Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Justin's Blog

It's been a few weeks since we arrived back in the United States from our incredible trip to Cebu, Philippines. After having some time to recover from the jet lag and reflect on this experience, I have come to the conclusion that this program is aptly named. I will share some of my thoughts here and describe how they apply to the main goals of the program.

Some of us had not left the country before, but it's safe to say this trip definitely exposed those students to  what international travel is all about. The great thing I came to notice about the Philippines is that it is on the other side of the world with a unique culture to experience, but at the same time there are a lot of similarities that  make it great for less experienced travelers.

Virtually every sign in the country was written in english; from supermarkets to billboards, I could look at the signs and feel like I was back in the United States. Most of the Filipinos could speak English pretty well and had the ability to communicate and facilitate everything from dining to shopping. Language was not the only evidence of the American culture. Many of the shopping areas had the same American Brands and companies you would see in our cities. We also experienced the importance of Catholicism in the region from our students and in the major sites in the city. Having been raised catholic, I found this similarity pretty interesting. Before we headed over there I had to do some basic research into their system of government, which was basically adopted from ours. These similarities allowed us to be away from home, but not feel alien and have several key things in common.

Despite these similarities, we also got to experience the unique differences of the Philippines which is one of the best benefits of international travel. The Philippines has an interesting history. They were colonized by Spain for around 300 years, impacted heavily by its Chinese neighbors, invaded by Japan, and also a century of strong American influences. Not to mention the the individual cultures of tribes on different islands, which are still manifested in the multiple Filipino languages that are still spoken today.

We all had our different cultural experiences on the trip. For me this included both similarities and differences. For example, when some of our students began using their native language I was definitely reminded that I was in a foreign country. The other biggest differences were the beautiful mountainous/tropical geography, the native food (Mangos!), and being an ethnic minority.

Despite these differences, some of my more memorable experiences were finding similarities between communities so far apart. Some highlights for me were playing Chess with one of my students (we tied 1 to 1), talking about similar music we liked (their taste ranged from 'Amazing Grace' to the band One Direction), and of course becoming Facebook friends.


My team and I were working at Paril National High School which was about an hour commute up a mountain from where we were staying inside Cebu City. This trip everyday provided sights nothing short of spectacular. The tropical foliage looked like it was straight of out Jurassic Park. Along the winding roads were goats, dogs, and bulls. What struck me most though were the conditions of the homes of the people who lived up on this mountain. This type of poverty is something I had not seen in person before and it can be very emotional. I've included some pictures but they don't fully capture the sense that what is available to these people is so much less than what we have each day. I think what really got to me was trying to wrap my head around the fact that the students I had been meeting each day lived in these conditions.

This gets back to a very important part of the trip and that is giving back to a much less fortunate community. In Paril, the Dental team set up a makeshift Dental Clinic to perform dental services for a group of people who very rarely have the opportunity to be seen by a dentist, or don't have the financial means to pay for one.  The Clinic saw over 100 patients including children in the local schools and adults in the community. The school administration had informed us that over the multiple years of UofL's help that absenteeism due to dental problems has dropped dramatically.

The day we weren't assisting in the dental clinic (which was quite an experience in itself), the rest of the students were teaching in a classroom. Each of us had prepared a variety of lessons to teach the students from our area of study. This included Leadership, Criminal Justice, Communications, and Engineering. We each led short seminars on things like "SMART" goal setting, the types of bullying, effective questions, and small building projects respectively. While a lot of improvising was necessary, and certain lessons were more effective than others, I think that our students were very receptive to what we had to share with them.  More than anything they were just so grateful that we were spending time with them and having the opportunity to learn more about us and our experiences.


One irony of learning is that when you discover something new it typically leads to more questions. By the end of the trip several of us were believing that we came to teach, but ended up learning so much more. A trip like this is such a game-changer when it comes to the concepts of perspective, attitude, and responsibility. I spent many days on the ride down the mountain with several thoughts about how unfair it is that in many ways the students we met have been handed such difficult circumstances. I often wonder how much of our responsibility in life is to serve others and furthermore who should we serve? Some may say that we should spend our time helping those in our backyard, but just how far does that extend? Why should I give preferential treatment to my neighbors, when the people that we have met have been nothing but deserving and grateful of our time.

