American Essays2

Stephanie Baun

“You are crazy!” “Why would you want to go there?”  “I can’t believe you actually chose to go there!” --these are just a few of the responses I received when friends, family members, and colleagues heard of my plans to travel abroad to Uganda, a developing country in East Africa.  For me, these questions were hard to process; they almost came as a shock.  When asked, “Why would I want to go there?” my innate response was “Why wouldn’t you want to go to Africa?”  I did not hesitate or question myself when I was given this once in a lifetime opportunity to travel over 7,000 miles to Uganda.  For me, my travel abroad experience meant service, gratitude, and compassion.

The intent of my four-week trip to Uganda was not to experience the food and explore the land but to engage with the people of Uganda.  Those people of Uganda are the reasoning behind my inherent, gung ho decision to travel abroad.  I wanted to interact with the people, see how they live, experience their hardships, understand life in Uganda.  During my stay in Uganda, I had opportunity to work with a variety of organizations, a variety of people.  The first 14 days of our trip, our time was split between the pharmacy students and professors at Makerere University and the patients and staff of Mulago Hospital.  Our time at Mulago Hospital was a life-changing experience in itself.  Wards, hallways, stairwells were brimming with people.  The staff struggled to keep up with the rising number of patients; some without hospital beds to lie on.  At times, even I, a bystander, felt uncomfortable in the hospital.  Is this safe?  What germs am I being exposed to?  Yet, these people were so eager to receive care; the best care they could get.  In the United States, healthcare of that quality would be deemed unacceptable; but for many Ugandans, it was reality.

Our last 2-weeks of the trip consisted of spending time with several different organizations, including The Red Cross, The Water Trust, The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), and the Masindi-Kitara Medical Centre.  While working with the Red Cross, we traveled from school to school in the Masindi District of Uganda, teaching children about cholera, a bacterial infection cause by poor sanitation.  Sharing knowledge with and teaching children simple measures to help improve not only their own health but also the health of their families, became such as rewarding experience.  The Water Trust allowed us to experience, first hand, the conditions in which many of the villagers lived.  Looking back, it almost seems surreal.  The people of the village had next to nothing; clean water was scarce, one roomed huts served as a home for 2 or 3 generations of a family, and families lived off the animals and plants surrounded them.  I traveled to a rural location while working TASO, in order to deliver antiretroviral medications to HIV/AIDS patients that did not have resources to travel to pharmacy in the town of Masindi.  These people, men, women, and children, did not show they were living with a life-threatening disease; instead, they wore a smile.  After their blood was drawn and their weight taken, I handed each individual a bundle of medications, medications that would likely cause unpleasant side effects, along with a Tootsie-Pop I had brought from the United States.  I could not get over how overjoyed these people were by a simple piece of candy; these same men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS.

The people I encountered during my time in Uganda, the people of Mulago Hospital, the children in the schools, the families in the villages, the TASO patients, those ill at the Masindi-Kitara clinic, all had common traits.  These Ugandans beamed with appreciation, love, compassion, gratitude, and joy; these very people that have just fractions of what we do in the United States.  It was both an eye-opening and heart-breaking experience to watch the people of Uganda live in such poverty, yet have such uplifting spirits.  This trip changed many facets of my life, which I can attribute to the people of Uganda.  These people have instilled service, gratitude, and compassion into my meaning of travel abroad and for that, I am grateful.

Cody Null

Study abroad was initially a vehicle for me to pursue a second major in Spanish. After two trips to Spain it quickly turned from a means to an end into a passion. While I can proudly say I got to explore another culture all while trying to further my education these trips encompass so much more. There is no way I could confidently say I understood the culture, the people, or the language without experiencing it firsthand. There is an entirely new depth to learning when you are immersed in the lesson. From the simple idiosyncrasies of how to order a meal to the complexity of what a regions most famous festival is actually all about, studying abroad has fleshed out what I couldn’t learn from a book in a classroom.

