As we all stood in a clustered group at the American Airlines terminal awaiting the last of our study abroad group members to arrive to the San Antonio International Airport, I glanced around and questioned: How will I relate to my peers in the program and where will we feel most comfortable in Guyana?
The introvert in me began to get anxious as I thought about how I would be spending the next 11 days with a group of people I barely knew in an unfamiliar place. I thought back to my reasoning for signing up for this study abroad trip and told myself that if I wanted to experience something new, I would need to find comfort in being uncomfortable.
After a few days of working in Georgetown Public Hospital and sitting window-side during our drives in Georgetown, Guyana, it was nice to take in the view as we passed by the same buildings, shops and seawall every day.
Through our interactions with the locals, we were always greeted with welcoming smiles and open arms. The growing familiarity of our surroundings in Georgetown and the hospitality of the Guyanese people made me feel more comfortable with being abroad.
Our group of mass communication students would get together any chance we had to tell each other our stories of the day. I enjoyed the times we stayed up late talking and the night we decided to stay in and make spaghetti for dinner. By sharing these similar experiences with each other during our study abroad trip, it brought our group closer together.
Throughout the duration of our trip, we also began to learn more about each other – our childhood, our fears, our goals, and much more. I found that I began to feel a sense of belonging with the group of people I once considered strangers.
Never did I think it would be possible to feel this close to a group of people in this short amount of time. As I reflect on our study abroad trip to Guyana, I am grateful for the many friendships that were made on this trip and I could not have asked for a better experience. Together, we created a home away from home in Guyana.
When I left for my study abroad trip to Guyana, I did not know what to expect. I never would have thought that a week after coming home, I would long for returning back to the country at the next opportunity. While this has been my only mission-type trip abroad, it has had a great effect on me.
Meeting Guyanese people and learning about their lives touched me in ways that I have trouble even getting onto paper (…or keyboard). We saw how they lived, the jobs they worked and how resourceful and resilient they can be.
We met high schoolers that want so much for themselves and that were inspired by these college students from Texas. The fact that you have these people that have never met you before, yet are so enthralled by you just being there in front of them gave me warm and fuzzy feelings. Those feelings sank straight into my chest and I hope they stay there forever.
Two people I met have impacted me the most—Sharisee, a student at Mackenzie High School and a little boy whose name I never even learned.
Sharisee, a senior and future journalist, talked to another Texas State student and I about her life and what she does on a day-to-day basis.
When the school day came to an end, she didn’t want to leave our sides, and to be honest, I didn’t really want her to leave either. She talked to us about her plans for the future—college or maybe traveling the world—and I want every dream she has ever dreamed to come true. She will be something one day… I have never been more sure of a first impression of someone.
The little boy I met lived at the Sophia Care Centre in Georgetown. While we were there, we gave out toys, snacks, clothing and books to the kids.
I had a stack of books that I would hand out to every kid and every time I brought out a different set of books he would ask me for one.
While most of the children only barely had any interest in the books, he was set on collecting every single book that we had to give. I eventually began to sneak over to him and hand him every one that I had. The books varied in subject, from U.S. History to women in the Civil War and technology development.
Before we left the center, I went up to him and told him that I hope he reads every book I gave to him. He looked up at me with a missing-toothed-grin and told me that he would. I have the highest of hopes for the boy whose name I will never know.
I went on a trip out of the U.S. with the goal that I would learn to be brave and independent.
Having only left the country once before on a family cruise to Mexico, I knew I was missing out. As a completely unseasoned traveler, my worldview was sculpted from growing up in North Texas, moving back and forth to Oklahoma and a couple days in the most touristy spot of Mexico.
However, as a journalism student, I’ve made it a priority to diversify my friendships, read stories by other people about other places and cultures and to always look at the planet with an open mind. This mantra, albeit harmless, was insufficient. Reading and listening to others’ ideas and experiences can keep a student keen, but now I know life is learned best when experienced firsthand.
So, I spent two weeks in Guyana with five of my peers from the mass communication department, and five students I had never met before from the College of Health Professions at Texas State. I flew on a plane for the first time, in the aisle seat of course, from San Antonio, Texas to Miami, Florida and a major layover later I was in Trinidad/Tobago then to Georgetown, Guyana.
I experienced so many firsts within those 24 hours-my first plane ride, my first-time on the other side of the U.S., my first time meeting some of my trip mates and my first time feeling completely elated knowing that I had no idea what the next few days of my life would look like.
We got off the Caribbean Airlines plane and immediately stepped foot on black pavement, surrounded by darkness, stars and humidity. Straight through customs, baggage in tow, we were through the small airport and welcomed by a camera crew. I talked to fellow journalists for a quick online segment that was posted the next day, and squished myself into a van for a bumpy, and what felt like forever ride to Project Dawn. We stayed at Project Dawn, a large hostile in Liliendaal, Guyana for the majority of our trip.
Project Dawn is where I made spaghetti one night because we were too exhausted to go out. It’s also where I learned to play gin rummy, met a Canadian anesthesiologist, ate countless meals of chicken and rice and learned the value of being far away from home sometimes.
