Buck-I-Serv: Farm to Cup Honduras

Over the 2018-19 winter break, I traveled to Honduras through Buck-I-Serv. While this was a service trip, a big part of it was also learning about the culture (through things like food, dancing, and visiting markets) and their role in the coffee industry (through talking to local farmers and visiting processing locations).

Our first day there, we drove out into the mountains to begin building a house for a coffee picker named Jesus, who lived in poor conditions and had recently been in an accident rendering him unable to work. When we got there, there were already about 15 other people, many of them Hondurans, who were ready to work together to finish the project as fast as possible. It was explained to us that some of these people had houses built for them at one point and came to pass it on. This was important as it can give the new homeowner more pride and appreciation than when a group of foreigners comes in, does everything, and leaves. I realized how important it is to have that insight when helping others.

The next day the weather took a turn for the worse, so almost all our projects got canceled. I was really bummed, but the attitude of the other Hondurans was very different. Over the next few days, we spent time on smaller projects as needed, but the purpose shifted more toward learning as much about these people as we could.

The second day we visited a woman’s farm and she and her family taught us about the work they do on a daily basis. They let us pick the coffee, even after explaining how it had to be done in a specific way or it could ruin the rest of the crop. Additionally, they cooked all 12 of us visiting a full meal and we ate with the family. Another evening we gathered with a few local farmers. We asked them questions about their trade and what they want people to know back in the United States. They spoke about passion. Passion is necessary for them because the work is hard and not always profitable. It is difficult sometimes to find fair prices or workers. It was very eye-opening to see how often people can be taken advantage of in that sense. I want to pay more attention to things I am consuming, and now understand the value of fair trade on a whole new level.

From all of these interactions and experiences, what stood out the most was how welcoming everyone was. It made me really think about our own culture, and how we should attempt to move in that direction. Even at Ohio State, there are lots of students from foreign countries, and I wondered if there are things that make them feel welcomed like that. I personally know that I have not gone out of my way to be welcoming, because I assumed the international students would feel overwhelmed or uninterested. I made it a goal to put myself out there in the future. If I can carry this idea not only back to Ohio State, but also to my career or anywhere else I go, I believe I can make a greater impact and in turn be more successful.

Overall, this experience was one I will never forget, between the people I met, the things I saw, the food I tasted, and the knowledge of the world that I gained. I realize that few people have opportunities like this and that it is my responsibility to share what I have learned with those who have not.

Engineering Service Learning in Kpando, Ghana

My STEP signature project was going on a trip to Ghana to research the town of Kpando to learn about the current state of their food production and consumption and what could be improved. We spent 11 days in Ghana, interviewing dozens of people about farming, cooking, and their food consumption habits and issues, and produced a report that will be used by next year’s students to build prototypes to meet the challenges Ghanaians in Kpando face in terms of food production, storage, and consumption.

My view of the world changed dramatically while I was in Ghana. I got to learn firsthand what life is like for people in developing countries. What surprised me more than anything was how happy and friendly everyone was. These people have so much less than we do, yet everyone had a smile on their face and was quick to welcome us into their community and show us how they lived their lives. I also learned a lot about the economic systems at work in these communities and in developing countries, and I was amazed by the mix of ancient traditions and techniques and modernization brought on by huge corporations.

There were many interactions and events during our time in Ghana that led to these changes to my worldview, and changes to myself. First was becoming friends with the people of Kpando during our time there. One of our translators grew up in the children’s home run by the nonprofit we worked with, and we talked with him a lot not just about farming and food storage, but also about himself and what he wanted to do in life. His name was Junior, and he hoped to one day be a pilot. Getting to know people who are so different from you but still seeing what they have in common with you brings about a different level of understanding and compassion towards them and their communities, and it put a very different face on the monolithic idea of “Africa” that I, and many others, have.

On the other hand, we also witnessed how difficult things could be, and how many things we take for granted that they don’t have. We spent a day at a rice farm, learning how the grow and harvest the rice, and the farmers spent all day during the dry season bent over with a sickle cutting down stalks of rice. It was backbreaking labor, and a huge limiting factor in how much they could grow. Even worse, we visited many communities that were drinking from completely unclean water. Some communities had blood in their urine and didn’t even realize it was a problem because it was just how things always were. Doctors in the region were similarly stymied by lack of resources.

Finally, the relationship we built with the leader of the nonprofit redefined my notion of what it means to be a good person. Edem is basically the entire driving force behind UNiTED Projects, which he started from scratch for no purpose other than helping the people of Kpando. He was so selfless and quick to lend a hand to anyone, and his only goal was to make real, meaningful difference for the lives of the children in his children’s home, and for everyone in Kpando.

