(Above) After their bus got stuck in waist-deep mud and water, GCP Bolivia had to jump in and push it out. From left to right: Grace Eisenhauer, Nate Huntley, Zach Woodley, Seth Chatfield, Denise Mitchell, Katherine LiPuma and Sam Fasanmi.
Sophomore biology major and pre-pharmacy student Zach Woodley reflects on his Global Citizenship Project 2014 trip to Bolivia
For many of us at Shenandoah, graduation is just around the corner and we will all go our separate ways in pursuit of our long sought-after career goals. Whether it be from family, friends, or even employers conducting an interview, all post-graduate adults are inevitably asked the question — what is your greatest memory from college? — at numerous points in their life. For most, it can be quite a difficult one. How can you possibly pick just one memory from arguably the most busy, stressful and rewarding four years (or more) of your life? Some can’t even answer it at all. Personally, I already know I won’t have such indecision. My GCP trip was not only the best experience I’ve had in college, but the best experience I’ve had in my entire life.
When I was informed of my selection into the program, I was absolutely ecstatic. It was my second time applying, and I knew from others that were lucky enough to go that I was in for an amazing experience. It was all made even sweeter when I was told I would be going to Bolivia, a Spanish-speaking country in the heart of South America. I had been studying the Spanish language every year since 7th grade, and felt extremely lucky to have the opportunity to practice my skills in a native setting. However, even with all this anticipation, there was no way to prepare myself for what was to come.
Living in Bolivia for nine days was literally a life-changing experience. From the excellent food to the beautiful land to the welcoming native peoples, our days were jam-packed with breathtaking experiences. We roamed the bustling streets of Santa Cruz, climbed the misty mountain terrain of Samaipata, and even visited a hospital and orphanage in the town of Montero. While these were all amazing in and of themselves, I can’t say they were my best experience. After all, any tourist can see the same exact sights we saw. Instead, my greatest experience in Bolivia was spending time with my advisor’s family. For two afternoons, we were able to talk, eat, swim, sing and dance with one of the sweetest and most welcoming families I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. How many tourists can say that?
At the end of the day, it’s tough to say what the best thing I got out of GCP is. Is it the cultural experience I had from leaving the country for the very first time? This is an obvious answer, as one will never forget their first trip abroad. Was it the trials and tribulations I experienced away from home, such as overcoming a language barrier and pushing myself out of my comfort zone? Possibly.
Ultimately though, it was the new relationships I built. At the beginning of the trip, every single person in my group was a complete stranger to me, and I was honestly kind of nervous about how things would work out. Looking back, I can’t help but chuckle at myself. I feel like I’ve met some of the sweetest girls and coolest guys at Shenandoah, not to mention the native people I met in Bolivia (some of whom I’m able to maintain contact with here in the United States), and I am blessed to have been able to share this experience with them. Because of them and because of our new friendships, my trip has never really ended.