Over winter break, Caitlin Grimm, an SU sophomore, traveled to Honduras to volunteer with other students as part of the Global Medical Brigade. I sat down with Cait to talk about her unique experience.
What is your major/ dream job?
I am a Biology major, Chemistry minor and IT minor. When it comes to my dream job, I have a few different levels of dream job–my “within reach” dream job, my “a bit of a stretch” dream job, and my “reach for the stars” dream job. My “within reach” dream job is to be a clinical pharmacist (a pharmacist in a hospital setting). I love working with people, and so this setting would allow me to meet and help more people than if I worked in a retail pharmacy. My “a bit of a stretch” dream job would involve me going back to school to get my MBA, then working in pharmaceutical administration. My “reach for the stars” dream job involves me starting my own company that works in health care reform.
How did you find out about this trip and what inspired you to go?
I found out about this trip through friends of mine who had gone on trips with the Global Medical Brigade organization before. One of those friends has since graduated, and now actually works for Global Medical Brigades in Nicaragua. I was inspired to go because of the incredible stories I had heard from them, but also because, I’ve always wanted to bring medical assistance to third-world countries, and so this was the perfect opportunity to start getting involved.
What were you most excited about and what were you most nervous about?
I was most excited about meeting the members of the community. I’ve never been to another country before (except Canada), so I was really excited to immerse myself in a completely different culture. I was nervous about a few things, mainly about speaking the language. I took Spanish in high school, but it had been so long since I’d spoken it that I wasn’t sure how well I’d remember.
Have you gone abroad before/ planning on studying abroad? How was this experience different that a typical study abroad trip?
Unfortunately, I haven’t studied abroad. However, I’ve had many friends who have, and I can tell you that an experience like mine is very different from studying abroad. First of all, it’s much shorter (one week compared to a whole semester). The experiences are very different because you don’t get to do as much on a trip like mine. The most significant difference though is the pure nature of the trips. Studying abroad is an amazing experience, but it’s very tourism-based. My experience was about as non-touristy as you can get, considering we were working in remote villages in the mountains of Honduras. It’s also a trip that eventually ends up helping and affecting so many people in the communities we worked in. I don’t mean to be cliche, but the feeling that comes with helping others is completely incomparable to anything else, and it is what made the trip so special.
What was something that surprised or intrigued you about Honduran culture?
The Honduran culture is so incredibly different from American culture in that almost everything I experienced in Honduras surprised me in one way or another. For example, it is not customary in Honduran culture to brush your teeth. This might not sound like a huge deal, but it actually causes major health problems. One of the main exports of Honduras is sugar cane, so all food containing sugar in Honduras contains pure cane sugar. This leads to the rapid development of cavities, and without dentists or teeth-brushing habits, untreated cavities can lead to infection and even death if the infection spreads through the body. Finding out things like this really opened my eyes and inspired me to want to continue working in communities like this for the rest of my life.
What is your favorite memory from the trip?
My favorite memory from the trip was working in a station called “Charla” in the medical clinics we set up. We worked with the children after they went to the medical and dental stations and taught them healthy habits, like the importance of a balanced diet or how to brush their teeth. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but working with the children was so unbelievably heart-warming, and seeing the looks on their faces when we gave them their first tooth-brushes was something I’ll never forget. Most of these children don’t have anything to call their own, and their hugs of appreciation made the whole trip worth it. But even more rewarding than all of that was knowing that what we taught them would have a positive impact on the rest of their lives. This made me feel like we had left our mark on the community and that we would continue to influence these people’s lives, even after we were gone.
Do you have any suggestions for students who want to do a service trip?
I could talk for hours about service trips, but here are my top 3 suggestions:
- Make sure you go on a trip with a reputable organization. There are many credible organizations you can go through, and there are multiple groups at Syracuse that organize student trips, but I have nothing but amazing things to say about the Global Medical Brigades organization that I went through. The local chapter at Syracuse is run by really incredible people and globally they are a very well-respected.
- Know all of your options for fundraising. Financing a trip like this can be a burden for some, but there are many ways to raise money and make the cost much more manageable. There are multiple options when it comes to fundraising, but I chose to go through a site called “empowered.org”, which works directly with the Global Medical Brigade. I sent out the link to my page to all of my friends and family around Christmas and asked for donations in lieu of gifts.
- Make sure you have medicine just in case. The one thing I neglected to bring with me that I wish I had was cold medicine. Because of the drastic change in climate between New York in the winter and Honduras, I ended up feeling under the weather for a few days, and that was the last thing I wanted to be worrying about while on such an amazing adventure.
8.) Three words to describe your experience?
Inspiring, fulfilling, joyful.