Seeing all the projects he has ongoing in the community was amazing, but I was also impressed by how humble he was. He was clearly an important and relatively wealthy member of the community, but he was not afraid to get his hands dirty and do the work himself. One day he invited a group of dancers and drummers to perform for us, and they wanted the dirt in the courtyard to be wetted down so that it wouldn’t be dusty. Instead of directing someone else to do it, Edem simply picked up a bucket and started spreading the water himself. Even after seeing all the amazing work he did for the community, this is one of the things that sticks with me the most. I admit that I was somewhat cynical and kept waiting to see some sort of character flaw or shortcoming from him, because surely nobody could be that kind and generous, but I never saw anything but charity and humility from Edem. He is the kind of person I strive to be.

The changes in myself, in my opinion, make me a more understanding and open-minded person. Putting real faces and names on this region of the world made me feel so much closer to them and similar to them, and it will forever impact the way I act and view the world. I do feel like I accomplished my goal of doing something meaningful using the skills I have developed in my engineering program at Ohio State. Even though we did not build anything ourselves, there is no way we would have been able to build anything useful with the knowledge of Kpando we were able to obtain before the trip. The information we collected will enable the next team to actually do something good for the people of Kpando, and I am so proud that I could be a part of this process.

My STEP Project: Completing my Humanitarian Engineering Minor

Name: Thomas Hayden Clark


Type of Project: Service Learning/Community Service 


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


My STEP project involved the enrollment in the ENGR 5797.17S – ENGR Service in Ghana course, which was active over the Autumn Semester of 2019, with the service trip for the course taking place from Dec. 27th, 2018, to Jan 7th, 2019. The enrollment in this course allowed me to complete my minor in Humanitarian Engineering, which required an ENGR Service Learning Trip to finalize.


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


Humanitarian Engineering has been a passion for me since I enrolled at OSU, becoming a part of our Honors and Scholars program centered around the field (the Humanitarian Engineering Scholars), and joining our Engineers Without Borders Chapter. After graduating from the Humanitarian Scholars Program, having served as their president in my second year, I knew that humanitarian engineering was going to play a huge role in my life. I decided to complete my minor in humanitarian engineering as soon as possible, which required the enrollment and completion of an engineering service-learning trip.


After the completion of the course, and of my minor, I feel so relieved and thrilled that I was able to undergo this journey at OSU; this STEP project allowed me to achieve a personal goal that has been 3 years in the making, and has even helped land me an internship at a humanitarian engineering focused non-profit for the summer of 2019, thanks to my knowledge in the field and the connections I made during the trip. In no short term, STEP has given me an experience that would have never been possible anywhere else.


  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?


During my academic courses required for my humanitarian engineering minor, I completed Appropriate Technologies for Developing Countries (FABE 5200), taught by Dr. Greg Bixler. Dr. Bixler, in addition to being OSU faculty, is also the co-founder of the humanitarian engineering non-profit Design Outreach. Because of my previous interactions with Dr. Bixler, I was very excited to learn that he was the Resident Director of the ENGR Ghana Service Learning Trip.


Throughout the course of the semester, I learned that Dr. Bixler was looking for an intern for Design Outreach who had knowledge in the world of humanitarian engineering. Having that previous relationship with him, and being in his course that semester, I was able to discuss his internship opportunity with him during the course and during the trip to Ghana, where he could see my potential and expertise firsthand with the fieldwork.


Nearing the end of the trip, I was able to sit down with Dr. Bixler and he decided to take me as his intern for the summer of 2019 at Design Outreach! I am completely ecstatic and excited, and can not wait to put my skills to use during this term of employment with Design Outreach. Because of this trip, and STEP, I was not only able to finish my humanitarian engineering minor, but I was able to procure an internship with a non-profit in that very same field.


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


I have always hoped that I was able to turn my love for humanitarian engineering into something that would be viable as a career, and while that is still waiting to be seen, being able to intern at a company that specializes in humanitarian engineering is a sure step in the right direction. Regardless, the experience that I will have this summer will be nonetheless transformational, just as my STEP project was for my future career aspirations.

Buck-I-SERV and OAC Costa Rica: STEP Reflection

Name: Olivia Minnie

Type of Project: Service Learning and Community Service


My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-SERV and OAC trip to Costa Rica. On this trip, we hiked to a town called Brujo in order to complete a community service project. After the service project, where we helped to build the town’s community center, we rafted to the coast where we then surfed.

