Buck-i-SERV Ghana

I went on a Buck-i-SERV trip through the Akumanyi Foundation, where I spent two weeks working at a children’s home and school in Akokwa, a small village in Ghana’s Central Region. We did chores for the home staff, helped students with their school work, and played with them during breaks and after school. We learned about and visited different projects that the foundation is working on, and participated in cultural learning experiences.

 

Prior to this trip, I tended to consider myself an unemotional person. I took things in stride, didn’t spend time reflecting on or discussing my experiences and feelings. But, there were many aspects of this trip that changed this about me. I now feel comfortable sharing my thoughts with others, particularly those with whom I was in Ghana. Additionally, two of my goals upon my return home were to spend more of my free time outside, and less time using electronics. Because I spent nearly all my time in Ghana outside, and only used my phone to take photos and to journal, I know the benefit of these things. This has made it easy for me to stick to my goals, and I have already seen the benefits. This has been transformational for me in that I spend more time on my hobbies, present with family and friends, and considering both my trip and my daily life in the US. I feel that this personal growth is of immediate and long-term benefit to me.

 

The nature of this trip, my leaders, and my other team members encouraged me to spend time considering the implications of my experiences. Our down time and meals were often spent discussing what we each had done that day (as it was often different for each person), our shared experiences, the history and culture of Ghana, and our reactions to all the above. Many of these discussions began without prompting from trip leaders, which made for honest, open reflection. As well, each night most of our team spent time journaling. I initially journaled with the intention of only remembering the activities of each day. But, within a few days, I used my journal as a place to process my emotions, and to consider questions, in addition to keeping an itinerary. These interactions really changed the way that I went through our daily activities. I was purposeful, and allowed myself to feel challenged by different things I saw and did. This led me to be more in touch with myself, which is an important aspect of the personal growth I made during this trip.

This trip was largely immersive into Ghanaian culture. We lived in accommodations similar to what many Ghanaians do, ate authentic food, used public transportation, and took bucket showers. I think that if we were to have stayed in nice hotels, taken private transportation, and had endless amenities, we wouldn’t have been able to experience Ghanaian culture. Because we did, we could compare our lives and values at home to those in Ghana. Taking bucket showers made me consider the amount of privilege we have to take running water showers without often worrying about waste, and in the same water that we safely drink. We spent a lot of time discussing our privilege, and the ways in which our values differ as Americans from those of Ghanaians. This made me consider how I go about my days at home, and what things I can change to be less wasteful and more eco-friendly.

The personal relationships I made on this trip have led me to make some of these changes to my life at home. Only one or two people on our trip had international data plans, and thus the ability to stay in contact with family and friends in the US, and up to date on the news. Even though those people could do those things, they rarely spent time on their phones. As a group (including our leaders), all our free time was spent together. Sometimes we had meaningful conversations about our experiences, but other times we joked around, played card games, and helped each other out with chores. We became friends in a short period of time, which made me reflect on how I navigate my relationships with my friends and family at home. I now spend very little time on my phone when with others, and try to be helpful with little things without being asked or expected to, and thus this became a part of my personal growth.

 

Becoming more intentional in what I do, reflective on my experiences, and present in my relationships will, and already has, benefited my life. It has positively impacted my personal relationships, and my mental health. I spend more time thinking about little ways that I can make others’ lives easier, even just by helping with cleaning and other tasks without being asked. As well, by spending less time on my phone while with others, I have been and will continue to be more involved in their lives. Finally, increased reflection on a day-to-day basis has allowed me to better process my experiences and emotions. In terms of my academic and professional goals, I am considering ways to incorporate service into my career. I have decided to pursue an additional minor in Child Abuse and Neglect studies, and have toyed with the idea of a gap year between undergraduate and graduate school to do international service.

Volunteering in Azrou, Morocco

Name: Kashvi Patel
Type of Project: Service Learning and Community Service

My STEP Signature Project brought me to Azrou, Morocco, a small town surrounded by the Atlas Mountains. In Azrou, I taught both English and French to an under-funded preschool for students ages three to five. I also helped with eye screenings in a local public school for students grades 1-6 to provide them with glasses if they needed them.

