STEP Quepos, Costa Rica

STEP Reflection

 

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

 

My STEP Signature project was a service learning trip to Quepos, Costa Rica. The main purpose of this service learning was we helped with childcare and teaching English to the people that lived there. While I was there, I primarily taught English to young adults and I also helped with childcare when I had free time.

 

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

 

From this trip, I learned a lot about the culture of Costa Rica and the work that it takes to do service work. I learned that service work is an easy task, and it takes a lot of time and effort. Before I went, I thought that the task of teaching English would be easy because I have learned and spoken English my whole life, and I just had to tell them the things that I learned. I came into the trip thinking that it would be simple, and I had a lot of confidence in my ability to teach others, but I quickly learned that teaching others is a tough skill. I learned that English is a very difficult language to speak, and there is of planning that goes along with it so that you can accurately teach the information. I assumed that it would be easy to communicate with the people there, even though I only spoke a few words in Spanish before I arrived. However, I learned that it is very difficult to try to teach someone else English if you are barely able to speak their own language. My view of the world changed drastically since arriving in Costa Rica and interacting with the people and learning about their culture. When I arrived, the program had already been going on for a few years, so they had already made some progression and built a good relationship with the people that live there. However, I believe that I helped contribute to the good relationship that they have built with us, and I hope that my time there made a difference in a positive way.

 

 

  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?

 

Before attending the trip, I thought that teaching English would be easy because I have learned it and spoke it all of my life, but I learned that this was not the case. I learned that teaching any subject requires a lot of hard work behind the “teaching scene” and you must always come prepared for your lesson. Each day, we would wake up and meet up with the other teachers and talk about the goals for today’s lesson, and the plan for the lesson. You also must be very patient with the people you are working with, because it may take some people longer to learn or they might be stuck on a concept that some may find easier than others. It was also very difficult to communicate with the people when we do not speak the same language. I also learned that it is much easier for someone to learn a new language when they are younger because they can understand that the language that they speak is different from others around the world.

 

Another activity that led to my transformation was when I was working with the young children in childcare. I learned that it is much different to teach young kids than it is adults, and you must use different ways of learning that are more engaging for them. For example, one activity that we started every morning was would we sing a song with them singing the days of the week in English. The kids had already memorized all of the words, and they were happily singing alone. Also, we would give stars on the board next to each kid’s name whenever they did something positive, or if they were behaving correctly. At the end of each class, the kid with the most stars would win a snack prize. Even though this prize was usually only a piece of fruit, it gave motivation to the kids to behave better each class and to eat healthy. All of these activities and countless more affected me greatly by putting a smile on my face and giving me hope for these kids to do great things in the future.

 

One big thing that I learned on my trip was the impact that you can have on someone else in such a short time. For example, I was assigned to teach English to an older woman named Christalina, and our relationship grew tremendously from the first lesson to the last lesson. In the beginning, she was very shy and did not seem to want to learn, but by the end of my time she was dancing and begging to learn more. I did not expect to build relationships with the people that I worked with, but I find myself missing this trip and wanting to meet up again with Christalina and others that I met. I was only there for two weeks but the relationships that were built with the people in my program and also the people that I worked with are something that I will always remember.

 

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

 

I have traveled to multiple other countries as a tourist, but this was my first time interacting with people and building relationships with them. I learned that they are very similar to us, but much different at the same time. Building relationships with them and teaching them about my culture gives me hope that eventually we will find world peace. I learned that we should never judge other people or treat others differently because of where they live or their background until we live in their shoes. I learned how to communicate with people who may think differently than myself, and how to work as a group. I learned to be patient and understanding of others even if we do not speak the same language or comprehend the same things. I learned how good it feels to give to others who are less fortunate and the impact that I can have on their lives. I learned that service work is something that I really enjoy doing, and I would love to go back or to another place for a longer period of time. I learned how blessed I am to live the way that I do, and I should take these opportunities to learn more to improve the world.

STEP Ghana Child Health Internship

Jessica Pirrello

Service – Learning & Community Service

 

I traveled to the Volta Region of Ghana to work as a Child Health Intern at the Agbesia CHPS (Community – Based Health Planning Services) Center and the Kpetoe district Health Clinic for four weeks. I worked alongside community nurses and our focus was to provide healthcare and medical advice to the members of the rural farming villages in our district. This healthcare and medical advice was focused around family planning, child health promotion, and disease prevention.

My understanding on myself, my assumptions, and my view of the world all changed after traveling to Ho, Ghana. I am going into the medical field so I was always interested in learning about healthcare and different public health issues. After traveling to Ghana, I could see, first hand, just how different America’s healthcare system is from theirs. I had previously thought that affordable healthcare was the biggest issue in public global health because healthcare is expensive and not everyone is able to afford it. However, I quickly began to learn that, in most parts of Ghana, affordability wasn’t even the biggest issue that people faced. Instead, it was accessibility to healthcare. The transportation from the villages to a healthcare facility was the most difficult part of the entire process. There were not many means of affordable public transportation and rarely did anyone own a car. Between the challenges of getting to a health clinic and paying for medical treatment, a majority of the population is not able to seek medical attention for diseases or injuries. These are some of the struggles that people in Ghana, and other underdeveloped countries, are facing and I did not even realize how widespread and real this problem is. America is very advanced, technologically and medically, and that can be easily taken for granted or forgotten. It was transforming for me to see that problems that Americans had centuries ago are problems that others around the world are still facing in developing countries.