I wanted to be a more adventurous student. I wanted to consider myself a brave traveler and well-rounded journalist and I hope I am still on my way to be all of those things. But what I really learned on this trip, following students around in hospitals, interviewing locals and hanging out with school children was that my whole life is not in Texas. I discovered that I felt most at home when up late at night discussing sources with my roommate, fighting off mosquitos in the Guyana interior and laughing too loudly in a bumpy van.
My trip to Guyana was not easy and each day presented a new challenge but with the help of my peers I felt at home because I was thriving as a student. I learned firsthand what it really means to be open minded to the world and to myself. The culture of Guyana bears its similarities to the U.S. but is overall so different, and I’ve learned to embrace that.
We flew into the country around 10 p.m. on Jan. 2. My heart was racing. The flight crew announced we would be getting off of the plane from the back. I thought, “I never realized they could hook one of those hallway things up to the end.”
I could not have been more wrong.
We walked down the airplane stairs right onto the tarmac. Everyone had their phones out preparing to snapchat the unfamiliar circumstance when most of us realized we did not have phone service. Through my phone camera lens, I saw a tattered building under construction, a structure resembling a home and a few planes stored off to the side.
We approached the home-like building only to figure out it was baggage claim and customs. What kind of airport was this?
Going into this, I knew it would be a different experience. I knew we would not have phone service unless we paid for an international plan. I knew Wi-Fi access would be limited. I knew it was a developing country. I knew people would be poor. I knew I would see things that in the states would be considered dreadful and horrific.
Yet, somehow, these people were (mostly) content with their lives.
Being from the United States, I wanted to experience a culture outside the privileged one I live here. Not only did I accomplish this, but I also began to realize the image we think of when we imagine developing countries is skewed to fit our mindset.
Most people who have not been to a developing country and are from the U.S. might think of the commercials we see on TV of starving kids in huts who have no clothes. While that perception of developing countries is not wrong, as many developing countries have these aspects, it is not all they have.
They have a community who deeply cares for one another; a community who makes use of the resources available to live the best possible life. While diversity is a huge aspect of Guyana, people there identify as Guyanese, despite their African, Amerindian, British, Chinese, Dutch, Indian or Portuguese roots. Guyana has a society that takes pride in their country, even if, by some American standards, it isn’t a place to which many people would willingly move.
Tell any Guyanese on the street where you are from, and the first thing they will greet you with is, “Welcome to the greatest place on Earth.”
To the people of Guyana, life isn’t prioritized around technology and connecting through a screen.
Life in Guyana is about living in the moment, as you are, where you are and as best as you can.
And that is an amazing perspective I will carry with me forever.
It’s Jan. 6 and we’re exploring Stabroek Market in Georgetown. I’m following our group, lead by Denroy Tudor who works for the Ministry of Public Health, taking in the crowded and packed market. It soon becomes clear that Tudor is working on gaining us access to the clock tower that stands high above the market.
In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, what an experience! We’re going to get to do something that not even all the locals do.’
It never occurred to me, that we would have to climb to the top …
… on winding staircases that aren’t completely closed off…
…that you can see straight through.
Back in Texas, my mom can’t even get me up more than one ladder step because of my fear of heights. Now, here in Guyana, I’m hurriedly following my group and trying not to get lost in the throng of people and products.
Before I know it, before I can process it, I’m ascending the steps.
I grip the handrail as my heart pounds against my chest and I’m trying to keep my emotions in control.
‘I want my mom. Right now. I need her,’ plays on repeat in my mind.
I make it half way, I’m told.
There’s only one more winding staircase between me and the top of this clock tower. I mindlessly trudge on, determined to take step after step and only think about that.
I can’t turn around, not really, because there’s the rest of my group behind me on this tiny, winding, hole-filled staircase. I shift my gaze from the market below me when sunlight begins to infiltrate my peripheral vision.
I emerge onto a patio of sorts, with a 360-degree view of the market. Bright buildings, cars and umbrellas are visible in every direction, except for the side with a gorgeous view of the Demerara River.
For a moment, I forget about the internal struggle I faced to get myself up the clock tower. I forget about the fact that I will have to go back down the tiny, winding, hole-filled staircases.
I look around at the city that has been my home for the past four days. The city that has welcomed me with open arms. This beautiful city filled with beautiful souls.
Before I came to Guyana, I was filled with so much anxiety about being away from my mom, my lack of respiratory therapy knowledge and my skills as a reporter.
As I’m staring at the people and cars below me, I’m also taking in the people surrounding me. My instructor who brought me here, my teammates who never fail to make me laugh and the respiratory therapy students who happily teach me about their work.
I’m realizing that I have it within myself to try new things, to accomplish things no matter how much they scare me. And, just as importantly, I have people in my life to help me along the way.
I go down the stairs with an adrenaline high. I don’t see the holes below me, I don’t trip over myself as much on the tiny steps and this time…
…there’s a smile on my face.
Photos by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team
An immersive study abroad program in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication