When I left for my study abroad trip in January, I did not think that I was a journalist. I was afraid that my skills would not stack up against the other students that I was headed there with. I had never been off of my own continent and I was just afraid of being away from the safety and security of my own bubble.
When I left for my study abroad trip, I did not think that I would grow to care so much about the group of people that I was with. Strangers at the start of the year and, now, people that I hope to keep in touch with even after the semester has ended. We learned something from each other, and that is what has changed me.
Skyler, a journalism student, that faced her fears and left her comfort of home just as I did. She is brave and can survive any bug bite that she is faced with (at least with an EpiPen in tow). She showed me that I wasn’t alone in my fear and discomfort and that I would be okay, just like she was.
Alana, a fellow Public Relations major, showed me what it means to truly care about and have a passion for the field that you are going into. She is passionate about museums, latinx history, art and photography. From her, I learned to find something that I love and never stop chasing that.
Katie, the sassiest and most outspoken of the group, is so involved in reporting news and writing the best stories that she can. She taught me what it really means to be a journalist and helped me gain skills that I didn’t know I had–like interviewing, gathering sources and being confident in what you are writing about.
Ashley, the inspiring and resilient nineteen year old, really showed me that even if you have been in the trenches at points in your life, you can rise above and come out on top. We shared our stories of childhood and found many points that we could relate on. She is a strong woman who has set her mind to whatever she wants, and I know that she can achieve her dreams. I wish that I had been more like her when I started off as a student–determined, passionate and hard-working.
Last, but certainly not least, Holly Lynn Wise. The most inspiring woman that I have met in my college career. Holly pushed me and convinced me to go on the study abroad trip two days before the application was due. I learned how to use my writing skills, thanks to her, and for that I am very grateful. Journalism aside, I am now passionate about finding my place in the world and using my skills to add to it. Holly showed me what it means to be career-driven and to take your life and run with it. She is caring, kind, compassionate, and I am excited to watch how the next chapter of her life unfolds. I hope she knows how much she means to me and that I would not trade the experiences that I had because of her for anything.
I will not view my life in the same way I did before I left on my study abroad trip. I have determination and the drive to use my skills and have an effect on the world around me.
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:
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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/
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
An immersive study abroad program in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication