UT’s volunteering abroad programs offer unique look at culture

Hannah Ortega

In a humid Colombian classroom during summer 2017, Christina Lopez played “Perfect Color” by SafetySuit for her students. She said she wanted them to listen for the colors woven throughout the song, so even though the students didn’t know the lyrics, they shouted out color names with glee each time the singer sang them.

“I felt really good that day,” Lopez said. “It was my last day, too, but I think the experience of having them so involved was really memorable for me.”

Lopez, an English and international relations and global studies junior, is one of many students who chose to volunteer rather than study abroad. Lopez’s trip to Colombia was coordinated through AIESEC, a student-run organization focused on student leadership. She instructed children in a public school after teaching outdoors in a neighborhood for a week.

“I would just kind of help out the teachers,” Lopez said. “For two weeks I did all grade levels … and then the last three weeks of the program, I really focused on sixth graders, which was a lot of fun.”

Psychology senior Savanna Vincent traveled to Peru this past May with UT’s Global Medical Training. She received hands-on experience diagnosing patients, stocking pharmacies and writing prescriptions.

“It definitely helps with my future career and applications to medical school because I want to be a doctor,” Vincent said. “You’re not like, in a classroom studying. You’re there interacting with actual patients and helping to diagnose.”

Lopez and Vincent said their trips abroad cost about $2,000, though there was the extra cost of flights for Vincent. The lower cost is one of the reasons Lopez decided to volunteer instead of study abroad, along with the desire to truly experience a country.

“I would love to study abroad, but I think the idea of going to another country and really living and working there was really attractive to me as compared to being kind of in a bubble just taking classes,” Lopez said.

Other volunteer abroad opportunities include UT’s Projects with Underserved Communities program and the Peace Corps. Jacqui Stewart Hobbs, Peace Corps campus recruiter, said all expenses, from flight to housing to living allowance, are covered for the two years of service after graduation. She also said although volunteering abroad isn’t better than studying abroad and vice versa, volunteering abroad offers a unique look at a country’s culture.

“You just get a very in-depth understanding of the culture that you’re experiencing,” Stewart Hobbs said. “I think that is very powerful, to kind of see that people live in different ways and just understand so many different things when you get to travel.”