Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers

Featuring Thomas Mastro, MPA-SSA ’18

Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Partnership
May-June 2017
Tom Mastro, MPA-SAA 2018
 “He handed me a canvas that said “I love you Thom. Feel Freee.” This moment was filled with emotions and will be something that I remember for the rest of my life.”

Part 1: Excitement, challenges and a nervous mom

Never studying abroad before or even leaving the country prior to this trip, made me and more importantly, my mother very nervous! As a CCPA student in both undergrad and now graduate school, I always heard of study abroad opportunities throughout both CCPA and the University as a whole.

Starting as a graduate student this past fall I stumbled upon this program through an email list serve. What attracted me to the Malawi program over others was the sustainability aspect to the project that I saw and heard from students who attended the program last summer.

One of the struggles I faced leading up to this trip was how close my brother’s wedding was to the day that we’d be returning. With my brother’s wedding being in my parents yard a great deal of preparation around the house needs to be done leading up to the big day.

Another challenge…leaving the country has always been a major fear of mine. Being actively involved in student government, I’ve always been very interested in federal politics and international affairs. With everything going on in the world it has always frightened me to leave the U.S. and then have something happen, either here in the  States or abroad.

Two days before leaving for Africa it really hit me. It really came full circle that Malawi was no longer just a thing that I was going to be doing in May, but rather something that was really happening in a few days. Walking into JFK and seeing everyone ready to get on the plane, I became even more excited.

As I sit on the plane right now and look around at all the people from around the world, I couldn’t be more excited and thankful for this trip and all that will come out of it.

Part 2: Unexpected emotion, the shock of educating in poverty and a life-changing friend named “Chimwemwe”

Week one in Malawi, complete. There is and has been, a lot going on in my head throughout this week, much like many of my peers on this trip. Growing up, my friends have always made note that I don’t have “emotions” and if I do, you certainly won’t be seen me showing them in public.

This week, my emotions were tested. I have always had a passion for working with children and in the education arena. Driving up to MCM on Monday this week, my view and scoop on education, children living in extreme conditions and poverty, has drastically changed and changed for the better.

This week, I threw myself into as many activities and opportunities as possible. As a leader of the community schools work group, I visited classrooms and meeting with teachers. This experience was eye opening.

It was difficult for me to follow along with the class lecture because of the shock I was feeling as I looked around the classroom. Conditions seen in this room was ones I’d never seen before. For example, this classroom had no desks, but rather plastic chairs that the students worked at. Supplies for students are minimal in all classrooms and something that was discussed prior to our arrival, but I wasn’t anticipating it being to this degree.

Following my classroom visit, I was walking back to the main MCM building when I heard a voice behind say “Uncle!” This is when I met Chimwemwe. He stood there holding a soccer ball (football), smiling and eager to play. I knew this would be my buddy throughout my stay in Malawi.

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Tom with Chimwemwe

We ended up playing soccer every day since. Our soccer games started off as just the two of us and have grown to a large group of boys. I instantly came to the realization that I was not only out of shape, but every time I would get the ball I was reminded that my foot skills were not up to par with Chimwemwe and his friends at MCM!  Chimwemwe, myself and other boys at the school played not only soccer but basketball, baseball and made paper airplanes.

On Friday, Chimwemwe, grabbed my hand and brought me over the arts and crafts area and started drawing me a picture. He used a mini canvas board and shielded what he was writing from me until he was done with it.

He handed me a canvas that said “I love you Thom. Feel Freee.” This moment was filled with emotions and will be something that I remember for the rest of my life.

I am eager to return to MCM on Wednesday after the Lake and enjoy the five days left at MCM.

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Tom and the boys. Chimwemwe sporting the Cowboys tee and big grin.

Part 3: Program gratification, the importance of internet access and hopeful plans for the future

This past Saturday was one of my most enjoyable days here in Africa. For the second time, fellow classmates, Dr. Blitz and myself met with MCM’s teachers and administrators dove into the of best ways to teach and educate students who might be struggling with trauma and toxic stress. In my opinion, this was both engaging and informative.

The partnership MCM has with Binghamton University is unique in that the projects and initiatives such as teacher training, soap making or young women’s initiative, to name a few, are all looked at as long-term projects.

From the start, it was understood by all those attending this trip that whatever we provide to MCM with our projects, it needed to be sustainable and able to be continued once we leave. I believe we accomplished that across all our programs. The teachers’ who attended the training showed both enthusiasm and eagerness to learn from us, which was exciting.

