Thursday, March 28, 2013

17 Strangers, One Short Week, and a Lasting Impact

As I am STILL trying to fully recover from the trip I continually catch myself constantly daydreaming about Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) not just in class, but anywhere I am for that matter. I have completely procrastinated and dreaded this blog post because my experience in T&T was so enriching that it is a daunting task to sift through my memories of everything that happened. I look through friends’ pictures, add Trini friends on facebook, continue to interact with my new UofL friends, and I am overwhelmed all over again. 

            Initially, I was extremely excited about getting accepted to go on this trip and I had high expectations for what my experience was going to be like. I spent hours looking through pictures posted by UofL of past trips and I constantly referred back to the experiences of my friends who have gone on ISLP trips before. However, after my first class meeting I was beyond terrified. I knew I wasn’t going to know anyone going into this, but I imagined there would at least be one other person that was an education major whether undergrad or graduate?! I frantically started contacting faculty members and people that had been on the trip before trying to find some kind of comfort, reassurance, or a way OUT! I mean I didn’t even know what a symposium was! In spite of my meltdown, the amazing Dr. Cuyjet & sweet Shirley Hardy were able to calm me down and I pushed through my awkwardness. If it weren’t for the faculty I probably wouldn’t have gone on the trip. I was afraid I would have nothing to contribute and I would not fit in, but they helped me find my place in the group. 

            The many weeks of planning and stepping out of comfort zone leading up to the trip were well worth the short week of MORE planning, work, and stepping out of my comfort zone yet again! I am so thankful that I was able to attend and take on this journey with my fellow classmates. I made new, and what I believe to be lasting, friendships with people I will never forget. Even though I was the only one of my “kind” in the group, it didn’t feel like it at all! These girls accepted me and helped me STAY out of my comfort zone. That is something that I can never thank them enough for! Meeting fellow UofL students was one of my favorite aspects of the trip.

            Lastly, even after being home for 11 days now I still find myself bringing up the trip to others more than ever. I am missing the land and the people like crazy! As a future educator, I work with kids a lot. When I decided to help plan the lesson for the day at the secondary school I envisioned my teacher mode to kick in at full force. However, I have never worked with older kids before, so again, I was pushed out of my comfort zone, but oh was I rewarded. I had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with high school kids who showed me that they could be just as fun to work with as the little ones! Although not to my surprise, my favorite day of all was when we got to work at It’s Up to MEnvironmental! I was able to do hands-on work (my FAVORITE!), meet new people from another country who are my age and exchange contact info, interact with young kids, and make a lasting impact on a community that is hurting. My only wish is that we could’ve had the symposium afterour experiences at the recycling center and school so that we could use both of those days as first-hand references in our presentations. Maybe then I would’ve spoken up a little more on my opinion of community involvement!

It’s hard for me to confine this experience into a blog post, but I am not exaggerating when I say this was all-around one of the best experiences of my life to date. If I can persuade someone from UofL to attend one of these trips (Trinidad & Tobago in particular) I would simply tell him or her, “You’ll thank me later”. I felt like the Lord led me to go on this trip for a reason, and now I understand why. 

Kristen Holloway
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Hindu Experience

     When first compiling information for a project on the school system in Trinidad and Tobago, I ran across a fact that, though rather dry, spoke to me.  The demographics of the country were noted as being 40% Indian/Hindu, 40% Black, and 20% mixed race or other.  I stuck that tidbit of information into my report, rattled it off, and promptly moved on…
     That is until I came face-to-face with a large Hindu culture that I have never been able to experience as a Kentuckian, even in the more cosmopolitan areas like Lexington and Louisville.  Our guide for the tour was the incomparable Mr. Chandar Supersad, Career & Placement Officer in Student Advisory Services at the University of the West Indies – St. Augustine.  Our first stop was in the city of Chaguanas, where we took a stroll and looked at historical edifices such as The Lion House as Mr. Supersad interwove historical narratives of the development of Trinidad and Tobago with his own personal family history. 

     From there we took a lovely bus tour through Chaguanas and learned about the economic impact of the sugar plantations and saw the beautiful Indian-inspired architecture of many of the homes.  Further out of town, we arrived to the Temple of the Sea in Waterloo, a modern marvel that was built completely by hand by an indentured servant named Sewdass Sadhu.  The Temple stretches out into the water, a mere 8 miles from the Venezuelan coastline.  On clear days, you can actually see to South America!