While in Costa Rica, I learned a great deal about myself, particularly about my physical and mental abilities. I have hiked in the past, but have never participated in activities that required such great physical exertion. On the second day in Costa Rica, our group completed our longest hike, around 12 km, much of which was uphill and in direct sunlight. Up until this day, the hike was the part of the trip that I was most nervous about. However, I began the day with a positive outlook and felt pretty good at the beginning of the hike. Once we got to the part of the hike that was called the “Gringo Killer” by locals, I realized that it was going to be a difficult day. There were multiple times where I thought that I literally could not go any further. I was, however, able to complete the hike. Looking back at this experience, I can now truly appreciate it. I learned that my body is capable of so much more than I give it credit for, and learned to love the feeling of pushing myself physically every day.

Up until my trip to Costa Rica, most of my abroad experience has been in Germany and other European countries. I have never been anywhere like Costa Rica, and have certainly not experienced any country in a way that I did on this trip. For the majority of our trip, we stayed in very remote and rural areas, with our longest stay being in the town of Brujo. By experiencing the country in this way, I was able to learn about a way of life that I was previously unfamiliar with. Many of the homes we stayed in did not have electricity or hot water. Some of the homes were built in a way where large portions of the house were open to the outside. This was so interesting and different from any homes I have lived in before. I came to realize, coming from a privileged lifestyle, the way that the Costa Ricans that I came into contact with lived was no better or worse than the way a typical American lives. Instead, it was just different.

From the moment our trip began, I loved the lifestyle that we experienced in Costa Rica. I would wake up every day no later than 6 AM. I don’t consider myself to be a morning person, but on this trip it was so easy and felt so good to wake up at this time. I would often wake up to the sounds of farm animals outside and the heat of the day beginning. We would eat a delicious breakfast and begin our very active day. Every day was spent discovering new things about the land we were on and the people we were meeting. This meant, that by the end of the day we were all exhausted and I would go to bed by 8:30 or 9 PM. I felt so incredibly stress free and calm as this way of living was such a great contrast to the life I lead typically. I learned about how good it feels to have a truly productive and fulfilling day, and how this impacts my mental wellbeing.

We got to know our Costa Rican guides and their families very well throughout the trip. As we learned more about them and their lives, we learned that if it weren’t for tourism and groups like ours going to Costa Rica, they would have to move their families to the big cities. While this may not seem like a huge deal, the guides’ family was huge and all very close. Many of the people living in Brujo were related to each other in one way or another. I’m sure it would be very difficult for some individuals to move away from their extended family and into the city. Along with this, they all absolutely loved living in the more remote and rural areas we visited. Multiple people I spoke with said they wouldn’t have it any other way, and much preferred their lives in Brujo than in the city. I realized how important tourism can be in a country like Costa Rica, and not just to the very populated areas. Using Authentico Adventures, enriched everyone’s experiences involved. By having a career in tourism, many are able to continue living the life they love. Along with this, I feel so grateful to have experienced Costa Rica the way I did, through this company. I know if I would have gone to Costa Rica on vacation to the typical destinations people go to, I would have never been able to see the areas I did, meet the people I did, or fall in love with the country in the way I was able to.

Going on this trip to Costa Rica, certain aspects of my life were drastically transformed. While I have always planned on having a career in the environment, I realized how much I love being outdoors and experiencing new places. This, in turn, has helped to shape my professional goals. For one, I would like to travel in my work and also would like to have a job that allows for a more active lifestyle, rather than one where I am constantly sitting behind a desk. I also gained so much insight into the way I want to live my life on a daily basis. I want to constantly be looking for new experiences and adventures and finding appreciation in everything I do. After being so used to feeling stressed and on-edge almost constantly, I learned about how my body and mind function in ideal conditions. An important realization in this, was also just the simple fact that I am capable of feeling calm and awake and positive all the time, given the right lifestyle. I realize this was one, 10-day trip and was not necessarily a good representation of “real life”, but I am confident I will be able to incorporate things I learned into my day and improve my life significantly.


Engineering Service Learning in Kpando, Ghana

For my STEP signature project, I participated in an Engineering-Service learning trip where I visited multiple communities around Kpando, Ghana in an attempt to elicit information about their water quality, usage, treatment, and storage practices. In order to do this, I partnered with several other students and interviewed many individuals from each community. This information recorded from these interviews was then compiled to prepare next year’s group in their efforts in installing a long-lasting solution in one of these communities.

This trip completely revolutionized both my life and my understanding of the world around us. Prior to going on this trip, I had never really seen the developing world in a first-hand perspective. I have only seen the portrayals made of it, such as those in videos posted by various charities and non-government organizations (NGOs). However, after having this first-hand experience, I have developed such a great appreciation for appropriate technology, humanitarian engineering, and development work. This project revealed how big of an impact one can have in a developing country with the right tools and mindset. I learned that appropriate technology, if implemented properly, can completely revolutionize the lifestyles and quality of life within a community. For example, often members of a developing community are reliant on an arduous method of accomplishing some task, such as obtaining water, which drains much of their time, money, or other such resources away.

