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.

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