     Before a trip to a local pottery making shop and a fantastic vegetarian lunch, or as my colleagues referred to it, “Sarah’s Thanksgiving,” due to my love of exotic foods and veggies, we stopped at the exquisite Dattatreya Temple and 85 foot Hanuman Murti in Carapichaima.  Although visitors are welcomed openly, being in the presence of the beautiful relics of the Hindu religion was contemplative, serene, and a nice break from all the hustle and bustle of the city. 


     Our entire experience in Trinidad and Tobago was incredible, but our time enjoying the cultural sites in and around the capital Port of Spain were breathtaking in their scope and the most unique part of the trip for me.  I am so glad to have Mr. Supersad’s humorous “insider” knowledge of the area he has called home for many years.  I hope to return with friends and family one day to share all I have learned and to learn more still!

Sarah Arenas
Disability Resource Center Graduate Assistant for Programming
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Thursday, March 21, 2013


With our days being so busy, I didn't really feel like I had a lot of time to reflect at the end of each day. But now that I've been home, I've had the chance to really process this last week. I could sum up the trip in one word: blessed.
First, I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to not only go on this trip, but to study at the University of Louisville. Through readings and classroom discussions prior to the trip, we learned about the education system in Trinidad and Tobago. The government will cover the tuition costs for residents, but students are still responsible for the the other costs. They also are required to give back to the country in some fashion after graduation. Students' admission into a tertiary institution is also based on their test scores. While the cost is covered, the enrollment rate is much lower than that of the US. So even though post-secondary education is more accessible in the U.S., I think we tend to take that opportunity for granted; it's expected that you attend college. I know that I've taken my education for granted. I've realized how blessed I am to have the opportunity to have not only received a Bachelor's degree, but now to work on my Master's degree. 
It was amazing to get to see the beauty of Tobago. Trinidad is a much more industrialized island, whereas Tobago is all about tourism and beautiful landscapes. We were able to relax, enjoy the ocean, lay by the pool, and eat delicious food! One highlight of our stay was the glass-bottomed boat ride and snorkeling. During that boat trip, I had the chance to watch a couple of people conquer some of their fears. It can be terrifying to let someone see your vulnerability, especially people that you do not know well. I am so proud of everyone that stepped out of their comfort zone (and into the ocean)! 
Our opportunities to work with It's Up to Menvironmental and the Success Laventile Secondary School really gave me a refreshing perspective. Our small group of 17 was able to make a big impact at both locations. I think people often feel overwhelmed with the problems that exist in the world and feel that they are only one person. However, your small steps can serve as examples for others; they may see you volunteering and feel inspired to take action. Just our presence in the SeaLots community, which is comparable to West Louisville, showed other Trinidadians that it is okay to go into that neighborhood. While we were at It's Up to Menvironmental, we worked alongside students from the University of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as employees and residents of SeaLots. The expectations leading up to that day were that we would get projects started that would be completed at a later date. However, the dedication, teamwork, and hard work of all of the volunteers allowed us to accomplish so much more that day. We also found out that the next day, It's Up to Menvironmental received a large volume of calls from individuals and businesses who are interested in working with them. How exciting!
Overall, I have gained a new perspective on higher education and the benefits it can provide. I've learned that although we are separated by an ocean, students in Trinidad and Tobago are not that different from my classmates and me. This has also implanted a strong desire to continue to travel and incorporate some form of service into future trips.
Niki Royce
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Bond...James Bond

     When we had our first reflection conversation in Trinidad and Tobago, we were asked to share one word that encapsulated our experience up to that point and I jokingly said, “Bond…James Bond.” It was a joke because in Tobago, we visited  a house (and by visited, I mean we swam out to the house and got to go inside it because it is no longer inhabited and is owned by the government) where Ian Fleming may have secretly lived while writing some James Bond novels in the 1930s and 1940s. As everyone on the trip now knows, I had a geek-out moment and got really excited about seeing it. Needless to say, it was definitely a highlight of the trip.
     However, I think the word “bond” outside of the context of 007 does a really great job of encapsulating how much this experience meant to me. The bonds I made with my fellow U of L students, staff and faculty and with the people we met in Trinidad and Tobago were the best part of the trip. 