Since such a method requires a lot of time to complete, certain members of the community or family, such as young women, have to stay home, sacrificing their education to help out. Therefore, by providing a less rigorous and time-consuming alternative to go about accomplishing that same task, more individuals are enabled to obtain their education or engage in some other activity that will ultimately result in further development of the community. As such, I have become very interested in developing appropriate solutions, and I now know I want to get more involved in development work.

The most significant contributors to this significant shift in my attitude towards development were interviews with community members, witnessing their lifestyles, and observing failed development projects. If nothing else, every community we visited seemed to have one thing in common: failed development projects. Broken and abandoned water pumps could be spotted in almost every community. In fact, if Kpando was at all representative of the success of all development projects around the world, you would come to the conclusion that hardly any projects succeed long term. Interviews with community members confirmed that their water pumps had only worked for a few years after installment. This is a huge problem, as the community becomes dependent on these solutions only for them to break down after minimal use.

Seeing all of these failed projects was astounding. How could so much money and aid be funneled into these countries, only for the community to benefit minimally? After interviewing the community members, we discovered exactly how this could be true. The community members all agreed that the non-government organizations (NGOs) which brought these technologies didn’t really interact with the communities at all. They didn’t do preliminary research to find what the community even considers to be their problems, whether they needed a solution, or whether they would even use it. Moreover, the NGOs don’t really teach the community members how to fix the device if it breaks down, where to get replacement parts, etc. Consequently, even if the community needs the device, no one knows how to fix it or who to contact that may know, so when the device inevitably breaks down, no one is prepared to repair it. As a result of these two factors, these projects typically fail, and the community is left dependent and unassisted.

Seeing this huge discrepancy between the high amount of aid received and the resulting low levels of development made me want to get more involved in development work. I want to help install more projects, ensuring that proper research and implementation is done for every device, so that these communities will actually develop and not become dependent on aid. Additionally, seeing the methods the community used to obtain their water endowed me with this change in focus. Many little kids and women were tasked with carrying extremely large quantities of water from streams or pumps over long distances back to their families. It was evident that this process was taking its toll on participating community members, so I am much more inclined to help bring long-term, easy access, potable drinking water to developing communities.

This change in my goals and perspective is extremely important, as it has completely changed my plans for the future. Throughout most of college, I thought I wanted to practice medicine in the U.S. throughout my entire career. However, after going through this transitional experience, I now realize I also have a strong interest in improving the quality of life of those in need abroad. Additionally, I am also now considering a humanitarian engineering minor to provide me with more knowledge and experience vital to these goals.



Buck-I- SERV and OAC: Costa Rica 2018


My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-SERV trip partnered with The Outdoor Adventure Center to Costa Rica. During the project we participated in three days of service at a community center in a town called Brujo. A few of the other days we had more adventurous experiences like hiking, white water rafting, caving, and surfing.

While completing my STEP Signature Project I was able to get a new view and perspective of the world. I was able to see how people in a different country live and how it was very different from me. This was a very eye-opening learning experience for me. This allowed me to have a new-found perspective on life and how important it is to live simply and that material items are not necessary for a happy life. I was also able to get a better understanding of myself through the service aspect of the trip.

My trip to Costa Rica was a once in a lifetime trip with many activities that I was able to participate in. The activity that really affected me the most was learning how to surf. The reason why I found the surfing to help me have a new view on the world was because sitting in the ocean with the surf board I had two views. The first view was facing the rest of the ocean and the other was looking at the beach with the palm trees and all the people. I was able to take these two views and see how beautiful Costa Rica is; the country itself, the people, the animals, and just everything that was in sight. With this view I was able to have a new appreciation for the world and nature around me. Nature has given us so much and sometimes that can be forgotten so getting this experience helped me reconnect with nature and remember how much we are given by what is around us.

During the hiking portion of our trip, I was able to discover the importance of living simply and not worrying about material things and only bringing the necessities. When we arrived, we were told to only pack what we needed for the next few days and were told to not pack too much because we would be carrying it all on our backs during the day long hike. The night before the hike I packed my backpack and I was forced to only bring my necessary items and leave what I didn’t need. This was a great experience for me because I was able to realize that I only need the necessary things in life. I learned that I need to live my life more simply and not hold onto material items. I was able to appreciate that the experiences and people that go through life with you is way more important than the items and materials that you collect along the way.

We had three days where we helped Brujo’s community build their community center. We learned from our guides and volunteers what this place meant to them and what events they have there. I learned from the people of Brujo what community means. We spent the three days helping build the rest of the walls for the community, painting, and pouring concrete. All of it was very physical labor but extremely rewarding because I had never done most of the work that we helped with. I learned that they had been building this center for over ten years and it was still not complete. I learned that when we visit we help provide supplies for them, which is one of the ways they are able to build the center. In the time I spent with the community for the three days, I was so appreciative to learn so much from these many families. They were so kind and giving and I learned that it is important to always give back to your community. The work was hard and difficult, but I learned so much about community and
families and how to be appreciative of what you have. You will always have a community even if everything is taken from you, your friends and family will be there to help you during the hard times and will be there to celebrate with you during the victories. You can never take a community away from people.

After we spent the day working in the community center we would play soccer with the community. Everyone from the community would come from their houses to come play. They said they usually always play soccer a few times during the week. It is one way they can form a bond with the others in the community. The kids learn at a young age how to play. This was an amazing experience for me because I used to play soccer for many years when I was younger so to see that they play in Brujo and encourage all the kids and adults to plays was incredible. I learned that it doesn’t matter if your good at playing or if you are just cheering the others on it matters that you are there and participating in the event. This is why Brujo’s community is so close knit and welcoming, and for me to see this with my own eyes was something that I had never experienced before.

During the ten days of this trip, I was able to form relationships with the other students as well as the leaders and families that lived in Costa Rica. I was able to get to know my fellow students more and what their goals are in life. It was interesting to see how people who want to do similar things as I do and what path they are taking. It helped remind me that we all have our own paths and how we get through life. I was also able to form a bond with the families that we stayed with and how they go through their daily lives. They taught me so much about their everyday life and what is important to them. I am so appreciative that these families opened their homes with welcome arms for us. With my relationships that I formed I was able to learn so much more about people from OSU and outside of OSU. These new relationships helped me learn more about myself and have a better understanding of who I want to be in my life and what I would like to achieve.

I believe that this transformation and change of having a new respect for nature, as well as living a simpler life and having a better understanding of myself and my community, is valuable in many ways. With these transformations, I can now go through my life more calmly and organized. It will help me in my personal life to become a better person which will then show in my professional goals and relationships that I have now and will also form. Costa Rica was a transformational life changing experience for me and I am very appreciative of this country, the people that live there, and my fellow students that went on the trip with me.

Buck-I-Serv: Costa Rica Adventure

For my STEP project I went on a Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica over winter break of 2018. The event was sponsored by the outdoor adventure center (OAC) and combined service with adventure. For the service part we helped build a community center in Brujo, a small village in Costa Rica. For the adventure part we did a wide variety of activities including white water rafting, surfing, repelling, cave exploring, and hiking.
This service learning trip had a huge effect on my and really changed the way I viewed myself and the world around on me. Going into the trip I had not gotten the opportunity to travel much outside of the U.S. I had been to Canada a couple of times but had never felt like I had been immersed in another culture. This trip gave me the opportunity to do this. For most the trip we stayed in homestays which was a great opportunity to learn about the culture of Costa Rica and interact with the locals. I spoke very little Spanish so trying the communicate was a struggle of its own but I learned how important communication through body language and hand motions can be. I was amazed about how laid-back and stress-free people in Costa Rica were. We spent most of our trip in a very remote part of Costa Rica and saw first hand that without a lot of things we take for granted in America like hot showers, cell phone service, and internet that people were extremely happy and peaceful.
This caused me to look at myself and I realized that many of the things that cause me to stress out are unnecessary. I did not spend anytime during the trip on social media, didn’t check my email, didn’t worry about responding to texts and it felt like I was living unencumbered. Once I didn’t have access to those things I realized that they were often a drain that deterred me from having real experiences and making lasting memories. Costa Rica showed me that happiness can never be found from wealth or social status but comes from the way you live your life.
This trip stood out to me in part because of the wide variety of activities that we did and everyday during the trip was a new adventure. Throughout the entire trip we were with two local guides Ernesto and Manos. We got to know them very well during the trip and it was very interesting to hear their perspective as they both are from the rural area of Costa Rica where we spent the majority of the trip. One thing that stood out to me from talking to and spending time with our guides was how important family and community were to them. It seemed that they knew almost everyone we encountered in Brujo, the village where we did community service. Because of how remote the village was people really had to rely on each other and in turn become very close. While community is obviously important in America as well this experience showed me how location and culture can change the perception of the community.
The most challenging part of the of the trip but also one of the most rewarding was when we went on a 2-day whitewater rafting trip. Prior to the trip we were given the option to go in rafts with guides or go in inflatable canoes. I was feeling adventurous and decided to do a canoe. When were getting ready to begin there were more canoes than needed so some people had to go alone on the kayaks and volunteered to do so. At first, I did not think it would a big deal, but I did not realize how intense the rapids could get. I had never gone whitewater rafting before and we started out on some very difficult rapids. We began the trip and I struggled as I had to constantly maneuver around various rocks and it was very easy to make mistakes. I got stuck on rocks numerous times and probably flipped at least 6 or 7 times the first day. At first, I was kind of embarrassed, but I was having so much fun and realized that I was getting better and learning from my failures. By the second day I felt much more comfortable and the rapids were not as intense as the first day. This experience stood out because it reminded me that failure is essential to learning and that staying positive in the event of failure is essential. In college it very east to get frustrated and discouraged especially as classes get more difficult. This experienced just reinforced to me that I will face problems and failure continuously throughout college and life in general and instead of feeling bad about myself it is better to learn from my mistakes.
For the community service portion of the trip we were working on building a community center. This consisted of pouring and mixing concrete, plastering walls, and painting among other things. While we only worked for a couple of days at the community center by the end of the experience we had made considerable progress and could see how we helped the community. On the last day a couple people in the village thanked us for our service and I could tell that were genuinely happy that we were there. During the service part we also got the opportunity to stay with a local family for three days. Our group was divided in groups of 2 and each group stayed with a different family. Greg (another trip participant) and I stayed with a family with two little boys and they wore us out by the end of homestay. It took me back to when I was a little kid and had endless amounts of energy. Even though they did not speak English and we spoke little Spanish we were able to get to know them and understand what games they wanted us to play. It really showed me the human experience is universal and can transcend nationality and culture.
This transformational experience is significant because it can be applied to various aspects of my life and will be an experience I will never forget. One of the biggest things this trip did for me was give me an opportunity to destress and come back to college with a renewed motivation. It easy to get jaded and lose motivation but this trip gave me an opportunity to get outside of the typical college life and make lifelong memories. Another aspect of this trip is the personal connections I made both with the various people we meet in Costa Rica and with the other participants of the trip. I met so my amazing people on this trip and hope to continue to build these relationships.