On my first trip to Madrid I had hoped to not only strengthen my control of the Spanish language but to also see what it truly meant to be a Spaniard. This I quickly discovered is entirely dependent on which region of the country I was in very similar to the differences between the people here in different states. This first experience helped me lay the groundwork for my next trip two years later to achieve a goal most people only ever dream of. In a small town outside of Madrid, the capital of Spain, I lined up on a cobblestone street along with the natives and after a bell ringing and a series of fireworks was chased down the road by five bulls. Every year in classes we learned about the festival of San Fermin and the running of the bulls. Every year following this lesson I would try to grasp the concept of what it would be like to run alongside others and be part of this experience. I had vowed that if I ever got the opportunity I would be right there in the thick of it and for the longest time this just seemed like a pipe dream. So it felt very unreal to be standing on a small street, in a small Spanish town, on a warm summer morning realizing a goal that I thought I would never be able to achieve. Now every year as I watch the running of the bulls and hear my friends comment on how crazy these people must be I can’t help but feel some brotherhood with those people that I ran beside. I feel this sense of brotherhood is what the very heart of study abroad is all about. Finding connections with people and places you would not normally ever get to meet or see is the very goal of the program.

So while I did learn a lot from the classes I took while studying abroad and my Spanish improved greatly the real value of the experience and what I had hoped to accomplish was everything that happened outside of the class. There is no amount of class time learning that can begin to explain the feeling you get as you stand with the crowd in the Santiago Bernabéu stadium and roar with the crowd as their star striker Cristano Ronaldo takes his first shot ever for Real Madrid or the reverence you feel as you stand in front of Pablo Picasso’s massive painting Guernica and see the oppression people felt under Francisco Franco. Without these experiences I am sure I would still continue trying to master the language and learn more about the culture but without the firsthand experience I got from study abroad the knowledge I had would lack substance and a lot of the meaning I attribute to it now.

Ned Fetcher

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal, I had to learn the language and customs. I also had to learn several skills that were not in the job description.

First I had to learn to eat with my hand. Most Nepalese meals consist of about three cups of rice along with a kind of lentil soup called dhal, curried vegetables, and some chutney or pickle to add flavor. Typically, I would sit on the floor with my legs crossed, which was not easy. A large plate of rice was placed in front of me and I was expected to eat it with my right hand, making a ball with my fingers and pushing it into my mouth with my thumb. After months of practice, I could perform this maneuver without getting my hand covered with rice. I was expected to eat all the rice because any leftover food was considered to be contaminated and therefore fit only for the dog. After finishing the first plateful, I had to be very alert or my hostess would place another ladle of rice on my plate, as she could not imagine that someone as large as me (at 5'10", I am taller than most Nepalese) could eat so little.

After about three months of this diet I started dreaming of hamburgers, which was not helpful in a country where beef is unknown and a frequently heard curse can be translated as "May I eat cow!" I could either starve, try to survive on omelettes as did one of my fellow PCV's who lost 80 pounds, or find a substitute for rice. Fortunately I found a restaurant that made excellent chapatis (something like flour tortillas) so I was able to alternate between rice and chapatis for three months. Then I acquired a taste for Nepalese food that I retain to this day. When I returned to the United States, I missed it so much that I learned how to cook it.

Next, I had to learn how to walk in thongs, which are called chapals. I was stationed in a town where the climate was very hot and shoes were uncomfortable. Also you could develop athlete's foot, which would then lead to an infection. As there were a great many rocks in the roads and pathways, I would stub my toe regularly.  An ordinary Band-Aid let in too much dirt, also leading to an infection, so I had to make an elaborate bandage of gauze and adhesive tape that looked like marshmallow in the end of my foot. At one point I had a bandage on both toes. After six months I learned to pick up my feet and stopped stubbing my toe. From then on I was happy walking around in chapals and able to go on multi-day treks in the hills with them.

Although I rarely eat with my hand or walk in chapals these days, I frequently use another skill that I acquired in Nepal. As an agricultural extension agent, my job was to recommend how much fertilizer the farmers should apply to their crops of rice and wheat. The recommendations that we got for fertilizer were in pounds per acre or kg per hectare, but the farmers used two other systems of units, one from the hills of Nepal and the other from the north Indian plains. On occasion, I felt like my main job was to convert quantities from one system to another.  With practice, I was able to do the conversions in my head and this ability has served me well since.

