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.

Therapy Service Project

Kaitlin Brown

Service-Learning and Community Service STEP Project


  1. Helping Paws, Healing Hearts is an independent project in which a rescue dog will be purchased and trained to carry out the duties as a therapy service animal. Upon certification, the dog will then be able to make visits to hospice centers, children’s hospitals, and other community friendly areas to pass on the importance and benefits of engaging in a human-animal bond.


  1. Throughout my life I have always been in contact of animal in some shape or form. During this project, I truly got a feel for what it was like to be responsible for another life. Bandit, being a shelter dog, did not take to his new life so easily. In learning about Bandit’s past, I found out he was badly abused by a male figure. Training was difficult and honestly still is. My assumptions on this world was that I could plan for almost anything. I could plan my path and follow it smoothly. It wasn’t until this project that I realized that life isn’t so picture perfect. There are many bumps in the path that you will have to accept and overcome.


  1. Bandit struggled with training. Unfortunately, Bandit was attacked by our neighbor’s dog. This set his training back further than I could imagine. To this day he still isn’t the same dog that I adopted. If I could take anything away from this project it is that you don’t give up on something just because it’s a little bit broken.

Bandit was unable to complete his training due to being so fearful of other dogs. It was so bad at one point that I couldn’t enjoy taking him out of the house, even for walks. It was difficult for me to even want to have him. When he is by himself he is just so loving and would do anything to just be a good dog. I had to accept that his past truly affected him and had a major impact on his actions.


  1. Learning to just accept the hand that you are dealt in life and learning to adapt to your situations is a major part of growing up. It’s not fair to just blame an animal for acting the wrong way for what he was treated like in his past. As sad as it is, it’s easy for some people to get so frustrated with a being that can’t effectively communicate with you. It has been a great pleasure in truly taking the time to understand a dog which is one of the best dogs I have owned. His personality and all.


Thailand – Elephant Experience

My STEP Signature Project involved working with elephant rehabilitation and conservation. Located in a small village, Huay Pakoot Thailand, which is about four hours outside of Chaing Mia. During my time in the village we learned about the elephants and elephant behavior. While also being integrated into the villagers community and culture. It was eye opening and educational. During the morning we would travel out to the forest and observe the elephants. We would collect data on their behavior, preform wellness checks, and learn about elephant well-being. In the afternoon we had lesson’s on the native language Pakigyong. There was opportunities to weave baskets with the chief of the village, visit with our homestay families, and take some downtime. At night we would teach English lessons to the villagers, hangout with other volunteers, and enjoy the beautiful mountains of Thailand.

I think the biggest part of myself that changed was the understanding of the way other cultures live and work. The lifestyle in the village was very relaxed and slow moving. Everyday the villagers would get up and tend to their fields, or travel with us to the elephants. When their work was done for the day, they would come home and just enjoy time with their loved ones. Our cell phone reception was not the best in the village so many of us spent very little time on our phones. The disconnection from the world allowed us to soak in the slow moving and relaxed lifestyle of the village. It encouraged me to spend less time on my phone, and more time with the people in my presences. It helped me slowdown from the fast-paced world that we are all so accustomed too. I loved my experience in the village and the understand that we can all spend a little less time on our phones and a little more time with one another.

I mentioned earlier that the villagers had an overwhelming relaxed style of living. There was little to no emphasis on what people looked like or what they wore. We were not judge on the amount of Instagram likes we received nor the amount of Facebook friends we had. The emphasis in the village was simply the type of person you were and what you brought to the table.

Our phones had little to no reception in the mountains. This resulted in many of us hardly using our phones. I didn’t have many pictures coming back from Thailand because I simply forgot to take them. I never had my phone in my hand and really enjoyed the time I spent with my fellow volunteers. We enjoyed learning about one another since we were all international. We bonded over the similarities in our cultures but also the differences. The different educational systems, cultures, and foods ate in all different parts of the world. One of our favorite things was the question: “If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?” It explored what different people liked and all the different food options. It was interesting to hear that some people just wanted a beer for their final meal, while others wanted a 4 course fine dining experience. All different, but everyone appreciated everyone’s thoughts on the matter.

I was grateful to meet both the villagers who represented a way of living that I had not experienced, as well as the volunteers and staff that fully embraced that way of living. It was refreshing to experience a culture that was rooted deeply in history and had little influence from the outside world. We learned to cook the way the villagers did, bath like them (bucket showers), and enjoy life like them. I learned that you don’t need so many things to live. Life is about the people you meet and memories you make.

I think that this change, realization, is beneficial for anyone in the world. For me it resulted in wanting to donate all of the clothes that I never wear. To downsize and really live life in a simplistic way. It also taught me about getting to know people without technology.

As a nursing student I have experienced how hard it can be to make a connection with a patient. Making connections help build a trust system between you and the patient and allows for better care on both sides. Through this experience I was surrounded by so many different people and cultures, and yet I had some sort of commonality with all of them. In my professional career I hope to be able to find a commonality with each patient I have. I want to build a bond and a respect between the two of us. Hopefully it will result in a better patient experience and better care provided.

Grand Canyon Buck-i-Serve

STEP Reflection Prompts


As you may recall from your STEP signature project proposal, your STEP signature project was designed to foster transformational learning—that is, learning that challenged you personally and helped you gain broader and deeper understandings of yourself, others, and the world around you.  Please address the following prompts to help you reflect on your experiences completing your STEP signature project; please give careful and critical thought to your responses.


Name: Kyle Winiger


Type of Project: Service


  1. We created a trail more accessible for people to walk on at a Native American heritage site. We then backpacked down the Grand Canyon for three days. Then we went white water rafting for four days.
  2. I realized that being in the outdoors can solidify that I have grown up with a solid background. When I went out in the outdoors, I did not change how I acted around people. When we would do the trail work, I was always there to help people out and work my hardest. This showed me that I have grown up with dedication and hard work. I also showed how I can work with a lot of different people in different tasks. My view of what people had to deal with in the older days also changed. I learned how to deal with not having things like electricity and cell phone service.
  3. One of the events was working together with our group to finish the trail. We had to share the tasks and if one person didn’t do their job, the project would not run smoothly. We had to make sure that if someone got tired, they would get switched out so that the work stayed moving smoothly. My willingness to help people out was very important when we did this work.

The second event was hiking down the grand canyon which gave me an appreciation for what people had to deal with before organized civilization occurred. People had to get up every day and move to a new place and I realized that is a lot of work. We had to make our own food and carry everything we needed on our backs. This was very rewarding because I felt a connection with what people in the older times did.

The third event was white water rafting. On the raft, we had to row in unison and trust that they would do their job to get through the rapids. I had never met the people on the trip and having to trust them was a new challenge. We had to show immediate trust in each other or else we would not have made it through the rapid and our boat would flip. Our group became very cohesive and worked together really well.

  1. This change is significant in my life because it allows me to keep developing myself in the way that I have been doing. This can relate to my personal life because I don’t have to make myself be something that I am not. It allows me to be around a wide range of people and I will know I can act the same around each group because I am a respectable and adventurous and nice person. This will give me confidence when going into my profession to be able to get along with any co-worker I am put with.Going on this trip gave me a greater appreciation for what the world has to offer and how amazing nature is. As I went through the trip, I really took notice on the wonders that is right around us and is taken for granted. I have always lived in a city or the suburbs where nature has not been super present. There are basic parks or small forests but nothing like I experienced on my trip. On my trip, I felt like I was in a different world. I was awestruck at all the incredible views and the habitat that was established with the plants and animals. This ecosystem taught me how things that may be completely different can work together to survive on my own. I have been able to apply this to my academic and professional life in how I need to be adaptable with anyone I work with. As an athletic training major, we constantly work with different healthcare professionals and each professional has an opinion on how the treatment of a patient should go. The best kind of healthcare is when each type of healthcare professional brings their skill set and can work together with each other to provide the best care for the patient. I have always had a tough time doing this because I thought my side of health care knew best but seeing how these ecosystems can still work in harmony with one another even if they have completely different set of features, that showed me how I can do the same thing with the different types of healthcare. I also used my experience of working with my group and the teamwork we had when performing the service to apply to this side of my academic and professional life. Our group was a wide range of different majors from business to medicine to engineering and we had to put those professional interests aside and work together to complete our project. For us, it was dividing jobs in the group and picking up the slack for some when they were tired and did not have enough energy to continue this job. This teamwork we developed was super awesome because none of us knew each other before the trip but you would not be able to recognize that when watching how well we worked together. This reiterated the idea to be adaptable in my profession because I deal with a wide range of patients and they all come from a wide range of backgrounds. I need to be able to work with all of the patients in order to get trust from them and provide quality care. This trip has showed me how things that may be different in outward appearance and come from different backgrounds can work in harmony to provide the best product whether that is a finished trail or a functioning ecosystem or the best care for a patient.


Ghana May 2018 – The Akuymani Foundation -Kyle Krempasky

STEP Reflection Prompts

My STEP Signature Project was partnered with Buck-i-serv, and the Akyumani foundation. For my project, I applied for a trip in December of 2017, and was accepted to fly to Awkakwaa in Ghana to work at an Orphanage as well as see some of the country of Ghana. Most of my time was spent at the orphanage, either doing chores, teaching in some of the classrooms, or playing with the kids.


My view of the world was greatly changed by traveling to Ghana. Having never been out of the country, going to Africa was quite a culture shock. What stood out to me most was grateful Ghanians were for what they had. Living in America, we have a very cushy life. We do not have to worry about getting water to bathe, cook, or drink, while the people in the town I stayed in had to go to the river every time water was needed. Also, the living conditions of Ghana are very different from that of the US. Air conditioning was virtually no existent and there was no running water to bathe, so showers were taken by using a bucket of water. Coming back to the United States was difficult for me, as Americans are very wasteful compared to the Ghanians that I was with, and how Americans are accustomed to luxuries that many countries do not have.


Firstly, my best friend that I made on this trip was a little boy by the name of Mickey. Mickey had lived at that orphanage with his brother Junior for about 6 years. Mickey was very playful, loved to swing on the swing set, play soccer, and more than anything was very protective of his younger brother. What hit me about Mickey, was on the 5th day in Awkakwaa, Mickey was wearing his clothes backwards. I asked him why he was doing this and he said it was because they were the only clothes that he had, and the orphanage had run out of soap and didn’t buy more until next week.

What probably hit me the hardest, was the diet of the children we were working with. Not always eating 3 meals a day, and being spaced far apart must have been very hard for these children. The most amazing part of that however, wasn’t that the kids were hungry, but rather, was that very rarely would they complain about this lack of food. Cooking for these kids was a very interesting and rewarding experience. I was able to learn about Ghanian culture, try some food such as Redred and Fufu, and feel that I was helping to give these kids what they needed.

Lastly, was how gracious Ghanians were for what they had. I was talking with another participant on this trip and was explaining that if I was Ghanian and knew about what people had and how wasteful people were being, that I would be upset. However, this was not the case in Ghana, people still laughed and smiled, and were happy with what they had. I suppose that this is because that is the way that they live, and that they make the best of it. Most Americans I feel would be very uncomfortable living in Ghana for an extended period of time. I personally loved living there. I had been a boyscout for a large portion of my life, and I think that my experience living in hot conditions with no AC or running water prepared me well for this trip.


What I think is significant to me, is first, understanding that I live a very pampered life. Many people are not as lucky as I am to live in the United States, be able to go to college, or even have running water. My first shower back in the states was difficult for me. After only using 1 bucket of water as my shower for 2 weeks had not only made me really think about how much water Americans use, but also how much I take running water for granted. Watching the water from my shower go down the drain, and thinking about how many trips to the river to carry heavy water jugs back really hit me hard. Most importantly, Ghana taught me to appreciate what I have, and to not complain about not having certain things, because there are many people who are not as fortunate as me.

Secondly, Ghana taught me to take risks. Going to Africa is not something you are able to do every day. Heading off to a Country that I had barely heard of was anxiety inducing to say the least. But reflecting in Ghana taught me that if there were things in this world that I was meant to experience, I have to go get them. This once in a life time trip gave me so many experiences, and I was able to meet many new friends. Some Ghanaians I am still in touch with and we have become close friends. Being adventurous to this scale was something that I had not been able to do, and STEP gave me the opportunity to go and see some part of the world that many people wouldn’t even dream of. I would go back to Ghana in a heartbeat. Seeing the smiles of the people, the hot Ghanian air through your Tro-Tro, and seeing kids who love unconditionally is worth more than gold.


Ghana- May 2018

  1. Brief description of STEP signature Project. Two or three sentences describing the main activities of what the project entailed.


In May, 2018 I traveled to Akwakwaa, Ghana through Buck-I-Serv and the Akumanyi Foundation with an amazing group of students to serve at a children’s home. While in Akwakwaa, my service group worked together to perform tasks in the children’s home such as cooking, cleaning, teaching and playing with the kids, and other various tasks the children’s home needed done. While serving at the children’s home, each individual in my group was able to make connections with the children, staff from the foundation and the children’s home, and explore the beautiful, lively culture of the town and country where we spent our transformative weeks.



  1. Write one or two paragraphs about how your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, and your view of the world transformed while completing your STEP signature project.



