of another fact that I had previously ignored. Human beings may be the same at their essence, but it is the culture of a country that shapes a person. That makes each individual unique in their own way. And it was this uniqueness that I was shown a glimpse of in Honduras. Going in, I believed that I would leave Honduras feeling satisfied for a job well done, which I did. But, more than that there was an immense sense of gratefulness. The kids and the staff at the orphanage and the people of Honduras were so welcoming and gracious. They taught me humility and how to smile and live a happy life despite the adversities they face on a daily basis.

To describe my previous sentiments,  I wanted to talk about certain qualities that are in people across the board. The way they show up in humans is different every time due to different cultures and upbringing. Certain small moments in Honduras showed me how fortunate I was to be living the life I am. These were little things that opened my eyes, such as the children playing with torn soccer balls or them finding the joys in things that would seem so insignificant to us.

I will never forget how amazed the kids were when we showed them a laser pointer. A laser pointer! they were amazed by how the light would be seen so far away and I loved the fact that they were more intrigued to figure out how it worked. And so, this brings me to the first trait, curiosity. Curiosity is a fundamental nature of human beings and is seen most prominently in young kids. I was amazed by how these kids would question and ask us about everything we did simply because we were so different. They wanted to learn, discover and explore and that  quality that stood out to me. The ability to ask and wonder is what sets us apart as a species and the way we express it is different in different cultures.

Another instance was when our group went on a hike and we were escorted by armed guards. We as a group ignored the warning on the trail that it was an highly advanced level and we undertook this task believing it to be for people older than us.  It was the most grueling hike of my life and took us four hours to complete. And of course there were a few people in our group who were honestly exhausted towards the tail end  and they felt like they couldn’t walk anymore. Then the guards offered to carry them on their backs for the rest of the trip. Keep in mind, these guards had guns that weighed 30 pounds and another 25 pounds worth of gear on them. And so I realized that there is an inherent connection that exists between people, this brings me to another trait, empathy. Despite having upwards of 45 pounds weighing them down they still offered to help people in our group. That was not in their job description, they did not have to do it. Yet, they saw peoples plight and recognized that it was difficult for us to complete that trek without assistance. This shows that wherever you go in the world there will always be that moment when another person empathizes with you.

A trait that distinctly holds a place in my heart is warmth. This was shown to our group as a whole when a woman from one of the local towns welcomed a group of about 18 people, practically strangers, into her own home to feed us and give us a taste of Honduran culture.  Along with the food and drink, her daughter even offered to play music for us that she herself composed. The warmth and the graciousness with which she played host was astounding to me. It showed that no matter where you are there are always people who are warm and friendly,especially to people who are different.

Overall this experience was life changing for me both academically and personally. It gave me a clearer view of what I wanted to do with my life. I am an Electrical Engineering major and learning concepts in class is one thing but actually seeing them applied in the real world and seeing them work is an uplifting feeling. Moreover, I’ve always wanted to build to help people. So seeing the smiles on peoples faces when the light bulbs I wired lit up, or when the blades of the wind turbine started to move was a rush like I’d never felt before. It strengthened my resolve for me picking Engineering as a career and I would recommend everyone to definitely take a service learning trip. It changed my life, and it will definitely change yours.


My STEP Experience with Buck-I-SERV: Constru Casa

Name: Victoria VonSeggern

Type of Project: Service-Learning & Community Service

During spring break of 2018, I went on a Buck-I-SERV trip working with Contru Casa to build houses in Alotenango, Guatemala. During that time the group of 12 other students and I, divided up into three groups and built three houses made of cinder block, cement, and tin roofs.

Before going on my trip, I had realized that there were many people in the world that were much worse off than I, or anyone I know, was here in the United States. I just had not realized the drastic degree of difference in living situations compared to not only how we live in the United States, but how different it was 20 minutes just outside of a city within the country. Through many evening discussions with my group we found so much that we were privileged to have. We realized we are even privileged to have the ability to be in debt to go to college, as many children there never even reach high school. We are privileged for the food we have and the resources we have, such as water treatment plants and waste processing centers. So many small things that we take for granted, but many people have to live without. Even without many of the comforts that we believe are necessary to live, the people often appeared to be happy and continued to work hard. I realized that I had never met people that worked as hard as the families I met worked to take care of and provide for each other. Many children sold items in the streets to help provide for their families, something that is not seen in the United States as we are able to have child labor laws put in place. Knowing that this kind of poverty exists is so very different from truly seeing and experiencing how extreme it truly is.