I learned many other things, but I never learned to read. Although I spoke Nepali, I couldn't master the alphabet. As a consequence, my vocabulary was limited to concrete words in everyday use. For more abstract discussions, I would sidestep the problem by dropping the appropriate English noun into a Nepali sentence. This worked fine with many of my cooperating farmers who were former soldiers in the British Army. On the whole, being illiterate was not too much of a limitation as most of my work consisted of talking to people.  However, it did give me an appreciation for the lives of the many farmers and workers who were illiterate.

By immersing myself in another culture, I found solutions to problems that I was unaware of. I also found the confidence to deal with anything else that might come my way.

Nadine Shickora

This past summer I traveled abroad to South America for a pharmacy rotation, specifically the location of Peru. While there it made me realize a lot about life in general including how different areas of the world can be. On my first night in Lima, Peru I had it had reminded me very much of home, it was not until we arrived in Iquitos that I began to feel and see the cultural differences. People here were not worried as much about fancy cars, electronics, or designer clothes. The people in this small town were much more appreciative of the simple but essential things in life such as a roof over their head and food.  Many days after eating our lunch in town the left over portions of our meals were bagged up and given to those less fortunate on the streets. The people of this culture lived off the bare essentials and were happy with their lives. It made me appreciate the things I have to a better extent.

When I finally reached home after the trip I realized the things I missed the most were things we often take for granted. Clean water for one was something I have come to realize is under appreciated here in the United States. The people in Peru often drink of water from the river, the same river they bathe in and use the bathroom for at times. The rate of disease passed from urine/fecal matter is extremely high in this country due to these reasons. It broke my heart especially to see the children of this country who are often malnourished and sickly. There smile on their face as we played games, such as jump rope and volleyball was something that I will never forget. There were so appreciative of the time we spent with them.

On our trip down the Amazon River we stopped by tribes who had very little materialistic things in their lives. My other travelers and I had brought along small toys/trinkets for the children. The pure excitement on one little girl’s face as I handed her a pencil made me take a deeper look into what is so different about their culture and ours. If you handed a pencil to a child in the United States you would perhaps not get the same reaction as those in Peru.

Our trip also focused on the medicinal uses of plants in these countries. The country is not very well established economically and they are promoting the use of herbal products for treatment and prevention of many illnesses. The money from these plants is the make the country more stable and to provide a better life for its residents.

As I returned to the United States a majority of my stories included ones of teaching others about the culture. I feel it is very important for us to take a deeper look into what is important in life. I feel that I have learned to look past the luxurious items I may possess and learn to “smell the flowers”. While I was there I did not miss TV, the Internet, my car, or my phone. I missed my family and friends the most. I think if more people in the United States were more appreciative of things such as a roof over their head, clothes on their back, food in their stomach, and most importantly those around them who care and support them our society would take a turn for the better.

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Mohamed Jollah

Studying abroad is one of the vast opportunities that a student is able to maximize his/her collegiate experience. Unfortunately only approximately 2% of university students conduct this global awareness activity. I was fortunate in being able to study abroad on a multitude of occasions and I believe I have synergistically optimized my pharmacy-related education with my global education.

Spain is the origin of the Spanish language, and I was so fascinated with the essence of Spain that I studied abroad there on two separate occasions. The country of Spain is one of the oldest countries in the world, and is home to the origin of the purest form of the Spanish language. The language was what attracted me to the country of Spain; I wanted to become fluent in the proper form of Spanish. The Spanish in Spain in comparison to the Spanish spoken here in the United States is equivalent to the difference of the British-English in comparison to the American-English. Thus to perfect my grammar and spoken dialect, I elected to study in Spain. My decision to study abroad in Spain was the most constructive decision I have made in my entire life

Studying abroad in Spain allowed me to gain the perspective of a person who is immigrating to the United States to learn American-English. I was comfortably forced to learn a new language, a new culture, and a new way of life in a foreign land.

While I was studying in Spain, I was engulfed within the culture, in combination with taking Spanish language courses; I was able to exponentially increase my Spanish communication skills. Every day, every minute, every second became a lesson in the language. I was able to engage anyone in the city and converse with them with the hopes of improving my Spanish language skills. The many people, who I met via this route, soon became close friends who I continue to keep in contact with over various social mediums. Studying abroad allowed me to learn a language in conjunction with forming bonds with people and a culture.