Buck-I-SERV and OAC: Costa Rica

My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-SERV and Outdoor Adventure Center trip to Costa Rica. As a part of the service learning experience, the group helped with renovations on a local community center. Throughout the rest of the trip, we also had the opportunity to try a variety of outdoor sports.

I personally transformed in several ways through this experience. First, I was challenged to push myself out of my comfort zone. This trip offered me many new opportunities that I would have not been able to have otherwise. Second, I gained a better understanding of the culture and lifestyle of rural Costa Rica. I was not sure what to expect of the people or environment going into the trip. I left with a greater appreciation for Costa Rica that also caused me to reflect on life in the United States. Finally, I learned more about the importance of disconnecting from technology and choosing to have authentic relationships and experiences. We did not have access to our phones for the majority of the trip. This was a unique chance to simply spend time with one another and take in the beauty around us. Although I usually would claim I am less attached to technology, this trip proved that I can always use a break to think, relax, and take a moment without it.

My comfort zone was challenged in a variety of ways during the Costa Rica trip. I tried many activities that I had never attempted before, including surfing, rappelling, and hiking long distances. These activities were challenging – I struggled to stand up on my board, I scraped up both of my legs while slipping down the waterfall, and I wanted to stop countless times on our extended hikes. However, I always had to keep going and could find something to enjoy. Even when I struggled, or even just fell, I was still having the time of my life. I felt extremely proud of myself for trying my best and accomplishing small goals throughout. Outside of the physical aspects of the trip, my comfort zone was also stretched during our homestays. Our families spoke almost no English, so we had to converse only in Spanish. Although I have taken three semesters of Spanish at OSU, I was not confident on my speaking skills going into this trip. It was difficult to communicate with our families – my vocabulary and grammar knowledge have faded greatly. However, the experience of learning about each other, having conversations, and growing in understanding was extremely rewarding. I know I failed to communicate properly at times, which was hard at first, but being in this new environment encouraged me to continue to practice and form relationships in the ways I could.

I loved having the immersive opportunity to learn about Costa Rica outside of the resort towns that tourists usually visit. My expectations and the reality of the community we visited were different in many ways. For example, I was very unsure about the accommodations we would have – I was surprised that even in rural areas, families had electricity in their homes. This revealed some of the intrinsic biases I held coming into the trip. What struck me most about Brujo was the simple lifestyle that all the residents had. All our meals there were sourced from the community, and even came from our own backyard. I tried so many kinds of fresh fruit, and I was able to help milk a cow one morning that we eventually used for cheese. The families were not wasteful, reused many products, minimized trash, and composted. Coming back to Ohio and generating so much trash made me frustrated after witnessing their environmental priorities. The simplicity of our time in Brujo and in Costa Rica in general had me feeling extremely de-stressed and happy. I have since tried to simplify some parts of my own life, and I better recognize the importance of taking time for myself and using all the time I can in a day. I cannot generalize my time in Costa Rica to the entire country, but the time I had to learn about the lifestyle first-hand was invaluable to my understanding.

Having limited access to personal technology was empowering during the trip. One of the things I loved about this trip was how many meaningful relationships we developed. Although it took time, we got to know each other and the Costa Ricans we encountered, and we ultimately became friends. I think this was facilitated by our inability to be too focused on our worlds back home. These relationships made our service work more impactful. Ultimately, it was amazing to realize how much less I had to worry without my phone. Since coming back to the U.S., I have deleted some of my social media as a result. It is freeing in many ways, and I am more self-aware about how much time I waste on certain apps and technology. Technology is important to all our lives, but I better acknowledge that I was more reliant on it than I wanted to admit.

My trip to Costa Rica has many applications to my life in the United States. After I graduate, I plan to attend physician assistant school. This is a daunting task, but my Buck-I-SERV experience had increased my confidence to accomplish challenging things. I am less afraid of failure, and I feel more prepared to attempt new experiences and push my abilities. In addition, acclimating to using a different language and communicating across barriers has applications to future patients. Having already worked as a nurse aide, I know it can be challenging even in English to get a message across to vulnerable people. After my trip, I better appreciate the importance of persistent communication and the results it can bring. Outside of my future career, my transformative trip had made me a more well-rounded and renewed individual. I was reminded of the importance of meaningful service, and I hope to pursue it again in some capacity. Even in everyday life, I feel inspired to keep my mind open, reflect, and challenge myself.

Engineering Service Learning: Ghana

Aric Micko

Engineering Service Learning Trip: Ghana

My STEP project entailed enrolling in the class ENGR 5797.17S where twice a week the class would get together to research and learn about Kpando, the city that we were traveling to in Ghana. Then once the semester was over the class traveled to Kpando to conduct research relating to the water and food problems in the community.

This project really changed some of my views on the world. I went into the trip with the assumption that the people of Ghana would be so different from myself. To my surprise, we were more similar than I could ever imagine. I realized that people are all the same, just living in different circumstances. That we all have similar hopes and dreams, Americans just have an easier time achieving them. Being with the people of Kpando really made me appreciate what I have been given in live even more than ever before.

While in Kpando I interviewed over 100 people about their lives to learn how my group could help them. My group traveled to 4 different villages and 2 water sanitation facilities to learn about the area.  I talked to everyone from people how lived in mud huts, to people living in beautiful modern brick buildings. The women of the communities were some of the most helpful people to talk to. Talking to and seeing women carry a 35lb of water with a baby on their back for over a mile was extremely eye opening. One will read about or see on a video how women carry water multiple times a day, but the actual magnitude of how difficult it is will never sink in until you see it, or even try to do it in my case. I attempted to help carry water back to a home at one point, the balance required to do it well is ridiculous and I was soaked immediately, and then an eight year old took the water from me and ran with it. The amount of work that some of these people do to just get water really made me appreciate that I get to just open at tap in my home.

My group traveled to an island village on one of the days. They were completely secluded to any modern luxuries that most of the other communities that we visited. There was no electricity, water pumps, or even ways to communicate o the main land. Never the less they welcomed us with open arms. No one told anyone on the island that we were coming, we walked onto the island and the first guy that we talked to took us to the village council and we just talked to them for over an hour. The amount of hospitality that they had for one another was unlike anything that I had ever experienced before.

After dinner every night my group and I would talk to Fred, the local who lived next to the complex that the group was staying at. Fred was a computer science major at Ghana university, and was around the age of everyone on the trip. It was so interesting talking to someone who was going through the same schooling as us, but just on the opposite side of the world. We had the same type of views on so many topics it was as if we were just talking to someone that we met in Thompson Library. We all became amazing friends by the end of the trip and I still text Fred weekly.

This trip transformed  me and I have learned things that will be very beneficial for my career. From a purely academic stand point, I do believe that I am a better engineer after going on this trip.  Learning how to solve problems for people who live so differently from me will make solving problems for people who are like me easier. Learning about Ghanaian culture has made me a better person, I now respect people more and believe that I have become politer. I hope to visit Kpando in the future and make humanitarian work a larger focus for my career.

Guatemala Constru Casa: Buck-I-SERV 2018

This December, I had the opportunity to travel to what is in many ways a different world from the one I have grown up in. My STEP Signature Project was embarking on a service trip to Antigua, Guatemala, and it’s surrounding areas. Myself and eight other students- as well as our adviser, an OSU PhD student- decided to seize the opportunity to travel to Guatemala and help build homes for those in need. We entered the trip knowing that nearly sixty percent of Guatemala’s population is under the poverty line, and we wanted to help those affected by this- however, what we got out of the trip was far more than building a few concrete walls and putting a shelter over a family’s heads.

As someone who had the opportunity to volunteer abroad in Cambodia and Thailand earlier this past summer, I was expecting to undergo less of a ‘transformational’ experience than some of my group-mates. However, I actually ended up finding out far more about myself, my passions, my world views, and my general outlook on life that I could have ever anticipated. Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been passionate about improving the quality of life of other people, but this trip further ignited my burning desire to truly make a difference in the world. Every single day in Guatemala I had the incredible chance to work alongside locals who had next to nothing, yet were happier than anyone else I’d met in my life. Meeting and getting to know the Guatemalans taught me how valueless material possessions really are, and that US society could definitely learn from their habits of appreciating loved ones and the joy of truly living.

Reminiscing upon the teary smiles on the faces of the family for whom we made the house is leaving me grinning, because it was absolutely incredible to see how a mere 11x33ft (or so) house could mean so much to a family of 9 people. I want that feeling of pure happiness and appreciation for life that I got during my time in Guatemala to be something I experience everyday, and I would not have realized that had I not had the opportunity that STEP gave me to visit the country.

Aside from further fueling my passion to dedicate my life to helping others- while at the same time focusing on living a more minimalist, appreciative lifestyle- my time with Constru Casa in Guatemala taught me other things as well. For example, there is such beauty in the uniting of cultures and even of humanity overall. Despite the major language barrier (I took 6 years of French, but Guatemala’s national language is Spanish), I was able to communicate and be inspired by the masons who instructed us in building the home. We were a group of 9 American undergraduate students who were instructed by a patient, kind, and humble group of 5 masons that hardly spoke a word of English, yet we learned so much from one another (or at least, I learned from them). Rain or shine, extreme heat or freezing morning breezes, these Guatemalan natives were always giving their all to building the house. Not only were they grinning and joking the whole time, but the kids for whom the house would become for were lingering around, and the 15 year old son and 13 year old daughter were doing every bit (if not more) as much work as us volunteers were. The fact that all the individuals on our site lived in such poverty yet were so kind and dedicated to one another motivates me to give back to the world with that kind of outlook.

Aside from the Guatemalan natives, I also grew a lot as a person thanks to the incredible people who I traveled to Guatemala alongside. I entered the trip not actually knowing a single fellow student (other than a brief introduction on one or two occasions), yet left feeling like I had become a part of not a family, but something even bigger than that. My fellow group-mates were always motivating each other to rise up in the morning and face the new day with a beaming smile, and to keep that outlook for the rest of the day. We literally hiked an active volcano and relaxed in its crater together, and were always there to support one another through feats such as cliff jumping on our day off. I got to know what it was like to be enveloped in a small, supportive community, similar to the ones that seem to be so common in Guatemala.

Nothing beats what I learned from one individual, however. Going by the name William but actually being a native to Guatemala, we met early in the trip a man who I will never forget. William is the type of person who you meet and instantaneously want to become the best version of yourself. Initially our van driver/tour guide, William became a good friend by the end of the week. Never before have I met someone who is so passionate about spreading kindness to even the worst of humans, or someone who is willing to work so hard just to improve another person’s day. As sappy as it may seem, I feel that I am entirely correct in saying that William changed the way that both myself and all my fellow group-mates look out on life and the chances to improve the lives of other for the better. Thanks to William, I want to integrate the selflessness and joyful nature that was so palatable in Guatemala into myself, wherever I go.

There are so many ways in which this transformational experience will continue to positively affect my life for decades to come. My time in Guatemala with Constru Casa made it well known to myself that wherever my future takes me, I will always be sure that it involves helping rather than hurting the world around me. I saw firsthand the impacts that the US/other highly developed nations have upon the great country of Guatemala, such as how the international desire for coffee and macadamia ends up leaving families with no choice other than to send their small children away from school to instead harvest these goods. Industrialization is stripping developing nations of their culture, resources, and general happiness. While I am no expert on economical relations between nations, I couldn’t help but crave to help these poor families who are suffering from the potential exploitation that is imposed by other countries or powers. Having the opportunity that STEP gave me to volunteer in Guatemala allowed me to fully realize my passions to help those who are less fortunate, or may have fallen victim and need help getting back on their feet.