GVI Healthcare Volunteer in Thailand

As a healthcare volunteer in the small town of Ban Nam Khem in Phang Nga, Thailand, I devoted my time to creating and presenting basic health education in schools and surrounding community centers. I taught basic English to four, five, and six-year olds as well as human anatomy at the local schools. I also led physical education programs, sports, and crafts at the center for those with disabilities to promote healthy lifestyles and creativity. I helped conduct physiotherapy exercises for those with special needs at the center to promote mobility and functional ability. When I was not volunteering within the local community, I had the opportunity to explore Thailand with other volunteers and make memories and friendships that I will never forget.

During my time abroad, I found myself questioning my future and noticed a change of perception on life and those around me. When I first proposed to go on this journey, I was unsure of what my future profession would be. Although I did not gain a specific answer overseas, I did find some clarity into where and who I would want to work with. I realized that I greatly enjoy working with children and helping those with special needs. I also noticed how quickly I was able to make the unfamiliar become familiar. I acclimated to the Thai culture rather quickly and found myself feeling comfortable and welcome wherever I went. With this acknowledgement came the realization that my future profession must include traveling and working with other cultures.

While in Thailand, I gained some new perspectives into how I want to carry out my life. The Thai live their lives through a simple phrase: sabai sabai – meaning take it easy or relax. They carry out their lives in tranquility and are never in a rush to get things done. They tend to go with the flow and rarely get frustrated or angered with someone. I was able to experience this mentality and enjoyed it immensely. I never found myself rushing to accomplish a task or worrying about getting to a destination on time. If I mispronounced a word or phrase, I never feared ridicule or embarrassment. The Thai generosity, friendliness, and serenity was apparent everywhere I went, and as a result, I have embodied these same principles and hope to carry them with me wherever I go. I want to spread this sabai sabai mentality and let others know that it is okay to take it easy or go with the flow every once in a while.

Many of these realizations and transformations came from working within the local schools and community centers. I was deeply moved by the work that we were doing at the Camillian Social Centre, the center for those with disabilities. Founded after the 2004 tsunami, the center was established to provide support to marginalized children with disabilities in the area. I was grateful to work with the center three times a week for four weeks. My work and our work as a volunteer organization focused on assisting and engaging the children. Each of our two-hour sessions followed a similar routine: we would all sit in a circle and introduce ourselves in Thai, do some simple stretches, devote approximately 45 minutes to a large group activity/game/sport, devote 45 minutes to crafts and/or smaller group games, and end each session in a circle saying our goodbyes in Thai.

During our time, I, along with other longer-stay volunteers, would do physiotherapy with some of the center’s members. I spent most of my time with Off, an incredible 18-year old boy with physical disabilities primarily affecting the right side of his body. He was very competitive, and we would always do the large group activity together to beat the other team. I also played countless games of Jenga with him and loved watching his dexterity kick in. I think my biggest takeaway from my relationship with Off was his friendliness, despite our language barrier, and I marveled at his improvements from the physiotherapy that I helped him with. He truly made a difference in my life and was a big influence on the clarity that I received to work with kids and those with disabilities.

I can also accredit our Friday projects for the transformations I experienced during my time abroad. Friday projects occurred every other week and consisted of our whole volunteer organization coming together and helping the surrounding community in some way. My first Friday project consisted of a garden clean up at a local school not too far from base. Each year, the school utilizes its garden not only for produce but also for education and development. Many of the volunteer teachers gave lessons on gardening and botany weekly at this school, and I was happy to contribute to this growth through the clean up that we did that Friday. Although I obtained four blisters on my palms and watched my shirt change colors from my sweat, I knew that our time was greatly appreciated by the school, the students, and even the teachers.

My second Friday project involved our volunteer organization traveling to the neighboring town of Takua Pa where we painted doors and windows at a school. As we painted, classes were still in session, and students kept coming up and interacting with us. They asked for our names and gave us many thanks. Their principal was also very grateful and kept walking around to check and thank our work. It was through these Friday projects that I was able to appreciate the little acts of kindness that people do for others. Whether it was the warm welcomes or the cordial smiles and goodbyes that we received at each school, I felt the gratitude and appreciation for our simple contributions. Although I had previously experienced this feeling, the Thai influence created a new perspective and angle that I had not encountered before. It may have been my newfound comfort or the openness of those around me that led me to this unique feeling and it may have not, but I do know that I was positively stirred during these Friday projects and my time in Thailand.