While traveling through Ghana and spending time at the children’s home in Akwakwaa, our group held pensive conversations each night about what we had experienced that day and how those experiences challenged our previous thoughts, opinions, and what we had assumed to be true upon entering the country. For me, one of the biggest changes in previous thought processes was the fact that problems can be solved in more ways than one, and one is not necessarily better than the other. Although this may seem elementary, the idea is more profound when you are actually put in a situation that challenges your current mindset. While sitting in a classroom one day, I was pondering over how we could make the Ghanaian education system better, but most of my solutions primarily evolved from the way Western cultures provide education. While washing dishes, I pondered over how to make dishwashing easier and more efficient for the Ghanaians, and once again, my solution was derived from a Western amenity-dishwashers. It wasn’t until sweeping one day with a staff member from the children’s home that I realized how we can help create the changes the town and country needs and wants. The staff member said to me, “here in Ghana, we do everything with our hands, hard work over machines.” In this moment, my entire thought process about how to help the kids of the children home, how to help the town, the country, and the world all changed. I had previously only been thinking of how I would fix things with the mindset that everything I had in my life was right and would also help these people, but the real solution is simple- if we want to change the world, and help people in other countries and cultures progress in their own way, we must listen to the people, listen to what they need and want, and provide them with the resources they need to succeed and progress on their own.


Additionally, it is not enough to fix problems through bandaging. For example, giving the school a dishwasher would not make the town or the school sustainable and independent in the future, it would only provide a quick fix for what we think could be more efficient. Giving the children extra food while volunteers are there would not solve malnutrition when volunteers are gone. This was another thought process of mine that changed immensely. If we really want to change the world and make it a better place, it is not enough to only bandage the problems- we need to change the systems and policies that underlie these problems. This means changing education, trade, and travel policies along with the political mindsets that encourage the prior.


Although I learned a lot about the culture and how to provide better, more meaningful service, I learned a lot about myself on this trip. I learned that I value human connection over everything else, and that quality time is immensely more valuable than any material item could be. Of course, these were things I thought I had already believed, but I did not realize that these were my main values until I was able to live them everyday, all day long. I realized how the effects of technology have diminished this value in many people who are surrounded by a surplus of technology and media. Throughout the two weeks spent in Akwakwaa I was immersed in a lively, colorful, collectivist culture where human connection was just as important as food and water, and I have never felt so alive in my life. Lastly, I gained a deeper appreciation for people and the celebration of culture through food, music, and dance, all of which continue to inspire and uplift me, something I know I could not have gained just through reading about the country.



  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.

Throughout my two weeks spent in Ghana, there were countless moments that challenged my previous thought processes and assumptions. One of the most memorable moments, the one that shows up in my mind everyday even after a month, was while washing dishes one night after dinner. While sitting with a peer on the concrete, washing the dishes of about eighty children, and having an in-depth conversation about Ghanaian lifestyle, a small child walked over to the large pot which cooks and holds rice for all of the children and staff. There was still rice stuck on the edges of the pot and as the child walked over and reached in the pot my heart sank. For the next five minutes the child scraped every grain of rice out of the pot with her nails so that she could feel as if she had enough to eat. What hurt even more was realizing that even if I gave her extra food for the night, and the next few days, in two weeks I would be gone and she would be hungry again. Although heart-breaking, this was one defining moment that made me realize the importance of fixing systems in order to promote sustainable solutions rather than putting a bandage on what one may see as a problem.

Another experience that changed my thought processes while in Ghana and enhanced the idea of fixing systems and uneven distribution of resources around the world was the lack of simple medical supplies that would otherwise prevent and heal the smallest of wounds and health issues. Inclusive to eye infections, colds, malaria, and simple cuts and scratches, there were barely any medical supplies for the kids to use. As a volunteer, I was told to bring these simple supplies with me in case of an injury or personal health issues. Many times, I thought about giving the children’s home these supplies during the trip since I had not been using them. As a volunteer team, we spoke many times about the impact of our help and presence and discussing the fact that we could give them all the resources we think they needed but the second we would leave they would be out of those resources. Again, I realized that the biggest impact I, and the team, can make would be by educating others on our time, experience, and lack of supplies in order to change how medical supplies are dispersed throughout the world. I could give the home all my Band-Aids and eye drops, but this would not change the fact that in the United States and many other areas of the world there is a surplus of medical supplies and in other areas, such as this small town in Ghana, there are barely any.

