Bonners Study Abroad
Chloé Stowell | F.E.E.T Scholarship (Europe) & AALIM (Morocco)
For the past month, I have been traveling throughout Europe and North Africa learning new languages, experiencing cultures, and meeting wonderful people. My summer began a day after finals on my flight to Amsterdam with my fellow traveler, Samantha. Samantha and I were awarded the Faber-Economon European Travel Scholarship for this summer. From Amsterdam, we traveled by train to Paris, Geneva, Venice, Florence, and Rome. Each city held new experiences and cultures that were always surprising. This trip was more of a vacation, but it taught me how to plan and travel safely. I learned how to navigate public transit effectively, eat safely, protect my bag, deal with unwanted attention, and have fun in the midst of missing home. My three week travels in Europe were helpful in preparing me for the transition to Meknes, Morocco.
Although it helped, nothing could have prepared me fully for going to Morocco. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking coming here. Coming in. I didn’t speak any Arabic and had never been to the MENA region. Morocco is different from any Western nation. People do very normal things in completely different ways. During my first day, I was overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks. I felt isolated and afraid. After the first two days of class, I picked up a few phrases and made friends with some fellow students at AALIM.
Now, I’ve taken my first exam. I’ve learned so much about myself and Arabic that my brain can barely contain it. My roommate finally moved in. I took a taxi by myself and found the school (not the easiest feat). This weekend, we’ll ride camels. Overall, my study abroad experience has been ridiculous, and I know it will continue to get better. I’m so thankful for the Economon family, the National Council of US-Arab Relations, the University of Houston’s Provost Office, and Keri Myrick for making this trip happen!
Joshua Monsivais | Honors Study Abroad to the Galapagos Islands
How does one even attempt to describe a trip of a lifetime? A blog entry every night? No, there was just so much done in one day that to capture all of the experiences would require a book of its own. Souvenirs? As if that ever accomplished anything, I was denied at one point trying to buy from too many stores one night. Thousands of pictures and videos? I tried that, but nothing would do any justice to the immense beauty of what lies in the Ecuadorian Andes or the Galapagos Islands. Literally, I went out, snapped 400 pictures a day and at the end of every night, I would spend two hours deleting the ones I did not feel were perfect so that I could have enough memory to take pictures again the next day. In the end, I finished with 500+ each worthy of being a screensaver.
But nothing will ever capture the look on Dr. Hamilton’s face as he sweet talked an iguana or Dr. Frankino almost making his ascension into another realm while at Tortuga Bay. Therefore, to any reader, I will say the following wise words. This was an 11-day trip into another world, quite literally as a result of equatorial lensing (inside joke). No wifi, no connection with the outside world. All we had were 21 strangers, Bolivar, and Luis as companions, yet there was no one else I would have wanted to be with me on that trip. From getting lost in Historic Quito one day, to almost dying on a scuba dive in Daphne Minor, to relaxing in volcanically heated water after essentially swimming in the Amazon River, this really was a trip like no other. I came out of this trip with a lifetime’s worth of stories, quotes, and quite possibly a set of friends I will have for the rest of my life. I could not be any more thankful to Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Frankino for arranging this trip.
I did not know what to expect and I came back with a completely different interpretation of what companionship and having a good time really meant. A sea lion didn’t bite my fin, but how many people can say they were encased in a bubble of thousands of fish while in the Galapagos? Much less, take a selfie with a marine iguana?
Logan Martin | Honors Study Abroad to the Galapagos Islands
As one of four freshmen on the 2015 Galapagos Study Abroad trip, I got to learn about Ecuador’s culture in depth and experience living in another country for ten days, something that I feel lucky to have gotten to do so early in college. Although I didn’t gain any experience as a ChemE, I gained a lot of personal skills. The trip ran smoothly with no issues getting to or from Ecuador which is impressive for a group of twenty three people. Interacting with and getting to know the people on this trip through all of the time we spent together greatly augmented the experience. The first night we spent in Quito before flying into the Galapagos I realized how different of a place we were in compared to Houston in our hotel, which consisted of six floors layered like they had been stacked on top and next to each other, with the walls consisting of the same pastel color that most of the concrete buildings that Old Quito featured. The topography of Quito also really struck me with its many slopes and hills. On tour guides through the city we found ourselves often walking up or down sloped streets and running out of breath a lot quicker than usual because of the elevation in Quito.