There are many events, both big and small, that I experienced on my trip that had significant impacts on the way I viewed the world. My initial experience in the country was first exiting the airport, where little stands were set up with both adults and children attempting to sell little souvenirs or knickknacks to everyone exiting the airport. Next, while leaving to airport to head to our home for the week, we rode in a van with all of our luggage strapped to the top, with no air conditioning in the car. These first two scenes were not that utterly shocking, but definitely something that was generally different from home, where we would more than likely have the luggage safely stowed away in the trunk and have air conditioning on full blast because of the heat. Driving to the town we were staying in, we saw many villages with lots of barbed wire and fencing along the way. When we arrived at our host family’s home, it seemed nice but very different from here, there were no televisions, the homes were open to the outdoors with hallways that did not have roofs to let in fresh air and light. Many small details of the home seemed like they did not have that much compared to us, but the shock of how different people were living just 20 minutes away was astounding and the realization that the people living within the city that we stayed in were also privileged in comparison to many people within the country.

The first day, on provided a few, small cultural differences, but the true feeling of privilege set in a little later in the week as we worked with the families to build their new homes. Before visiting the sites, we were informed of the monthly income of the families that we were helping, it was amazing to hear that most of them made less money in a month than we had each brought for the week there, considering that one of the families even had six children to care for. When we arrived on site, we truly realized how little they had. One family had a small home that was already in place but not nearly large enough for the two parents and six children, another lived with some of their neighbors, and one family did not have anything at all, besides some tin propped up to provide a little shelter. At my site the first day of building was very difficult as we adjusted to the heat and hard work, but all of the family that was capable chipped in. We carried hundreds of cinder-blocks up a hill and the mother, neighbors, and some of the younger children helped us carry them. The kids worked without complaint, even while we struggled to make it up the hill each time. I was baffled by how hard everyone here was willing to work and how great their sense of community was, as their neighbors would stop by and help move items as needed.

As my group grew to know our family even with a large language barrier, we experienced how eager they were to give even though to us, they had very little. They would provide us with drinks and offer us food as we worked, even when we bought them drinks in return they would continue to share with us. We were surprised by their generosity and felt guilty taking from those that we realized had much less than us. Another small moment that made an impact was when my trip leader was showing the younger kids Snapchat. Although we knew they had not really experienced technology as much as it is incorporated into our lives, it was very entertaining to see the kids laugh out of surprise from a filter being put on their faces on the tiny screen. The filters from many different social media sources along with our access to technology is generally take for granted, but seeing their faces light up and hearing them laugh with joy reminded me of how much I truly have. I realized that I do not always consider using technology such as a social media site as something that I am truly privileged to have. I had an understanding of my privilege to a degree beforehand, but the actual experience really made it set in. Throughout the week I met and saw many people that worked very hard, but still had what I would consider little to show for their work, causing me to feel more grateful for everything I have in life. Every day in Guatemala I learned more about myself and how lucky and grateful I am to have the rights and privileges that I am able to experience every day, here in the United States.

After returning home from my trip I am reminded every day of how much I have and the desire I have to give back and help more people. I have always been motivated to help those in need but realizing how bad life truly is for some people has motivated me even further. I would like to continue to work on more trips, both domestic and international trips to help others. Before going on this trip, I did not realize how significant the impact different service opportunities could be, but now I realize that trying to help in any way possible can make a large impact on many lives. I will take this experience with me through many of my future life experiences and I would like to continue to be involved in service work. Before graduating I would like to go on another Buck-I-SERV trip and after I am out of school I would like to find a program to volunteer with, both locally and in other places within the country and around the world. I am extremely grateful for the trip that I was able to go on, the people I met, and the new perspectives that I have after returning from such and impactful service trip.

My STEP Experience: Constru Casa in Guatemala

As part of the Buck-I-Serv program, this trip entailed spending a week in Guatemala constructing houses in a poverty stricken area of the country. The trip consisted of concrete mixing, brick-laying, and team work. We worked with local masons to assist in the house’s construction wherever needed. We also had the opportunity to travel to Lake Atitlan on our day off.

This trip was amazing for me because it was my first time out of the United States. My world view has completely expanded because of this trip. I was amazed to see how life is rooted in community in Guatemala. Families and neighbors not only lived in the same communities, but they shared and had strong ties to one another, always willing to help out. This really impacted me because it is so different from the individualistic values of American culture. I also came to realize a lot about life in a developing country and that it was different than I had expected.

Another aspect of the country I was surprised to see was the stage of development. First world technologies were mixed with lack of development in other aspects, the contrast of which led to a lot of negative results for the country and its people. A good example of this is the consumption of processed foods with plastic packaging, yet the lack of proper trash disposal facilities. This resulted in beautiful landscape covered in garbage or trash being burned in masses, which was hard to see knowing the negative impact it has on our environment. Overall, visiting a new country was very eye opening for me and allowed me to understand life in a whole new way. This made me excited to travel to new places in the future.

I was impacted most by my interactions with the locals at the construction site. The first thing that I noticed was the everyone was willing to help out with the house. The neighbors helped carry bricks even though they had no obligation to. The second thing I noticed was that every person was able to do more work than we could. From children to older women, they worked harder and longer than us and did not complain. This greatly impacted me because I grew up on a farm, so I’ve always valued hard work, but this made me realize I have never really worked hard compared to the work they have done their whole lives.

Another realization I had was the level of happiness I discovered. I believe as Americans it can be easy to believe that we are more fortunate than people in such developing countries and that their lives should look just like our in order for us to believe they are happy and well off. This attitude was completely shaken within me just from meeting and speaking with the families in the communities where we worked. They were so joyful and thankful for what they had, which was very humbling and warmed my heart to see.

Another way my view of the world changed was just through something as simple as shopping in the local areas. The stores were filled with beautiful colors and all kinds of hand-made crafts and art that blew me away. It was amazing to see the talent and skill that went into making these pieces, and also that it was a way of life for so many local people. I was so thankful to have had the chance to see the culture and hear of the stories of life in a different part of the world.

These changes are so important in my life for so many reasons. I feel as a future engineer, it is important for me to understand different cultures and the impacts new technologies have on a global scale. As technologies are rapidly advancing, understanding and seeing first hand the interface between human experiences and technology is key to making our future better for all of mankind. My experiences in Guatemala showed me the need to balance technology with environmental sustainability.

I also value the ways that I have grown because I have gained an appreciation for the experiences and backgrounds of others. I have a strong desire to want to listen to people’s stories and learn from their history and their heritage. I am now more open and willing to travel to new places and try new things so I can better understand cultures and the ways that they different, as well as the same, as mine. I have gained an appreciation for human relationships and connecting to other, no matter how different. Seeing that change in myself was the most fulfilling part of the whole experience.

Image may contain: sky, mountain, ocean, cloud, outdoor, nature and waterImage may contain: 4 people, including Karen Morawski, people smiling, outdoorImage may contain: sky, mountain, cloud, outdoor and nature


Jessica Quinn’s Service Learning Trip to Costa Rica

My STEP Project was a service learning study abroad to Costa Rica. The trip was over Spring Break and included home-stays, nature hikes, a service project in a rural town, and time at EARTH University where we learned about sustainable agriculture. The focus of this study abroad was sustainability, specifically in agriculture, which was taught through service.

The Sustainable Service Learning study abroad in Costa Rica gave me a better understanding of life in other cultures and helped me grow as an individual. During our time there, we got to experience life in a rural community which was very different than our rural communities in the United States. In Costa Rica they only farmed what their families needed to survive and they did so sustainably. In the US, we push more for profits than we do sustainability in agriculture. Even though some see Costa Rica as a third world country, they are ahead of the US in how they treat their environment, especially in agriculture. This has given me hope that the United States will someday become sustainable, not just in farming but in all aspects, because it is possible.

Seeing how these people lived changed my view of third world countries as well because it didn’t seem like my idea of third world, they were all happy with what they had and did not seem to be struggling by any means. They had most of the “creature comforts” we enjoy here at home, plus some things we don’t. Their lives focused more around family and harmony with their surroundings. Life wasn’t rushed there and this made it really feel like paradise.

The major interactions that led to this new world view were my home-stay, the service project, and getting to know my peers on the trip. My home-stay was only two days but I learned a lot about the people and the culture of Costa Rica in that short time. By living with native Costa Rican’s, I got to experience life as it is everyday for them. We did chores on the farm, had large family meals, and even attended church. The lifestyle was very laid back, Costa Rican’s like to practice being not doing which basically means being in the moment and living for the moment rather than needing to be busy and working constantly. My housemates and I tried to embody this practice which was surprisingly hard at first because we are so used to being on a tight schedule, but, as time went on we got the hang of it. It really made me stop and appreciate things more than I usually do and reflect on many things.

The service project was helping build benches for the waiting room of a local health clinic. There were a lot of students there trying to help all at once and it seemed we weren’t doing enough for these people. Since there weren’t enough tools or tasks to do, there was a lot of standing around and chatting between students and some of the locals as others were getting work done. At first, I felt like this was a very disorganized project and that we could have helped the people of the town out more if we would have had more tools or even a second site. However, later that day we all talked as a group about or time there and I realized that it wasn’t about how I felt about the experience, rather it was about what those people needed done. The important part is that we helped them and they really appreciated us being there.

The group of students that went on this study abroad was very diverse in our backgrounds and our majors. Many had some interest in sustainability or agriculture but there were some that didn’t. Some of us came from rural backgrounds and others from very urban ones. These differences were truly what made this experience so enlightening, I learned probably as much from my peers as I did our tour guide. Everyone was willing to listen to each other which made it easy to learn and teach others. I was very impressed with how well we all came together and made this trip great for every person.

Though this project was very fun and educational, the biggest transformation came when I realized that I didn’t want to pursue a career in the environment. I still care deeply about sustainability and believe it will one day be accomplished, but I don’t think this path is right for me. This was probably the most important thing I have taken from this trip because it has allowed me to look further into other pathways for my future and I’m happy to say I have narrowed it down to 2.

This study abroad has given me the opportunity to learn from so many people and touch so many lives. I am grateful to have had this experience and hope to continue going abroad and serving others. This project has instilled a sense of purpose within me to help make the world a better place even if it is only a little at a time.

Molly Skerbetz’s STEP Adventure-Biloxi, Mississippi

  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.  In my STEP Project, I traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi, in order to perform community service projects for the community. I cleared water habitats, assisted a classroom for low-income children, and picked up tree shrubs.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

While on this journey, I learned about my career interests in the human services core area. As this trip had strong emphasis on learning about the environment and sociological factors, I participated in leadership roles that could potentially be a position that I could be working after I earn my Masters’ in Public Health. I learned that I am interested in working in a hospital setting in order to assist in assigning treatments for patients who are in need of healthcare plans.  This transformation occurred when I was assisting in helping the teachers designing educational plans for the children. I can use these applicable skills of planning in the hospital setting as I design programs for people who are in need of help.

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.   The events that I experienced throughout this week made a significant influence on my career choice. Before beginning the service trip, I knew that I wanted to do health administration, but I was unsure of which area of public health that I wanted to work in. As I did service work in various areas of public health, I learned about which areas of public health that I am interested in. From working in the nursery centers, I learned that I wanted to work in the hospital setting because I want to be able to help people who are in need of stronger health care programs. These stronger health care programs would help give people stronger resources for education and health sources.

My relationships with my trip leaders have also made my experience transformational. While learning about their career paths in engineering, law, and nursing, I became inspired to learn about how these careers can create a better society. I learned that engineers can make a healthier community by designing community resources that are clean and sustainable to the town. These community resources can help economically create a town that is clean and manageable to travel in. Lawyers can create policies that are fair to the citizens of the town and to its environment. Nurses can apply biological implications to the town and to its health resources. Learning about these professions have motivated me to understand that public health is a broad and flexible field that is applicable to the daily lives of everyone.

A final aspect of this trip that transformed me was my interactions with the citizens of Biloxi. While interaction with the citizens of the Biloxi, I leaned about the damage that Hurricane Katrina that I did to Biloxi. This increased my awareness on the community and to its lack of resources. This motivated me to create ways on how to improve communities that are struggling with lack of health care. When I get a career in public health, I want to develop plans on how to deal with communities that are recovering from weather damage.

4.Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This change made me aware that there is poverty in various parts of the country, especially in parts of the country that I affected by damage.  As I am passionate about traveling and service opportunities, learning about these opportunities have made more aware of the world around myself. As I intend on participating on participating in future service trips, I intend on learning more about community problems, including communities that have been hurt by economical problems.  I believe that every citizen has a right to a healthy life and to equal health care opportunities

Costa Rica 2018

Tyler and I with our host family

Our group outside the community center fence

Digging holes for fence posts

Name: Collin McCabe

Type of Project:

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

or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project


My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica. On this trip we stayed in a small village in the mountains called Brujo and built a fence for the community center. This involved digging holes, making concrete, and setting the fence poles.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your

view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP

Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or

transformation that took place.

 This experience showed me a lifestyle that is much simpler than I am used to here. The people in the town we stayed in were community-oriented and self-sustaining. They were happy with their lifestyle even though they lacked many of the luxuries we enjoy in the US. The most important thing in their lives were their family, which also made up most of their community. I also didn’t know what to expect from our host family, but through the time I spent with them and the conversations we had, made me realize that they weren’t at all different from us at all.

  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.

