Teaching from the brain, learning from the heart

College of Human Ecology students reflect on their service trip to Guatemala

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“Everyone has their own struggles, whether they are impoverished or not. Being able to be a healthcare professional that can relate to my patients and have compassion for them is definitely something I won’t forget.” —Anna Biggins


What began as an idea for Kansas State University students to gain experience beyond K-State’s campus has flourished into a program that allows students to learn not only about their future fields, but also about another culture and themselves as individuals.


“Once I got to Guatemala and started working, it was really awesome to see how everything I had learned in my classes could be applied, and that it could be used to make a difference,” said Gerit Wagner, senior in dietetics.


Linda Yarrow, director of the Guatemala Education Abroad Program and instructor at K-State, said the faculty who organized the service trip wanted K-State students to grow into future global leaders who are respectful of other cultures.


“In 2016, myself and two other faculty, Delores and Edgar Chambers, took a ten-day educational trip to Guatemala,” Yarrow said. “We loved the country and the people, and we saw there was so much need that we felt our students were well-suited for.”


Two years later, in the summer of 2018, five students from the College of Human Ecology traveled to Guatemala to apply their knowledge and learn new skills.


Three students were dietetics majors. During their time abroad, they worked with children, helped with a shopping market simulation and with various tasks to teach about nutrition.


The other two students were placed with a Mayan physician. They assisted with patient care, provided blood pressure and glucose screenings and helped with a water sanitation project and other tasks.


“I think one of my favorite parts was doing the anthropometric [height and weight] measurements on infants,” said Anna Biggins, senior in dietetics. “These infants were all brand new, under the age of eleven months.”


When they weren’t working, students were able to explore Guatemala and participate in activities such as hiking a volcano.


In the summer of 2019, 11 students will participate in the service learning experience.


“Eventually, we hope to send 10 to 15 students to Guatemala every two to three months, and to have all academic programs from K-State represented,” Yarrow said.


Amanda Brown, senior in dietetics, said in the future, she hopes more students from across campus will get involved.


“There’s a place for every major there, and I feel like they need help in every single area,” Brown said.


While the trip was a great learning experience for students to apply their classroom knowledge, there were unforeseen difficulties the students had to overcome.


“I would say from the background education standpoint, our classes in dietetics 100% prepared us,” Biggins said. “The only thing we really struggled with was the language barrier because we don’t speak Spanish.”


Fortunately, Wagner, who had previously studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was able to serve as a translator.


Wagner said being able to communicate directly with the people they worked with was very beneficial.


“I could say what I wanted to say without worrying about a translator being in the way,” Wagner said. “It also really helped me form relationships and establish trust with the people we worked with.”


One obstacle the dietetics students thought they had before their trip was funding, until they received the Hildegard Knopp International Experience Scholarship, a scholarship reserved for dietetics students who study abroad.


Brown, said herself, Biggins and Wagner did not know they were going to receive a scholarship that covered most of the trip’s expenses.


“I was stressed out,” Brown said. “I had worked all summer so I could pay for the trip, and then we were given the scholarship, which was a great surprise. I’m very grateful for it.”


Wagner said he realized he would have run out of money without the scholarship while he was in Guatemala, despite working two jobs beforehand.


“I don’t know if I would have been able to go, or do all the things I did without that money,” Wagner said.


Though the students were only in Guatemala for six weeks, their learning stretched beyond what they thought it would.


“I got to use everything I learned at K-State to help people,” said Wagner. “That was truly so cool to me.”


“I think we all definitely learned lessons in gratitude and compassion,” Biggins said. “Everyone has their own struggles, whether they are impoverished or not. Being able to be a healthcare professional that can relate to my patients and have compassion for them is definitely something I won’t forget.”

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