Buck-I-Serve: Guatemala

Jake Lim

Service Learning – Constru Casa

I went to Antigua, Guatemala to help build homes in San Miguel. We worked with Constru Casa, an organization that helps build homes for families who have a low income and live in bad houses. We worked with professional masons to build houses by cutting holes in blocks, and making cement.

I had very little experience outside of the United States. I didn’t really understand other cultures aside from learning about them in school. I quickly learned that the differences between learning about a culture and experiencing them are incredibly different. The culture shock made me realize how different the world really is compared to how I imagine it and see it in the news. The families I helped build the house with didn’t have much, but they were still happy and very grateful of the help. Seeing and helping these families made me comprehend just how privileged I am, but this experience made me want to do more for others and understand them and their culture.

One of the key experiences I had on the trip was trying the different foods in Guatemala. I was astounded that I liked most of the food I ate in Guatemala. I went there with the expectation that my dislike of peppers and tomatoes were going to hinder me. Unsurprisingly, many of the dishes I had in Guatemala contained peppers or tomatoes, but I was astounded that I still liked the dishes. The dishes were prepared in ways that didn’t overwhelm you with one certain flavor, but rather several subtle flavors. I realized that I just didn’t like how strong the flavors are in tomatoes and peppers. In essence, the food changed my previous thoughts on food, and made me think about the subtle differences between America and Guatemala.

Another key experience was building the house for a family. I was accustomed to hard work. I’ve dug in dirt, hammered nails into wood, used screwdrivers and other tasks. I’ve never worked with cement though. We used hatchets to cut holes in cement blocks and made cement using a wheel-barrow and a plow. These tasks were incredibly draining, and I couldn’t do them very well most of the time. My idea of building a house involves a lot of machinery, but building this house made me learn just how tough the masons were. They made all of the work look effortless, but I struggled every day. I couldn’t believe how hard and quickly they worked using their hands, shovels and hatchets. Their work ethic and toughness made me rethink how I need to approach duties in my own life especially when I feel lazy.

Another key experience I had was my interactions with the people there. Many of the people I met were very friendly. The couple whose house we stayed in were parental figures for me and the other volunteers. The families we helped were all kind and helpful. They really weren’t different from people in America. Although I’ve heard a lot of talk about people trying to divide others into groups, I learned that most people are very similar. Even though there are different cultures and attitudes, most people are still friendly and kind.

This development is important for my future plans because I will need to understand people with so many different backgrounds. As a pre-medicine student, I aspire to become a doctor. An important part of being a doctor is meeting and talking with many people. All people don’t have the same background and experiences. I will need to be able to acknowledge the cultural differences not only people from different countries, but also in America. The different environments and histories lead to different attitudes that I will have to appreciate and acknowledge. Most importantly, I will still have to remember that they are still people, and not very different from myself despite the different cultures.



Buck-I-Serve: Constru Casa in Guatemala

Aja Simms

Service Learning- Constru Casa in Guatemala

  1. I traveled to Guatemala and went to the town of San Miguel to perform my service project. We worked with the organization Constru Casa, which works to build and provide housing for low income families in Guatemala. From Monday to Friday, we would spend 7 hours a day performing various tasks that would assist the masons in building the house. I would mix and pour concrete, dig trenches, hammer holes in cinder blocks, etc.
  2. I thought my views of the world were pretty sound and I thought I had a good grip on my values and beliefs. Trips like the one I took to Guatemala is proof that you are never done learning and evolving. I found myself thinking so much about my life and how I fit into this world and how I ended up with the life that I did. Seeing how other people live outside of America gave me so much perspective. I learned to be more in tune with the people in my life and the opportunities I’ve been given. I have been born into this life of privilege and opportunity and I should use it to not only benefit myself but the world around me. I want to dedicate my life to helping others advocate for themselves because I discovered on this trip that advocacy is such an important value in my life.
    1. One event that has led to the transformation I have experienced was the building of the house. Building the house was a very exhausting experience and I left the work site so sore many days. The work I did in comparison with the masons, who do this type of work all the time, was so minimal and when us as volunteers would take breaks, they would work straight through. The work ethic of the masons was incredible to watch because they just did what needed to be done. I think in my life I can get very lazy and unmotivated to do the daily tasks put before me but these people were ready to go at all times. They did what they needed to do simply because it needed to be done. This work ethic and way of life is something that I strongly admire and will try to implement in my own life.
    2. Another interaction that will change my life forever is the interactions that I had with the family I worked with. They had a 1 year old baby living with them, along with several other children who were just in and out of the house they were staying in. In total there was about 6 or 7 of them living between 2 bedrooms. The houses they were staying in had no concrete floors and most of their belongings were sitting on dirt floors. Despite not having a lot of space and not having a lot of electricity and water, they were such a happy family. Their sense of family and connection was so strong and they would spend the days just hanging out together and enjoying the company of family. It made me think that we look down on these people saying they’re poor and unfortunate but they are rich in other ways like their culture and relationships. There is no right way to live, it’s not wrong, it’s just different.
    3. Lastly, I learned a lot from the couple we stayed with and the people on my trip. The couple we stayed with was Elvira and Enrique and they were some of  the most kind and welcoming people I had ever met. They taught me so much about Guatemalan culture but also so much about accepting people for who they are. They interact with so many students that stay at their house and they embrace us as if we are their kids. They take such good care of us and made us feel at home in such a foreign place. They taught me that you should radiate kindness because you never know who may need it.
  3. This transformation was important for me to learn more about myself. This trip made me think more about myself and how I fit into the world. I learned that even though I come from a low income family, I was still born to a family that makes income in America. Being born in this country offers a lot of privilege in of itself. No not everything is perfect here, but at the end of the day I have a comfortable roof over my head and food to eat, which is a struggle that some people face every single day. Not just in Guatemala but all over the world. This trip made me realize that I want to dedicate my life to helping others. I think I get so caught up in  my career path of wanting to be a pharmacist and think of helping people in that specific career field, that I never stop to think on an everyday basis of how I can just help people in general. I want to lead a life that is more meaningful and that will not only benefit me but others as well.

Buck-I-Serv Costa Rica

For my STEP Project I went to Costa Rica over Spring Break with Buck-I-Serv. On our trip we hiked to the small village of Piedras Blancas and stayed in homestays with the families there while helping to rebuild a bridge that was washed away last year in a storm. The work was lots of carrying rocks, sand, and dirt up from the river to help fill in the holes for the bridge tower and anchor. After three and a half days of service, we hiked back out of Piedras Blancas and spent our final two days white water rafting and then surfing in the Pacific Ocean.

Going into the trip, I honestly had no idea what to actually expect out of the homestay experience and what life was going to be like in Piedras Blancas. I knew that the service part was going to be great, but I completely underestimated how the family we stayed with would affect me. I stayed in a house with a family of four – the parents Alicia and Patrocenia, and their children Ashley and Misael – and three other girls from our trip. I had only a small working knowledge of Spanish from my last high school Spanish class three years ago, but it didn’t even matter. The family was so incredibly welcoming of all of us and went out of their way to make sure we were having an amazing time, despite the language difference. And although they didn’t have all of the material things that I have here in the US – they only had three lights in their entire house and they had no kitchen appliances besides a wood burning stove – they were so happy. 

Our host family

Because of all of this, I would say the thing that transformed about myself from this trip was just my recognition that the people I surround myself with are the most important thing in my life. I can strip away all the material things from my life and I’ll be left with my friends and family, and those people are really what will make me happy. The people in Piedras Blancas were so caring of each other, whether they were related or not, and I never want to lose sight of that in my own life. I want to cultivate my relationships and always remember that people are what matter, not things.

Some of the moments during the trip that helped me to really realize this transformation in my thought were the hike to Piedras Blancas, the nights we spent playing soccer, and when we finally made it to the Pacific Ocean.

The hike was 8 miles long, and extremely difficult. In the middle of it there was a section nicknamed the Gringo Killer, which was about one and a half miles straight uphill, and it was terrible. I had never experienced something so physically and mentally difficult, but I was lucky enough to have two of my best friends with me. At one point I sat down and told them that I was going to give up and couldn’t go on anymore, and Julia and Kassidie literally got me up and kept me going, and when we completed the hike I had never felt so proud of myself, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of the people around me.

Kassidie and I after the Gringo Killer

In Piedras Blancas, there was a little soccer field and each night we were there we went out and played soccer with our family and the family from the other house near us. I’m a terrible soccer player, and I was always exhausted from a long day of work, but it was still so fun to be out there playing soccer with a mixture of children, college kids, and adults, half from America and half from Costa Rica. It was especially cool to see how the family I was playing with all got out there and played soccer together and bonded over such a simple thing. It definitely helped me to realize that I don’t need much to bond with the people I love, and I want to do more of that going forward.