Following our three-hour training, myself and my peers immediately started to discuss ways to make trainings such as the one we assisted with more consistent and frequent. We discussed why it would be difficult to provide additional trainings throughout the school year from the U.S.

I believe the biggest issue and difficulty is the poor internet and Wi-Fi in Malawi. Hosting an online video training from the U.S. would be challenging.

Exciting for both the partnership between the University and MCM is the possibility of bringing Malawi educators Phoebe and Henock to the U.S. for an education conference in New York and a visit to the Binghamton area.

This opportunity would allow them to attend a professional development conference surrounding education and meet like-minded educational professionals. Bringing Phoebe and Henock to the Binghamton area to visit local K-12 schools would be an amazing experience.

Watch for more Malawi Moments, sharing the first-hand experiences of Binghamton University student volunteers in the Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Program.

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Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program Returns: Some of What I Have Learned in Three Years of the Program*

[the what] The Peru Service-learning and Spanish Immersion Program returned in June from its third year running. Students are back in the swing of things, having started internships and jobs. Professor Nadia Rubaii and I are back to research and planning classes for the Fall 2015 semester.

During our time in Peru for three weeks, the Program, which included this year 18 students and 2 faculty leaders, did a total of 448 hours of Spanish language classes and 56 hours of Quechua (an indigenous language spoken widely in the Andean mountains of Peru) by 2 students at our partner language school, Maximo Nivel, and over 800 hours of service work with our three service partners who you have read about by our posts from our CCPA graduate students (Sarah Glose, Helen Li, Diana Reyes, Dina Truncali, Liz Pisani-Woodruff, and Carolina Garcia): AbrePuertas, Corazon de Dahlia, and the Comedor called Virgin de Fatima.

5.The Group at Corazon de Dahlia

Students were able to see local development, often from the bottom up at all of the service sites. The service sites were all different in how they ‘tackled’ local development and issues of poverty, as one student wrote in a blog post for CCE, “All three of the organizations are doing incredible things in different ways, helping to engage the members of their communities and enhance their lives as a whole.” During their time in Peru, students witnessed and practiced many public service values, and experienced both their challenges and opportunities in the context of Peru, including—issues around equity, effectiveness, community, solidarity, and sustainability.

So, was the Peru Program 2015 a success? If success is measured by building and continuing strong partnerships in Peru and by increasing learning and reflection on important local development questions, the answer is yes, the Peru Program was a success again in its third year.

[so what?] So now it is my time to reflect, given another successful year of the program. I think one of the most fulfilling parts of instructing and leading a class and international service-learning (ISL) program like the Peru Program is working with both the students and our service partners. As I mentioned in the initial Peru Program post, the Peru Program builds ethical considerations into the coursework to advance student learning objectives and also to establish the importance of our relationships with our service partners.

Students: Students come to the Peru Program with a predisposition to want to give and positively influence communities of all kinds. Some know they are going into public service careers like our MPA graduate students and MSW graduate students. Others know they want to go into a career that makes a difference but are exploring options. Students step into the first day of the pre-departure classes of the Peru Program with a desire to give.

6.The Group at Comedor

What I think ISL programs do so well is to complement this desire to give to community. That is, programs like the Peru Program can also foster an even more greater desire to learn. I imagine students knew they would learn something through the Peru Program. Of course they would, right? It is a class, they were doing readings, had papers, engaged in class discussions and the like. However, you cannot step into a new context, in this case Peru, without asking questions, and lots of them. Asking questions fosters learning and also requires that we ask the same questions about our own contexts. I tell students before leaving for Peru, during our pre-departure classes, that they should plan to learn more about Peru, for sure, but also to be just as prepared to learn as much about the U.S.

Service Partners: Our service partners also asked questions while working with us. Like for many of our students, for many of the service partners—both the organizational leaders and those served by the organizations—seeing and working with the Binghamton group was their first experience working side by side with people from another country. They asked a lot of questions and had curiosity about what students were studying, about the students’ families, and what they thought about Cusco, Peru—especially the food!

[now what?] As a professor at CCPA, I commit myself to giving Binghamton students these types of learning experiences. In a last reflection class during our time in Peru, students became critical of some of the macro and structural issues that cause poverty. We should be critical! It can almost seem overwhelming and hard to find solutions. However, what programs like the Peru Program do is put faces to these bigger structural issues. Students can reflect about how their life in the U.S. is related to the lives of the communities and our partners in Peru. Students can continue relations with our partner organizations through social media, information campaigns, fundraising and by returning if possible to Peru. One student explained in the final reflection session that during her time in Peru she was reminded that “people are people.” Indeed, learning and reflection can remind us that all people desire and deserve well being and opportunity, in the U.S., Peru and everywhere.