My perspectives on Morocco changed throughout my three weeks there. I learned about the universality of some aspects. For example, kids will be kids no matter what country you are in or what language they are speaking. They are loving, mischievous, and love to get a laugh. I also learned about the genuine warm-heartedness and hospitality of Moroccan culture. It is unparalleled to what I have witnessed anywhere else in the world. I also gained a lot of knowledge on Islam, especially as I was able to experience Ramadan during my time in Azrou.

The universal curiosity and behavior of children I discovered through teaching at a local preschool and working with children ages three to five. Though there was a significant language barrier, as they did not know English, and I did not know Moroccan Arabic, we were able to communicate effectively. The songs I shared along with the demonstrations and hand gestures allowed them to grasp the concepts I was teaching, both in French and English. They love teaching me Arabic as well and would continuously ask me to count in Arabic for them. Our communication was possible because of this universality. I understood where they were coming from and was able to easily relate to them.

The warm-heartedness and hospitality I learned through encounters with several locals. Whenever hosts would see me they would invite me to their kitchens for mint tea, no matter the time of day. This open invitation was very welcoming. The people also have a genuine nature to them. They look you in the eye when saying thank you and place their hand over their heart. These are small gestures but make a huge difference. Another example of this hospitality is when I was departing for the airport two hours away, the principal of the school I taught at accompanied me the whole way, so she could say goodbye. These small gestures go a long way and give insight to the kind-heartedness of Moroccan culture.

My knowledge of Islam significantly grew due to being immersed in a Muslim country. I gained basic knowledge through a cultural class held for volunteers on Islam. I learned the true meaning behind Islam, rather than the biased version frequently told over American news channels. The immersion experience, however, allowed me to go even beyond this book knowledge. I personally witnessed the five calls to prayer every day from local mosques. I participated in fasting for a day and got to experience breaking the fast. I saw the way streets were deserted during Ramadan, but how the community really came together to celebrate it. Through both the book knowledge and experiencing the way it influences daily life, I greatly expanded my views on Islam.

The universality of kids can be applied to working with any children I encounter. I understand that they all want the same things. This will allow me to better work with them whether when volunteering or later on in my career as a physician. Being able to work past a language barrier is useful no matter what field I go into. Picking up on the small gestures of genuineness and hospitality has given me insight to ways I can make people feel more welcomed myself. These small things can help me feel better connected to anyone I work with or study with. Lastly, my knowledge of Islam is useful because I am able to shed insight onto the true practices of Islam, rather than basing views on the extremist sects that are often portrayed in the news. I will share and spread the knowledge so others can form more well educated opinions on Islam as well.

Holding eye-screenings for almost 400 students

Teaching the body parts in a local preschool

Scuba Diving and Volunteering in Key Largo

My STEP signature project was an incredible experience that I will never forget. From May 5th – 10th, I had the opportunity to do something that I have always been interested in and step completely out of my comfort zone. During those 6 days, I traveled to Key Largo, Florida, to obtain my Open Water Scuba License and volunteer at the Coral Restoration Foundation. I was able to fulfill my personal goal of becoming a scuba diver while also developing a new passion for oceanic conservation.

Before my STEP project began, there were many nights of me arguing with myself on whether I made the right decision. Although I have always found an interest in the ocean and coral reefs, I found it difficult to commit to something so unordinary and unique from my everyday life. Not to mention the amount of planning and attention to detail that would accompany such a trip. However, once I reached Key Largo, I knew I made the right choice and was incredibly thankful to have this opportunity. Not only was I able to visit a place I have never been before with completely new surroundings and people, but I was also traveling by myself the whole time. Although I thought this would be the most challenging part of my trip, I quickly realized that being alone allowed me to just be myself and I found it easier talking to everyone that met along the way. I actually enjoyed most of the trip simply because I was able to just think to myself and reflect on my experiences thus far. Those few days in Key Largo flew by way too fast and it took me a few days after my trip to realize how transformational my signature project truly was.

While reflecting on my travels, I noticed that there were a few key aspects of my trip that remained vivid memories once I returned. These moments changed my entire perspective during my project and will forever remain memories that I can be thankful for. The first moment that changed my perspective was when I first stepped out of the plane. Once we landed, we had to walk across the runway to get to the airport. The feeling I experienced when I first stepped outside in Miami was something I have never felt before. This was when I first realized that I was completely alone and was spending the next 6 days by myself. I was anxious, nervous, and excited in this short span which even made me laugh at myself while I was walking. I can remember thinking, “Is this really happening?” when I reached this point of my trip. Although I still had my phone with me, I intended to stay off social media and only use it as a camera. This helped me write my field notes and really enjoy the moment while I was down there.

After basic scuba training in the pool, it was time first my first open water dive in the ocean. Our boat made its first stop about 30 minutes off the Florida coast at Molasses Reef. The water was crystal clear, there was almost no current, and there was a variety of fish just below the surface. As our instructor gave us a tour around the reef, he would spot out the different marine life and tell us to look over in that direction. About 20 minutes into our first dive, he turned around to make sure I was keeping up with him. When he looked at me, he gave a signal with his hand on his forehead with the shape of a fin. “Shark”, I thought in my head as I tried not to panic and think about the movie Jaws. Once he pointed and told me it was in my direction, my eyes lit up as it swam up right next to me and went in between me and my instructor. It was only about a 6-foot reef shark, but I still had to check my wetsuit as it slowly swam away. Later in the dive he also pointed out a puffer fish, and two sea turtles who swam right up against us. Another thing that took me by surprise was the elevation of the ocean floor. We swam through tunnels in the reef, saw pillars of coral, and saw parts of the reef that were 10 feet high. It was an incredible first experience diving that I will never forget. My second day of diving was at a dive site called the Benwood. It was a shipwreck that sunk in April of 1942 during WWII. It was amazing to see such a large ship in about 50 feet of water and the many schools of fish that stayed around the shipwreck. I had an amazing time with Rainbow Reef and all of the people who helped me get my open water license and met while on the dive trips.

For the third part of my trip I was able to get in touch with the Coral Restoration Foundation and volunteer with them at their exploration center. They are the largest restoration foundation in the world and outplant more than 66,000 colonies of endangered coral in their nurseries along the Florida coast. They have numerous opportunities for volunteering on land as well as in the water. Unfortunately, I did not have enough scuba diving experience to participate in one of their dive programs, but they were more than thankful to have me as a land volunteer in one of their offices. After giving me a tour and a presentation about their foundation, they matched me up with an intern to start my day. I really felt welcomed after meeting some of the interns and volunteers who work there. For most of the day, me and another intern had the duty of labeling the pictures of coral they had planted that morning. After planting the coral each day, they take pictures of the coral so they can keep track of its progress and return if they need to do more work. I was surprised to learn more about just how important the coral reefs are to our planet. I learned that corals are actually animals, and they provide habitat for 25% of all marine life, yet we have already lost more than 25% of all coral reefs around the world. The Coral Restoration Foundation is working to slow this process, through cultivating, outplanting, and monitoring the many diverse types of coral. I was more than happy to help them reach their goal and I learned a tremendous amount about coral reefs while I was there.

I am extremely thankful for the opportunity that was given to me through the STEP program. I was able to complete a goal of mine that I have had for a long time and learn more about the marine environment. This project allowed me to pursue something that has always fascinated me but I have never had the opportunity to do so. My experience at OSU will also be greatly enhanced as it will encourage me to try new things and keep up with my new diving skills. I plan on joining the OSU Scuba Club in the fall to continue networking with other students who have found a passion in scuba diving. Furthermore, I will try and continue getting more experience by completing more dives and scuba certifications. My goal is to also obtain my Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver certification within the next 5 years so I can keep up with my hobby and feel more comfortable under water. I am also planning to visit Key Largo once again to work with the Coral Restoration Foundation. Hopefully, I will be able to participate in one of their dive programs or even an internship in their office. Once again, I can’t thank everyone enough who has helped me during my project and I am so glad I decided to do something I knew would be the right trip for me. My experience has been completely transformational and has changed how I will spend my time for many years to come.

 

    

   

Grand Canyon Buck-I-Serve Adventure

Name: Ryan Hartman
Type of Project: Buck-I-Serve Adventure Trip

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

The trip was a two-week trip that was a collaboration between Buck-I-Serve and the Outdoor Adventure Center visiting many parts of Arizona and Nevada, with a large focus on the Grand Canyon. The service was completing a trail in Sedona to the Palatki Heritage Site, and the adventure was backpacking and rafting in the Grand Canyon.

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

It was very interesting to see a completely different part of the United States. The visual aspect was awesome. The red rocks in Sedona, the incredibly large Grand Canyon, and the miles of desert in between. The weather was unlike anything I had experienced before. It would be cold in the morning, requiring a jacket, but often soar in to the hundreds during midday. It was interesting to see how the sun dictated the climate, unlike any other biome I had experienced. It was very cool to be in a place of no civilization while in the canyon. You would go from a very people-dense visitor center to seeing almost nobody at the bottom of the canyon. The culture varied greatly depending on our location. Sedona had a very spiritual, hippy vibe, Flagstaff a down to earth, western town similar to Boulder, CO in my experience. Grand Canyon a very touristy, outdoor vibe, and Las Vegas was a complete shift to a west coast, LA type of vibe.

I love going on trips like this because it reminds you of all the different people in the world. This is only the United States, the rest of the world would be so cool to explore and learn about all the different cultures. I also learned about the hard work put into making trails. I couldn’t imagine building trails that aren’t flat and short. It was very difficult to put down a couple hundred feet of a trail made of dirt. I wonder what it would be like to make trails on very high and steep mountains. Walking the Grand Canyon made me very grateful for whoever made the trails I was walking on.

3. 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 man in charge of trail renovations at the Palatki Heritage Site in Sedona, Eric, was a very friendly and hardworking man. He came in during his days off to help us build the trail, even though the temperatures often broke 100 degrees. This made me appreciate the U.S. Forest Service and the people who help make trails for hiking. There was also a member of the U.S. Forest Service, I believe his name was Jim. He gave us a tour of the site, and later revealed that he is a full time volunteer. I gained a lot of respect for him and other people like him. People that are retired and volunteer to protect the planet are incredibly inspiring to me. Meeting Eric and Jim reminded me that there are plenty of opportunities in the National Park Service and that that is always a life path I can take if engineering doesn’t work out.

The group I took the trip with was amazing. I made many new friends, and I am excited to hangout/see them during the school year. Living in a single dorm during my sophomore year made it very hard to get out and meet new people, so this experience made me very happy because I was able to meet many people. It served as a reminder that there are many people like me out there, and I don’t need to feel lonely. When Tony, Kyle, and I shared a tent together, it reminded me of last summer when I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and when I shared a tent with two other guys as well. It was very nostalgic feeling. I also met people with mutual friends on the trip, meaning that I will be more likely to keep in touch with these friends. I also enjoyed having Harrison as a trip leader, he is a good person to look up to.

Seeing all of the beautiful nature wanted me to explore more parts of the United States and world. Some future destinations I have in mind include Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Joshua Tree, Canyonlands, etc. My favorite part of visiting new destinations is just sitting and soaking in the view. Soaking in and being thankful is a beautiful feeling. One time we were relaxing at some rocks at a stream in Sedona, and I was sunbathing on the rocks. It was an extremely calm and peaceful time. I think that it is very important to have these meditative moments in nature. Being away from your phone and being engulfed in nature is something that everyone should experience often.

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 is important for my life because it provides a period of relief during the stress of college and money. Being able to get away from everything and everyone I know and have life be simplified to eating/sleeping/surviving is such a relaxing and happy experience. I believe that the purpose of life is to live the best life, and to be happy. To be able to go on a two week trip to the Grand Canyon for free makes me feel ecstatic and incredibly thankful. This trip simply fulfills my life goals. It helped my personal goals by learning more about the outdoors, providing a physical challenge like backpacking, and becoming more confident in social situations.

My knowledge gained whitewater rafting and backpacking could be easily used in a future trip. This trip also introduced me to Buck-I-Serve and the Outdoor Adventure Center, two awesome Ohio State groups that I am going to look closer into. I gained social confidence on the trip, which will be very helpful when talking to people in classes and in my future professional life. The most important takeaway is probably that I am finding my path I want to take in life. It is getting clearer and clearer every day. Hopefully it involves nature and the great outdoors.

Once Upon a Time in Maryville Tennessee Buck-I-SERV Trip

My STEP Signature Project allowed me to lead a Buck-I-SERV trip to Maryville, Tennessee. I led a group of nine other people from OSU in activities such as pulling down trees, chopping wood, learning about Native American culture, trail maintenance, and trail building in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a week filled with new and challenging experiences, as well as amazing people.

By completing my STEP Project, I learned that I am stronger than I realized. We did things like pick up and move fallen trees and dig into the dirt to make a trail on the side of a mountain. I never would have thought myself capable of doing such things, but after this trip I learned I am capable of more than I previously imagined. I also learned more about who I am as a leader. I was the only leader on this trip, which was interesting. It was fun because I made really great connections with the people on my trip, but was still able to maintain order and get the things done that we needed to. So, this project helped me grow my leadership skills.  Through my STEP Project I learned a lot more about who I am and what I can do. This has made me more confident in my abilities, and has inspired me to continue to take on new experiences. It also changed my view of the world; I never gave a lot of thought to the environment. I cared about it, but only in passing. On this trip I learned in more direct ways the importance of our environment and how we need to care for it.

Doing all of the outdoorsy activities like hiking, building and maintaining trails, moving trees, and chopping wood really led to a transformative experience for me. I am not the kind of person who typically does things like that, so the fact that I was able to and that I actually had a great time while doing it helped me not only believe in myself, but also learn more about what I am capable of doing. These types of new experiences helped me to realize that I want to keep trying new things like this, because I might be surprised that I enjoy it and can do these things I had never even thought to do before. I learned a lot about who I am and how I want to continue to live my life.

The relationships I gained on this trip were also transformative. I have gone on other Buck-I-SERV trips and loved them, but the bonds I made with this group that I led were out of this world. If I gained nothing else but these relationships from this trip, it would still be worth it. I was exposed to different people with completely different backgrounds from me. I learned so much from all of them, and I saw aspects of each of them that I want to see more in myself. Despite all our differences, we also had many things in common and became great friends. Working with these amazing people helped me to be more conscious of who I am and what qualities I possess, and they transformed me to work on being the best version of myself.

My interactions with our hosts also helped to transform me. I was inspired by their hard work and dedication that they put forth in all that they do. At 80 years old, they still care for the earth, educate and host college kids, and have fun. They also expected us to work hard and be respectful of all things. They didn’t just let us off easy. We all worked together in preparing meals, cleaning up, and doing service. Even though they expected us to help out, they also were extremely hospitable. I learned a lot from them on how to live the best life you can. Meeting and interacting with them was another aspect of my trip that was transformative.

The transformation I have undergone is significant for my life because it has changed how I want to live my life, as well as how I view myself. This transformation relates to my personal and career goals. I want to live the best life that I can and help people; I want to leave the world better than I found it. The environmental aspect of this trip has been new and is something I hope to continue. Maybe I really can leave the world better than I found it if I continue to volunteer and take care of the earth. But I also think that learning how much I am capable of and loving every moment of my new experiences has inspired me to continue to seek new experiences and broaden my horizons as best as I can. Each new experience gives me more insight into what I can do and how I can continue to grow. The people and places that I went have made me dedicate myself to be the best version of myself and to not limit what I am able to do.