Costa Rica Buck-I-Serv 2019

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Name: Kaelyn Harwick

Type of Project: Service-Learning

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

or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project


My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica during spring break of 2019. We traveled to a remote village, Piedras Blancas, stayed with families in their home and assisted them for 4 days on building a bridge for their community. This bridge, once finished, would be able to allow horses and ATV’s to cross a river. We completed a total of 30 hours of service.

  1. 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.

I learned how much I value peace, quiet, and alone time. I did not have access to my cell phone for most of the trip, which allowed me to get to know myself a little better. We had some physical challenges on the trip, including a 5-hour hike in 90-degree weather up many long hills. I learned how to mentally get myself through those few hours where I genuinely felt like I could pass out from the exhaustion. I learned that I’m more resilient/ braver than I thought because of this trip.

I also learned that the community we stayed with in Piedras Blancas was very self-sufficient. Living in the United States, we tend to think many other countries need “help” from us or assistance to get what they need. The people in this village have absolutely everything they need; they just live much simpler than we do. They are all so kind and happy, even after a hard day’s work. No one complains, and everyone puts their head down and works. They also don’t put pressure on themselves, like Americans tend to do. If anyone was complaining, it was me and my fellow group members. I would like to take this mindset and apply it to my everyday life.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP

Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in

#2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing

the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project

that led to this change/transformation.

Like I said above, everyone is so kind, welcoming, generous, and no one complains. They accept life as is and move forward. They solve problems that arise rather than dwelling on their existence. They don’t waste anything- I saw the father of my house reuse plastic bottles, bags, things that we would throw away after one use. The sustainability they have in this community is very admirable, and it’s influenced me to make a few changes in my life with regards to recycling, reusing, and not being wasteful.

Our trip guide, Carlos, was with us from beginning to end of this trip. He was so helpful, considerate, and comforting as we bombarded him with questions. Our first full day in Costa Rica, we had to hike 5 hours to Piedras Blancas, the village where we would work on our service project. Carlos warned our group the hike would be difficult, involving a very steep, long hill. 2 hours in, we got to this hill. It took me 40 minutes to get up this hill, and I genuinely thought I might pass out. It was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I had drank all my water, and my heart was pounding out of my chest. Carlos reminded us no to put pressure on ourselves, and this completely changed my attitude. I realized I had been competing with the group members in front of me in my mind, putting pressure on myself to go faster than I was able. He reminded me that we are all different people, with different strengths and abilities. This gave me more comfort as I began to pace myself more to finish the hill.

Because of that experience, I realized how much pressure I put on myself to do well, whether it be physically or mentally. I want to think more like Carlos, by being secure and comfortable in my own abilities by not comparing myself to others.

This trip and the members I was with encouraged me to try things I never thought I would do before. For example, I held a scorpion (the stinger was removed). I repelled down a waterfall, and I hiked that dreaded hill. I realized I was capable of way more physically than I thought.

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

life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or

development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or

professional goals and future plans.

              Learning when you’re pushing yourself past your physical limits and when you’re simply scared is such an important distinction to learn in life. This experience really helped me see when I was being afraid and when I needed to slow down, like on that hill. Living with the families in the village also made me realize how many unnecessary luxuries I have in my life that I don’t need at all. These people have everything they need, and they only rely on themselves. Even though I cannot adjust my entire life to live as they do, there are little things I intend on changing. For example, taking my time. No one is in a rush there, things happen when they happen. This goes back to putting too much pressure on myself- by learning how to take my time, I hope to decrease my general anxiety.

As a future Physician Assistant, I will be working with people from several different cultures. It will be my responsibility to provide the best care possible, as well as the best communication. Understanding others is something I feel I’m already good at since I’m a very empathetic person. Being mindful of other cultures is something we can all continue to learn, and this experience has helped me with just that. Being open-minded is important in life, your career, and when traveling. Having your patience tested while needing to work with others is also a challenge, one that I had to go through a few times on this trip. All of these trials, experiences have shaped me into a more confident, open-minded person, and I thank STEP from the bottom of my heart for helping me go on this amazing service project.


