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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Head Still Spinning

This trip wasn't what I expected it to be, it was a richer and more authentic experience than what I could have imagined it to be.

The most rewarding part of the trip, for me, was working with all of our partners.

My group's main focus was a new, four year university in downtown Cap-Haitian. The students at UNAF were an incredible bunch of young men and women. Sometimes, it is difficult to appreciate all the opportunities I have been offered to receive advanced education. Where I grew up, college is just the next step on the way to a career. It is fully expected that you will attend a four year program, that you will find a way to pay for it (whether that is loans or savings), you will graduate and start your real life. Some of the students saw their schooling at UNAF in a similar manner, those with families that owned substantial amounts of land or industry. Most of them did not. College truly was their best way to raise themselves up from their socioeconomic circumstances and provide for their family and future families. And they loved to learn. Each student owns a small garden plot to practice lecture material in, and a few of them showed us their crops. Seeing the pride my friend Jojo had in his 20'x4' raised bed of soil surprised me. I was a student from one of the best engineering and agricultural universities in the world, but he wasn't intimidated or bashful about his own modest facilities and curriculum. He grabbed my hand and told me all about it, in English learned by listening to American hip-hop and R&B music. I should write Jay Sean a thank you note, because without his  music I would have never gotten the chance to learn about Jojo.

Haitian people are much more verbally and physically intimate than what I was comfortable with initially. I guess when you are only going to see someone for a few hours, sticking with small talk doesn't make much sense. By the time I left UNAF, I was convinced that while the university has many opportunities for improvement, its students are top notch. They have a hunger that you only see in people that are convinced they really can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

In Cap-Haitian, education is invaluable. There was so much hope, in a place many people would deem hopeless. It doesn't guarantee a better life, but it gives you a chance and for the 60 or so students at UNAF, that was good enough reason to work, learn and fight their way to an advanced degree.

The days spent with Heifer International and CTEAD were just as exciting and thought provoking. Purdue has picked a diverse, welcoming and passionate base of partners for students to interact and work with. The relationships aren't perfect. They are just getting started and I think both sides are still working to find the best way to help one another, but the work this group did in Haiti and will continue to do made a difference and the value of these partnership will grow over time.

A side note on the students and faculty I traveled with:

I've been blown away by the quality of students and faculty that joined this program. 

We hit road bumps as a group (literally and figuratively), and all had personal struggles throughout the trip, but we stuck together. This group was as kind, inviting, genuine, honest and resilient as any group I've been involved with in my collegiate career and I've been in a few. I had an enormous smile on my face walking back into class for the beginning of the Spring portion of the class,   as I saw all of the people I became so close to in a short period of time.

My expectation for how much I would grow personally and how much fun I would have were both surpassed, and all the credit is due to Dr. Oliver, Dr. Russell, Dr. Eugene, Blucher, Maddie, Megan, and the study abroad staff. They were a tremendous team and put together a superb program.
Second side note:
Thanks to everyone who stayed up with me on my 21st birthday, it was phenomenal. I saw the sun rise on the ocean for the first time, on New Years Day, it was also phenomenal. It's my goal to send at least 2 engineers on the trip next year, we're not all socially awkward and we come in handy if you forgot your calculator at home.

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