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Five Reasons Why You Should Study Abroad

I have always been told that studying abroad is on the list of ‘College Must-Dos’ and I am glad I took advantage of the opportunity before I prepare to graduate in May. Here is a list of my top reasons to study abroad:

Personal development

Texas State University professor, Sharon Armstead, waving to Georgetown Public Hospital doctors in the distance. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

Visiting Guyana helped me in growing as a person and gaining a wider world perspective. Before our study abroad trip, I had a fixed image of what a developing country looked like, based off of images I had seen on television. When we arrived in Guyana, we found, as my colleague Ashley Skinner described in her recent blog post, “a community who makes use of the resources available to live the best possible life.”  During our trip, I grew as a person by being exposed to things that were out of my comfort zone and by learning life skills along the way.

Experience a new culture

Texas State University mass communication student, Ashley Skinner (left), and respiratory care student, Xiomara Ojeda (middle), talk to woman (right) at local nursing home in Georgetown, Guyana. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

Studying abroad allows students to gain a better understanding and appreciation for other cultures. Traveling to Guyana was my first exposure to a new culture and I took in every moment. From interacting with local people to understanding the way others live, I did my best to fully immerse myself in the experience.

Take in the view

View of the Essequibo River from Baganara Island. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

Have you heard of the saying, “Stop and smell the roses.”? Well, honestly, you should. When in another country, it is important to take time to become calm and reflect on your experience, and even find a deep appreciation for the beauty that surrounds you. During my trip to Guyana, my time of reflection filled me with a sense of gratitude for being fortunate enough to be having this new experience and for getting to see new things.

Eat new food

Delicious meal prepared by Baganara Island Resort. Photo by Alana Zamora / Global News Team.

Wow, let me tell you – the amount of flavor packed into every meal is amazing! The great thing about Caribbean food in Guyana is the various Chinese, African and Indian influences. Although we ate chicken and rice just about every day, I enjoyed it all, especially the curried chicken and pepperpot. Wherever you go, go with an open mind and empty stomach because you are bound to find some new delicious foods!

Make lifelong friends

Texas State University mass communication and respiratory care students before they embark on their trip for the day. Photo by Aubrey Odle.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, never did I think it was possible to feel this close to a group of people in such a short amount of time. Studying abroad allows you to connect with the people you are traveling with on a whole different level because you all are experiencing something for the first time together. I am happy to say that I will forever cherish the memories that were made on my trip and I will be closely connected to my group of friends.


Eating food Guyanese style

One of the main questions that we have been asked since we arrived back home from Guyana has to do a lot with what it is that we ate. Luckily, we have some photographic evidence of that very thing!

While we were tired of eating chicken and rice towards the end of our trip, we did eat many new things that most of the students had never tried before.

Stewed Chicken with Fruit
Usually with our lunch and dinner we were always served with fruits and vegetables. Pictured here clockwise is stewed chicken, boiled pumpkin, collard greens, baby banana, papaya, and rice with beans.
Pepper Pot
Pepperpot is the national dish of Guyana. It is made of meat that is stewed in a preservative made of cassava, cinnamon, and sugar. This dish is popular for both breakfast and dinner and is typically kept on the stovetop at all times.
Curry Chicken
After a shift at Georgetown Public Hospital, we went to a local restaurant and had a mix of Indo-Guyanese food. Pictured here is curried chicken.
Stewed Chicken with Rice
Our first meal of arriving in Guyana was stewed chicken, rice, long bean, and a dish called cook up–a mix of rice and vegetables.
Burger King
Guyana did have many American chains. One day for lunch, we ordered Burger King. A few of the other restaurants were Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Church’s Chicken, and Popeye’s.
Resort Food
Baganara Island Resort served us barbecued chicken, rice with veggies, potato salad, and fresh mango juice.
A lot of their snack foods in the grocery stores were very generic names–Chipz and Tortillaz was a good example of this.
OMG Restaurant
OMG! Steakhouse is an Americanized steakhouse that had lots of options like steak, fried chicken, and even a philly cheesesteak sandwich. These places seem to be more appealing to the tourist crowd.

How traveling to Guyana changed me as a student

By Katie Burrell

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.

A Look at Guyana

While it may not seem like a spot for tourism, Guyana has lots of natural beauty along with historical sites and landmarks that have a deep meaning to the people that live there.

A group of Texas State students visited Guyana on a study abroad trip and in their downtime were able to visit many of these spots. Guyana is ethnically, racially, and culturally diverse with many groups being represented throughout the country. Watch below for some clips of the places the students saw as they traveled.

For more information on tourism in Guyana please visit http://www.guyana-tourism.com/

College of Health Professions at Texas State University first Inter-Professional Study Abroad Program

By: Allison Fluker

The first inter-professional study abroad team from the College of Health Professions traveled to Nicaragua in January to provide healthcare in rural villages.

The 34-member team consisted of students and faculty from the nursing, clinical lab science and respiratory care programs, along with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Global News Team.

The health professions students, in partnership with International Service Learning, hosted three days of free medical clinics in local villages near Masaya, Nicaragua. An average of 45 patients were seen each day at the clinics; in addition, the students cared for elderly residents in a local nursing home.

Marylyn Kajs-Wyllie, a professor in the St. David’s School of Nursing, went to Nicaragua with the 2016 study abroad program which was joined by a group of mass communication students.

Marylyn Kajs-Wyllie giving a demonstration at a seminar at a local hospital near Masaya, Nicaragua.


“Since there was a mass communication team tagging along with the nursing students, there was an idea to push for an inter-professional team,” said Kajs-Wyllie.

At the time, the College of Health Professions was pushing for collaboration between its programs. An inter-professional experience abroad would provide students with a community in a work environment.

But first, Kajs-Wyllie needed to find faculty members and their students who would agree to join her on the 2017 trip. She contacted Gregg Marshall, the chair of respiratory care at Texas State University, who put her in touch with other faculty, such as Sharon Armstead, a clinical assistant professor in the respiratory care department.

“Marylyn reached out to me via email to ask if I was interested in joining nursing on the trip,” said Armstead.

During a College of Health Professions graduation ceremony, Kajs-Wyllie asked Armstead to go on the trip and Armstead agreed.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for the therapists to go,” said Armstead.

Sharon Armstead giving a demonstration at a seminar at a local hospital near Masaya, Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, a clinical assistant professor in the clinical lab science program contacted the chair of the nursing school to see if there were opportunities for her students to work with other professions.

“I serve on the inter-professional education committee and the study abroad committee,” said Joanna Ellis. “I wanted (the clinical lab science students) to have respect for the other roles. If we learn from each other and health care together, we will impact healthcare results in the future.”

With the addition of Ellis and Armstead and the mass communication students, Kajs-Wyllie assembled her 34-member team.

Expectations and Worries

The first inter-professional health professions study abroad team came with a lot of pressure and expectations.

“I wanted the nursing students to learn focused assessments, the culture, Spanish, to appreciate the differences in nursing and the differences between what we’re used to with what they have,” said Kajs-Wyllie.

Students from the nursing school practiced focused assessments during the medical clinics in rural villages.

“It gives you a lot of confidence,” said Desiree Davis, a senior in the nursing program. “Once you start asking questions, you learn what other questions you need to ask about the information for the problem the patient is having.”

Every faculty member on the team had their own expectations for the trip, as well as expectations for the entire group.

“I wanted (the clinical lab sciences students) to get a mutual respect,” said Ellis. “If we were able to go to the labs at the hospitals, we could talk about the labs in the group debriefings and show (the other departments) that we are taught a very different skill. We have a lot to offer and wanted to show them that.”


Joanna Ellis enjoying a recreation day on a beach in Nicaragua.


In Nicaragua, healthcare specialties such as clinical lab science or respiratory care, do not exist like they do in the United States.

“They don’t have us as a profession where we were going,” said Armstead.

Without resources for the level of education required to provide specialty care in Nicaragua, there are not many doctors who can provide the care that Armstead, Ellis and their students gave.