Costa Rica Buck-I-Serv

Name: Caitlin Hennessey

Type of Project: Service Learning

1. I traveled to Costa Rica for a Buck-I-Serv trip in partnership with the Outdoor Adventure Center. We hiked in the rainforest to Piedras Blancas, where we built the foundation of a bridge. Our adventure activities included rappelling down a waterfall, rafting the Rio Savegre, and learning how to surf.

2. The Buck-I-Serv trip was much more physically and mentally demanding than expected. While I thought I was in good shape, the first six-hour hike proved me wrong. The heat, humidity, and high elevation made the hike quite difficult, and I had to continue to push myself to finish the hike. The service work was also exhausting. We carried bags of dirt, rocks, and wooden planks up steep hills to the bridge foundations. I again had to be both physically and mentally strong to complete each work day. These activities showed me that I am stronger than I originally thought. I came back refreshed and ready to conquer the remainder of a very tough semester in chemical engineering.

I also learned about Costa Rican culture through the three different homestays on the trip. The Costa Ricans lived a much simpler life focused on spending time with their loved ones. Their lifestyle was more relaxed than my lifestyle back in the U.S. I want to implement this focus on quality time with others into my life. In addition, the Costa Ricans had a higher focus on sustainability. The families were able to live off their land, and they did not produce any waste. They had a higher respect of nature, as well. In comparison to the U.S., there was very little deforestation in the country. I now want to focus more on sustainability, and I hope to obtain a job improving sustainability in the energy or food industry.

3. Once we hiked to Piedras Blancas, we were split into groups based on our homestay. I, along with three others, stayed with a family for four nights. The family consisted of the parents, Luis and Liliana, and three children: Kymbrha (5), Isis (3), and Barham (1). The entire family only spoke Spanish. I was slightly nervous to stay with this family when I have no background in Spanish, but these nerves were quickly alleviated. We still found ways to communicate with each other. After each day of work, I would race and play tag with the girls in the front yard. In addition, Liliana taught us how to make tortillas and how to dance. Despite the language barrier, I felt very close to this family. It was hard saying goodbye to them on the last day.

This family lived in a small home without much technology. There were no mirrors in the home, and there was no reception to use cell phones. Instead, the family just spent lots of time enjoying each other’s company. The family also made us feel so welcomed. Liliana cooked delicious food for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time, and no one complained about their chores. This showed me that we live in a culture of excess back in the U.S. I want to focus on spending more time with friends and family, especially without cell phones. I also want to learn to complain less and appreciate everything I have.

In addition, the service work had a large impact on me. We started the foundation of a bridge that was previously destroyed in a tropical storm. There was none of the technology and machines that we would use to build a bridge in the U.S. Instead, we had to gather shovels of dirt and bags of rocks from the river to be used as the building bases. We also had to mix cement by hand rather than via a cement truck. Without the technology, this work was much slower and more physically demanding. Yet, none of the Costa Ricans complained.

After we had finished the service portion of our trip, everyone in Piedras Blancas was very appreciative of our work. Even though I originally thought we only did a small portion of the bridge, these people taught me that even small acts can make a difference. I am excited now to find volunteer work in the U.S.

4. The Costa Rican culture gave me insight on how I can grow both personally and professionally. During our strenuous hike, one of the tour guides told us that he never put pressure on himself. He knew somehow that he would always get through the challenges. I want to learn to not put as much pressure on myself and trust that I can finish my degree and find a job I enjoy. Furthermore, this trip showed me that I am much tougher than I thought. I want to use this willpower to stay motivated throughout my classes, internships, and full-time job. Finally, I want to work to help the U.S. become more sustainable like Costa Rica.


Name: Miranda Westrick

Type of Project: Service Learning

My STEP Signature Project was a Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica over spring break of 2019. The service we completed on this trip was assisting with a bridge building project in a rural community. The trip also partnered with Ohio State’s Outdoor Adventure Center to participate in activities such as hiking, rappelling, white water rafting, and surfing.