As a result of these transformations and realizations, I have gained some comfort in my personal and professional goals. I will approach my daily tasks with more ease and avoid placing unneeded stress and pressure on myself. I also hope to spread a more go-with-the-flow mentality within my friends and family in order to diminish their stressors and that go-go-go mentality that seems to burden our Western culture. In addition, I am looking forward to finding and becoming involved with an organization that works with those with special needs come fall semester. I think that this will push me even more and hopefully provide some more clarity for my future endeavors. I know that my experience in Thailand was life-changing, and I cannot wait to share my journey with those around me.

STEP Experience: The Painted Turtle Camp

Name: Jennifer Benedict

Type of Project: Service Learning

Question 1:

For my STEP signature project, I volunteered as a Cabin Counselor at The Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Hughes, California. This camp is for children with chronic medical conditions, where they can have a true camp experience while receiving all the medical care that is necessary for their specific condition. I was a counselor to nine incredible girls during the camp’s Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Rheumatic diseases week.

Question 2:

I became involved with the Painted Turtle Camp through the Delta Zeta Sorority. The Camp is one of our national philanthropies, so I learned about the camp and what I could offer as a volunteer. However, I was not aware of how significantly my week at the camp and my campers would impact my life. My week at The Painted Turtle Camp opened my eyes to my dedication to the health professions and helped me to understand my skills in teamwork and compassion.

Question 3:

This week helped me to understand my skills in teamwork. To start my week, I met with my team of co-counselors and we poured over both medical and interest forms of the campers. Camp medical staff, dietitians and behavioral specialists came to the meeting as well to discuss each camper individually. Working with four other co-counselors to keep an organized cabin had been quite the undertaking, but manageable once we delegated tasks. When our campers finally arrived, I realized that each girl had their own interests and personality and it was our jobs as counselors to bring them together. I engaged the girls through our love of books, movies, and my Spanish speaking. A camper from Mexico took it upon herself to speak to me only in Spanish for the entire week so I could practice my speaking skills. From the first day together, my fellow co-counselors and I worked together to create a peaceful and cohesive cabin.

I was also able to better understand my skills in compassion. One of my campers described her experience at The Painted Turtle as “having our disease is like you are drowning and camp is a breath of fresh air”. My main objective was to treat each camper as a whole person. One of the sayings at camp was that there truly are no sick children, but only children who happen to be sick. Rather than only attending to my camper’s medical needs, I strove to serve them as an emotional, medical and social caretaker. I was passionate about this portion of the camp’s mission and dedicated myself to learning more about my campers than just their specific diagnosis. I cheered them on as they completed camp activities and listened closely to their stories and their struggles. By the end of the week, I was proud of the connection I had with my campers and how much they had grown through the experience.

Finally, my week helped to reaffirm my dedication to the health professions. I am a pre-physical therapy student and I have been completing observation hours to prepare for graduate school. Many of the children I had observed were similar to those eligible to attend camp and I was inspired by their resiliency and enthusiasm in their therapy. I learned how to be attentive to even the slightest change in my campers, knowing when a hot or cold pack may be needed and maintaining a strict medicine schedule. I saw the impact my care had on my campers and how much they appreciated my help. I supported my campers as they completed camp activities and as they became more confident. I hope to empower and care for those who may feel that their condition is crushing or drowning them to see how they can be confident and resilient. My week affirmed my genuine love for helping others, especially those in need of medical care.

Question 4:

As I mentioned above, I am a pre-physical therapy student. I am currently applying to graduate school programs for physical therapy. This experience is invaluable to me as an applicant and future healthcare professional. As an applicant, I will be able to discuss my experience as a volunteer at The Painted Turtle Camp. This will include the skills I gained in teamwork, compassion, empathy, and leadership. As a future healthcare professional, this project gave me the opportunity to work with children who are similar to those I may be serving in the future. This project allowed me to gain experiences and skills that will help me in my future profession of physical therapy.

Volunteering with Sankofa in New Orleans

My STEP project was a service trip where I went to New Orleans, Louisiana for two weeks.  I was working with a nonprofit called Sankofa whose mission it is to educate the public health about healthy eating and living and to provide them with affordable fruits and vegetables.

 

I think that what struck me the most about this project was how incredibly different one culture can be from another while still in the same country.  It was amazing to see and get to know the New Orleans culture and to work in such close quarters with people far less fortunate than me.

 

This trip also showed me that having an education is such a privilege and it was eye-opening to see how few people had the opportunity to get one.  There was one moment where it really hit me: I was sitting in on a class about heart attacks and different types of fats and the senior citizens attending the class were totally awe-struck by information that is so commonplace for those of us lucky enough to attend a higher education.  They found out that butter is not good for your arteries and that fried vegetables do not have the same nutritional value as vegetables that are not fried and they were simply dumbfounded.

 

It was painful to know that these people are living these terribly unhealthy lives, not because they want to, but because they truly do not know any better than to eat how they were raised to eat.  The work that Sankofa is doing to improve the general knowledge around health is so important, in this area in particular.

 

Beyond the actual work that Sankofa is doing, I learned a lot in a different sense.  I learned about nonprofits and how stressful and hard it is to receive enough grant money to keep a company afloat.  I learned about compassion during one of our Wednesday food pantries when a woman came in, received all of the fresh goods that we were able to give her and then broke down sobbing.  She was very down and out and just needed a shoulder to cry on, we were able to provide her with that and also food for her family.

 

I learned about business hierarchies and leadership and how there is a specific balance between being a strong leader and a tyrant that your employees are afraid of.  I was able to see both sides of this and noted things that I want to do as a leader and things that I do not want to do.  Finally, I learned that I am resilient.  I went on this trip completely alone and found that once there, this trip was absolutely not what I expected it would be: the work was hard, the living quarters were not ideal and I was completely out of my comfort zone.  Despite that, I stuck it out and ended up really feeling as though I made a positive impact on a community that I never knew before and a community that didn’t know me.

 

This was an important transformation for me because I will soon be going into the medical field.  It will be so important to understand compassion, especially when dealing with underprivileged patients.  It will also be important to know how I am being periceved as a leader and make sure that I remain true to the side of strong leadership rather than tyranny.  It is also important that I am able to push through difficult situations and pick myself up when things don’t go my way.

 

In this STEP project, I learned resilience, patience, leadership and compassion and I am so thankful for the opportunity to find these within myself while volunteering with Sankofa.

 

STEP: Nan, Thailand through CCS

For my STEP Signature Project, I did a service learning trip to Nan Province, Thailand through Cross Cultural Solutions. During this experience, I had the opportunity to go to different schools throughout Thailand and teach the children there English. It was an amazing opportunity that transformed my view of the world along with myself. I was able to become more independent due to the fact that I was on the other side of the world without my family or friends. My perspective of live outside of the United States also changed after my time spent in Thailand. I always knew that it was different, but I was able to experience it first-hand. I also grew a new appreciation for how fortunate I am to have the things I do. The people of Thailand are so happy and kind-hearted, regardless of how much money and wealth they had.

 

When I first arrived in Thailand, I definitely experienced culture shock. I was half way across the world in a place I have never been. I didn’t speak the native language. I had little communication with friends and family back home. It was a big adjustment to make, but that adjustment was made easy with the friendly people of Thailand and the amazing staff of Cross Cultural Solutions. Throughout the trip I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. One of the hardest things for me to do was try new food. But before the trip I told myself that this was a once in a lifetime experience and I had to try the food no matter what. It turned out that the food was one of my favorite things in Thailand. We even took a few Thai cooking classes so now I can make some authentic Thai food at home!

 

Growing up I knew that life outside of the United States was very different, especially in Asia, but in my opinion, you never really know until you get to witness it for yourself. During the week, I went to cultural activities that allowed me to learn about the culture in Thailand and how the people of Thailand live. I was eager to learn more about Thailand, so these cultural activities were something I always looked forward to. For one of the activities we went to a pottery class where we learned how to use a pottery wheel from a lady who has been making pottery since she was nearly 12 years old. It was amazing to see how she made different items such as vases, cups, bowls, etc. We even got to make one to take home. We also went to several different temples during our cultural activities. Each temple was different, with its own intricate detail, paintings, and sculptures of Buddha. During these visits to temples, we were able to talk to monks about their lifestyle, take part in different ceremonies and view the different designs. Buddhism is the main religion in Thailand, but I learned that they are accepting of all religions.

 

Lastly, I found teaching in Thailand to be a huge transformational experience. One of the first schools we went to I was teaching 7thgraders different topics such as transportation, directions, animals and places. These children knew more English then I expected, and they were all so eager to learn which made my experience more enjoyable. I was able to talk to them about topics such as what they do on their free time, what they usually learn in school, and what their parents do for a living. It was interesting to hear how different all their responses were, and I felt I was able to get to know each kid on a more personal level. Another school we taught at was more of a preschool setting. I was placed in a classroom with kids around the age of 3 years old. The children knew very little English, so it was a big adjustment going from the 7thgrade school, who knew a ton of English, to 3-year-old kids who didn’t know anything. In this new school we started with the basics such as the alphabet and numbers. We eventually were able to move on to teaching them colors! The preschool was very different then a preschool in the United States. There were not desks or chairs for the kids to sit in and very few toys for them to play with. These kids taught me to be more patient and to have a better understanding of what people living outside of the United States face on a daily basis.

 

I believe that this experience helped me both personally and professionally. First, I feel that this experience has helped me develop more patience with people which will help me throughout life, both professionally and personally. It will help me professionally because when I am dealing with patients in the future it is extremely important to have patience when communicating and working with not only the patient but their loved ones as well. This experience also gave me a better perspective and knowledge of life outside of the United States. In the future, as a medical professional, I will be exposed to people of all different cultures, ethnicities, and languages. My time in Thailand will allow me to be more open-minded and understanding of everyone I come in contact with. Overall, my service-learning trip to Nan Province, Thailand was an amazing experience that I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in. Being able to help others who need it was extremely rewarding and I definitely plan on doing a similar trip in the future.

Between France and Morocco: Diversity and Inclusion in the Francophone World

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent the month of May traveling the countries of France and Morocco along with other Ohio State students through a Study Abroad trip. The program traced the evolution of cultural, religious, racial, and national identities in France and Morocco, focusing on shared histories between the two countries and the challenges of practicing inclusivity and respecting diversity in these countries. The first week of study introduced us to the history and culture of Paris. For the second week, we made the small Southern city of Aix-en-Provence our base to explore France’s gateway to the Mediterranean. And lastly, we spent the third week visiting the historic cities of Marrakech, Rabat, Fez and Casablanca in Morocco.

Experiencing traveling abroad has definitely changed my view on the world and certain things I happen to take for granted. This trip was the epitome of transformative for me, I now view study abroad as of the most educational experience of my college career so far. I did not just learn about surface level subjects while on this trip, this experience allowed me to learn about two completely different cultures in a deeper way than what I am normally accustomed to…I experienced. We delved into those surface level topics that seem taboo in their cultures which gave me a deeper connection and a different perspective to understanding the cultures. As this trip officially stamped my first time ever going abroad I not only learned a lot about France and Morocco, my eyes were opened to view the world and my place in it quite differently. France and Morocco increased my passion for learning, as a result of this trip I have a better understanding that learning does not always have to be measured by a numerical score on an exam or a letter grade on my transcript. Life is full of opportunities to learn new things, this experience has not only proven that but has also changed my worldview, educational drive, my mind has been opened and my determination to make an impact on this world beginning with helping those in my community is at its peak.

Morocco and France. After experiencing these two very old countries both rich in their distinctive religious and political traditions, there are many similarities but nonetheless apparent differences between them. France today is of the most modern countries in the world and is a leader among European nations. However, with the French culture primarily centered around knowledge of the language and correct dialect, citizens have to assimilate in order to truly feel like they fit the criteria of what it means to be “French”. Assimilation usually results in losing one’s original self, and with a country as diverse as France, there must be a change to secure the opportunity to be multicultural and French simultaneously. Comparatively, Morocco who is still developing as a country is currently making strides to increase their economic growth, and confront other issues including the struggle to even find a true national identity. As a multilingual society, where many languages compete for social, economic and political capital, Morocco faces much conflict and tension within its borders because of the lack of an official language. Overall, concepts and views on religion, diversity, language and sense of national identity are all dissimilar points when comparing these two nations.