My favorite experiences of the trip were any of the days we got to get into water, such as seeing the Amazon River and particularly diving in the Galapagos. It was amazing getting to go diving in the beautiful water of the pacific and see all the different types of sea life, allowing myself to get up close and personal with sea turtles and white-tipped sharks. While I had the most fun diving with the UH crew, I also got to see a lot of Ecuador’s day to day life outside the city. For me in particular we had an afternoon off and I decided to go jogging with another girl down a major road in Riobamba, a small town north of Quito. We saw many farmers and families on the road we followed dispersed throughout the beautiful landscape, which was lush and green with sizable hills and valleys. We took a break and hiked down to a stream, and returning to the road eventually found another village, or really just a gathering of homes, that clearly didn’t house tourists. There were many stray dogs and I remember seeing a family drive into their driveway in a surprisingly nice suburban and a teenage boy get out, calling to a couple strays to come in, one of which had lost its two hind legs and had a t shirt tied around the bottom of its torso. Despite the many strange looks and even some playful whistles from children, we jogged/walked through the town. In particular I remember seeing a brick/concrete two story home in a run-down condition, the second story of the building having a hole in the side of the wall. There was a dirt driveway with a young girl kicking a soccer ball around and I couldn’t help but try to imagine what her view of the world and day-to-day life is like, being in such different circumstances than I. Questions like ‘Did she have a good family supporting her?’ and ‘What kind of education might she receive?’ came to mind. Many of the luckier families in Quito were not struggling to get by, drove to work every day and had tv’s at home, at least relatable to us, but seeing this girl and her lifestyle really impacted me. The downtime we had to get to explore by ourselves such as when Sophia and I decided to go for an afternoon jog allowed me to gain some more experiences outside of the normal tour itinerary. Another such experience is from an afternoon in the Galapago where three other students and I decided to scout out a beach. We ended up finding a two mile or so trail that eventually led to a beach called Tortuga Bay that was beautiful. We heard the sound of water and eventually saw the breathtakingly clear water and sandy beach the sign told us about. There were many local surfers on the beach and in the water shredding waves, and we were even able to rent a couple boards for $10 an hour from some of the natives despite our broken Spanish. So I got to try some surfing in the Galapgos, which although I’m not an experienced surfer was still exhilarating considering where we were. I actually spent too much time out in the water, concerning Josh and the other two students that couldn’t see me, but all turned out okay, I wasn’t taken out to sea or anything like what they imagined. The next day another portion of our crew visited the same beach we “discovered”. The off-tour experiences in which I got to interact with the locals and explore different environments really made the trip for me, along with getting to share those experiences with the galapacrew.
Naina Sakruti | Honors Medical Study Abroad to Haiti
This was truly a life changing trip. I think the best way to share my experience is to copy/paste a journal entry I wrote at the end of my third day in Haiti. Here it is:
Day 2 wasn’t very eventful. We took the day off to relax and explore the orphanage. In fact, we had so much down time that I accidentally fell asleep for a short nap while waiting for pictures to copy from the SD card to my laptop. We took this time to visit the children at the orphanage and play with them.
The children here are precious. They pick one person and become so attached that they bar any escape. The boy that I picked up and spent time with would not let me go anywhere, even to get footage. He brought me my bag that I left somewhere else, which was incredibly sweet. Normally, children aren’t my jam, but I didn’t want to leave these kids. I don’t know whether it’s the fact they are growing up in an orphanage or not, but the attachment they place on you is so strong and quick. I felt it in my chest when one of them raised their hands to be picked up.
I went to revisit them later in the day.
We met our Haitian counterparts on Day 2 as well. The translators and university students training to be nurses were split into groups and paired with us all. My group was Bita, Kristin, and I along with Fefe, a translator, and Danetchy, a nurse student, from Port-au-Prince. Fefe told us about his dream of one day being a judge that “will bring justice to everybody.” The way he said those words had so much passion.
Passion is something I’ve been finding in abundance at Haiti, from the children playing soccer everyday on the field to the people I came with learning everything they can about medicine. I got to spend more time with the group on Day 2 and it was great. I didn’t really interact with these individuals in the Haiti Healthcare class but now; I think the makings of really good friendships are at work. The pessimist in me also believes that they’ll all mean nothing once we leave Haiti. I hope the pessimist in me is wrong though.
Day 3 was when business went up. I got up at 7:30 a.m, in time to try some exquisite Haitian coffee, a drink that really does live up to its hype. After having some interesting conversations over oatmeal, I realized I liked interesting conversations. This is a given, but it made me reevaluate what I thought of as an interesting conversation. While there were silly, immature, and hilarious topics thrown in, a majority of the conversations I’ve held here with groups of people are quite intellectual. It probably has something to do with being one of the youngest people on the trip, but I felt like I didn’t hold many conversations in a row about topics such as Sea World’s documentary, the psychology behind a serial killer, the science behind caffeine pills, and music. And this was all just breakfast conversation.
