Name: Jessa Coulter
Grad Year: 2012
Program abroad: ISA
- Students Helping Honduras – week long service trips: (January 2010, January 2011, January 2012, January 2013, January 2014)
- Un Techo Para Mi Pais (Peru, October 2011)
- Sonrisas en Peru Westfalia Orphanage (Peru, December 2011-January 2012)
- Safe Passage (Guatemala, November 2013-Present)
Q: How is your study abroad experience different from your volunteer abroad experience?
Volunteering abroad has been quite different than studying abroad for me. In Peru, my study abroad program helped coordinate my classes, my homestay, and excursions to travel within Peru. In Guatemala, I am much more independent- I found my own housing, pay rent and monthly bills, and do my own shopping and cooking. I enjoyed living with a host family in Peru- it was actually one of the aspects of the program I was most excited about and I believe it deepened the cultural experience I had. However, now that I have graduated college, I do appreciate being more autonomous and living on my own in Guatemala.
I had more free time as a study abroad student- I was able to arrange my schedule so I take a full course load but only have classes three days a week. This allowed me the freedom to travel throughout Peru and explore Lima- where I was living.
Here in Guatemala, I lead week long service-learning trips for Safe Passage. When I am leading a team, I work seven days a week from 7am until 10pm. When I do not have a team, it is a more typical Monday through Friday job.
Q: How did you choose your location for study abroad and later for volunteer abroad?
To be perfectly honest, I had no specific country in mind when I decided to study abroad. I knew I wanted to be in Latin America, but other than that, I did not have a strong preference. I spoke to different people, did research on various programs, and decided on the program in Peru.
For volunteering abroad, I again knew I wanted to be in Latin America, but rather than choosing by country, I focused on the various programs and volunteer positions available. I used the website idealist.org and searched for positions in Latin America. When I came across the posting for Safe Passage, it seemed like a perfect fit for me. I was impressed with the work that Safe Passage was doing- working to empower the poorest, at-risk families of the community of the Guatemala City Garbage Dump by creating opportunities and fostering dignity through the power of education. I definitely lucked out by finding Safe Passage, it is an incredible organization and I truly feel honored to be a part of the work that is being done in Guatemala.
Q: Have your experiences abroad met your expectations? Exceeded them?
Exceeded all expectations, for sure.
Q: What would you say to students worried / concerned / afraid of going abroad?
Going abroad can be difficult- in terms of studying abroad, it is definitely easier to stay at Towson than go through all the logistics of coordinating a study abroad experience. But easier does not mean better.
The opportunity to live and study abroad is somewhat unique to college students. I actually never had planned to study abroad. It wasn’t until a conversation with a friend one day that changed my mind. We were chatting about her incredible year studying abroad. She asked if I would study abroad and I told her I was happy at Towson and extremely busy with different organizations on campus and I could just travel after graduating. She replied, “Sure you can. But will you?” It was then that something clicked and I realized that the opportunity for this type of experience would pass if I did not take it in college.
Utilize the study abroad office- it is a great resource to navigate the process. It is very unlikely that at any other time in your life you will have people dedicated to helping you travel, study abroad, and gain invaluable experiences.
My first trip to Honduras opened my eyes to extreme poverty and left me feeling empowered me make a difference- which is what motivated me to continue on this journey of volunteering in the world of international development. Going abroad in any capacity will hopefully get you out of your comfort zone, try new things, and allow you to gain a more global perspective of the world.