Looking forward to seeing the Peru Program’s success next year as well!

Susan Appe

Assistant Professor of Public Administration

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Reflecting on Mental Health and Social Services in the Peruvian and U.S. Context*

[the what] As I reflect on and observe my trip and experiences in Cusco, Peru, I notice that there are similarities and differences that can be exchanged between Peruvian culture and American culture.  My focus during the class in the Peru Program for study is mental health, and as such it is important to discuss and observe human behavior in social environments while in Peru and based on my experiences in the U.S. Understanding the importance of mental health and its strong connections to physical health is important, particularly when considering interventions in any culture.

American culture and society can be considered rich in available resources when dealing with any type of need for individuals.  The emotional and mental health needs of Americans are similar, if not the same in some circumstances, to those I observed in Peru, but the delivery of services can be considered dramatically different. The differences do not necessarily indicate negative or positive implications, but rather a better scope to decipher what is always necessary and what is secondary for any individual, regardless of culture. In Cusco, I observed a strong community and familial bond in every setting I found myself in.  Many individuals in Peru operate on a level of general care and concern for all of those around them.  Children were generally watched over by all, not just parents or immediate caretakers, many smiles were exchanged. Even when getting to know some of the locals in Cusco, I could feel the general caring and loving attitude that is practiced just from the behavior of those around me. While my American ethnicity was always an elephant in the room, the elephant was typically warmly welcomed and treated with general respect, even if there were questions for me to answer. While this experience for me may have been largely skewed by being American, I do believe there is a stronger bond among the people of Cusco as a whole.

In contrast, when speaking with a Peru Program service partner, Nestor, who is a psychologist and co-founder of AbrePuertas, I learned that mental health is still stigmatized and under-treated in Peru. Many individuals who suffer from any type of mental disorder are typically under-treated to the point of mental symptoms becoming largely physical leading individuals to their Primary Care Doctors. It is then that they realize the root problem is mental and then they are sometimes referred to a psychologist or mental health care professional. Early intervention and available resources do not seem to be as easily obtained in Cusco where it might be available in the U.S. more readily.

[so what?] Since mental health and physical health are so intertwined, it is through this experience, I sought to further look at what is necessary for any individual to live a high quality of life for them and those close to them, regardless of culture or ethnicity. Cusco appears to have an experiential type of learning and care-taking. This experiential learning and independent nature of children stayed with me beyond the trip into my thoughts here in America. I kept wondering why we care-take and parent so differently in the U.S. and questioned which method is better, and if either or both approaches led to different human behavior and mental health statuses both in comparison and in contrast.

An example of this is El Comedor, a site where myself and the other students worked during our time in Peru. The soup kitchen provided meals to any community members who were in need of food or nourishment. Whether it was a family or workers in the area, it was a general understanding that they come, eat a large meal for a small price, and leave with that need being met. This exchange demonstrating such a beautiful and useful way of indirectly tending to physical need, which cyclically improves mental health needs as well in a community bond strategy.

[now what?] In the U.S., community health is something that is constantly being revamped and improved in order to improve the overall health of individuals. Programs like El Comedor (the soup kitchen) and Corazon de Dahlia (a children’s after-school program) demonstrate a type of bonding among people and understanding of emotional and physical needs that Cusco seems to master through their innate human behaviors. On the other hand, there are systemic concerns that prevent some individuals in Cusco from achieving optimal health care and mental health goals in order to live a higher quality of life. While there may be very limited economic or government support in Cusco in comparison to U.S. for needs like emotional care or mental health care, the communities seem to take it into their own hands through bonding and affection—demonstrating true the public service value of community. Ultimately, the U.S. can benefit from the affectionate way that Peruvians care for one another and generally look out for each other when we are faced with challenges of apathy here at home.

The formal concern and understanding of the need for mental and physical health care in the U.S. would provide very beneficial change in the lives of many Peruvians on a macro level because of the need for a more resources and larger support. The formal health care that we provide in the U.S. could be useful if implemented in Peru for individuals suffering from behavioral dilemmas of any kind. However, U.S. mental health and social service might too have lessons to learn from Peru. A give and take from both cultures could benefit both greatly on mezzo/community levels and macro/systemic levels. If all human-beings are attempting to achieve optimal quality of life well beyond that of just surviving, then we can see the importance of using each other’s beneficial techniques in working with communities and its people.