The last key reason my mindset and lifestyle changed was due to the fact that although for the entire two weeks I was secluded from the outside world, thrown into a beautiful, new and refreshing culture, and forced to get to know new people in ways I had never done before, I had the best time of my life and felt more alive than I ever had before. The importance of human connection and valuing aspects of culture in ways I had not before, as in preservation, promotion, and awareness, is so necessary that I believe it competes with the necessity for food and water. In order to feel alive, you not only need to be alive, but to have the human connection and relationships to promote liveliness.


  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.

This transformation is valuable in my life, because as much as I do not like admitting that I feel as if I have been living my life wrong for the past two years, I feel as if from now on and forever I will be living right, with human connection and relationships as the number one values in my life. Academics, careers, and goals are all very important but are nothing if you do not have people to live, experience, and progress in the respective with.


This is valuable to my future goals as a professional because I will now have a better, broader understanding of the cultures and lifestyles of the people I work with. As a physical therapist, I will have to recognize that different cultures affect how therapy plays a role for individuals in different house holds and how to best provide therapy for people who are not part of the same culture as I am. Although this is challenging, it also excites me for the future and my chosen career path because I know that by doing this I will continue to learn in every area of life, including my career and culturally, which is the base of all my dreams.


Buck-i-Serv – Grand Canyon

STEP Reflection

Name: Madison Mazur

Type of Project: Buck-i-Serv – Grand Canyon

For my STEP Signature Project, I went on a Buck-i-Serv Trip to the Grand Canyon. Our trip began in Sedona, Arizona at the Palatki Heritage Site within the Coconino National Forest.  Here we spent three days doing trail work to create a walking path for the many visitors that come to learn about the area and the Native American tribes that used to live there.  The remainder of our trip was spent backpacking in the Grand Canyon and rafting the Colorado River.  On the final day of our trip we took part in another service activity which included picking up trash along Lake Mead in Boulder City, Nevada.

When I signed up for this trip, I knew it would require me to step outside of my comfort zone.  However, I wasn’t aware just how far outside of my comfort zone it would be.  When I found out I had been selected to go on the trip, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions.  I was so excited to go out west and see the beauteous Grand Canyon while taking part in activities I had never done before.  At the same time, I was very nervous to actually do all of these things.  I had never been backpacking or rafting before, and my biggest fear was that I would be the only one who was inexperienced and would end up being the weakest link.

When I arrived at the OAC the night before our trip began, I soon learned that I was not the only one who was new to all of this.  Many people on the trip had never been backpacking or rafting before either, and they were just as nervous as I was.  While taking part in these rigorous physical activities, I learned that I truly am capable of accomplishing anything I set my mind to.  In addition, I was fortunate enough to gain a new perspective of the world.  After spending so much time in nature, I learned what truly matters in life.  I found that appreciating the little things and keeping in mind the end goal can make all the difference.

Throughout my trip, I formed many great relationships with the other students on the trip.  It was these relationships that allowed me to set my nerves and fears aside, and truly gain the greatest experience I possibly could have during my time out west.  As I said before, there were many other people on this trip who were just as inexperienced as I was.  Once I learned that I was not the least experienced person on the trip, I was not afraid to put myself out there and try new things.  Having an open mindset was a crucial factor in getting the best out of this trip that I possibly could.

From all the physical activities I took part in, I learned that I am physically and mentally capable of much more than I thought.  There were times during the trail work that I was exhausted from working under the hot sun and just wanted to be done.  Yet, I never slacked off and I pushed myself to do my part of the teamwork to finish the trail.  While hiking in the Grand Canyon, there were times that I felt so fatigued I didn’t know how I’d walk for another 5 minutes, and yet I was able to hike another mile.  When it came time to raft in the Colorado River, I feared that I wasn’t strong enough to paddle through the rapids.  However, I set my fears aside and learned that with the proper technique, I was capable of doing so.  In addition, all the activities we did taught me to keep the bigger picture in mind.  While working on the trail, it was hard for me to notice and appreciate our progress.  However, getting to see the finished trail and knowing that I had a part in making it was very rewarding.  I was then able to use this outlook while backpacking and rafting.  When I found myself dreading how much further we had to hike or paddle, I reminded myself to see how much progress we had already made.

The overall experience of spending so much time in nature had an amazing impact on me.  It reminded me how beneficial it is to appreciate the little things and understand what truly is necessary in life.  While backpacking the Grand Canyon, our worries were not about our physical appearances or social media.  We were too busy taking in the glorious views of the Grand Canyon, forming new friendships, and doing what was necessary to survive.  It made me realize how inconsequential things are that we get so caught up in every day.  Since the trip, I have noticed that I no longer get on social media as much as I used to, or worry so much about my appearance.