Finally, after all the work, sweat, and hiking, we made it to the Pacific Ocean on our last night in Costa Rica. There were genuinely times that I didn’t think I was going to make it to the part of the trip where we got to see the ocean, so to walk out on to the beach at sunset with my old and new friends was an incredible experience that literally brought tears to my eyes. It just solidified the fact that the people on by side are what matter, whether I’m in Costa Rica or at home.


This change is important because at all points of my life, whether I’m in school or out working in the real world, it will be important to respect and appreciate the people around me. It is a mindset that can only bring me good, and I want to continue to cultivate my appreciativeness and gratefulness for my colleagues, professors, friends, family, and everyone who makes a positive impact in my life. Obviously I cared about those around me before I went on this trip, but I’m extremely grateful for the people of Piedras Blancas and the OSU students on the trip for showing me again and again me that people truly are what matters in life.

Costa Rica Buck-I-Serv

Julia Galasso

Service Project

1.) My STEP Signature Project was the Spring Break Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica. It involved living in a tiny village, and helping the local people build a bridge that had been destroyed by a flood the previous year.

2.) When in Costa Rica, our large group split up into smaller groups and stayed with families in the village. I think this particular part of the experience was the most different for me. Our family was so lovely and so genuinely happy, even though they lacked a lot of things that most Americans would consider “standard”. They didn’t have a fridge, AC, windows, mattresses, etc., which absolutely made the week very different from one I’ve ever experienced. But despite the massive differences, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was not uncomfortable in the new experience. I am so glad I was able to have such a new experience! Beforehand, I probably would have assumed that people without these modern conveniences would want them, but they were not lacking for anything at all. The whole village was completely self-sufficient and had all the resources necessary to maintain their lives. I was amazed, and surprised to find this, and this revelation altered my world view for sure. This also informed my view of myself: I know that I can be so happy with so few material possessions. As long as I have food, a place to sleep, and a purpose, I’ll be happy.

3.) Every morning and afternoon, we were working at the construction site just a few minutes away from the village. Before this trip, I knew absolutely nothing about construction or anything that goes into it. But being involved in a very hands-on manner with the construction process, and all the minor steps that go into the project, helped me to understand how much time these projects take. We worked with quite a small group of men on the site, but they were so efficient and strong that they were able to teach us quickly (despite the language barrier) how to do tasks in the easiest way. Our daily interactions at the site were some of the best parts of the day. Even though we were all scorching in the sun doing intense physical labor, we always managed to laugh and have a good time.

After work everyday, even though we were all beyond tired, we all came together to play soccer. The village had its own field with goal posts carved from tree trunks. The field itself sat literally in the middle of the rain forest, and was absolutely beautiful. It was clearly the pride of everyone that lived there, and for good reason— it was amazing! The games were fun, but also super competitive, especially when both parents and kids played. It was insanely fun although absolutely draining to play with everyone. For me, it was for sure a highlight of the trip. It reminded me that making time to do genuinely fun activities is so important!

The most key part of our Costa Rican experience was that every meal was homemade and we always sat down all together with the family. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner- we regrouped and had a lovely and delicious meal together. In my life growing up, it was rare for my family to eat a meal together everyday (even dinner), and so I thoroughly enjoyed this experience where family meals were essential and absolutely the only option. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of catching up with everyone at every meal. Furthermore, I enjoyed when making the meal with our host family was also part of the experience.

Overall, I learned the most through my constant personal interactions with all the local people. I enjoyed learning about living in a completely different environment especially since it included a lot of things that are lacking in my life.

4.) The most important thing I learned during this experience is to not assume that you know anything about someone’s life. Until you live in someone’s house, eat with them, and work with them, you really don’t know anything about their life! And the immersive part of the trip really allowed me to challenge my assumptions and prior judgements and really understand that a life lived differently is not inherently worse, and it might just offer a lot of things that my life lacks. I also learned that finding common ground is always possible despite language and cultural differences. This lesson in particular will serve me very well in my future as a physician. Helping patients feel at ease by connecting to them on any level is a vital skill in caring for patients.

Buck-I-Serv Costa Rica: STEP Reflection

Mallory McMurray

Service Learning and Community Service

During spring break, we traveled with Buck-i-serv and the OSU Outdoor Adventure Center to Costa Rica and spent a week doing service in the Piedras Blancas community. Between exploring the country, we helped to start the foundations of building a bridge. We also experienced Costa Rican culture through homestays.

The biggest transformation I experienced was learning about the lifestyle and mentality of those we stayed with in Piedras Blancas. While doing service work, the workers who guided us through the project never complained and never stopped working hard. Everyone had such a selfless, caring attitude and everyone seemed so genuinely happy all the time. Because of the service work we did, I learned so much about myself and pushing myself to persevere more and become more disciplined in all kinds of tasks and aspects of life. I never once missed using my phone or social media- life seemed better when everything was done by people along with one another. I enjoyed cooking food, relaxing outside in nature, and just being content to sit peacefully with one another and admire the beautiful scenery around us.


The first time I really felt challenged during the trip was when we were taking a long, all-day hike to get to the village of Piedras Blancas. The sun was extremely hot, and my body felt exhausted; however, our guides made me feel so encouraged to keep going, focus on the positives, and never give up. This become a theme through the week once we began our service project: working hard and being happy about what we had. Working hard and not giving up until the job was done not only made me feel good, but it also helped for us to inspire one another as a team to keep going. Although the sun and temperatures were hot and exhausting in a way that our bodies were not used to, everyone kept going and encouraged one another. The Costa Rican people truly inspired all of us to learn about their discipline and perseverance and adopt these principles into our own lifestyles.

Additionally, living with host families and overcoming the language barrier made me learn a lot about different lifestyles. I learned a lot about how the families constantly helped one another, without even giving it a second thought. Everyone was truly content with working together and enjoying one another’s company. I came to truly appreciate the lifestyle of the family we stayed with, because the simplicity allowed for everyone to focus so much more on the joyful things through each day. I also enjoyed experiencing different foods, and I feel that I expanded my palate a lot during the week we were there. Through helping prepare meals, I enjoyed experiencing the food aspect of their culture also.

Now that I have been back from this trip for a few weeks, I find that some of the changes that took place during this trip have been lasting. I am much more able to focus on tasks at hand and not worry about checking my phone or other distractions. I feel much more prepared to work hard to complete something, and then enjoy my time after that. Whenever I think that something is too hard, I think back to our days in the hot sun, carrying heavy planks or rocks like we did to build the bridge and remember how much I am capable of. The trip re-inspired me greatly to work hard on everything I do and appreciate the simple joys of life.


The transformation was most valuable to my life because I finally experienced a culture outside of what I experience every day in the US. Not only did I learn a lot about myself and take away the aforementioned skills to use every day, but I learned a lot about the people who lived there and those who traveled there with me. Most importantly, I discovered that I am really capable of pushing myself beyond boundaries that I think I have while working. I can continue and persevere so much with the right amount of discipline, yet still feel so happy. I find that this change in myself and my abilities will continue to carry through in my schoolwork and help me achieve goals in my professional field of dentistry one day. I will continue to work hard, yet not expect anything grandiose in life- truly, all you need is accomplishments of your goals and friends and family to share this with.

Antigua, Guatemala/Buck-I-SERV

Name: Hannah Schlegel

Project: Service Learning

For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to go on a service learning trip to Antigua, Guatemala through Buck-I-SERV.  This trip involved hiking up Pacaya Volcano, swimming in Lake Atitlan, exploring Antigua and various other Guatemalan villages, and most importantly building three homes for three different families in a village known as San Miguel, Guatemala.

Before I went on this trip, I looked at the world through a small lens. I had never been out of the country before and have never experienced a culture so different from my own. I did not know what to expect upon arriving to Guatemala, but I knew that it would change my life in some way. On this trip, I realized that no matter the barriers there are between two different cultured people, we are all human and all have similarities. It is easy to think that people who speak a different language, dress differently, or live their lives differently are not like you, but that is far from the truth. By interacting with the people in Guatemala, I found that they are extraordinary, loving people. They all love to smile and laugh the same way that I do and they work harder than I ever could.

Working side by side with the local masons who could only speak Spanish, allowed me to communicate in different ways. It was a challenge at first, but after learning a few basic words from the first day, I could catch on faster to what they wanted us to do. A lot of our communication was through pointing and demonstrating, which ended up working very well. The masons and the family members were all very hardworking people and barley ever took a break. I was amazed of their work ethic and how they can accomplish so much in a small amount of time.