My trip to Costa Rica was very transformational. I was surprised that such a powerful experience could take place over the course of a single week. My trip changed my view or the world greatly. This experience showed me that a successful life can be defined in a variety of ways, especially across different cultures. My trip also transformed my opinion of nature. I have always loved the outdoors, and the beautiful country of Costa Rica made this glaringly obvious to me. I felt a sense of peace throughout the week that I have not felt in a long time. My trip was also a valuable lesson on disconnecting. I did not use electronics for the duration of my trip. Finally, my experience showed me the inherent commonalities between people, even between those that speak different languages.

My trip showed me that the definition of success is broad. In Costa Rica, many of the families appeared successful. They lived off the land they owned and seemed very happy. It reminded me that the American definition of success is not universal. I found this realization to be very comforting, particularly because I am preparing to apply to medical school. However, my new outlook on success has removed some of the pressure I feel regarding taking a defined path to traditional success.

The experiences I had in Costa Rica also helped grow my love of nature. The rural village we visited was very sustainable. Most of their food was grown in their backyards, water was retrieved from the nearby spring, and very little waste was generated. Additionally, Costa Rica’s government is extremely proactive about environmental protection. A large percentage of the country is preserved as national parks. I felt very at peace throughout our trip. On our first full day in Costa Rica we completed an 8-mile hike. This was one of the most challenging, but most beautiful hikes I have done. At the conclusion of the hike my body was tired, but my mind was clear. We also did activities including white water rafting, rappelling down a water fall, and surfing. Again, the environments we did these activities in took my breath away. I hope I have many more opportunities to spend this amount of time in nature.

This trip also gave me the opportunity to disconnect – no emails, texts, or checking Instagram for over a week! It was truly freeing to feel as though I had no responsibilities to tend to on my phone or computer. In my daily life, I feel like these devices require a significant amount of energy and are often a source of stress. Even when I had the opportunity to connect to WiFi on the bus or airport, I refrained from doing so. Connecting myself back to the digital world almost seemed like it might taint my experience. In my daily life, I’d like to use my devices less often.

Finally, I made deep connections on my trip, both with my classmates and with my host family. My favorite part of the trip was the homestays we did with local families. It was during this time that I truly came to understand the Tico culture. Each night we returned to our temporary home, growing extremely close to our new “family”. We helped prepare dinner in the kitchen and learned how to make tortillas and cheese along the way. Our dinners were full of conversation, and we learned so much about life in Costa Rica during our meals. Afterwards, we’d play a game of cards, laughing late into the night. Although we were different from our host family in many ways, we often found common ground.

This transformation is clearly personally valuable. The lesson I’ve describe so far will remain with me forever. However, they are also applicable to my future academic and professional goals. When I was in Costa Rica, we asked our tour guide how he climbed the mountain with such ease. He replied, “I take it one step at a time, and I put no pressure on myself.” This can be applied to my academic career. I will divide my big goals into manageable task to be completed one day at a time. Additionally, I will attempt to remove the internal pressures I place on myself as I accomplish these tasks. The homestays I did in Costa Rica also expanded my knowledge of a new culture and language. This will be important in my career as a physician because I will treat patients from a variety of cultures. Particularly, remembering to approach situations with cultural relativism will be important in making the right decisions with my patients.



Buck-I-SERV Habitat for Humanity – Taos, New Mexico

My STEP Signature Project to Taos, New Mexico with Buck-I-Serv involved working with Habitat for Humanity in order to help build the community of Taos. While there for one week, myself and nine other buckeyes acted as the main labor force on the construction site. We did anything from pouring a concrete sidewalk, to tiling a bathroom shower.

While on this trip, two major aspects about myself were changed. One thing that  changed was my view of the world and its cultures. Before going on this trip, I had always thought that in order to experience the many cultures of the world that I had to travel abroad outside of the United States in order to do this. I started traveling when I was a senior in high school, and since then I have been to six countries outside of the US. I have actually traveled more outside of the United States, than I have traveled within them. After visiting New Mexico, I realized that I do not need to travel thousands of miles to experience new culture. Being in Taos and traveling through Albuquerque and Santa Fe opened my eyes to the Native American and Pueblo cultures that we have right here at home.

The second thing that changed about me was my assumption that people living in the United States who did have adequate housing simply did not have good enough jobs or education in order to afford them. Habitat has been building in Taos for the last twenty-five years due to the gap between the average home price and the household median income. After the Taos Valley Ski Resort moved in during the late twentieth century, property values sky rocketed. As a result, the citizens who had always called Taos home, some generations for the past four-hundred years, were no longer able to afford their homes. The house I was working on was for a resident named Mariam. She is the assistant director for a mental health agency, working full time, and was still not able to afford her own home. I knew the affordable housing crisis in the United States was a big issue, this trip just helped me understand the causes behind that issue.

Interactions with the native culture of the area through person-to-person communication and exploring the landscape led to my transformation that I did not have to travel outside of the United States in order to experience a new culture. Driving from Albuquerque on our way to Taos, we stopped in Santa Fe. Being the capital of New Mexico, I expected Santa Fe to be more like the larger cities that are state capitals in the Midwest. Santa Fe was nothing what I expected. Had someone dropped me off in the middle of Santa Fe without giving me any information on where I was, I would never have guessed that I was still in the United States. The architecture of the buildings and layout of the city was something that I had never experienced in the states before.

Talking the people who lived in the area also aided in my transformation. For starters, the citizens of Taos are some of the nicest and most personable people that I have ever met. They are so willing to tell you about their culture, city and lifestyles. Scattered around New Mexico are small towns called Pueblos that are the home to people who settled on the land thousands of years ago. When they are not celebrating cultural festivals, they open their towns and homes to outsiders. One OSU alumna that I was talking to in Taos said that the Pueblo people actually opened up their home to him and his wife and invited them in for dinner.

My second transformation was a result of talking with Mariam, the homeowner whose house we were building. Mariam was a single mother of two children who had moved from Texas to Taos because of the beauty of the landscape. Mariam had no problem supporting herself and her children in Texas. However, when she moved to New Mexico it was a different story. Even though she is the assistant director at a mental health agency, she cannot afford her own home. Hearing her story about how she is working full time at a job that she is very passionate about and has yet to own her home in Taos was heartbreaking. Her story opened up my eyes to the fact that there are other reasons the affordable housing crisis is a problem in America, such as rising property values due to tourism as is the case in Taos.

These changes and transformations that I have underwent as a result of this trip have been significant to my life because they offer me a new way to think about and view the world in which I am living. Being a biology major, I often times think that the problems in this world have concrete answers that can be proven by facts. If this trip has done anything it has taught me that this is definitely not the case. The world is more complex; it is full of problems that have multiple answers or no answers at all. Moving forward from here, I plan on keeping this more holistic and open view about the world in which we all live in.

2019 Spring Break Costa Rica

Name: Anna Rosenthal

Type of Project: Serving Learning

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
    1. My STEP Signature Project was a week-long service and adventure project that took place in Costa Rica, more specifically, Piedras Blancas. Over the course of the week, we participated in homestays, helped the local community begin their construction of a new bridge, and partook in various outdoor adventure activities, such as surfing and white water rafting.
  2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
    1. This 9-day trip was transformational. I could sense a change taking place in myself as well as the rest of the group throughout the duration of our time in Costa Rica. My understanding of myself and of the world was deepened and developed.

From a personal standpoint, I realized a newfound mental strength, the reward of jumping into uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations, and the peace that comes with disconnecting from technology. We completed difficult hikes, participated in homestays, and didn’t use our phones during the week, all of which changed and enhanced my understanding of myself.

Regarding my worldview, I realized that while this was a service trip, we were not the only ones doing the serving. The locals that we met and stayed with through the trip were incredibly kind, generous, compassionate, and accepting of us. We were helping with a community project, but they tended to all our other needs. While we were useful as an extra set of hands, our help was not completely necessary. We were not heroes coming in to help those less fortunate than us. We were incredibly lucky that this group of people accepted us into their community for the week. The service, learning, and respect that was present among our Buck-I-Serv group and the locals created quick, strong bonds among all of us. It was a truly eye-opening experience.

  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?
    1. We completed an extremely difficult hike the first day of the trip, a task I initially would have shied away from, but upon completion, I felt a new sense of accomplishment and confidence. It felt incredible to prove to myself that I was capable of completing a physically challenging and mentally demanding task.

Our two group leaders, Jesus and Carlos, could not have done a better job facilitating the trip. They were our friends, our guides, and our family. We could have serious conversations, joke around, and work together on different parts of the service activities or throughout the adventure activities. Their openness and approachability, desire to challenge and educate our group, and honesty and compassion made them incredible group leaders. They made long, hot work days, homestays where few people spoke any English at all, and difficult white water rafting routes enjoyable, educational, and meaningful.

The host families that we stayed with for most the trip were incredibly welcoming, generous, and compassionate. Some of the most impactful moments on the trip were when I was sitting around the dinner table with my host family talking about our lives. It was during moments like these that I realized the peace that comes with just being in good company and a beautiful place with no technology. I felt truly present, rather than distracted by my phone or worrying about any other responsibilities. It was also when I realized they were serving me, by sharing their experiences, their culture, and their homes, just as I was serving them, by helping build a bridge for their community.

Finally, the students and leaders that came from Ohio State also enhanced the changes taking place among all of us. It was amazing to be on trip with a group of people undergoing a similar transformation. We could talk about how we were being impacted as well as listen to the changes others were experiencing as well. Being able to talk about our thoughts and feelings as a group led to personal reflection and deeper group connection.

  1. What is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
    1. During the most difficult hike of our trip, I was walking with one of our leaders, Carlos. When we reached the top of the hill, we were exhausted. A group of us were asking Carlos how often he does this hike, and he said several times a month. We were shocked. We asked him what his secret was and he just shrugged and said, “I just keep going. I don’t put any pressure on myself. I just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.”

This lesson Carlos taught us is applicable to every part of my life. I always hold myself to high standards and tend to put more pressure on myself than necessary. I am always worried about how I am going to finish all my work for the week, when I am going to find a job, and when I am going to make time to see my friends. However, there is no need to micromanage life and worry about the details. We just have to keep going. In every aspect of my life, I want to set a reasonable end goal and believe that I have the experience, knowledge, and support around me necessary to make it there.

Carlos’s response ties together many of the areas that I grew and developed in during my trip. Going without technology, living with a foreign host family, and embarking on a difficult hike were all unfamiliar and uncomfortable experiences. However, we put one foot in front of the other and just kept going. I am going to placed in a host of other uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations throughout my life. However, now I know there is no pressure, I just need to keep moving forward and I will make it to where I want to go.

Buck-I-SERV Guatemala

Name: Annmarie Brady

Type of Project: Service-Learning

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

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Guatemala with eleven other Ohio State students for a Buck-I-SERV trip. We worked with Constru Casa, a non-profit organization located in Guatemala, whose main goal is to provide basic housing for Guatemalan’s living in inadequate housing. We worked with local masons, other volunteers from around the world, and the Guatemalan families to accomplish this goal. As a team, we built three houses for three families in San Miguel, Guatemala. During our free time, we explored Guatemala, learned more about the culture and the people, and even met with an OSU alumna who lives in Guatemala.