During my STEP signature project I was challenged by being put in new situations and having to take steps personally to be as interactive as possible. For example, talking to the locals we were working with and with my host family was very difficult at first, but I wanted to get the most out of my time with them and I had taken Spanish classes, so I tried my hardest to speak comprehensive Spanish with them. It was very difficult at first, but I kept putting together sentences and getting used to being so wrong that they didn’t know what I was trying to say. Over the time we stayed with our host families I got better at using correct vocab and using different tenses that my host family could understand what I was saying. My sharp improvement in speaking Spanish and the benefit of being able to speak with the locals made me realize what I could do if I put that much effort into any new thing I wanted to learn.

I also learned the power of language as a barrier and as a tool that brings people closer. Our host father knew a few English words and phrases, but the rest of the family only spoke Spanish. The first night with the host family was difficult because I was still not confident in my Spanish and could not remember some words that would’ve been very helpful in conversation. There were times when me or the other member in my group (who stayed in the same house) would have liked to have said something to learn more about the family but didn’t know how to say it in Spanish, so we were left in uncomfortable silence. We would attempt to ask questions, which became difficult when asking about what certain things were called, and spend half an hour talking with the family to learn one word. Once I began to feel more confident in my Spanish I was able to be more engaged in the experience. For example, I could ask my host family questions such as if I could help them make breakfast the next morning, and they could give me instructions on how to fold an empanada.  I also was able to make closer connections to my host family and even discover some similarities in our lives. We spent some time one night teaching each other card games (ones that were easy enough to explain with limited Spanish) and discovered that my host mother also knew how to play the game of ‘Spoons’.  Doing something fun like playing cards even with people that didn’t speak my language allowed us to become closer as we shared something that bypasses language barriers, laughter.

My experience of seeing how a family lived in this town, in a different culture from mine, led me to understand the difference in challenges that people face in different places and how they overcome those challenges. Being in the mountains away from any major city makes it difficult for families to acquire food the way that we do, from a supermarket. Instead, they grow, raise or catch most of their food. Every house had a chicken coup with many chickens. Chicken was in many of our meals. My host father was also enjoyed fishing, so we had fresh fish. Every yard had at least a dozen fruit trees that were harvested for the fresh fruit, either to eat raw or make into a juice. Another difference in daily life was the houses. There was no air conditioning even though it was hot and humid every day and night, and the structure was not built to keep out insects.

The other side of my experience seeing the difference in lifestyle was how parts of their way of life in my opinion, was better than how I live in the U.S. For example, the house I stayed in wasn’t furnished for spending much time inside. There was a small TV, a very small table, and a couch in their living room. However, we were only inside the house after the sun went down because much of the time was spent outside, either kicking around the soccer ball or doing chores in the yard. The ability of the families to raise and kill their own chickens is cost effective and healthy compared to the mass produced meat sold at most grocery stores in the U.S., and the amount of fruit grown in their yard was plenty for a family. Also, although the houses were simply made, they looked very nice and had nice floor, with just what was needed inside. The water in the shower was not warm but living in a tropical country means it never gets cold enough to need a hot shower.  My experience in the town of a developing country changed my assumptions about what life is like in countries that are not ‘developed’, especially that we shouldn’t strive to make everywhere as developed as our own, because in many places, the people enjoy their lives in different ways, and at a different speed than in our society. Many of them, especially those in Costa Rica make life simple and enjoyable for themselves without worrying about weighing themselves down with material things. Pura Vida!

Our labor in building a fence for the town’s community center was more or less a way to give back for their generosity in inviting us into their town and homes. The long hours of mixing cement with shovels and digging out rocks from the ground to make holes followed by eating meals made by people I barely knew made me realize the impact that people have on each other just even from simple things like building a fence or welcoming a stranger into your home for a few days. None of those things would’ve had any lasting impact on me if I had just done them for myself, but because I was giving my time to someone and they were giving their time for me, I was able to experience their culture, making the world seem more friendly, knowing that all over the world people of different cultures are learning about each other’s lives and growing in understanding and compassion.


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

life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or

development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or

professional goals and future plans.


My growth in cultural awareness and my use of another language with native speakers will help me greatly with personal goals. I wish to help promote cultural acceptance as a person in anything I do. To do that I needed to have experience being immersed in someone else’s culture. I wish to also be a role model for my siblings so they can promote acceptance and help make the world a smaller place through education of different cultures.

I also wish to travel to many parts of the world. My experience speaking to native Spanish speakers will help me in the future communicate with limited language skills while I am abroad. I will also be more comfortable being other places where the primary language is not English.