While some professors worried about limitations in their ability to apply their knowledge and skills, others worried about how their presence would effect the lives of the residents in the communities they visited.

“I was worried about our impact on the culture and the community here whether it would be positive or not,” said Ellis. “I was worried about the emotions that would ensue during the home visits and the nursing home.”

After seeing how well the 2017 team of students worked together, the faculty members recognized many benefits of having an inter-professional team.

Students utilized their acquired skills and applied them to caring for patients. That strengthened their ability to provide healthcare and perform focused assessments. By working with other health disciplines, the students understood what the other health professional’s job entails.

“They will communicate better and have an understanding of what the nursing students have gone through,” said Ellis. “They will have a reference for what the other professionals have gone through.”

Gaining an understanding of what other healthcare professionals go through in their daily routine is paramount to making a better workplace environment.

“I had that moment where I knew I was making a difference in someone’s life,” said Davis. “You’re able to sit down with the doctor and tell them what’s going on with the patient and give your own assessment. You start to see the same illnesses and know the right questions.”

After hands-on experience and interacting with local physicians, the students were no longer timid about performing the healthcare skills needed to provide care.

“(Students) said that their confidence levels jumped,” said Armstead. “They feel comfortable approaching physicians. What we try to teach them, they already feel empowered to do it.”

Students were immersed into a new culture and learned differences in the healthcare between the United States and Nicaragua.

“It has prepared them for a multicultural world and encouraged them to give back or take part in a study abroad,” said Armstead. “Learning to learn Spanish will help better the care we can give them.”

Adjusting to a new environment didn’t keep the inter-professional students from accomplishing what their faculty wanted for them.

“I thought it was cute to see everyone working together,” said Armstead. “There was one time when a group of (clinical lab science) students sat together and I mentioned they weren’t mingling, but by the end of the week, you couldn’t tell who was in what department.”



International Service Learning: Preparing for Service Teams in Nicaragua

By: Allison Fluker

Texas State University’s 34-member inter-professional team spent 12 days in Nicaragua. International Service Learning spent 60 preparing for them.

The team’s trip was divided into three days of medical clinics, two recreation days, one day of house visits, one day of sharing with the community, a service day in the nursing home, a service day in the orphanage, plus group dinners at six restaurants and two trips to the grocery store.

None of that happens without obsessive planning.

In order for ISL staff to decide where to take a medical team, they first have to connect with a community that doesn’t have easy access to healthcare. Some villages are hours away from the nearest health clinic.

“It takes a lot of hours and effort to check on partners from health centers and community leaders to set up or choose a community to work with,” said Pavel Guevara, the ISL country coordinator for Nicaragua.

ISL receives hundreds of requests for their assistance every day. The organization takes these requests and calculates the best fit for the incoming team to provide their services.

“I consider the level of poverty by conducting local visits, checking on the needs of the community, conducting interviews and checking risk factors that are present,” said Guevara.

Harold Mojica, an ISL assistant team leader, said the community leaders, who are typically doctors or pastors, send word to ISL that they’re interested in having a service team come to their town.


In Nicaragua, there are private and public healthcare outlets. If someone has a steady paying job, they more than likely qualify for private care.

“The company you work for covers 16.75 percent of your costs; 6.25 percent is taken out of your earnings from your salary and the government covers the rest of the costs,” said Mojica.

Basic care is covered, but if patients need an MRI or an X-ray they have to pay out of pocket. Often, rural residents cannot afford specialized health services. The GDP for 2015 in Nicaragua was $1,849 and a large number of residents cannot afford private healthcare. They receive only basic care, such as check ups, through public health services.

“Public care is for someone who doesn’t have a steady paycheck or can’t afford the costs of private health care,” said Mojica. “The people in the villages don’t pay for insurance. They live day by day on the earnings from their work that they bring home that day.”

Families who live in rural communities must choose between healthcare or buying food and supplies they may need. That’s where service organizations, like ISL, come in.