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

This STEP experience was eye-opening, rewarding, impactful, overwhelming, and an overall amazing experience. I learned many things about myself, new ideas, and the world around me throughout my week in Guatemala. My two main takeaways are the power of human connection and opportunity. Throughout the week, I constantly was reminded of the importance and power of human connection. Despite differences in culture, language, background, etc., human connection is possible and why we are all here. Over my trip, I was able to overcome certain barriers and connect with many people different from me and where I come from, hear their stories, and learn from them.

Like the families we worked with on our trip, more than half of the people living in Guatemala live in poverty. Seeing the conditions and opportunities available to them, compared to the conditions I live in and the opportunities available to me, I couldn’t help but wonder why I am given so much in my life. This experience helped me come to a better realization of how not everyone is given the same opportunities in life. I am grateful of everything in my life and I will use the opportunities given to me to make a difference.

  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?

Reflecting on my STEP Signature Project, there are many people and experiences that I immediately think of as impactful throughout my week abroad. Daniel, the son in the family we helped built a house with, is sixteen years old. When he was two, he got sick and stopped growing and as a result, is non-verbal. He is the happiest boy and his smile is contagious. He enjoyed taking pictures, showing us his toys, trying on sunglasses, and watching us build the house. Despite him being nonverbal and me speaking a language completely foreign to him, we were still able to connect. Connecting with him, despite some barriers, was so special.

During the week, we had the evenings free to explore Guatemala. One night, we met with an OSU alumna, Ray, and her husband, Jack. They opened their home to all twelve of us and we got to spend an evening eating and talking with them. They are two amazing human beings and they shared many stories with us. Living in Guatemala for over twenty years, they had a lot to share. Jack, who served in the Peace Corps for many years and is very involved in the community, shared some pieces of advice. One thing that he said, and I will never forget, was, “With not for; cooperation not help.” Jack emphasized that we should remember these two things when volunteering or any work we do in our lives. We should be working with individuals and groups and not for them. We should cooperate with the individuals or group and instead of doing all the work for them.

Before we started at the work site, we spoke with Keith, a volunteer coordinator who works for Constru Casa. He told us about the families we would be working with, an overview of their living conditions, and more background information on the organization. He explained to us that many of the families living in San Miguel, Guatemala have a monthly income of about $150. Many of the homes they live in have tin walls and roofs and dirt floors, which are horrible to have during their long rainy season. The father of my house worked with us the entire time to build the house. He was so hardworking and never took breaks. After hearing the situations Keith told us about and witnessing how hardworking the father is, my eyes were opened to how not everyone is given the same opportunities in life and how this can completely change someone’s situation.

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

In my STEP Proposal, I focused on how service has always been important in my life and has been something I want to continue doing my entire life through my future career. This experience reinforced this plan of mine. Although I am still unsure how I exactly want this to look like as a career, this experience helped me realize that I enjoy working with and find it natural to connect with many different types of people. As mentioned above, wherever life takes me after graduation next year, I will never take opportunities for granted and use the opportunities I am given to make the world a better place for others.

Costa Rica

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. My STEP project was a BuckIserv trip to Costa Rica. On this trip we did service for a small town in Costa Rica, and various activities such as whitewater rafting, and surfing.
  2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? I have been out of the country before, but only to England and Canada, so this trip was the first time that I truly experienced a drastically different culture. It was cool to learn all about the similarities and differences between life in Costa Rica, and the US. I was surprised to see that even in the remote town that we visited, they still had cable, smartphones, and social media. I also thought a lot about traveling to different countries, and how the trip that you take can affect your perception of that country. I appreciated my trip to Costa Rica, but our experience might not have been representative of the way the whole country operates, due to the fact that we were in such a small, remote area. I would love to go back to a more established portion of Costa Rica and compare the cultures of the two areas.
  3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation. 

The fact that we stayed in such a remote area was definitely a big part of what made this a transformative experience. We had two guides, who grew up and lived in the area. Learning from someone who grew up there was really impactful. They were able to answer any and all questions that we had throughout the trip. I also enjoyed how we got to ask the homestay families questions at the end of each night. We truly got to learn about the culture straight from the source which was a cool experience. 

The people that were on the trip with me also made a really big impact on the success of the trip. In general, we all were ready for any challenge, and all got along really well. Both the faculty and student leader were very helpful in getting us all through the trip. Our leaders held daily reflections that really made us think about our experience, which helped to make the trip more impactful. 

The adventure aspects of the trip also made it transformative. The trip was definitely a lot more physical than I expected. I like to hike, and I am very active, but the physicality of the trip was a challenge. The hike that we did on the first day of the trip was very intense. It definitely gave me a perspective on how difficult backpacking actually is. I would love to do a true backpacking trip one day, and this gave me an idea of what really goes in to that. 

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans. 

I have always seen pictures and heard about service trips, but I have never experienced one. Now I have first hand experience, and know what it is like to travel abroad, and serve in the community. I also had the opportunity to try many things that were on my bucket list. One thing that I would have done differently if I could choose my STEP signature project again would be to choose a project where the service is more relevant to my educational and career goals. I hope to be a PA, so doing a service trip with a health care focus would have been a very cool experience. That being said, I still did get to experience my first service trip, which achieved my basic goals. 

Service and Community Learning- Buck-I-Serv in NOLA

For my STEP signature project, I went to New Orleans with a Buck-I-Serv team. While there, we stayed in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area that was particularly affected by Hurricane Katrina and was never given the opportunities to recover like their more affluent counterparts. Our goal was to work on the home that was being rebuilt for one of the victims of the hurricane. During our time, we learned a ton about craftsmanship and what it actually takes to build a house, but more about the human spirit. The residents of the Lower Ninth Ward are not bitter or angry that they were left behind during the rebuild of New Orleans, but rather hopeful for the future. They want to see changes that prevent this kind of tragedy in the future and are looking forward to seeing their homes and city restored to their former beauty.

Originally, I was worried that I would feel guilt for showing up in a city I didn’t know and not being able to contribute to its restoration. As a Public Health and Anthropology major, I understand the threat of volun-tourism and desperately wanted to avoid that. In the end, we did work that I was satisfied with and truly felt helped the family whose home we worked on.

Mary, the woman who owned the house that we worked on, was on site every day, arms open for hugs and hands ready for building. I learned that she was a retired hairdresser who was currently living across the river with her son while her home was being raised back on the ground that it had formerly stood. She explained that the effects of Hurricane Katrina could have been avoided, it just happened within the perfect storm. The damage was truly caused by the exact right conditions lining up to create horrible destruction. The organization that we worked within, was AMAZING. They operate out of a small house where the volunteers meet every day before heading to various sites. We baked Christmas cookies for every family that worked with them on a day that it was too rainy to work, which helped to solidify what an amazingly tight-knit community the Lower Ninth Ward is.

On-site, I helped to install eleven windows, three doors, and siding. While it is no easy task to not only learn how to use power tools on the job, but actually construct a house when you’ve never so much as built a bookshelf, it was so much fun. Our lead contractor- Darren, made us feel like we had always been a part of the team and like we were capable. His confidence in us reflected in our confidence in our work and led to us accomplishing so much during that week. Darren has kept in touch and sent us progress pictures as the house gets closer and closer to completion. Knowing that we had a part in that is truly amazing.

The change that I saw in myself, was a humbling towards what truly matters. The Lower Ninth Ward has so little and was given basically no help and I know that I would be angry. I am angry for them. But the people of the Lower Ninth Ward do not want anger and pity. They want change in policy that will stop something like the damage of Hurricane Katrina from happening again, and to move on with their lives. I learned the expanses of human grace, and my skills with a circular saw.

Moving forward, I can’t wait to apply what I have learned academically, as Hurricane Katrina and its effects on housing are definitely a public health issue and similar to ones that I may encounter professionally. I also will carry a demand for the best care in policy to ALL of my fellow humans as I move forward and hopefully find myself in a place to evoke changes in policy. I also feel a personal shift in my world view. Nothing is as bad as it seems so long as you maintain hope.