The families that we were building for through an organization known as Constru Casa, were families that lived off of about $140 a month. They did not have much, but they lived their lives to the fullest and were very appreciative of us twelve OSU students volunteering our time to help them change their lives completely. The house we built may seem simple, but to them it will impact and better their lives more than we will ever know. They now have a concrete floor, sturdy walls to protect them, and a newly, functioning bathroom attached to the main structure of the house. Before we left the work site, we had a ribbon cutting ceremony and said our goodbyes to our three families. They were full of love and joy and were beyond excited to move into their new home. It was sad leaving because I felt that we had connected with our family, even though there was a language barrier.

While coming back to the United States, I realized something that I had never realized before. I realized that I love helping others and working side by side with new people. Volunteering and helping others has always been a part of my life, but this feeling was different. This feeling was a combination of wanting to do service for the rest of my life or wanting to be a bigger part of an organization that revolves around service. I am still in awe by the trip and am still trying to figure out how I will complete that void of wanting to be a part of service for the rest of my life, but that is what I will need to figure out in the rest of my college career.

This experience transformed me in ways that I was not expecting. Going to Guatemala, has made me want to look more into Doctors Without Borders and look into their physical therapy services. I am planning on applying to Physical Therapy school this summer and will want to know what my options are for volunteering abroad and continue to help people all around the world. I am so thankful that I chose Service Learning as my STEP Project and even more thankful and happy that it was to Antigua, Guatemala with twelve other OSU students. I will never forget this experience and how it changed me as a person.

Costa Rica/Buck-I-Serv Trip

Name: Stephanie Cox

Project: Service Learning

My STEP project was an international Buck-I-SERV trip to Costa Rica that was also partnered with the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC). For the service part of this trip, we helped construct a bridge in the community of Piedras Blancas which had been taken out by water surges from tropical storm Nate in 2017. For the adventure part of this trip, we hiked, waterfall repelled, white water rafted, and learned how to surf.

Before this trip, I was a little nervous to go into a new country barely knowing the language or culture. However, as soon as we got there, I felt very welcomed and comfortable with the people there. On this trip, the small community that we served in had no service and so the people who lived there didn’t really have much technology. However, it didn’t even seem like they wanted technology, they were happy with their lifestyle and didn’t need it. Before this trip, I couldn’t really imagine what life would be like without technology, but I got to experience it for a few days while living with this community. I can honestly say, I loved it so much. I love the lifestyle they embraced. They were so into nature, their community, and just living in the moment. The common Costa Rican slogan “Pura Vida” which translates to “Pure Life” really captures this whole lifestyle.

The people in that small community were such happy and carefree people. This really showed me how important it is to appreciate nature and community/people around you. This also showed me what it is like to really be present in the moment. I really saw how they lived “Pura Vida” and learned some ways to keep living that way in my own life even after this trip.

Staying in our home-stays had a big effect on my transformation on this trip. I got to see and live their way of life. I also got to interact with them in Spanish which has greatly improved my Spanish. I got to eat their food, which is all very fresh foods. They have their own animals for meat and they grow their own fruits. They would just go right outside to grab some fruit. They had rice and beans for every meal. They don’t have to go buy food at the store very often. They barely used electricity, they tended to go to bed when it got dark around 8pm and woke up when it got light around 5am. Everyone in the house was very carefree and go with the flow. They were so welcoming to us, they would always wait for us to eat before they would eat. It was really amazing to see all this and compare it to my lifestyle.

Another activity that contributed to my transformation was the service. We were building a bridge that was taken out from tropical storm Nate in 2017. This bridge had to be big enough for horses and jeeps to go across. I could see how much it meant to this little community of 25 people that we were helping them build this bridge. Building this bridge was very hard work, because we were lifting lots of heavy bags of sand and rocks and filling big holes for the anchors and stands of the bridge. On top of this, it was very hot and the sun was way more intense than we were used to in Ohio. However, I enjoyed it the whole time because of how grateful all the community members were. They also helped us the whole time and made sure we had what we needed.

A third contribution to my transformation was all the outdoor adventures we did. The hikes we did were pretty hard, because it was very hot, they were pretty long, and there were a lot of up-hills. Our trip leaders from Costa Rica stayed with us the whole time and had the mindset of just taking our time and we get there when we get there. They go by what is called “Tico Time”, which is a way of just taking your time and not worrying about being late. This really showed us to appreciate the nature around us and just relax and take our time. We also went waterfall repelling, white water rafting, and surfing. These all went into appreciating nature as well as pushing ourselves. All of the activities we did were pretty physically challenging, but it was so much fun being in nature and hanging out with the people living in Costa Rica that we didn’t even realize how hard we were working until we were sore the next day.

This transformation has a lot of positive effects on me personally as well as my professional future. I want to be a physician in the future and this has better prepared me for that in many ways. It has helped me improve my cultural competence. I was able to expand my world view and have an appreciation of different cultures and people who have different perspectives on life. Cultural competence is a very important characteristic of a physician as it gives a better ability to see the situation from the patient’s eyes and a better ability to relate to the patient.

This trip has also helped me change my own mindset. I try to keep in mind to take my time and appreciate the journey along the way. I also try to take time away from technology and just appreciate my community and the people around me as well as the nature around me.

Costa Rica Buck-I-Serv

On my Buck-I-Serv trip to Costa Rica, my group and I were allowed the privilege to begin work on a bridge for a remote village called Piedras Blancas. The bridge we were beginning construction on would allow for the residents who lived across the river to acquire goods that would’ve been too difficult to move without it. We stayed with families in the community and immersed ourselves in their culture, while also being able to complete adventure activities through the OAC.

Going into the trip, I had never been to Central America and also knew very little Spanish. I was also very nervous to be staying in the homes of the residents of the village due to my lack of knowledge of the culture in Costa Rica, and again, my lack of knowledge of Spanish. After arriving in Piedras Blancas and getting to the house I would be staying at, I quickly learned how warm and friendly Costa Ricans are. I felt immediately welcomed into the home and taken care of throughout the week. Whether it was through the spectacular food that they provided us with constantly or their understanding and helpfulness with my attempt at Spanish, the family exemplified who Costa Ricans are. I was also given the ability to learn about “Tico Time”, which is a Costa Rican perception of lateness. Tico time basically means that you get there when you get there. Being a student, life seems to revolve around classes and studying, which are on a strict schedule. Because of this, it also adds pressure to other areas of life and forces them to be on schedules. Learning about Tico time was a little uncomfortable at first, because everyone on the trip, including myself, wanted to know the schedule of events going into the week. However, our trip leaders, Carlos and Jesus, left a lot of timings of events up in the air. Coming home from the trip, I want to apply this ease of schedule to the social areas of my life. I do still have to attend classes and study on time because that is non-negotiable, however, in the future I will try to ease the pressure of making solid plans and go with the flow.

The bridge also presented a different set of challenges. In a village of about 30 people, there were only about 5 or 6 men who could dedicate long hours to completing this project. As a group of 18 people, we were able to provide manpower that they needed for more trivial tasks like moving rocks and dirt and holding the support posts in place which concrete was laid around them. The physicality of building a bridge was a concern of mine going into the trip as I mostly just run to exercise. And while it did prove to be challenging work, with the support of the group as a whole and my determination to help as much as I could, the physical uncomforts were forgotten. Seeing how the locals were working incredibly hard showed me that I need to be more responsible in the future with caring for myself in exercising more and eating healthier. The bridge building also taught me more about the value of teamwork. When going about schoolwork it can be easy to fall into a pattern of focusing only on your own work and completing it without the assistance of others. I have also noticed in my own life that I can have a hard time asking for help. The tasks stated before required that we all work together and also required us to effectively communicate if we needed help or something to be changed. On the first day, we were assigned to be moving dirt from down by the river to up near where the supports would be set in place. Initially, we all fell into trying to carry each bag individually the entire way but this proved to be exhausting. One person came up with the idea of an assembly line and so we all took our places and it proved to be the best idea of the entire trip. From then on out the assembly line was a staple of almost every activity we were assigned to perform. The assembly line also made communicating much easier and by doing this all, I was able to feel more comfortable expressing when I needed help.

As I said above, the family that I had the privilege of staying with allowed for the trip to become that much better. The host mother of the family we stayed with was the most amazing cook but also knew very little English. Throughout the time we stayed with them, this allowed me to improve my Spanish further by asking if I could help, greeting them throughout the day, or even just asking for a fork. The host father was also more than excited to be able to show us all of the crops on the farm as well as their new house that he and a couple of other family members were in the process of building. Their enthusiasm and kindness made asking questions about Costa Rican culture much easier and also made the entire experience so much more valuable.

The guides on the trip, Carlos and Jesus, were the most friendly and hilarious people. From the first day, they made it clear that the trip was a safe environment where they really wanted to be able to show us what it means to be Costa Rican. In the trip they planned, they showed off such gorgeous places in Costa Rica. Carlos had studied biology in college so was very passionate about discussing the plants and animals that we were seeing throughout the trip. Jesus is incredibly hardworking and was able to assist us throughout the week with whatever issues may have arisen.

Being able to meet and connect with other OSU students was also incredibly impactful. Being on a campus with so many other people it is easy to fall into only being with your own group of people with similar viewpoints and personalities. This trip allowed me to meet other people who had interesting hobbies and varying personalities, but all got along so well. It was also entertaining figuring out how each of us connected on different subjects whether it is similar tastes in music or people we may both know.

This trip gave me an entirely new perspective on life. It showed me that it is okay to take your time and figure things out as you go. It also allowed me to become more open to new and uncomfortable situations and then find a way to make the most of them. Going forward, I will always value this week of my life. Costa Rica and the people I met there have left a massive positive impact on my life and I would like to go on in life and leave this kind of a mark on at least one other individual. This trip also helped me see that I would like to work in a service-oriented career in the future, specifically in the medical profession. I would like to become involved more in a non-profit or volunteering program that seeks to assist a community or population in a helpful and sustainable way. One last way that this trip has impacted my life is that I would like to become more environmentally friendly in the actions I take. Seeing how this culture valued the environment and the care they took to preserve it made me realize how important it is to do so. This world is at a turning point where individuals need to step up in order to preserve what we have which is so incredibly beautiful and I would like to be a part in that.

Walking to Piedras Blancas

View from the homestay family’s farm

Costa Rica Buck-I-Serv


Name: Calsey Graham

Project: Service Learning

My STEP project was a combination of Buckiserv and Outdoor Adventure Center where we helped build a bridge for the Piedras Blancas community in Costa Rica, while enjoying the Costa Rican nature. For the 9 days we were in Costa Rica, we were always on the move, as we hiked, kayaked, or bussed to our numerous homestays across Costa Rica. When we weren’t spending time with our homestay families in Piedras Blancas or helping with the bridge construction, we were water rappelling, swimming in the river, kayaking, or surfing.

Out of all the amazing opportunities this trip provided, the one aspect I was most excited for was the chance to fully emerge myself in a community that starkly differs mine. Although any Buckiserv trip would be transformative, I got the rare opportunity to live and interact with a family that not only does not speak the same language as me, but has grown up in an environment that is completely unlike mine. The village of Piedras Blancas is an 8-hour hike from civilization and nestled a ring of mountains and volcanoes. The community consists of 7 families, and one school that only has three children attending. Our homestay house only had one trashcan, no mirrors, no outlets, no fridge, and very little electricity. Likewise, the family of 5 only had two small rooms, with mattresses on the floor for sleeping.

The first night I stayed there, I immediately caught myself red-handed. I longed to help them by giving them my possessions. I feel like many individuals from more prosperous communities look down on poorer communities and want to essentially fix them. However, each day I would come back after our service project and spend time with the family, I started to realize that they have it so much better than we do. You see, I learned that life is truly meant to be lived. The families in Piedras Blancas live the simple, but the rich life. They are not consumed by social media and technology—they do not live each day, constantly striving for the next accomplishment or success. They are happy with the life they live and spend each day enjoying the day for what it is.

I am guilty of looking at my days as just stepping stones to a bigger success story—I do not celebrate the daily accomplishments. Just a couple days unplugged from the world and the demands it places on me left me beyond joyful. I got to witness first-hand the true meaning of life, which is to truly live each day, as if it was your last. Although my realization was more gradual, I can think of two very prominent moments that stick in my mind. Let me set the scene, so you can experience my transformation with me.

It is 7 pm on the Wednesday night of our trip. We had spent now almost three days with our homestay family, and everyone was finally starting to bond. Me, along my other 3 buckeye volunteers, have tried really hard to connect with Liliana, our homestay mom; however, the language barrier has made it difficult. One of the girls starts humming a song, as we had not listened to music since leaving the United States. All of a sudden, Liliana quickly runs to her room, and you can hear rummaging on the wooden floor. She comes back with a little portable radio that has a few songs. I had just come back from grabbing my clothes off the wire clothesline when I walk into the sound of laughter and shrieks. Liliana was in the “kitchen”, dancing to one of the Hispanic songs that blared from the radio. All the my fellow STEP students were copying her tango dance moves, trying to keep up. I remember smiling—a smile that rooted deep in my soul. I remember thinking in this moment that it will be a moment that I will long to repeat over and over. I was genuinely happy. It was a moment where I was completely present, without the distraction of my phone, and I was able to witness joy in the purest form.

The second moment where I realized the gravity this trip had on my outlook on life occurred when we were carrying planks of wood across the river. It was day two of our service project, and I was honestly very miserable. There was no shade to escape the 100-degree weather, and I had pulled my back muscles from the labor from the day before. I vividly recall complaining to myself underneath my breath, when I looked over at the picture-perfect view before me. This trip was not for me. This trip was to be utterly selfless and sacrifice my comfort for others. Seeing the view that was unmatched any other overwhelmed me with a sense of gratitude. I was so lucky to be on this trip. I think in that moment I realized how lucky I was to be alive and that discomfort just further showed me that I am living.

This transformation been a significant step of growth for me and permanently changed me on how I view the world and hardships. I have already caught myself wishing for the weekend and having to stop and slow down in order to remind myself of the many things I am grateful for on that day. It has become such a habit that will only be broken with conscious effort. I am glad I have had such a moving experience at this point in my life. I feel like I am old enough that I was able to have the level of reflection that was required for this change, but young enough that I won’t live my life with regret, wishing I knew these truths before it was too late. This perspective shift is vital for when I become a surgeon, as I know that after seeing many traumas, I might become numb to pain and death. However, I will be reminded that every life is valuable, and I am dealing with human beings with stories, and memories, and ambitions. I will train myself to be proud of every milestone achieve along the way, even if my end goal is to become a top neonatal surgeon.

Buck-I-Serv Trip to Costa Rica

My STEP service-learning project was the Buck-I-Serv trip to Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica. Here, we traveled between homestays where we worked for 3.5 days on constructing a bridge to merge the two sides of the village separated by a river. The other half of the trip was centered around adventure like surfing lessons, white water rafting, and water repelling.

While on this trip, I realized that I am too hard on myself. I began to adopt their mentality of working very hard and consistently and letting that be enough at the end of the day. I also learned that our society encapsulates you and swallows you whole, and that in a fast paced world you lose yourself and the ability to stay concentrated on people, relationships and to stay grounded. I struggled with understanding how to bring these ideas and ways I fell in love with back to the US while also fully functioning here. I began to realize I cannot change society’s movement and expectations, but I can take days where I do not check my phone at all. I have the power to disconnect more than I did before the trip. I also have the power to change my mentality and let my best be good enough.

In my four-day homestay, there was a 10-year-old girl Lupe who made my trip most memorable. I watched her help her mother prepare dinner, wash dishes, show us how to wash clothes, make tea and wait on her mother when she fell ill one night, feed their livestock, etc. She did so much around the house without ever being asked and never once complaining. She did it joyously and loved teaching us how they complete these tasks.

Her persistence in trying to understand us and communicate with us when our Spanish was scarce was admirable. She hardly became frustrated and picked up on English very quickly. She welcomed strangers in her home with open arms as she invited us to play soccer, cards, and help with her homework daily. From her tenacity, joy, and diligence, I learned more gratitude and to remember to express joy in mundane activities. I also grasped better patience and sparked my curiosity to learn other cultures.

Our group leader, Carlos, taught me, on our multiple gruesome and heated hikes, that you just have to take mountains (life) one step at a time. You can go slow or fast, but you need to and will make it there eventually. “Just take the pressure off of yourself and keep going,” he said. I needed to hear this more than anyone. School brings me high anxieties as I majored in a subject outside of my comfort zone but one I wanted, nonetheless. I put so much pressure on myself and consistently fall short of self-expectations or peer comparisons. The constant reminder that one way or another I was going to make it up this challenge resonated with me. It baffles me how much time has already passed since my departure, but I gained a type of serenity from laying on the rock in the river after a long day of work, a curiosity when learning to cook Costa Rican cuisine, a sense of peace hiking in nature, and a deeper sense of self and my capabilities through group reflection.

This transformation is extremely significant to my life because as I mentioned before, my refreshed and centered mindset allowed me to attack school with less anxieties and gave me the chance to breathe. I feel calm and refreshed when I give myself a day break from my phone on a weekly basis. This development has allowed me to enjoy smaller moments, which is crucial as some of my best friends are graduating and moving on in a few weeks. I feel like I have more self-reflections that are positive and productive and that I give myself the chance to work hard and then let life move me forward. This mindset will allow me to attack new goals in the near and far future. And whenever I remind myself of the community and Lupe, I feel centered again.