Individuals

How Interning Abroad Helped Me Discover My Purpose

 Outreach360 Caminos Volunteer Intern Guest Writer:  Annika Hudson
From 2013-2014 I volunteered with Outreach360 for about eight months as a Caminos Volunteer. The experiences and individuals I came across while in the Dominican Republic have left lasting impressions on me. While it has been awhile since I volunteered, I continue to keep in touch with my friends and fellow Caminos volunteers. We became family during our time overseas.
A specific memory I have from the Dominican Republic was the blue class. I taught the blue class in the afternoon at the Learning Center. These students ranged from ages eight to ten years old. This class brought me so much joy. If I was having a rough day, I always knew that the blue class would provide me with lots of laughs and love. They supported one another and valued their education.

While each of these students continuously came to class with smiles on their faces, each of them came from dysfunctional home lives. However, when at the Learning Center, they could relax and forget about their worries. We used to always say “BOOMSHAKALAKA!” when it was time to focus and get started with the lesson. We constantly smiled, accepted, and embraced one another. They were probably my hardest goodbye when it was time to go home. I never thought that I could have such an impact on the students I worked with; and more surprisingly, I did not think they would leave such an impression on me. I still think about that class and hope all is well with them.

I volunteered with Outreach360 because my freshman year of college left me feeling very uncertain about my abilities and what I wanted to do with my life. Deciding to take a gap-year took a lot of thought but in the end, I needed time to discover myself and my passions. Thankfully, my time in the Dominican Republic gave me just this and the confidence to apply to a university that I never thought I could get into. The year following this experience, I transferred to the University of Pittsburgh. It was the perfect fit and I had many successes at this school.

Furthermore, I am now in graduate school, at Gwynedd Mercy University, to become a School Counselor K-12. My time in the Dominican Republic allowed me to begin to realize what profession I wanted to get involved in. Overall, after completing my time with Outreach360 I felt like I could conquer the world and nothing could get in my way. I continue to feel this way today. If you are someone who feels lost, or wants to take a gap year, or just wants to have a life-changing experience, it would be in your best interest to take a chance and be an Outreach360 Caminos Volunteer. I promise you won’t regret it!

For more information about the Outreach360 Caminos Volunteer Internship, click this link: https://outreach360.org/volunteer/individuals-long-term-internships/

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College Student “Profits” Big from Non-Profit Work

College of William & Mary student Trey Mastaler reads with a Nicaraguan student in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

College of William & Mary student Trey Mastaler traveled to Nicaragua in August 2017 as an individual volunteer with Outreach360.Trey has volunteered with Outreach360 three times since 2016. He decided to volunteer with Outreach360 as an individual volunteer before the start of his Senior year of college. He says that he could not think of any better way to end the summer than with non-profit volunteer work with Outreach360.

“Outreach360 has given me such an appreciation for things that we have in the United States, like education that we take for granted. It’s also given me a second family. It’s given me friends in different places. It’s given me people I can talk to. That’s why I keep coming back,” Trey explained.

Trey taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega. He taught lessons that engaged students in reading and writing skills. Together with his volunteer partners, Mastaler encouraged students to aspire to reach their full potential in the classroom.

Trey says, “Each time I come here, the students’ English gets so much better. When I see the looks on the students’ faces at the end of the week or when they are just grasping a new concept, that’s everything for me.”

Outreach360 welcomes individual volunteers, like Trey, to serve in impoverished areas in Latin America. Each trip that Trey has participated in has offered new life lessons for him to take home; however, ultimately, he greatly admires Nicaraguans’ positivity and determination in the face of adversity.

“Being here and realizing how a lot of these people take every day as a gift and they say when something bad happens, ‘Okay. Tomorrow is a new day’. It’s an all-new perspective that I have had and that’s something I try to do now. If today was tough, I say tomorrow is a new day,” Trey said.

Volunteering abroad provides a unique opportunity for college students. With Outreach360, college students take on the role of a teacher to educate underserved students in Nicaraguan communities. Trey found himself pleasantly surprised that he enjoyed teaching younger students after his first experience volunteering with Outreach360. Having always imagined himself teaching at a higher level, he said that he felt shocked that he favored working with the students on basic grammar and language structure.

Trey enjoys the unpredictability of teaching as well. Although he admits that most lessons do not go as planned, he loves the challenge of working in an English language classroom. He recalls a lesson that he taught in the Learning Center about detective vocabulary terms. Despite not knowing what most of the new words meant, one student wrote an elaborate story about an international terrorist, completely catching him off guard.

It’s moments like these Trey looks back on and laughs. Waking up each day and not knowing how the day is going to go keeps volunteers on their toes, he explains. he would not want to volunteer any other way.

Trey said, “The opportunity to work with Outreach360 and be here in Nicaragua has been the blessing and joy of a lifetime. Every single day I think about these kids.”

Trey is already planning his next volunteer experience with Outreach360 for January 2018. He is looking forward to spending more time with the Nicaraguan Learning Center students, but he is unsure of when he will be returning to volunteer again.

“I don’t know if or when I’ll be back after this upcoming January. My God, I don’t know how I am going to keep it together when I leave. Jinotega might want to stock up on its tissues,” he jokes.