After exploring these two societies, one difference that stood out to me was the difference in views on religion. Overall, the differences in the views on Islam and Muslims were very apparent. In France there is definitely evidence of Islamophobia, as its roots were greatly explored throughout this trip. The history behind this phobia relates back to French colonization. Today, there are about five million Muslims living in France. This is almost 8% of the population, and although this may not seem as much, it’s the largest percentage of any country in Europe. Historically, Muslims came to France following the French colonization of North Africa. Hence, the modern relationship between France and its Muslim population should be described as “an underclass” since its centered around the components of “imperial history and economic exploitation.”Muslim repression in French culture seems to be primarily grounded in secularism, republicanism, and feminism. Regarding the political aspect of secularism, it is organized in the famous 1905 separation from church and state law. With this law having such deep roots in French life it was originally put in place to prohibit the Catholic influence over the government, “state” . In schools, teachers are considered “agents of the state” and are prohibited by that law to display any religious identity openly. And on the other hand, students have been threatened by this law to do the same. In 1989 there was an attempt to ban young girls from wearing the headscarf in schools, but this ban was rejected by the courts. However, as a response to the “war on terror” and the 9/11 U.S. attacks, the 2004 legislation “banned religious symbols” in schools. This law essentially is the forefront of Islamophobia. The “conspicuous” religious signs might as well be “any Islamic signs” since the law specifically excludes certain members of the public and was not intended to be applied equally. From headscarves to long skirts, this was a specific targeting of “separation of church and state” for adolescent Muslim women. The hypocrisy of this law and its position as a tool of Islamophobia are quite obvious. This type of legislation is essentially using education as form of repression and tyranny towards certain groups. So much so that teachers were required to actually report students who showed any signs of support for Islam after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, further providing evidence of the law specifically targeting Muslims. This all goes to show that the French school system’s actual purpose is more so the molding of students in order to assimilate into French society

During our time in Rabat, Morocco we had the pleasure of a guest lecture, Professor Youssi who was a professor of linguistics and highlighted the linguistics problems in Morocco. In, Morocco there is no set primary language of the country as Moroccan Arabic, French, and Berber dialect are mainly spoken. Having no common language of the nation, with very few communities confronting this communication problem, makes this situation very complex. Languages change to meet the communicative needs of the people and as a result there must be a push for a universal language in the country so that the people can properly communicate and overcome the struggles of this complex situation. It’s very interesting that in a way, the middle class has managed to have slightly alleviated this problem (found a solution) by sending their children to foreign schools, in Morocco such as French, American, Spanish schools, and even some Moroccan private schools emulate the foreign school’s tactics. However, they have not found a solution for the lower class who can’t afford to send their kids to those different types of schools reiterating the socio-economic barrier. Experiencing and witnessing this dilemma really opened my eyes to how valuable education really is and how powerful it can be.
In Casablanca, Morocco we had a chance to visit the Sidi Moumen neighborhood gave us the insight that socio economic rankings and standpoints are very important. On May 16th, 2003, the instance of Morocco’s version of 9/11 occurred with 15 perpetrators being responsible for this act of terror. These individuals all came from the Sidi Moumen neighborhood which resonated a message that there may be an underlying relationship with their upbringing and mindset that led up to those occurrences. The impression of the Sidi Moumen neighborhood was tarnished. These tragedies not only changed Morocco’s view towards terrorism but also sparked the idea of creating centers to better the community and its residents helping to recreate a new positive outlook of the neighborhood. Meeting owner of community center and seeing how his passion has affected the women, children and families of the community in a substantial way through their testimonies was very inspiring. Experiencing this trip showed me especially that we should aspire to be the change we want to see in this world. And I will always remember that…

It is my strong belief to live by the mantra, “Never stop wondering and never stop wandering.” With the world’s population clock ticking past 7.6 billion people, I wake up every day seeking to encounter new people and lands that will help shape my destiny. Studying abroad has always been an experience I have longed to take part in while attending college. After being afforded this opportunity I have achieved my goal of widening my field of vision. Overseas travel provided me with a broadened perspective on how people live and experience culture in other parts of the world. I gained knowledge of how those in French and Moroccan culture face life’s every day challenges and make quality decisions. Additionally, I learned how to appreciate and value things and objectives using a more global approach.

In my quest to serve my community within the healthcare field, I became aware of research studies stating that valuing diversity, inclusion and cultural competency are important elements needed to provide high-quality patient care. Those factors were among the reasons I wanted to gain the experience of studying and living abroad. This unique opportunity aided me in cultivating a more global mindset and outlook on diversity in the world and how other cultures handle the subject as compared to the American culture. Reflecting back, this program was essential for my personal and professional growth as a student within our multifarious world. It is important for me, as an aspiring leader in the medical field to remain passionate about serving others but to do that, I must be able to understand others, their struggles and their perspectives. Being inclusive and respectful of the cultural practices, backgrounds and experiences of those patients I serve will be imperative qualities I must possess when providing care.