     I want to start by talking about the bonds I made with my fellow U of L colleagues. When I joined the trip, I was not sure what to expect. I knew that some of my friends from the program would be going, but I did not know any of them too well (except for a coworker, Ashleigh). So, I wasn’t quite sure how I would function with the group. And, to be honest, I still didn’t know everyone very well before we left. But, during the short week that we were in Trinidad and Tobago I gained some friends that I think I will have for life. I learned about Kristen, a quiet education masters student who has a passion for service and for UK (but I won’t hold that against her); I had a heart-to-heart with Sarah, a fellow CSP student, about relationships and life paths; I stayed up until 5am with Kheo, another fellow CSP student, talking about philosophy, psychology and behavioral intervention; I met just about everyone on the island with Raqueal and Naomi, two undergrads who are best friends and the most beautiful social butterflies I’ve ever known; I got to know Dondra, another CSP student, who has the most service-oriented personality and a vivacious son who she missed dearly; I learned how to whine (a fun Trinidad and Tobago dance) with Nikki; and my coworker and roommate, Ashleigh, a fellow CSP student, showed me how to work hard and play hard. I’m not sure what the experience would have been like without these women, but I don’t want to think about it because they made it so amazing for me.
     I also enjoyed hanging out with the faculty and staff on the trip inside and outside of the classroom. Dr. Cuyjet, Dr. Jackson, Pam, Shirley and Joy made sure our experience was meaningful. Dr. Cuyjet prepped us by teaching us all about tertiary education in the Caribbean; Dr. Jackson helped us learn some tricks of the trade for presenting and working with colleagues; Pam not only helped us understand Trinbagonian culture, but also made sure we had all the great experiences we did (the service project, the work in the school, the tours); Shirley made sure we had food in our bellies, a roof over our head and wheels to take us where we needed to go (needless to say, we would be nowhere without her); and Joy gave us her unique perspective of being from the Caribbean. All of these people took the time to give us each individual attention and created an experience that allowed us to grow and learn from them and from one another.

     Lastly, I want to highlight just how wonderful it was to meet everyone in Trinidad and Tobago. From the locals in Tobago to our co-presenters in Trinidad, we would not have gotten to know the islands the way we did without them. As soon as we set foot in Tobago, we got to meet some locals at the hotel who taught us about living there. That was soon followed by the amazing tour of Trinidad that Chandar Supersad gave us. That was closely followed by working with other students from the University of Trinidad and Tobago and with the folks from It’s Up to MEnvironmental on our service project. Then, we got to meet our colleagues from the University of the West Indies who taught us even more about scholarship, service, and having fun. After that, we got the chance to meet some secondary school students in Trinidad who were some of the brightest and friendliest young people I have known.  I can safely say that working and limin’ (relaxing) with all of these people created the best bonds of all. 

     So, now that I am having serious withdrawals because it is snowing outside in Louisville, I’ll leave you all with my own personal form of blogging and reflection: photography. Below are two links, one to my photos on Flick and one to my photos on Facebook. Check them out to get the a firsthand account of my experience there!
Facebook photos: Trinidad and Tobago

Taylor McGovern U'Sellis
Residence Life Coordinator for Residence Education and Sustainability Efforts
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

One Week Later...

I think my mind is still in Trinidad and Tobago. Since returning home, I can't stop thinking about the crystal clear waters, embracing temperature and island culture. In seven days, I have fallen in love with an entire country. My experience was nothing short of amazing. I have meet so many people, conquered fears and changed for the better. I love how just the right amount of items where integrated throughout the week. From social to civic, we were immersed in the culture. I was able to gain and polish friendships with people, while connecting on a deeper level. This trip has ignited my desire to travel abroad more! I can't wait to see where I go next!
Ashleigh Taylor
Miller Hall Graduate Building Director 
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Back Home

After 16 hours of traveling and a night back in my own bed, it feels good to be home. But that doesn’t change the fact that I already miss Trinidad and Tobago. This past week was an unforgettable experience. When I heard about this opportunity, I immediately jumped on it, as I had been itching to travel again. I think it only further ignited that itch, though!

Even though I have traveled internationally in the past, performed service work, and explored new cultures, this trip is unlike any I’ve ever taken. We squeezed a lot in one week: recreation and relaxation in Tobago; cultural exploration in Chaguanas, an Indian area of Port of Spain in Trinidad; service work at a non-profit organization with Trinidadians (also known as Trinis); and professional development experience speaking at the symposium on civic engagement. I felt like I was in a constant state of exhaustion, but I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Some of the UofL students with our symposium co-presenters from UWI!

This is from the day we spent exploring Chaguanas (the Indian neighborhood). It is a beautifully painted ceiling at a Hindu temple

 Although I definitely enjoyed relaxing by the infinity pools at both the Blue Waters Inn in Tobago and the Hyatt in Trinidad and snorkeling and swimming, some of my favorite experiences from the trip involve interacting with the people we met while there. On Wednesday, we painted and cleaned up a warehouse where a local non-profit organization recycles. Here we had the opportunity to work alongside students and staff from the University of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the staff of the organization. It was amazing to see the transformation after we all put our hands to work. Painting a wall next to Ricardo, one of the students I met, made me realize how similar we actually were to the students in Trinidad and Tobago. Then during the last session at the symposium, students, faculty, and staff from three different universities were sharing their ideas on civic engagement. Even though these universities are in two different countries with two different cultures, our thoughts on this topic were the same.

On the other hand, there were several differences I noticed in Trinidad and Tobago. I loved learning about these and absorbing their culture. The students from the universities there told us about dance moves, soca music, and the sport of cricket. I also discovered that they call crosswalks “zebra crossings” due to the diagonal stripes. We even got to see some students at the secondary school where we volunteered play the steel drums. Also called pan, the steel drums are known for being the only acoustic instrument invented in the 20th century. Because it originated in Trinidad and Tobago, pan is a cultural icon in their country. The students we watched perform have won the Junior Steel Pan National Championship three years in a row! The video below is them playing “Grenade” by Bruno Mars and is one of my favorite memories from the trip.

What I loved most about Trinidad and Tobago’s culture, though, is the laid-back attitude they embrace. Our tour guide told us by Thursday afternoon, it is already the weekend and the locals are ready to lyme (their word for relaxing and hanging out). I think I was able to adopt this attitude while there because I went with the flow, which for those of you that know me is very hard for me to do. I don’t remember the last time I was so stress-free! As soon as school and work pick back up again, I will be dreaming of going back I’m sure. In the end, this experience taught me so much: from learning about their culture, to meeting new people, to giving back to the community, it was a trip in which I not only gained but also gave.

Jennifer Plymate
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Monday, March 18, 2013

Students and Steel Pans

     During our time at Success Laventile Secondary School (SLSS) we were given the chance to work directly with students, ages ranging from 12-17. Through hands on activities, we had thorough discussion about recycling and it's importance. The students were all very receptive and engaged, many of them excited to share their insights and experiences. It was a very rewarding experience to have conversations with the students and learn more about their lives and passion for learning and being successful. Many of them have aspirations of going into medicine or engineering. As extremely bright students attending a school in a gang infested neighborhood, they had fabulous attitudes and outlooks on life. Their eyes were bright and their smiles wide; it seemed as though no obstacle could stand in their way--a very refreshing perspective to see a young person have. 

      Before we left, several young boys who play the steel plan drums were eager to share their skills with us. Anxious with anticipation, we crowded into a room to get a first hand view of the core of the Trinidadian culture. Within seconds, my arms were covered in goosebumps and my eyes filled with happy tears as the unique and unmistakeable fantasy-like rhythm of the steel pan drums filled the small, humid space. Immediately I was filled with thoughts of how very blessed I am and how talented these young men were. All I wanted in that moment was for them to succeed in whatever their dreams are, because they were so full of life and confidence behind the pans. 


     Because of our time spent in the SLSS, I would love to come back a second time, spending significant time in the primary and secondary schools, giving the students exposure to international citizens, as well as sharing our encouragement to them that they have the potential to do big things. This reignited my fire to work with Junior Achievement and go into the schools in Louisville to work with the students.

Lindsay Peters
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

First Time, but Not My Last

I am soooooo proud of everyone today! We collaborated with It's Up To Menvironment and accomplished several tasks. This was my first time engaging with a non-government organization (normally referred to as non-profit in the USA) and found the experience extremely rewarding and humbling. Being able to say that I was a part of a community effort to improve its environment has given me more purpose than anything I've ever done. Although I was initially uncomfortable with wielding a hammer to disassemble a wooden palette, it actually did not feel like work. Perhaps it was due to the collaborative effort toward a common goal with people whom I came to understand and really like that made the task bearable, and I would even venture to say…. FUN! 