Elizabeth Pisani-Woodruff

Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Social Work (MSW) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

A View From The Top: Local Government in the Andes.*

[the what] Coming to Peru I was most excited and anxious to talk to locals about the politics and government systems in place and how they felt about them. Doing research before arriving, I discovered that Peru had a long history of corrupt politicians and a large and very powerful central government that did not seem to be working for the citizens of Peru (this is true in many countries around the world!). Due to years of corruption under previous presidents such as Fujimori, who had been charged and convicted of human rights violations among other things, it seemed like Peru was on the right track, electing Ollanta Humala, who ran on a leftist platform, promising to reform government, stop mining and give power back to localities to better serve the people. I was really excited to hear how much things had changed since the times of Fujimori. However, what I have heard from most people I speak to here in Peru is that many people feel the new administration has been ¨more of the same¨ and very little has actually changed. When I asked My host Mom, Leonor, about the campaign promises that President Humala had made she said ¨that it was nothing more than propaganda, he has done nothing for Cusco¨ in particular. I was stunned, expecting that this would be a pleasant conversation about the good outcomes of decentralization, it quickly turned into a wakeup call. The political realities of the rural municipalities became abundantly clear after visiting our service sites of Abre Puertas in Coya, Corazon de Dahlia in Saylla and Comedor Virgen De Fatima in the outskirts of Cusco.

View of Cusco
View of Cusco

[so what] After hearing the opinions of the few people I spoke with I thought, wow there are so many problems and promises that have been broken to the Peruvian people, how will they ever more forward? I quickly realized that the culture here has a fierce sense of community and people truly take care of one another and their families. Even though there are various economic and social issues in Peru and more specifically Cusco, I learned through working with our service partners how resilient communities are and how they find solutions to difficult problems by working together. When volunteering at Abre Puertas in Coya, a rural community in the sacred valley of Cusco, we spoke to the Mayor and many other offices in the Municipality about the biggest obstacles they faced and how they dealt with them. They expressed that their budgets were far from enough to cover all the need in their community but they tried their best to promote the programs that were available them by speaking directly with the locals. They had one specific program to promote hygiene, environmental protection and reduced waste where the office literally had no budget, however they worked with individual families and neighborhoods to educate them on these issues and get volunteers to help out. The Mayor said they often have to compete for grants for certain projects but he seemed optimistic and proud about the work they were doing and the possibilities of the future.

AbrePuertas in Coya
AbrePuertas in Coya

[now what] All of the conversations with the Municipality and later with the staff at Corazon De Dahlia at our second service site inspired me as someone who will soon be working in public service. It has taught me that no matter the difficulty in any situation there is always a way to bring about positive change, especially when you bring the people you are trying to serve in the conversation. It is important for me to see how the public service value of collaboration in particular is key in any project and it takes many hand and minds for it to be successful. Working in Peru, which has such a deep history and robust culture, I have also learned that it is essential to be adaptable and conscious of the customs and beliefs of every place, neighborhood and community. As I continue to work on our last service project I constantly think about the impact we are making here and how long our efforts will go in terms of growing and helping these organizations, also keeping in mind the growth and experience they are giving us in return. I’m excited to continue to speak to locals and people who work or have worked in local government to learn more about the complexities of different systems and how they function, affect the people, and prevail.

Diana Reyes

Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

Buenos Dias! Our first week gone—Where did the time go?*

[the what] When I first landed in Cuzco, Peru, I was immediately hit with altitude sickness. Never thinking that I will be sick from the lack of oxygen, I spent the first few days in Cuzco with a constant migraine and fear of throwing up again. Once I settled in and got used to the change, I found that Cuzco was nothing like I expected. From the mountains surrounding the city to the traditional Inca landmarks throughout the alleys and streets, Cuzco is extremely beautiful in the city’s representation of their heritage.

One of the shelves painted for supplies at Abrepuertas (taken by Sarah Glose)
One of the shelves painted for supplies at Abrepuertas (taken by Sarah Glose)

Not only did the people breathe the essence of Peruvian culture, but the way in which they have conserved many of their beliefs and values has amazed me every day during my daily walk back and from Maximo Nivel. Since the first week, I have learned so much from just observations. From the stray dogs that wonder the streets, to the venders constantly trying to attract tourists with souvenirs, to the constant beeping of taxi drivers, Peruvians thrived on the amount of constant activity during the day.

Just these past few days, our group visited AbrePuertas, our first service-learning site. There we reconstructed recycled containers into shelves for materials within the classroom, helped build a new computer station for the children there, and interacted with the children. For example, we helped children with their homework and held games of soccer and kickball. The director, Ellyn, was very excited to have us help out and meeting the children was one of the best experiences ever. Although I am very excited for our next service-learning project, I will miss the people I’ve meet at AbrePuertas and hope to carry on the excitement I have for our next adventure at our second service site of Coraźon de Dahlia.

 Bing students with AbrePuertas students (taken by Sarah Glose)
Bing students with AbrePuertas students (taken by Sarah Glose)

[so what] As the first week has passed, I find myself realizing that three weeks here in Cuzco, Peru is extremely short. While learning Spanish for two hours in the morning every day before heading off to our service partners in the afternoon from 1pm to 6pm, there is not enough time to explore Cuzco. I wish I had more time to continue to fully immerse myself into the Peruvian culture!! In the following weeks until the end of this journey, I hope to learn more about the Peruvian people. Through observations and personal interactions, I hope to understand the culture better and broaden my understanding of its unique beliefs and heritage.

[now what] For someone who will be working in public service, I find that it is important to understand the service partners’ motivations and ideals in regard their own beliefs of what should be done to help their community. As our first service-learning site was at AbrePuertas, it was important to know what Ellyn needed us to do, to know that we are there to learn and to be able to communicate that we are there as learners who wish to commitment themselves to public service. At AbrePuertas, I felt that it was important for me to play an active role. I was no only very much learning but it brought me closer to many of the public service values of CCPA such as collaboration and working in fields of social justice.

 Ellyn, AbrePuertas founder and director, receiving a Certificate of Appreciation from Binghamton University (taken by Sarah Glose)
Ellyn, AbrePuertas founder and director, receiving a Certificate of Appreciation from Binghamton University (taken by Sarah Glose)

Our next stop would be at Coraźon de Dahlia. There we will be spending more time with the children and our task there is to come up with activities. I hope that my experience from AbrePuertas will allow me to better demonstrate my service-learning skills. Despite us only being there for the next two days, June 8th and June 9th, I believe that our time there will be awesome and it will also allow use to better understand the local development and municipalities in Peru. It will not only provide a better perspective of the student organization we have on campus which helps support Coraźon de Dahlia all the way from Binghamton, NY, but allow us to understand nonprofit work in Peru.

I hope those who are reading this blog are following along with our experiences here in Cuzco! Continue to follow us on our trip hashtag: #binguperu15 on either twitter and/or instagram. This is all new and exciting for us and I can´t wait to continute this experience with my classmates and two professors. For those who await for us to get back, I still can´t believe we´re able to go through this program. Challenges will be ahead of us, but I believe that as we continue on, we will gain even further knowledge of how to overcome them and stay true to the values of public service, especially as our group continues on to the second week of our adventure.

Helen Li

Master of Science in Student Affairs Administration (MSAA) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) Dual Degree Student

* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

YOU ARE A PHILANTHROPIST

Dear CCPA Friends:

Earlier this year, I shared my reflections about teaching philanthropy. Earlier this month, the students in my course Philanthropy and Civil Society completed their grantmaking. I wanted to share with you the blog post below, written by Brittany Berke, a student in the class, who reflected on what she learned over the course of the semester. The post is a wonderful example of the power of philanthropy and the promise of engaged teaching in preparing students for lives of active citizenship. After all, that’s what teaching at CCPA is all about, right? Happy reading!

David Campbell

YOU ARE A PHILANTHROPIST

“I am a philanthropist”. The first line of the first video we were assigned to watch for this class.  Remember this: four months ago, we entered Room 260 as a group of strangers. We introduced ourselves by name and year and explained why we were taking the class. For some it was a Scholars requirement, for others a PPL course, for others just a way to fill a gen ed. I would like to use this blog post to recognize how far we’ve come and what we’ve truly achieved.

On the first day of class, I explained that I was involved in theatre and hoped to approach philanthropy through that lens. I then proceeded to not do that at all this semester. Instead, I opened my mind to a whole new realm of possibilities. I soaked in everything that every one of you said and know that I’ve become a more informed and fulfilled person for it. I hope that you can all say the same.  We are philanthropists through our growth, improvement, and open-mindedness.

During our class today, as we deliberated how to finally divide our $10,000, I was struck by the power and integrity in the room. Some of the thoughts shared include: “Expansion is critical”, “Can our money have a better direct impact on other organizations?”, “This request has a sense of urgency to it” and “They gave us numbers for a reason”. These are questions and ideas we would not and could not have articulated back in January. This class has provided us with a new set of vocabulary and skills that most people our age don’t have, and that many people probably never will have. We are philanthropists through our understanding.

Some of us have expressed disappointment with our finalists; others have argued that we couldn’t have gone wrong in our decision-making. Many highly impressive and very deserving nonprofits applied for our grant, so did picking the “right” three really matter? I wholeheartedly answer yes to this question. Picking mattered, less because of our outcome, and more because of the remarkable process we struggled through together. We are philanthropists through our experience.

Once our decision was made, one class member mused “Maybe the heart won over the head for me a little bit” and many of us nodded in agreement. Will the heart always overpower the head, and if so did we waste our time debating between emotion and reason for so many weeks? I don’t think so. Heart alone would not have supported our process. Our hearts gave us passion. Our heads gave us values, criteria, and insight into the difference we could make with $10,000. Our reoccurring debate of Heart vs. Head perfectly sums up this class experience: we all came in with a lot of heart, but the heads we cultivated this semester led us to our final outcome. We are philanthropists through our hearts, heads, and the balance found between them.

Whether we gave money to your favorite organization or not, we should all be proud of what we have accomplished this semester. We have transformed from 25 strangers to 25 collaborative, understanding, and enlightened students. Please take a moment to consider how much you have changed personally and academically since our first day together in January. I would love to hear if any of you have specific memories from class that have defined this process for you, or rather that have helped this process to define you. Congratulations to everyone and thank you for this experience! We can now each say with pride and honesty “I am a philanthropist”.

Brittany Berke

Casi Salimos! We Are Off to Peru!

Casi Salimos! We Are Off to Peru!

[the what] On May 30th, 17 other students and I will got on a plane in New York City and flew to Peru for a three week study abroad program in Cusco, Peru. Here is a little preview of the mental preparation required to undertake such an endeavor.

Every time I mention this to family, friends, coworkers, peers, and even acquaintances, the first words out of their mouths are invariably, “You must be so excited!” When this happens, I smile and nod and say something banal about what a “great experience” it will be. What I do not say, however, is that I am terrified. I am nervous and anxious and overwhelmed and just plain scared. As the well-intentioned inquirer smiles at me, waiting for more information about the trip, my brain goes into overdrive. What will I pack? How much money should I bring? What if I don’t get along with my classmates on the trip? What if I lose my passport or my wallet or my luggage? What if I get sick? What have I gotten myself into?!

[so what?] Suddenly, fifteen hours of pre-trip instruction seems woefully inadequate to prepare me for life on another continent. It is at this point in the conversation that I usually freeze up and change the subject. I am ashamed of my fear. I am ashamed that I am not embracing the ambiguity and excitement of a study abroad experience, and I do not want to talk about it.

[now what?] However, today I am doing just that. I am standing up to my fear. I am telling it, “You won’t rule me.” For all of those people who asked me about going to Peru, here is what I should have said.

“I am spending three weeks in Cusco, Peru this summer, and I am excited and nervous. As a group, we will be working on three service projects, learning Spanish, living with host families, and exploring the country and culture. We’ll also be learning about the way that citizens interact with the government and civil society. This will, more likely than not, force us to address the unequal access citizens have to these institutions, and the institutional structures that cause that. I personally hope to look at the way that sustainable development does or does not happen in Cusco, and how this development is or is not compatible with the local culture.

I think it will be important that the people we work with learn from us just as much as we learn from them. This may not be possible all the time, but as a group I know we will work to create real relationships with the people we meet and treat them and not simply write them off because they are different from us or because we leave in a few weeks.

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the country and the program, and I think it will be a really great experience.”

To any friends or family who are reading this, I hope this makes up, at least a small amount, for how little I have said about Peru so far. To all readers, I hope you continue to follow this blog for updates about our experiences, both positive and negative. If you’re interested, you should also check out our trip hashtag: #binguperu15 on twitter and instagram.

I know that there will be challenges associated with studying abroad, and I know that I cannot possibly prepare for every situation that I will face, but I also know that my 17 classmates and two faculty advisors will be with me every step of the way.

Am I still nervous? Of course, but I am also ready. I am ready to take the leap and relate the experience to the public service values I reflect on as a graduate student in my CCPA coursework. Indeed, I am ready to learn. I am ready this experience. And I am ready for the next person who says, “you must be so excited!” When that happens, I will look that person in the eye and say, without hesitation, “Yes I am!”

Sarah Glose