However, my view on global health issues was also altered when I had the opportunity to meet the medical professionals that I was working with. All of them were so inspiring and dedicated to the greater good of their country. The work they did was difficult, discouraging, and they were not compensated nearly enough. Their selflessness and compassion overrode these though, and this was evident through their actions. It was extremely refreshing to see that advancements were in place and so many people are being treated by these doctors, nurses, and physician assistants.

An event that particularly stuck out to me that contributed to a change in understanding of the world around me was during a home visit in a rural, farming community. We began the home visit by taking the weights of the children of the community and making sure they were keeping up with their vaccinations. We then went around to the other members of the community to talk to them about malaria and Ebola prevention and the importance of keeping your children healthy and strong. We then proceeded to asking them if they were experiencing any pain or symptoms of sickness and we would give them our best medical advice. The last man we saw on this particular day was a man who was walking on his arms and hands because his legs were abnormal. His shins were so thin it looked like he only had bone underneath the skin. He very clearly had a disability or disease in his legs, but only complained about having wrist pain. This was a pivotal moment for me because I realized that it would be impossible to save everyone. His legs already had minimal function and there was no magical cure that we could give him to fix what had been done to them. However, what could be done was providing this man with a wheelchair. This would dramatically improve his quality of life and his ability to do the things he wants/needs to do. Using arms as legs is not a sustainable way to live or be able to contribute as a member of his family and his community. This event had a very large impact on me and the way I view accessibility and affordability of healthcare. He could not get to a health clinic due to his disability and he also could not afford the wheelchair even if he made it to the clinic. This fueled me to want to do more for this man and people who may be in similar situations to him.

In addition to this experience, my interactions and relationships formed while working in the Agbesia CHPS Center and the Kpetoe Health Clinic helped lead to a change in understanding of myself and a change in my understanding of the world around me. During my workdays, when we were not conducting home visits or seeing patients, I was able to develop a sincere friendship with some of my colleagues. This was eye-opening because we talked about everything – from politics, to religion, to our families and personal lives. Through this insightful conversation, a common theme that kept coming up was the idea that we are all so different – we have different backgrounds, different education, different opinions – yet, we are the same; we are all just people, trying to better ourselves and better the communities around us. I really value all the conversations and friendships that I formed while working here, and they played a large role in shaping my transformation.

This transformation is valuable for my life because it helped to shape me as a person and helped me to realize what I want for my future. All my experiences in Ghana have reassured me as to why I chose to go into the medical field in the first place. I am now planning on picking up a minor in public global health (or something along those lines) so I could learn more about this topic and continue the global effort of helping and educating others around the world. I want to use my education and opportunity to help those who do not have the same opportunities that I do. In America, we take so much for granted – whether it’s access to primary healthcare, access to education, and many other luxuries that others around the world don’t have. It was a very humbling experience to be able to live amongst a culture that may have had little, but their spirits were so big. I truly admired their outlook on life and the ways that they chose to live their lives. Experiencing such a beautiful culture also makes me want to continue to travel abroad and domestically to volunteer in health clinics and schools. Personally, this trip to Ghana has changed my outlook on many different aspects of my life and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to travel, explore, meet new people, and learn about a different culture.

 

 

STEP San Francisco City Impact Service Trip

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

The main activities regarding my STEP Project was volunteering and shadowing doctors at City Impact’s health clinic, a non-profit Christian organization in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco. While I wasn’t shadowing/volunteering, I was exploring the city of San Francisco and the different cultural aspects and landmarks.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

When I was in high school, my church’s youth group did a missions trip with City Impact, which is how I knew about this organization. This organization really encouraged me to incorporate missions work and volunteering with my future profession and it propelled my passion in dentistry. Coming back to City Impact, only this time to help out in the newer health clinic, was a real-life example of how my future profession can play out in the missions field. This STEP project allowed me to see a different side of San Francisco, one in which isn’t affluent or beautiful. The Tenderloin district is a very poor, broken area that many people overlook when they come here. But to be able to serve in this area, and then travel around San Francisco, I was able to notice the stark contrast between every district. It changed my world view on how I don’t need to go to third-world countries for service jobs; people in my very city can be struggling and need help, and local change is just as impactful as global change.

This trip also helped me understand myself more, as like I said, I wanted to see how missions and job occupation could be tied together. Through observing the nurses and doctor, and even from taking vitals of the patients and holding conversations, I was able to grasp a better understanding on how I could do missions work and help people not just physically but also spiritually. I always had a certain mindset when I thought about service trips, but I didn’t learn how mission work could be tied in until I volunteered at this health clinic.

  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?

The most impactful interactions that led to my transformation was through the nurses and the main doctor, Dr. Clifford Lau. Right from the start of the volunteering, they were very clear that they wanted to share the Gospel while performing clinical work. To see Dr. Clifford and the nurses so effortlessly converse with the patients and casually bring up the Gospel was very inspiring. Dr. Clifford also made a good point in which conversing with the patients about their past and their story was not important to just their faith, but to also determine what may be wrong with the patient.

