Grand Valley promotes studying abroad tremendously. There are fairs, thousands of pamphlets, presentations in most classes, and tons of students in Kirkhof desperately trying to get your attention. When I first arrived at Grand Valley, I had the preconceived notion that studying abroad was only something I could do as an upperclassman. Those amazing trips were just for seniors, for people who had their lives (and senior projects) figured out, for people who were ready to leave their families and friends for three months. However, at the beginning of winter semester in my freshman year, I began to think about what I was going to do with my summer. I didn’t enjoy being home like most first-year students, and I needed to do something to better myself—but I was a freshman. The semester before, I had taken a Live.Learn.Lead class in FMHC that focused on owning your education. I reflected on this class and realized that the number of credit hours I had did not affect how mature I was, or how well I could understand life in another country. While I had this empowering feeling, I applied to the Honors Service Learning trip in Ghana, Africa. I still hadn’t completely convinced myself that I could travel across the world and live in a third world country for the summer, but what harm could be done by applying?
I didn’t even tell my family when the acceptance emails arrived, and I went to the first meeting still unsure of how I felt about the trip. However, after hearing the excitement from the other accepted students and listening to heartwarming stories from the professor, I knew it was exactly what I needed. I would have the opportunity to volunteer in hospitals, clinics, and schools, to understand life from a completely different viewpoint, and to make forever friends who would experience every moment with me—which is exactly what I did.
I left for Ghana on June 9th, ready to spend the next seven weeks learning all that I could and soaking up every part of the most exciting journey I’d ever been on. We stayed with a Ghanaian family in a hostel, which quickly became home. On the second day of volunteering in the hospitals, I had already seen more than I ever could while shadowing a doctor in the United States. With every minute, I was further understanding the meaning of ‘third world country’ and developing a deeper gratitude for the life I was given.
After returning, I was at a loss for words to explain what I had learned and how I felt. I had the time of my life. I was completely humbled by the happiness and love I found in each person I met, as well as the beaches, landscapes, and animals I saw. This wasn’t, and still isn’t, something that can be put into words. It is something that MUST be experienced.
Reflecting on the day I applied to go to Ghana, I can’t believe that I ever thought I had to be an upperclassman to study abroad. In my opinion, going as a freshman benefitted me more than if I had been a senior. For starters, I didn’t have any plans for the summer after my freshman year. I didn’t have an internship or an amazing job at a hospital or a school, and none of my friends were getting married or having babies. I wasn’t missing anything. Furthermore, this experience will help me, not only with applying to medical school but with the rest of my college career. Being able to see the ins and outs of medical care up close solidified that the degree I am working toward is exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life. Also, having experience abroad shadowing doctors and working in hospitals and clinics gives me a better chance to do the same things here. I now have a better understanding of the world and of life, which I can use in each of my other classes. I can relate almost anything to my experience in Ghana. Finally, studying abroad my freshman year gave me the courage to take control of my education and ensure that I am getting exactly what I want out of my college experience—and it gave me time to study abroad again.
Lauren Robb is a sophomore in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at GVSU, majoring in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Applied Statistics. She enjoys playing intramural sports, being outside, and hanging out with friends. Lauren loves learning about medicine and health care through her job as a scribe as well as her volunteer work. Her one piece of advice for all GVSU students is to study abroad at least once, no matter how long it’s for!