Culture Shock from International Service

By: Ally Plezia

Staff Reporter

During spring break, many Sacred Heart students traveled outside of the United States to participate in international service programs. Students served in Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, Colombia, and Costa Rica through Volunteer Programs and Service Learning.

After being immersed in new cultures, some students have found it challenging to adjust back to life on campus.

“Coming back to campus and heading straight back to my schedule was actually pretty difficult,” said freshman Victoria Acca.

“It felt strange coming back to SHU, sleeping in my bed, and doing tasks that seemed everyday to me,” said Acca. “The kids in Ecuador never experienced anything like I have.”

Being away from Sacred Heart gave students the chance to disconnect from their usual lives and be engaged in a new community.

“In Colombia, the community is very laid back, and the atmosphere everywhere we went was very relaxed,” said junior Nate Vargoshe. “People seemed to live in the moment more. No one was really on their phones, unlike the United States where we are constantly staring at our phones and rushing around.”

For staff member and trip leader Geissy Bitencourt, the ability to embrace a new culture allowed students to grow closer with the Guatemalan community.

“So often here, we get caught up on silly things that we don’t need to live or be happy,” said Bitencourt. “The people of Finca Florencia are very poor but they are very happy. They are very family- and community-oriented, so for the students it was a matter of seeing the importance of being present.”

Some students believe that being present in new surroundings helps to put things into newer perspectives.

“I definitely experienced culture shock,” said freshman Kristen Brady. “Specifically, with the way health services work in Costa Rica.”

“We never realize how lucky we are to have hospitals and urgent care centers all around us,” said Brady. “In Costa Rica, each community has a small facility and there are actually only three total hospitals in the country. The closest hospital is not even that close.”

Throughout the week, group leaders hold reflections at the end of each day. Students have the opportunity to open up about their feelings regarding the trip, and discuss what they have learned about their experiences.

“Reflection is one of my favorite parts of any service learning trip,” said junior Brendan Benitez. “It helps us to grow more open-minded in our surroundings, and allows us to take it back with us to Sacred Heart.”

Many students are still adjusting to their old routines, but they won’t forget the impacts that the trips made on their lives.

“Coming back home from the Simply Smiles trip to Mexico has been bittersweet,” said sophomore Lauren Godberson. “Everyone has been so excited to hear about our experiences abroad, but coming back to SHU makes me miss the relationships we made with the children there.”

“Their ways of life are so different from ours, and I’ll definitely miss the simplicity of life there rather than the fast paced ways of the United States,” said Godberson.

“Since Ecuador was my first international service trip, I didn’t expect to be as impacted by culture shock than I did,” said Benitez. “One minute, you finally find yourself growing with a new group of people, and the next, you’re back home and back to reality.”

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