The biggest lesson from this trip for me has been adding that personal touch that is necessary to understand what it's like to live a life that is so different than your own. I have known about people in poverty around the world. I have seen slums and run-down housing. But I had never really met the people who lived there. By having the interaction with our students, it makes what would have been a interesting ride up and down the mountain, one that is incredibly more touching. Watching some of our students walk home from school after learning their names, seeing how bright they are, and wanting so much for them, is so incredibly hard to grapple with when you know that their opportunity is so much lower.

It's frustrating to know that these students with such bright minds, grateful spirits, and  incredible attitudes will have to work so much harder and will still most likely receive so much less than their counterparts in the United States or other parts of the globe. It's frustrating that we saw incredibly lavish private schools on the same mountain and houses with five cars one day, yet, met so many great people struggling in poverty the day before. In some ways this frustration is very humbling because it reminds us how much of life is out of our control. At times it can elicit feelings of powerlessness too, because I know that me and all of my classmates would have loved to have done so much more to help if we could, yet we know that in many ways we can only do so much. What amazed me even more, is that I don't sense that frustration from my students. Their strong attitude, gratefulness, and happiness, seemed even greater than those in much better circumstances.

However,  this frustration has also led to motivation. It has inspired me to help others more often when I know I can. It has reminded me that I am incredibly blessed and to not waste opportunities. Finally, it has shown that when something is bothering me I need to step back and think about the big picture because more often than problems are the problems that others would love to have.

Justin Brandt
Student Body President
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Brett's Blog

Our Cebu trip is coming toward the midway point. It has been quite an adventure. The school which I was assigned to is called Mabini, it is the second high school up the mountain. The drive, which would be scary for some, is so rewarding once you reach the school. On the first day we were presented with a celebration welcoming us. It included numerous singing and dancing numbers. It is amazing to think that they did all of the work just for us. After the welcome festivities we were escorted to the principles office where a huge breakfast spread was waiting for us. We were all anxious to get to the classroom so after eating our second breakfast, we did just that. Our classroom age ranged from 15 to 16 year olds. At first most of them were quiet but with the help of ice breakers we could feel the excitement in the room.

Due to the circumstances of the opening ceremonies we were somewhat short on time so we had to take out some of our activities. The activity which I believed the students enjoyed the most was the critical thinking bridge making activity by our engineering group. With this activity students were given straws and tape to construct a bridge that could support weight hooked onto it. After the time limit elapsed you could easily see that these kids were not just smart but very creative. The students reacted well to the testing portion of the activity. They enjoyed the competition of who's bridge could hold the most weight.

As I conclude my first blog post it makes me think how fortunate I am to have so many great opportunities in my life. This has been a real eye opener helping such beautiful people who are struggling with poverty. It is amazing to see that just the presence of people outside of their community puts a smile on their faces.

Brett Trager Kusman
- University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Location:A. S. Fortuna,Banilad,Philippines

