Thursday, March 21, 2013

Blessed

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

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