My perception of the world was completely changed after my travels to Spain. I had the previous misconception that the entire world had a disdain outlook on Americans; but the inhabitants of Europe proved my previous misconception wrong. Many people greeted me with a smile, offered me to join them in the consumption of food after moments of meeting me, etc. This level of affection seemed to conflict my preconceived notion that it is fine to always have your cellphone or look down while walking through the town. My experience abroad corrected my mindset that it is fine to be open, genuine, and friendly with no expectation of being repaid. I believe our, the United States culture is centered on always giving and receiving with an equivalent exchange.

My life now centers on how I can be of service to people. Prior to studying abroad I lived the standard ego-centric lifestyle, but now I know that my life is one of many that can contribute to the progression of a culture-friendly society. I only hope that other fellow students are given the blessed opportunity to be able to travel and learn life lessons abroad as I have.

Ashley Truglio

After attending a mission trip to Haiti for two weeks during July of 2010, my life changed drastically for the better.  Fortunate to stay at the Peace and Love Hotel, our group worked in a camp building a vocational school, a water filtration system, and spent many hours working at a medical clinic.  I never realized how much work goes into running a medical clinic.  Although much of my time spent in Haiti consisted of manual labor, I was privileged enough to spend time with the people of Camp Hope playing soccer with children and visiting families.  The feeling of being welcomed into their tents, and listening to the stories of the families who shared their deep feelings of despair at the loss of their loved ones and constant daily struggles was a feeling like no other.  These families had lost so much in their lives, but were so proud of what they had now.  They had so little but were willing to share so much.  I even got the opportunity to be pushed around camp in a wheelbarrow by 5 children.  One moment that stood out to me the most was during a church mass held by the camp.  A young Haitian girl named Jenna, who I had grown very close to; was sitting on my lap as we sang Haitian songs of worship.  The pastor stated, “right now in this moment take time to be thankful for what you have. Right here, now.”  At that moment, Jenna grabbed my hand and looked up at me with a big smile on her face.  I was unable to control my emotions and felt the overwhelming love of the people around me.  It was an amazing feeling.

The conditions in Haiti were devastating.  It was difficult to comprehend everything that was in front of me, but towards the end of the week it seemed so surreal.  The medical clinic was a difficult experience.  One child was diagnosed with Leukemia, and various people had loss of limbs.  The lack of food at which they were forced to survive on was appalling.  The people of Haiti have a malnourished look to them, some even containing a jaundice color in their eyes.  Majority of them lived in tent but many people slept on the streets.  The buildings were crumbled in pieces.  The earthquake left Haiti in total destruction.

In preparation, I held various fundraisers to raise the $2,000 needed for the trip.  I cannot express how thankful I was to raise the money.  I also took up a collection of school supplies, and supplied two suitcases full of pencils, notebooks, highlighters, flip-flops, and other various items for the new vocational school.  One concern to prepare for the trip was the plane ride, and saying goodbye to my mother.  This was the first time I would be gone for an extended period of time, and alone outside of the country.  When I arrived back in New Jersey and saw my mother, I realized how much we take life for granted.  It was an experience I will never forget, and will hold close to my heart forever.  I am hoping in the near future to visit Haiti again, and possibly a place such as Africa.  People do not realize what they have in life, until they do not have anything or witness those who are less fortunate.  I discovered on my trip that the people with the courage are the people living in such deplorable conditions but still have such happiness in their lives because they are thankful to be among the living.

In the year of 2011, I applied to spend the summer abroad through the Rotary Club.  I spent a month in Germany with a host family, and had that same student spend a month home in the states with myself.  I had the ability to see all different areas, from Berlin to Nienburg.  Seeing all different aspects of Germany and the different culture truly opened my eyes in seeing how different other countries are.  I enjoyed everything that Germany had to offer, from the architecture, food, and the overall way of life.  Following this trip to Germany, I studied two weeks in Spain during the summer of 2012, where I travelled various cities from Madrid and Costal del Sol.  After taking years of Spanish, I was finally able to use this language to my full ability.  It was an amazing feeling to be able to converse with the people of the Spanish culture.

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