For my STEP project I decided to do a service learning trip to Antigua, Guatemala through Buck-I-SERV. I obtained one of the co-leadership positions on the trip and worked with 11 others with the organization Constru Casa to build homes for those living in severe poverty. We divided into groups of 4 to work with local masons to build 3 homes during the week. While we were there, we also visited several different communities to learn more about the people and culture.
During my trip, my view of the world and myself changed. Being my first time outside of the United States, everything I encountered was a learning experience. Before the trip, I expected my perspective of the world to change but I didn’t know exactly how that would come to realization. When I first arrived, I began to get nervous that the language barrier would make it difficult for me to connect with the people. As the week progressed, this preconception proved to be completely wrong as I formed connections with the local masons we were working with and the families of the homes we were building. During the trip, I learned more by immersing myself in another culture than I could have ever gotten learning any other way. This experience showed me that human connection transcends our differences in language and culture and that there is much more to be learned.
When we first arrived at the work site, I thought that it would be difficult to help the local masons we were working with because of our lack of experience and only one person in our group could effectively speak Spanish. I quickly began to realize that my assumption was wrong as the masons showed us what to do. As we worked alongside the masons, we began to form a bond which led us to play soccer with them during a couple of our lunch breaks. Having the chance to play soccer with them really showed me how much you can connect with others even when you can’t speak their language. At the end of the week when we finished the house, I felt that our group formed a close friendship with the masons, something that I never would have expected to be possible before this trip.
While working, we also had the chance to form a relationship with the family we were building a home for. The family had two kids (and a few others were always around) who were always smiling and laughing. At the beginning of the week, the kids were too shy to greet us, but by the end of the week they were trying to help us and constantly wanted to interact with us. As they warmed up to us throughout the week, I was able to ask them questions like how their day at school went and what they enjoyed doing (thanks to the help from others in my group who could speak Spanish), which allowed me to further see how much in common we as humans have despite how different we may seem. Also, as I watched a couple of others in my group interact with the kids, I fully realized how important forming connections with those you are helping has on the experience for everyone. Although we were there to build the family a home, forming that connection with them has left a lasting impact on my perspective of helping others.
The experiences throughout the week would not have been possible without my group. Having participated in a couple of Buck-I-SERV trips in the past, I knew how much of an impact the group makes on the experience. Looking back, I don’t remember a moment during the trip where our group wasn’t laughing or having a meaningful discussion about our trip. Listening to everyone’s individual takeaways from the trip and their insights allowed me to learn more from my experience than I could have ever imagined. Overall, the connections I’ve made on this trip has made this experience one of the most meaningful ones that I’ve had and has transformed my perspective of the world that will allow me to continue to grow to become a better person.
My experience was valuable to both my personal growth and professional goals. As I plan to move onto medical school and become a physician, understanding the perspectives of others the best I can is necessary to truly care for others. This is essential, because as a physician I will be caring for people from all backgrounds and experiences throughout my career. This trip has also furthered my passion to work abroad in underserved areas throughout my career. This experience has also been extremely valuable to my personal growth. I learned just how little I really know about how the rest of the world lives and that I need to continue to broaden my experiences to keep learning and become an informed global citizen. In the end, this trip has impacted my perspective in more ways than I could have ever imagined.