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: www.outreach360.org.

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I Started a Team From Scratch!

Penn State 2017 graduate Alyssa Gehman reads with a Nicaraguan student in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Penn State Alumni Alyssa Gehman traveled to Jinotega, Nicaragua for two weeks in August 2017 as an individual volunteer for Outreach360. This was Alyssa’s first time traveling to Nicaragua as an individual volunteer, whereas in the past she has traveled with large groups of fellow college classmates. Alyssa has volunteered with Outreach360 five times since her first trip to Nicaragua in March of 2014. What makes Alyssa so remarkable is her dedication to volunteering with Outreach360, which ultimately has inspired her to lead large groups of Penn State underclassmen to volunteer in Nicaragua without administrative support.

Interacting with the kids is what keeps her coming back, she says. Alyssa’s experiences volunteering with Outreach360 prompted her to lead not one, but two volunteer trips from Penn State. Most notably in the winter of 2016, she pioneered a volunteer trip for 16 people from Penn State as a Campus Representative intern with Outreach360.

“It was like having a part-time job on top of school, on top of having an actual job, and on top of everything else going on, but it was the best thing I ever did. I loved it,” Alyssa remembers.

Alyssa was inspired to share the Outreach360 volunteer experience with her fellow Penn State classmates after having participated in volunteer trips with Penn State Altoona’s student-run service organization called Students Committed to Service. Although she had organizational support on the Penn State Altoona campus, that was not the case at Penn State.

Alyssa explains, “I started from nothing. I had no organization, had no funds, had no special way to advertise. It was all just through word of mouth and maybe a few posters. Somehow, after months of work, I had a huge group of 16 people willing to volunteer.”

Alyssa taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega during these trips. Her group engaged the students in creative lessons that encouraged the kids to get on their feet. Together, she and her Penn State classmates made learning fun.

The rewards for leading such a trip empowered Alyssa to become a leader on her campus. Affectionately known as the “Nicaragua Girl” at Penn State, she embraced her love of service by sharing her experiences with everyone who would listen.

“Realizing that I could do it by myself was amazing. I love leading other people, kind of being the ‘mom’ of the group, and sharing my passion. I’m so happy I got to bring a group down otherwise I would have had to go by myself or I might not have even gone,” Alyssa stated.

The best part about her experiences with Outreach360 over the years has been the number of forever friends that she has brought back home with her. She recalls a memory with her now best friends after they ran down the streets of Jinotega to get a smoothie on their last day in the country. They barely made it back to the volunteer house before nightfall, but the smoothie was worth the mad dash, she says. It’s simple moments like these that have brought Alyssa closer to her Outreach360 volunteer family.

Outreach360 welcomes pioneer volunteers, like Alyssa, to serve in impoverished areas in Latin America year-round. Alyssa says the opportunity to work with Outreach360 will push you outside of your comfort zone, but the trip is worth the travel. She hopes that other volunteers will feel inspired enough to lead trips of their own one day.

“Outreach360 has changed my life. I don’t know where I would be if I never came on this trip. I’ve learned so much about myself. I learned my purpose in life. I’ve met so many amazing people that I will probably be friends with forever. I’ve learned so much about what I want to do and who I want to be as a person after I came here,” she said.

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: www.outreach360.org.

 

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I will choose to look differently at the world today.

The wonderful thing about Outreach360 is that it gives anyone the opportunity to invest in another person’s life.  As a typical American, I came to Nicaragua this summer with a whole bag of assumptions that my role would be a superhero to those less fortunate. Thankfully, I was quickly corrected in my thinking. The magic of Outreach360 is that it equips people to be on an equal playing field. As those that are born into wealth, it is hard to comprehend that others that are not are still as able, happy, and capable. It’s a shame that such an assumption is made without any true knowledge of the vast variety of nations and ethnic groups we have in our one small world.

As a Caminos volunteer this summer, the thing that struck me most was the repetition of this one small assumption that plagues the lives of each visitor that comes to our humble Volunteer House. They marveled each week at the electricity, cleanliness, and general joy that permeates the area. Each week we would grin, nod, and listen to their thoughts and say yes, it’s a great way to broaden your understanding, isn’t it? To me, this was the most crucial thing you could learn from a trip like this. These kids have rescued us from a life of believing that our one small piece of this planet contains all of life’s answers. We teach kids to dream, but they taught me to dream differently.

And so, that is reason enough for anyone to come and try this thing we call ‘stepping out of our comfort zones’. It’s a huge decision to say, I will choose to look differently at the world today. However it is an essential way to becoming a person who can love anyone. That is the beauty behind a wonderful program like Outreach360- besides the fact that it is well run, well done, and so easy to fall in love with. It teaches you what love looks like past your current understanding. I urge anyone that stumbles upon this blog to not hesitate on an experience like this. It doesn’t matter your credentials or your abilities, all you need is a heart and room to let it grow.

Jinotega is a home to me now. Come see why.

Nos vemos pronto,
(See you soon)

Jessica Mathias
Caminos Summer Intern 2015
Nashville, TN

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