A lot of previous assumptions were challenged that day. I really enjoyed working with the students from the University of Trinidad and Tobago. My poor partner almost lost his thumb though for instilling too much faith in my ability to wield a hammer. Nonetheless, I had such a great time. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and have been inspired to embark in more.

Kheo Ly
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Final thoughts of the Belize '13

This was my second trip to Belize and it met every expectation from the last. If any friends or family members of the trip are reading this you should be very proud of them. Everyone on the trip was extremely supportive of each program we had to offer for the people of Belize. The chemistry of the group as a whole was something I am unable to describe. Everyone worked well together and that made for an amazing experience. We came from different studies and points of views but everyone came together for a common goal.

My favorite moments were at the Georgetown school. I was fortunate enough to have the same classroom for each of my sessions so I got to know the children on a more personal level. The kids were very eager to open up and listen to our lessons. We planned to play games and bring our message through funny sketches. Most of the kids just wanted attention. I was more than willing to do so when I saw their faces light up when I talked them. I will never forget the time I spent in the classroom with the students. At the end of the classroom session they shared a part of their culture and history with the group through a special dance performance. They made masks and played the drum to specific cultural dances we were fortunate enough to witness.

They brought us out in front of the school to dance with them. I have to say my skills do not lie in dancing, but I tried it anyway! We all felt touched and appreciated as we left Georgetown.
I am finishing this blog on the plane ride home. I am sad to leave but excited to gain some great friends on this trip. I would definitely recommend that anyone able to take this trip it was more than worth my time. The energy and time I put into this trip I received back tenfold. This experience opened my mind to the world and humbled my way of thinking. Even though the people of Red Bank and Georgetown do not have the opportunities we have in the states the live happy lives.

Stay Awesome!
Matt Stephens

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Parting Paradise

Bittersweet emotions filled the air as we wrapped up our service trip to Belize.  On Thursday, at the completion of our last work day, the students of Georgetown performed a traditional Garifuna dance to bid us farewell.  The singing and dancing, and overwhelming gratitude, was more than enough to bring tears to our eyes.  It's amazing the impact a group of people can have on you in just a few short days.  I am already planning my annual budget to include funds to return to Belize with the ISLP trip next year!  I can honestly say I left a part of my heart in Belize.

After a tearful departure, and countless embraces, we returned to the Pelican Resort in Georgetown for one last night. After dinner, we had the pleasure of watching a traditional Garifuna dancing group perform.  We even had the chance to learn some sweet dance moves and join in! Again, the hospitality that has been offered to our group throughout the entire trip has been tremendous.

As we wait for the departure home from Atlanta, watching the Cards game at an airport sports bar, I am filled with a mixture of feelings.  Exhaustion and a bit of homesickness are producing anticipatory feelings for returning home.  But, at the same time, I long for just one more moment in Belize.  This ISLP trip was truly a life-changing experience.  I am now surrounded by amazing new friends who share my passion for serving others-- could it get any better?

I could write for days about my love for the people, culture, and scenery in Belize, but it's time to grab a drink and cheer on our CARDS boys! Farewell.

Gina Perronie
Senior Nursing Student

National Day of Service in Trinidad and Tobago

Today, we visited what is the equivalent of our middle schools to teach the students about the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling on the island of Trinidad. The students at Success-Laventille Secondary School were amazing. We had a fun time with the students by leading them in the CARDS cheer and explaining a little bit about Kentucky and UofL. When we asked them what they knew about our state, the common answer was "fried chicken!!" 

      While these students blew us away with their knowledge on the topic, we were told by the teachers that there was little encouragement and government support for the initiative. We are hoping that through the media and our work in sprucing up "It's Up To MEnvironmental" that the government will take more notice in the subject and encourage the people of Trinidad and Tobago to take care of their beautiful islands.

       As the title of my blog indicates, today was proclaimed the National Day of Service by the Minister of Education. Our group is so happy that this day was initiated by our efforts to help our friends in Trinidad. Today, we all wore purple t-shirts in the school to show our support.

      I think I can speak for the entire group of UofL faculty, staff, and students on this trip in saying that I am so excited to see the progress of Trinidad and Tobago and their ability to help turn their country around. While many may think that just staying a week in a country doing multiple things doesn't create any attachment, I know that Trinidad and Tobago will forever hold a place in my heart. I can't wait to see this country continue to grow and prosper and am proud to be part of UofL and the footprint it continues to leave in this country for years to come!

Heather Riley 
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program