“We choose communities that don’t have health centers nearby,” said Massiel Vilchez, an ISL assistant team leader. “That shows that they don’t go to the hospital to check on their health often.”

Community visits

To prepare for the service team’s arrival, ISL staff members visit the communities to meet with the leaders and to check if there are safety concerns. They also inspect the buildings where the clinics will be held.

“We go to the communities a couple of times to see the space (in the building) and to figure out the placement for distributions and where the teams will be going,” said Vilchez.

Mojica said churches or school buildings are typically used because people in the villages can easily identify them.

“We use the church because it creates a good atmosphere with good benefits for the communities,” said Vilchez.


Guevara consults with the Ministerio de Salud de Nicaragua representatives to obtain approval for ISL to host health clinics.

“We need to go to the ministry of health to get their permission since we’re doing clinics that are involving medicine,” said Guevara. “They give us permission in the area that they think would benefit the most.”

After getting approval from the government, ISL explains to the community leaders what the service team will be doing while in their town.

“We meet with the pastor and explain the dates the team will be there,” said Vilchez. “Then we explain the procedure and that we need guides for the clinic days. We also tell them the average number of people that would be seen.”

Planning after approval

Approval from the health ministry is one of the first steps in the process when placing teams within local communities. The planning process after obtaining approval is lengthy and thorough.

“I make a budget and order which medicines we are going to be giving out for free to patients,” said Guevara. “We have to calculate how many patients per day will be our goal. I have to make sure there will be enough supplies and medicine to give out.”

At the Texas ISL headquarters, staff collects information about the incoming participants of the new service team. Once the team’s information is uploaded into a database, an itinerary can be formed for the trip, which is dependent upon the objective of the incoming team.

“Once the community is selected, we start sending the information (about the community) to the teams,” said Vilchez.

ISL wants to accommodate the team’s needs to ensure its members have the opportunities they want, for example, the Texas State health professions students visited local public hospitals to understand the differences between western medicine and Nicaragua’s.

“The hospital visits are special opportunities because it’s really hard to get the permission from the hospitals,” said Vilchez. “We need to select the staff for the teams. We tell them the specific details of the team’s itineraries and need them to talk to the doctors.”

Tables for 34, please

Part of the planning includes deciding where to take the team to eat.

The ISL staff in the destination country contacts restaurants in advance to receive their menus. ISL visits every restaurant they plan on dining at before the volunteers arrive to determine if they are sanitary and in good condition. They sometimes teach the wait staff keywords or phrases in English to help make the experience flow smoothly. If needed, they teach the staff how to seat and wait on a group of more than 30 people – and each paying their own ticket.

“We need to make sure we go to different types of restaurants with different types of food,” said Vilchez. “The hardest part is the budget. We have to find places that aren’t costly.”

When the volunteers were out working in the clinics, ISL provided lunches. The team members collected information on dietary restrictions from each volunteer before planning the week’s meals.

“We included vegetables and different things so it would have a good balance and try to change the protein every other day,” said Vilchez.

Meticulous itinerary 


The ISL team plans recreation days for the volunteers to enjoy during their trip. The Texas State health professions team spent a couple of days exploring the Masaya Volcano, Granada City, and spending a morning at Miramar, a local zip-lining company.

Every detail of the team’s itinerary has to be approved by the ISL headquarters before the trip. Any changes made to the itinerary during the trip must be reported to the headquarters office in Texas. When the team decided to eat at the hotel instead of going to a restaurant, that had to be reported.

“We do a report after every day talking about what we did and what happened for the day,” said Vilchez. “If someone gets sick, we have to report it. If there are changes in the itinerary, we have to report it.”

A large amount of thought goes into the selection process of who will be on the team.

Most of the people who work with the ISL team, like doctors and bus drivers, have volunteered their time or their resources. Eight translators and three bus drivers were employed for their services while the Texas State University team was in Nicaragua.

“You always see translators and doctors and transportation providers because its people that have a great sense of service; it’s not a matter of business,” said Guevara. “I chose them because they love what they’re doing.”

Read more about some of the ISL staff members in Nicaragua.