One particular example was this patient that came in complaining about itching all over. We asked her if she had showered in a while, and she said that she hadn’t. When we kept prodding her about why, we found out that she had bone problems, as well as some mental disorders due to traumatic experiences in her life. Thus, she wasn’t able to shower very often. Dr. Clifford was then able to tie this back to faith, and if she was a believer or not. Not only were we able to talk about faith, but also discover the root of her problem, andn how to treat it.

Treating it itself was another transformational part of trip, as it was the most hands-on experience I have ever experienced. Like I said earlier, the patient had not showered due to personal problems, and we disovered that a big cause to it may have been dead skin compiling up on her feet. When we took her socks off, so much dead skin came off that I was shocked (not trying to gross anyone out here!). So to treat it, we gave her a foot soak/wash. I don’t know if anyone has washed someone else’s feet before, but it is a very humbling experience. Missions isn’t a very popular job, and it can be a lot of dirty work. I felt a little apprehensive at first when I was asked to wash and clean the patient’s feet, but as I was doing it, I was reminded of a story from the Bible in which Jesus washed his disciple’s feet. It was a very humbling act, and the patient was filled with gratitude. I was reminded of why I wanted to serve in missions, to be able to show love to those that have been neglected by society, and to not only relieve them of physical pain, but of spiritual pain as well.

I am pre-dent, and while I wasn’t able to shadow a dentist during my time at City Impact, helping out and shadowing a family doctor was just as impactful. To be able to see how he conversed with the patients gave me tips on how I could go about it in the future. Dr. Clifford also gave me an article to read on how impactful missions is, and we had a good conversation about that at the end of the day. Finally, seeing the different districts of San Francisco gave me a deeper appreciation of my Asian American heritage. In the Midwest, there isn’t much for the Asian culture, but in California, there is. I was able to see and taste different cultures, and it was empowering to feel so proud of it as well. From visiting Chinatown to drinking different types of bubble tea, it reminded me of how rich my culture was.

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

Like how I’ve stated in the earlier questions, a big part of why I want to become a dentist is to be able to serve in missions. I’ve always enjoyed volunteering and health professions, and I wanted to be able to combine those two together. I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see a dentist when I was volunteering, but I was able to see how my life could play out in the future when it comes to my occupation and missions work. This was something both professional and personal to me, and I hope to come back to City Impact one day not as a volunteer, but as a medical professional that can help treat patients while also sharing the gospel. I was able to go back to an organization that so greatly impacted me because STEP, and coming back only inspired me even more to pursue this goal of mine.

me and my friends at City Impact! we are with Neha, a college student who has a summer internship here.

my friend Regina and I volunteered at the health clinic, where we took vitals and shadowed and helped the doctor! my other two friends did some administration work for volunteering.

a picture of another volunteer! she is volunteering for the whole summer there.

when we had free time, we got to explore all the different landmarks and food! san fran has much more diverse food, and bubble tea is one of my favorite!

STEP Ghana Health Internship Reflection

I traveled to Ghana, Africa to complete a four-week child health internship within the Community Health and Family Planning Center in the Kpetoe district in the outskirts of Ho. I had the opportunity to work alongside community health nurses to provide access to healthcare in the rural villages throughout the Kpetoe district. Some basic services included child welfare clinics, family planning, and malaria treatment.

 

Traveling to Ghana was a very life changing experience. As pre-medical student I hoped to use my STEP project to gain a deeper understanding of the health system in Ghana. After just one month of working alongside healthcare providers in Ghana, my perspective as an aspiring physician has taken a new meaning. It was incredible to see the passion and dedication that so many healthcare providers within Ghana had. With a lack of resources in comparison to the United States, it is these healthcare providers and government aid officials that are spearheading the issues involving healthcare in Ghana. Having the opportunity to work with such selfless and altruistic people has transformed my view on my goals as a physician. I plan to travel back to Ghana following my education to continue with humanitarian work and to address the lack of healthcare that so many struggle with in Ghana.

 

One specific event from my trip to Ghana sticks in my mind the most. During my stay in Ghana I was placed in a community health and family planning center (CHPS center). These CHPS centers are staffed with community health nurses, who only have the education to treat basic sicknesses such as malaria. The community nurses conduct “in-home” visits to follow up with families, especially those with children, to ensure that the children have proper nutrition, sanitation, and vaccinations.

 

During the first day of my placement I traveled alongside one of the community health nurses, Doris, to a small village called Wodome. We traveled by a public van called a “tro. tro.” As soon as we step foot off the van we were greeted by one of the elders of the village. She immediately came up to us all speaking in the local language of Ewe. It seemed as if she was asking something of us, however Doris advised me to ignore her, as she was asking for something unreasonable.

The elderly women followed us as we walked to the village school to dispense Vitamin A and folic acid pills to the students within the school. She continued to speak to us in Ewe. It felt almost as if she was directing her words at myself and my fellow buckeye Madeline. We did as we were told and continued to ignore her request, as we had no idea what she was asking. As we continued through the village we stopped at a small clay hut in which a family of five lived. There were two children laying on a bench who looked as if they were suffering from the symptoms of malaria (fever and fatigue). Doris spoke with the parents of the children, educating them about the risks of leaving malaria untreated especially in children. The parent simply shrugged at Doris’s words as they knew they had no money. Their children were suffering, and they could not do anything about it because they did not have the very small amount of money required to treat a very common illness.

This moment really opened my eyes to the global issues of accessible health care. I have developed a passion to support the global effort to provide healthcare to all people throughout the world. This is just one of the many lasting experiences that will stay with me as I continue on to medical school, and eventually residency. I hope to one day be able to work with organizations such as doctors without borders and the peace core to provide relief to areas in the world that struggle to gain access to basic healthcare. My STEP project allowed me to experience first-hand the impact that global aid can have on developing countries, and I hope to travel back to Ghana one day and serve as a doctor.

 

STEP Project Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent a month in Cochabamba, Bolivia participating in a service-learning project. I lived with a Spanish-speaking host family and spent my mornings volunteering at a daycare in the city and then taking Spanish classes in the afternoons. In the evenings and on weekends I would attend different cultural events in the city and travel to other areas of Bolivia with workers from Amizade, the group that I was volunteering with.

While completing my STEP Signature Project I believe that my experiences in Bolivia had the biggest effect on how I now view the world around me and the assumptions I had made about other cultures, as well as simply transforming who I am as a person. Before traveling to Bolivia, I had created many ideas in my head in regard to what I thought the experience would be like, with some turning out to be true and others not so much. I had expected life in Bolivia to be significantly different from life in the United States and while there were some obvious differences, including the language and weather, many aspects of daily life were very similar to what I am accustomed to in the United States. My time spent volunteering in the daycare, living with a host family, and getting to know the Amizade workers truly opened my eyes to what a day in the life of a typical Bolivian person is like and showed me that even though we live on different continents we still lead very similar lives. Being exposed to a new culture helped me see different parts of the world in another light and provided me with the opportunity to reevaluate how make assumptions about places that I have never been to before.

Throughout my time in Bolivia, there were multiple events and people that helped facilitate the transformation in my view of the world and assumptions about different places. One of the most obvious examples comes from my time spent volunteering in the daycare and socializing with the kids and teachers that were there. The daycare was in a poor part of the city, so I was able to gain a different perspective regarding what life was like for people of different socioeconomic statuses in Bolivia. The kids were all incredibly sweet and the teachers were very patient with me, but it was obvious that there were too many children and too few teachers in each classroom which made it difficult for any real teaching to happen. Despite being obviously overworked, the teachers always came to the daycare with smiles on their faces and good attitudes, which only made me want to work harder so that I could help as much as I could while I was there. Even though I only volunteered at the daycare for about four hours each day and I wasn’t able to communicate with them very well, I was able to connect with many of the kids surprisingly quickly. This made me realize that sometimes going into an experience with an open mind and a willingness to learn is enough to establish a relationship with people that I had never expected to bond with and truly helped me as I continued to meet new people in Bolivia.

Another experience that really helped to cement the transformation in how I view the world came from living with a host family in Bolivia. Living with a family that was native to the area helped me understand that while there are differences between our two cultures, we live relatively similar lives. If I had stayed in a hostel or hotel with other United States citizens I never would have had the opportunity to see that my family in the United States functions very similarly to my host family in Bolivia. While the difference in meal times was something that I had to adjust to, for the most part I coexisted with my Bolivian family in almost the exact same way that I do with my actual family. I had expected for there to be some major differences between the two but as I became more comfortable with my new surroundings I came to realize that the differences were relatively nonexistent. While my predetermined assumptions had prepared me for a radical change in what I was used to in the United States, through my experiences in Bolivia I came to realize that while we come from different places the concept of family and the relationships we have with the people we care about really don’t change that much.

A final experience that facilitated the transformations that occurred was the relationships that I formed with those who work for Amizade, the organization that my trip was coordinated through. Many of the workers were close to my age, which made it much easier for me to talk to them and learn more about them and their country. Whenever I participated in any kind of cultural excursion some of the workers would always come along and they were always focused on making sure that I understood everything that was happening and was comfortable. They were all very welcoming, which helped me become more at ease in a foreign country much faster and made the idea of asking questions that I thought might be stupid less intimidating. Many of the workers had visited the United States previously so they knew what it was like to travel to another country where you don’t speak the native language or know the cultural norms, meaning that they could relate to what I was experiencing as well. I grew very close with one of the workers, Adri, who also happened to be my host sister, and I soon learned that we shared many of the same interests, such as liking similar kinds of music, movies, and television shows. This allowed me to better connect with her and also helped me realize that even though we don’t speak the same native language we can still appreciate the same genres of art and media. She also introduced me to some popular Spanish songs, musical artists, and television shows, which I have continued to listen to and watch since I have returned to the United States and has helped me broaden my opinions on different forms of media.

These changes in my own opinions and how I view the world are valuable for my life because I hope to one day have a career that revolves around the United States’ foreign affairs with Spanish-speaking countries. Having traveled to Bolivia has given me an insight into how our cultures are different, but this experience has also opened my eyes to the many ways that they are similar. While I realize that there is still much to learn about the world outside of the United States, this experience has helped me realize how rewarding international travel and volunteer work is and has only made me more excited to travel again. There are so many possibilities regarding the places that I can go, the people that I can meet, and the cultures that I can experience; I only hope that my future career will make these possibilities a reality. I have also developed a greater appreciation for those who can speak more than one language because I have now realized how difficult it is to speak a language that is not your own first hand. This experience has only made me more determined to develop a greater understanding of the Spanish language so that I will have better communication skills for future travel. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia and am sure that the changes that have occurred within me are things that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

GVI Costa Rica Reflection

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.The project was helping a small town in Costa Rica with educational childcare. During childcare we reinforced the children knowledge of the English language and made engaging in the activities enjoyable for children of all ages.

 

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

This trip made me push personal boundaries. I am a person who is afraid to do new things on my own and this trip helped me step out of my comfort zone to open myself to new experiences. This trip showed me that new experiences may be scary at first but they are completely worth it; you just have to make the new experience your comfort zone. Also, I was afraid of how to get around a foreign city with the language barrier. This trip helped me learn other ways of communication to help navigate my way through the different places I visited.

This trip opened my eyes to the difference in cultures and how people from different areas live and grow up. I spent my time in Costa Rica volunteering in a small, poor town. The people there were doing their best to make ends meet and provide for their families. Growing up I was blessed with many opportunities to get where I am right now – working on obtaining my undergraduate degree. My experience in Costa Rica made me realize how lucky I am to have those opportunities because the individuals there did not have many opportunities at all. Basically, if they were born in this town they would stay there for the rest of their lives because they didn’t have the money to leave, especially to leave and go earn a degree in higher education. In addition, the children did not have much opportunity for education either. They only went to school for about 3 hours a day whereas I went to school for about 7 hours a day 5 days a week.

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.

 

I believe that the individuals I met in my program helped me the most when stepping out of my comfort zone. Everyone on this trip offered something to help make my experience easier and less frightening. When seeing the others on my trip be confident with interacting with the locals and making their way around the town, I became more confident in what I was doing.

My volunteering position was to help supplement the education of the children. We had a program twice a day for 2 hours each session that helped reinforce the children knowledge of the english language and of daily life. With Spanish being their first language, learning english can open up opportunities for the children. English could be their gateway to move on to bigger and better things. Seeing yourself make a positive impact on someones life makes you want to get out there and help more. It gives you a sense of pride knowing that you are doing something for the greater good.

In addition, during my visit I traveled to different cities through Costa Rica. The locals in each place have a different culture and learning to adjust to it helped me learn to adjust to different situations. Without adjusting to their culture and how they interact with one another it is impossible to learn anything about them and their culture. It is impossible to learn new things without being flexible.

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 trip helped transform me into a person who isn’t as hesitant to try new things on their own anymore. I am more open to the new experience because I know the outcome will be worth it. Also, this trip opened my eyes to different cultures. I am not just talking about seeing the lives of the locals but of the others who volunteered with me. In the program there were several people from the UK, US, Mexico, and the Netherlands. Being able to interact with these individuals will help me interact with people later on in life. I want to become a doctor and with that involves interacting with individuals from many different backgrounds of life. I believe that my prior experiences with interacting with different backgrounds will help me communicate with individuals on a level where they feel more comfortable.

Living and Learning in Chengdu

For my STEP signature project, I went to Chengdu, China for a month and studied Chinese culture and history. We primarily focused on the history and culture of the Yi people, one of the ethnic minorities of China.

Before going on this journey I will admit I did not hold a very positive view of communism and was fully expecting to find Chengdu and China to be a very reserved place with heavy government influence. This could not be further from the truth. Life there was similar to that in the United States and most students I talked to there did not feel that their government inhibited them from living the life they wanted and following their passions. Aside from the firewall banning many internet sites it was very easy to forget we were in a communist country. Although I still feel that democracy is a better government I no longer fear China’s rise in global power and influence.

This trip also changed the way I view the United States’ power both politically and socially and how the rest of the world views us. Despite China’s government and quality of life being more than adequate in most areas many Chinese people that I encountered idealized America and our western way of living. This was especially true in rural villages where quality of life was noticeably less than life in the city. This journey made me realize that although our country may have no binding responsibilities to be set a good example many nations look to us for guidance as we are currently the most powerful country in the world and we should not take that lightly.

Furthermore, I challenged my own perception of myself and my abilities. Travelling to China was the furthest I have ever been away from home and my first time in a country where I could not speak the language whatsoever. This was very intimidating to me at first but it forced me out of my comfort zone and I proved to myself that I could adapt to any situation. In addition to these foreseeable challenges this trip also tossed me a few curveballs.

Meeting Zhou Ya and spending the month with her was by far the most transformative part of this experience. Our relationship showed that friendship really can bridge all differences. Despite growing up half a world apart Zhou Ya and I bonded over our love of music, memes, and adventure. In just a short month her and I went from complete strangers to the closest of friends sharing with each other everything from our hopes and fears about our futures that lie ahead to troubles that we are currently having in our lives. Leaving Chengdu, I realized that I hadn’t just found a friend or a best friend in Zhou Ya but a sister, someone I know I can turn to and will always be there for. Although it has been nearly a month since I left Chengdu we have talked every day since and I anxiously await the day when I can return to visit her.

Travelling to Leibo middle school in The Yi Autonomous Prefecture taught me lessons about gratitude and privilege. Living in my upper-middle class bubble in America it is very easy to forget about the struggles of individuals around the world, especially in areas like the Yi Autonomous Prefecture that do not receive a lot of international media attention and are still struggling with meeting basic needs like reliable access to healthcare. We spent most of our time there in the school interacting with the students and teaching them about American culture and English language. The students’ passion for learning and their drive to succeed blew me away. What impressed me the most though was how grateful every student was for the opportunity to learn and to take everything they could in from us and their teachers. It made me realize the value of my own education and just how blessed I am to be able to live in a country with access to such phenomenal education.