After breakfast, we had the chance to attend the Sunday church service. I took the opportunity to go and I am so glad I did. I wanted to attend for the experience. When am I ever going to get the opportunity to stand in on a Haitian protestant service at an orphanage? Rarely. The service was so musical that it blew me away. I observed and felt that passion I wrote about earlier under the roof of the church this morning. People were singing with the pastor as loudly as they could, moving side to side in the mass of people, and praying to something that unites them all at one foundation. I was completely taken by the experience.
We had a team meeting under the mango tree of the orphanage after church. Ryan, Bita, Tran, and I volunteered for running the vitals station, where we check temperatures, weigh patients, and take blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, as well as record patient status and family history, all with the use of a translator. We had no idea what we signed up for until we hit the clinic.
We loaded the boxes we packed during our down time in Day 2 onto the bus and headed off to Onaville. It was this extremely rural town in the mountains of Haiti. The drive over there made me think about all the other towns like this that existed and aren’t getting even the little amount of short term help we can offer. And then I thought about how big our world was and how much of it was in places of poverty like this.
Once we arrived, Ryan, Bita, Tran and I set ourselves up to fail. The tasks we were responsible for did not end up smoothly or in a timely manner. There was too much hold up that wasn’t expected and the process was altered as best possible in the last minute situation. We made the best out of the situation though. But wow, what a high it is to be a healthcare provider.
While I know I am far from becoming a certified healthcare provider of any sort, this small bit of, I guess you could call it ‘intense on-field role playing’, gave me such a rush. We were at the clinic for about 3-4 hours and while I felt the fatigue, I loved every minute of it. I learned as I went through each hour, the following hour feeling shorter than the one before. Before I knew, it was time to go for the day.
I enjoy waking up early and having the whole day to make an impact on the world around me before falling back asleep again.
I wanted this trip to help me decide for certain to pursue being a doctor or not, and so far it has reaffirmed it immensely. I loved what I was doing. And soon enough, I realized the passion of everyone around me was rubbing off of me too.
Sarah said “service trips help us learn as individuals more than create solutions wherever we are. And that’s great”. And, it was great. I felt great.
Katherine Kerr | Honors Medical Study Abroad to the Honduras
To start off my summer, I will be going on a study abroad trip in May
to Honduras and Guatemala. This is a medical missionary trip that
enables us to volunteer in clinics for two weeks, doing basic medical check-ups such as looking for abnormal level of blood
pressure. After this, I will be doing a summer internship with
Workshop Houston. The children from this program will get the opportunity to work on different projects here at UH. Alongside this, I will be volunteering in the lab to collect soil samples which possibly contain slime mold. This soil collection will help us to identify areas that are saturated or lacking slime mold. I am really looking forward to this summer because this will be unlike any other summer I’ve experienced.
Kiran Akbani | Honors Medical Study Abroad to the Honduras
This past May, I, along with 17 other Honors students from UH, had the privilege of partnering with the Houston Shoulder to Shoulder (HSTS) organization and traveling to Santa Ana, Honduras, a remote village on the border of Honduras and El Salvador, to serve in a clinic there and help see and treat patients. As someone who’s familiar with western medicine and has grown up around it, this trip changed my life in multiple ways and showed me how much can be done with so few resources, especially in terms of medicine and treatment. Traveling to this amazing country and meeting the wonderful, kind-hearted people put a different kind of love in my heart, one that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life. I thank the Honors College and the HSTS organization for giving me this amazing, life-changing opportunity.
Greg Goedecke | Honors Study Abroad to the Galapagos Islands
It was absolutely magical. just the diving in the Galapagos has spoiled me for any other dive trip I will take for the rest of my life. And the geology of Ecuador is fascinating and magnificent to see in person. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Grace Schwarz | Honors Study Abroad to the Galapagos Islands
This was truly the trip of a lifetime. I got the opportunity to swim with hammerheads, white tip reef sharks, sea turtles, and manta rays; this trip exceeded my wildest dreams. The best part of the trip though, was the people. I got to bond with graduated seniors over how awful guinea pig tastes, and with freshmen over how great llama is. Food was a big part of this trip, mainly because each meal was a time to sit and process what we had seen that day. My favorite food of the trip was the street food we found on Santa Cruz: lobster served in it’s shell. A big thanks to Dr. Hamilton, Dr. Frankino, and Olivia for making this trip amazing, it wouldn’t have been great without y’all’s leadership.