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jasmine's Blog

Day 1-
I am sitting in the Louisville airport. Everyone's spirits are high and everyone is super excited to be going on this trip. We had one late arriver who had us a little worried but everyone is here now.
My friend dropped me off at the airport and he was more nervous than I was.
We're sitting here talking about s new app called snap chat. It seems cool. I can't believe how much I had to get done before I left. I took the GRE and two finals in one week. I still have to take a psych final while I'm over there.
Day 2-
2 hour flight delay in Seoul Korea and a 4 flight later we are finally in Cebu! The airport was hot and muggy. After stepping outside I found it hard to breathe. That's how humid it was!
We took a short bus ride to Bluewater Maribago resort. Its gorgeous! In the lobby there is a wicker Christmas tree that is huge. We were all in awe at the Beauty of the hotel and its still dark outside so we can only imagine how beautiful it will be in the daylight. WiFi works great in the dining area which differs from the Botswana trip. we went up to our room to change clothes and wash up. There were sliding doors made out of wood. Our doors lead to a perfect hotel room with the most comfortable beds you can imagine.... Tempurpedic maybe? Right outside of our hotel was one of three pools. There is even a water slide!!!
We had dinner, or maybe it was lunch, I don't know. It was small burgers with cucumbers and baked chips. I was craving a coke after drinking so much water on the plane. It was really sweet. After dinner my room mate Lauren and I went back to our room. We talked about how we were going to hit the beach first thing in the morning, after breakfast of course. I crashed after like 5 minutes of laying there! That was the best sleep I've had in weeks!
Day 3-
Early morning. We rose at 8am willingly. I opened the doors to look outside and literally gasped at the beauty of the resort pool outside of the hotel room. The hot air rushed inside and took my remaining breath away. We went to the dining hall for breakfast and there was so much variety in the buffet. French toast, pancakes, bacon,and more native meats. Fruits, oatmeal, pastries, sushi, and rice. Coconut and watermelon juices, and some other juice that tasted like companies. It was all very delicious and the service was great. We couldn't wait to hit the beach which we kind of stumbled upon.
We started taking pictures immediately, not wanting to miss anything.
We went into the private beach which was filled with sea urchins, hermit crabs, and starfish. It wasn't overwhelming though. Brett and I rode jet skiis which was my favorite part of the day. I had been on a jet ski before in Daytona but I was too scared to drive it. I actually drove this time and went so fast pushing the gas button almost all the way down. The wind in my face, the water splashing up cooling us off.... What a rush! We stopped at some points to look at the water, it was indigo blue yet still clear. Then Brett wanted to drive again and almost killed me I'm sure, we did doughnuts, spins, and wave jumps.
Later we played volleyball with Mike, Paul, and David (the dentistry students) and our new Brazilian friend, Julian. I had to keep jumping in the water it was so hot and I was burning from the sun.
We had lunch and again it was very delicious. The corn/potato soup was my favorite. We all had a taste of each other's plates to try different things out.
Not long after that we went snorkeling. The guys insisted on bartering with the man for a lower price which worked out in the end. We rode out on two man made rafts. Elliot, the engineering student, gave us quick lessons on how to use the masks. I dove in and although I didn't see many fish at first, it was cool seeing how my hair and skin looked under the water. I saw little schools of fish, colorful starfish, anemonies, and coral reef. I'm a pretty good swimmer but it was hard to swim in these waters.
We took a short walk to the local grocery and that was our first experience in the "real Cebu." little ones were selling things out of boxes and everyone seemed to stare. People drive crazy here. We got in the store and that was interesting.
We washed up and got ready for dinner which was another exquisite meal. There was a local band and even a native performance. I loved every minute of the performance!
My camera went dead halfway through recording it but I still got some good footage. All in all it was great day!
-Jasmine Shadding-
- University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Max's Blog

We're on the cusp of what promises to be my worst birthday of all time, but I can't pretend I'm not excited about it. Somehow spending my "special day " on a plane and sacrificing 13 hours to the time change doesn't seem so bad when compared to the greater purpose of going to the Philippines for ISLP. Besides, I like plane food.
I think what I'm most excited about right now is the idea of just getting this trip started, though. The past few days have admittedly been pretty crazy in that it was difficult to put a bow on finals week by the end of reading day, but I know that I'll be happy to have sacrificed a little sleep this week to have the luxury of enjoying the tropics while my friends are still studying. The plane at this point represents putting the semester behind me and getting this adventure started. As far as initial expectations, I'm honestly trying not to have any. I expect to be a little bit culture shocked (especially in the schools), and students that have gone before have described just how 'different' the lifestyle of the people in Cebu is, but I'm doing my best to greet the trip with open arms and take it all in.
More than anything I'm just excited. I'm trying to stay conscious of what a unique opportunity it will be to see new people, see new places, try new foods, and serve in Banilad elementary school. More to come!
Max Voorhies
- University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

Location:A. S. Fortuna,Banilad,Philippines

Thursday, November 29, 2012

All About This Blog


     The University of Louisville, International Service Learning Program has been in existence since 1997, allowing students to gain international travel and credit course, all the while assisting the academic and community needs of various countries.The program is represented by over 20 faculty and staff members, includes an alumni base that exceeds 200 members, and presently travels to these 5 different countries: Belize, Botswana, Croatia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Philippines. This blog was created for the participants on this year's Cebu, Philippines trip to record their experiences and to share some of the things they have learned. We hope you enjoy this blog!

Feel free to virtually travel along with us by visiting our different websites:

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