While in China I also contracted a stomach virus that left me unable to hold food down for the last week and a half of the journey. Prior to this experience I could barely get through a common cold without my mom. Although that experience was very scary in the moment, as having to go to the emergency room while abroad is certainly not ideal, it might have been exactly what I needed for me to realize how independent and self-reliant I can be.

This transformation was very important to me and my education as I prepare to enter a work-force that is rapidly changing every day. I learned how adaptive and resourceful I can be and hope to leverage these skills in my future endeavors. This transformation also made me far more culturally aware. I now have a greater appreciation for cultures that are drastically different than my own. I learned to interact and communicate with many different types of people and gained a deeper understanding of the struggles that individuals across the world face. Overall I feel that my education at Ohio State would not have been complete without this experience and am incredibly grateful for all that were involved in making it possible.

 

With students at Leibo Middle School. I am buried in the middle there!

Zhou Ya and I during my last day in Chengdu.

Watching performances from students at Leibo Middle School.



 

Service-learning Project in Bagamoyo, Tanzania with CCS

For my STEP service-learning project, I spent 2 weeks in Bagamoyo, Tanzania volunteering through the non-profit organization Cross Cultural Solutions. I worked with the surrounding communities to educate at risk children in a range of subjects such as English, Health, and Math. Additionally, I learned about Tanzanian culture through cultural exchange activities.

Prior to this trip I had experience travelling to Africa which fueled my passion for travel, however I never immersed myself in a new country or culture independently. As such, I learned a lot about myself and my ability to adapt in different or uncomfortable situations dealing with people who didn’t speak the same language as me. When volunteering with the children in the primary school, I realized how important teachers and caretakers are when molding future leaders and scholars. By simply giving a child extra attention and investing in their success, the children were able to focus and motivate themselves to learn. This experience helped me gain independence and strengthened my passion for service abroad, which further motivates me to do similar service work once I am a medical professional.

Another major lesson I learned on this trip was the importance of being grateful for what one is given in life. The most prevalent phrases I heard in Swahili there were: “Hakuna matata”, “Asante sana”, and “Karibu sana” which translates to: “No worries”, “thank you very much”, and “you are welcome here”. After returning, I realized how much this impacted the community there, as everyone was kind, compassionate, respectful, and appreciated what they had, even if it wasn’t much. I gained a deeper appreciation for the resources I was given having grown up in the states, and was motivated to work harder to help other underprivileged communities. In addition, I learned the value of being compassionate and loving to family, members of a community, and to strangers in general.

The most pronounced experience I had during my time in Tanzania was the evident lack of resources for the school, teachers, and students. The school was given some resources by the government, however the books were minimal and almost all in English (which the students don’t learn until the 3rd grade). The class sizes ranged from around 50 to over 100 students per teacher, and the students only brought themselves and a broom to clean the class each morning. Seeing this juxtaposed with the students’ fascination with foreign volunteers and the relentless perseverance to learn really transformed my perspective on how difficult education can be for students internationally. It gave me renewed passion not only to do well in my studies with all the support I have, but to keep in mind that serving underprivileged communities is equally as important.

Another major transformative experience was spending a couple of days with Tanzania Resource Assessment Centre For Disabled Children (TRACED), an NGO dedicated to identifying and rehabilitating disabled children so they can perform daily living activities. In Tanzania, lack of adequate healthcare and funds for proper treatment leaves a plethora of children in the disabilities category which also has a stigma in the surrounding communities. I was able to spend the morning in the clinic where employees trained in physical therapy worked with infants, and spent the afternoon in a local primary school where they had a classroom dedicated to deaf students of all ages. During my stay, I was also able to visit the local hospital and talk to one of the chief doctors. He explained to us their general protocols when treating patients and their focus on communicable diseases and women’s health. These couple of days deeply impacted me, especially with the teacher of the deaf students explaining their struggles trying to teach all the students at different learning levels. The doctor’s remarks about how he truly appreciates volunteers and support from abroad also confirmed my aspiration to pursue opportunities as a medical professional to do service abroad in the future.

Some small moments throughout my time in the primary school also deeply impacted me once I left. Many small moments in between classes or during breaks when we played with the children outside were meaningful. The small moments, when compounded together, demonstrated a significant amount of cultural exchange between us volunteers and the children. There was an arts competition between primary schools of the town, and they competed in choir, traditional dance, acrobatics, and storytelling. After the competition, my students and I found similar interests in music artists like Michael Jackson and sports players like Ronaldo, Messi, and Lebron James. Overall, I was able to truly educate them and make an impact by finding our common interests and help incorporate songs, sports, and competition into lesson plans to ensure the students understood the material without the stereotypical classroom tools the students didn’t have. Through this I was really able to learn more about myself, specifically my ability to adapt in different situations and create personal connections to people of different cultures or languages.

This trip influences my journey throughout college and life, as it puts many desires and goals I have in perspective. This volunteer abroad gave me some variety when it came to my service experience; it was service in education which I was familiar with, but it was coupled with my love of travelling and desire to explore more of Africa. My time there also confirmed my desire to return to that area once I’ve become a medical professional to assist and educate the community of healthy habits and improved treatment for the sick.

Personally, I really value meeting new people from very different cultures and traditions, and coming back from Tanzania I’ve definitely made unique and lifelong friendships with teachers, students, and members of the community. Through those growing friendships, I was able to learn about different cultures in addition to sharing about my own culture. Also, the children were a beacon of joy and happiness when we spent time together, which was an experience I was excited for before I even left for Tanzania.

Visiting the classroom for deaf children

future buckeyes

Service Learning with Cross-Cultural Solutions in Azrou, Morocco

For my STEP signature project, I traveled to Azrou, Morocco, for a service learning trip with the non-profit organization Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS).  I participated in CCS’s new initiative called the Vision Project, in which we held vision screenings for the children of an underprivileged local elementary school  and distributed the glasses to the kids who required them.  I also spent some time teaching English to kids at  a preschool.

Spending time in Azrou, Morocco, was truly transformative for me.  My views on myself, others, and the world around me were altered.  I gained more confidence in myself and a deeper insight into my own personal beliefs.  I also learned the value of compassion, kindness, and gratitude.  Growing up, I have always avoided things that scare me or are unknown to me.  Being exposed to a new culture and a different way of life helped me become more comfortable with unfamiliarity.   I realized how profound of an impact can be left from being compassionate.  The warm-hearted spirits of the people I served completely moved me, and inspired me to incorporate these qualities better into my own life.  The last thing I expected from this experience was to grow spiritually.  I now have a newfound understanding and respect for my own religion, Islam, that can be credited to this journey.

I have gained a greater sense of independence from this experience.  Though I have travelled extensively internationally in the past, I had never done so completely by myself.  Thus, the thought of being responsible for myself never crossed my mind before this trip.  At first, it seemed very daunting to me to be traveling alone to halfway across the world.  I was scared to make the journey there, and I was scared of what it would be like to live with complete strangers from all around the world.  I was unsure if I was capable of such an undertaking.  But I was very surprised to see learn that I am more independent than I thought I was.  It was relatively easy for me to get around Morocco, and figure things out even without being able to read or speak the language.  I was able to form connections with the volunteers, even though we all came from completely different walks of life.  Going through this experience as a single female traveller has helped me build my confidence immensely, and inspired me to travel alone again internationally in the future.

Throughout my time in Morocco, I was constantly surprised by how welcoming, warm-hearted, and gracious the locals were.  As foreigners in the small town of Azrou, the CCS volunteers stuck out like sore thumbs.  Coming in to this, I believed that the volunteers would be isolated from the rest  of the locals because of this.  But the locals were always so willing to help us, whether it be navigating around the city or simply buying medicine from the pharmacy.  The locals’ faces would light up if any of us tried to say any Arabic, even if we sounded completely awful.  They were so eager to teach us about their culture, and they were so eager to learn about ours.  They continuously thanked us for doing what we were doing.  One particular moment with a fifth grade boy sticks out to me.  When we distributed the glasses, he tearfully thanked the volunteers,  not only for the glasses, but for finally giving him the chance to succeed at school.  Though it was a short two weeks, I was able to form so many strong connections with the locals.  Before this trip, I had never experienced love in such a pure form.

My appreciation of Islam has also grown immensely.  Growing up as a Muslim myself, I had a good deal of prior knowledge and understanding about the religion.  I have, however, always struggled to reveal this part of my identity to people, in fear of judgment and hate.  Unfortunately, American media paints Islam in a very negative light.  I have always found it difficult to explain my religion or defend it to those who question it, due to this fear of exposing myself.  My program director, Mohamed, a fellow Muslim, gave us lectures on Islam, and it was through his beautiful words that I gained so much insight into my own religion, and I realized that I should not be afraid to hide this essential part of my identity.  It was especially enlightening to be in Morocco during the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims spend the month fasting.  Seeing how Muslims participate in Ramadan in an Muslim country was a humbling experience. The other CCS volunteers even joined me for a day of fasting!

The lessons I learned from this trip have helped me grow in all aspects of my life.  Personally, I have truly learned some valuable life lessons.  I am more confident in myself my fear of unfamiliarity and new experiences has diminished.  I have grown as a Muslim and have a deeper understanding of my own faith.  I have a greater sense of compassion for others.  My time in Azrou has also helped me in my professional life.  As an aspiring physician, it is crucial to be able to connect with people at the most fundamental level in order to provide the best care possible to patients.  Being more culturally aware, compassionate, and sympathetic, are all things that can help with this, and all qualities that I developed during my stay in Morocco.  Volunteering with Cross Cultural Solutions in Morocco was truly a transformative experience.  I hope to carry with me the valuable lessons I learned during my time in Azrou to develop into a well-rounded individual.

Performing vision screenings

Breaking the fast during Ramadan

The school we performed vision screenings at

distributing the glasses

STEP Signature Project Reflection: Service-Learning

For two weeks, I stayed in Silana Village, Fiji, where I taught English, music, art, and sports to the children of the Dawasamu School District. Monday through Friday, I was up at the school library lesson planning for different groups of students I would teach, while also assisting the class’ teacher, and giving lessons to the different groups of students and to the class as a whole.

When it comes to understanding myself, my assumptions, and my view of the world, much has changed whilst completing my project. First and foremost, going abroad by myself when I have never been out of the country before has given me a real confidence boost and a greater feeling of independence. I was nervous and there were many bumps in the road during my time traveling to Fiji and my time traveling home, but I have certainly learned a lot and feel much more independent. But I’ve also learned many other things through my project, such as a deeper sense of appreciation for all my family and friends, as well as the things I have and the life I have been given. I’ve learned what it means to live a simple life, to enjoy the little things and the company around me. I’ve learned to keep an open mind and not be afraid to try new things.  Finally, my perception of both myself and of the world has changed.

Living in a small village meant getting to know everyone well, as well as the culture and lifestyle of the villagers. As a  volunteer I was given a Fijian family during my stay who took me in and not only fed me but let me invade their lives in an attempt to see and experience a culture totally different from my own. I learned a lot about the simple yet meaningful lives they lived, and I actually quite enjoyed the experience.

It made me appreciate more the life I’ve been given. Things like a bed to come home and sleep in, food at my disposal when I ever feel hungry, and even AC, aren’t things I always think to be grateful for until they’re no longer there. Also, a greater appreciation for my family and friends. The love the Fijians showed to each other and to me after only knowing me a few short weeks made me think more of those that I love. Finally, this trip has made me more appreciative of the life I’ve been given and the endless opportunities, especially as a woman. I have the opportunity to go to college and become whatever I want, to have a prestige career someday, to be able to travel the world like I just did. And to have stayed in a community where that’s not the case for most people, where those opportunities don’t exist, really put things into perspective.

My view of the world has undergone some changes since I came home from my trip. I think one of the biggest realizations for me along this journey is the cliché “money can’t buy happiness.” Everyone seems to believe it, but the villagers and especially the kids actually showed me it. It is hard to imagine living anywhere else other than the U.S. where many of the things that we have are considered a luxury and we don’t think twice about having them. But the Fijians, who many of which in the village only had one twin-sized bed for the whole family, are some of the happiest people I have ever met. Even the kids, most of which didn’t even wear shoes to school, were the most enthusiastic children I’ve ever encountered. They were always ready to learn something new and always had the biggest smiles on their faces. I guess I always thought previously that people from less developed countries, who had fewer opportunities, technological advances, and everyday things we take for granted, met they automatically weren’t as happy as people like us who do. While of course its liberating, they didn’t seem to need those things to live a full life. They enjoyed the little things- meals with their families, the time spent at church, and time with us volunteers.

Many events, interactions, and relationships led to my personal transformation and affected me. As previously mentioned, traveling abroad alone for the first time gave me a greater feeling of independence. It is something no one in my family has ever done and not many of my friends so it did give me more confidence in myself. I feel like I can definitely do it again now and with more confidence, and I also think I could stay abroad longer. If I did another volunteer trip, which I have already looked into, I want to travel to Europe and stay for about 6 weeks.

Interactions with many of the volunteers taught me to keep an open mind and to try new things. With the volunteers, many of which were from other countries such as Scotland, Sweden, Columbia, and Canada, not only did I learn about the culture of the Fijians but of theirs as well. A popular conversation topic at our team dinners was how our countries differed- from food, sports, to the way we talk. I also tried many new things from food-  I found out I really like curry- to outdoor activities such as paddle boarding and snorkeling. I was never one to step out of my comfort zone much before I came to Ohio State, but the past two years I’ve spent at this incredible university, and especially the time spent on this trip, has made me take a huge leap out of it. I feel more excited to try new things now and to meet more people now than ever before.

I learned more from the Fijian people than they could have ever possibly learned from me during my time there. Once again, I’ve just never seen such happy people. The villagers, especially my family, showed me a lot of love during the little time I was there. I actually felt a part of their family and can’t thank them enough for making my two-week visit there mean so much. They made me plenty of meals, again trying a lot of new foods I haven’t previously, made me gifts, and were very welcoming with open arms. I  left them a few things behind, such as my sheets, a few t-shirts, sulus (long skirts worn by the women of the village), and jeans. None of these things were new, and all were a little worn, but I’ve never seen people so happy to receive such gifts. It felt really good to be able to do something for them, although it doesn’t compare to all that they had done for me.

The kids are who made me enjoy my time the most there though. One of the biggest things I learned from them was patience. English is a difficult language to learn, and while all of the kids are very intelligent, some did take longer to understand new words and sounds than the others. It took a lot of patience and understanding that English isn’t their first language to become the best teacher I possibly could be for them. It also just wasn’t possible for me not to be smiling while spending my days in the school with them. From teaching English to physical education, they always kept me on my toes and enjoying the time I had there with them. I would see them in the village often after school hours had ended, and they would always run up to give a hug and ask how am I or just to talk about how much fun they had a school. Leaving my class 5 was hard, I didn’t expect to get to know the kids as well as I did or enjoy the time I had with them as much as I did.

This experience and the transformations it led to has been and will continue to be valuable to my life. I’ve become more independent, learned more about the world and many other cultures,  and learned I enjoy trying new things. This trip has made me want to continue volunteer work, especially outside of the United States. I’m currently studying health sciences on a pre-nurse practitioner track, and I would love to be able to travel the world after graduate school and continue to help others through my career. Its opened a door to many new possibilities for me in my future, and I hope to be able to continue this kind of personal growth.