Lydia Mammen | Mission Trip to Malawi, Africa
As some of you know, I had the opportunity to go to Malawi, Africa this summer. It’s hard to find words to adequately express our time there, and I know my words will fall short. But I am thankful to have something to share because the work there is something worthy of notice.
Our trip to Africa was a mission trip. As someone who loves Jesus with her whole being, this was literally the most exciting and soul-satisfying thing to be part of. However, this trip wasn’t about building houses in Africa, or feeding hungry African children, or whatever other ideas we think of about a mission trip. It was about sharing the news of Jesus Christ to the people there. A mission not just for two weeks in Africa, but a call for my life.
And maybe that’s why it’s been hard to write about this. Because really, this trip wasn’t about us; it wasn’t about the missionary. It really was and is all about Jesus Christ and who we believe Him to be. That’s what consumed our thoughts and actions there, and I hope here as well. And to write about that is a daunting task.
So the trip wasn’t about us, it was about Jesus, and about my African brothers and sisters. It was about Gods love for this world and all people.
With that being said, we didn’t go there to “save” people. We didn’t go there to “make them” Christians. And we didn’t go there to preach words of irrelevance to them. It wasn’t about conversions, or imposing morality. Yes, we hope and pray everyone may come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, but not through force or judgement. To us, they were not a project. We refused to see them as some low life people that we were there to save or help. They were our brothers and sisters. We had as much to learn from them, as they had to learn from us, maybe even more.
Instead we desired something far simpler than those things. We desired relationships. A task that was quite hard when working in the villages. We didn’t know the language. We weren’t sure how to teach or help them, or if they even wanted us there. They were fairly uneducated, and did not have the best quality of life in our terms, but they were people who loved life and were joyous in all things. And we wanted to love them, not because we are good at loving, but because Christ loves them and gave His life for them. We wanted to know them, not because we are selfless, awesome people (literally am the opposite of that), but because God knows them and yearns for deep relationships with his sons and daughters, whether we want that relationship or not.
So we pursued them. We cared for them. We just did life with them. That’s all we wanted. Yes, we taught them, and helped them, and did the things you think someone might do on a mission trip. But the point was to show them Christ – that was our only hope and prayer. We hoped to be people who reflected Him, that if they saw anything in us, they would see Christ in us. They would see His love, His grace, His goodness. They would see the One who passionately loves them, pursues them, and knows them. And for my sweet brothers and sisters in Africa, those were the very things they craved. They craved to be known, to be loved, to be seen. You could see it in their eyes as they looked up to you hoping you remembered their name. You could see it in the absolute joy they had when you chose to sit by them. Just one look into their eyes and you could sense their deep longing to be loved and noticed. And in those moments I realized the things they craved for where the same things I craved for. We all want those things deep down. So we went to show them that they were known, loved, and seen. We went to show them that they were cared for and important. Not just to us, but by the Creator Himself.
I know this update wasn’t meant to be a platform to share my beliefs or preach, and I hope it doesn’t come off that way. But I went to Africa, and this was what happened. I could tell you it went amazing and give you a list of thing we did in that two weeks, but that just wouldn’t be enough. Because it wasn’t about me or those “things” we did. It was far greater than that. It was about our God and how wonderfully He works and brings all things together.
Bringing it back to Bonner, one of the interesting aspects of the trip was learning how the things I learned in Africa also taught me how to be a better Bonner. It’s helped me understand why I am a Bonner. It’s not merely to be a part of a super awesome community (which I love). It’s not merely to develop projects that help people (which is awesome). But ultimately, for me, it is to build relationships and in any way portray the love of my Savior.
And as servant leaders, I think that’s a great lesson for us all – that we figure out why we do what we do. Before going to Africa, I was trying to help people the way I thought they needed help. But I’m learning that wisdom comes in listening. Effective work comes in paying attention to people, and really caring for them. I saw that in Africa. So let’s not get swept up in being project minded that we forget people. Let’s not get so carried away with our high aspirations, that we miss relationships. At the end of the day it should be about serving others, not us. I think if we pay a little more attention here, our projects would be more than just projects, they’ll be our passions. I have found where passion and innovation meet, great things happen. (Definitely stole that line from somewhere, but oh well.) And I see that with our program.
So may we pause, and take time to listen. May we take time to build relationships, and love a little more. Not because we have to, but because we get to. For me, that’s what has made this whole thing worth it. Not my project being the success story of the year, but helping just one kid, where they are, how they are. It really makes all the difference.