When traveling to Jamaica, it is often thought of as a relaxing vacation, taking in all the eye-catching scenery and crystal clear waters, as well as some native culture.
But for junior early childhood and special education major Tesin Gnalian, 20, the reason for visiting is entirely different.
“I’ve always said that if I want to go on an international trip through school, I don’t want to be a tourist, I want to give back in some way,” Gnalian said.
For the first time in school history, SRU will be sending Gnalian and 39 other students overseas to Petersfield, Jamaica during winter break for the university’s first international care break. While the university has sent students traveling across the U.S. for care breaks for many years, this year is marked as the first year that SRU students will be traveling outside of the U.S. for a care break.
The care break will be split into two trips during winter break, with 20 students on each trip. The first trip will take place January 12-19, and the second will be January 19-26.
A lot of careful preparation went into making this international care break a reality, according to senior mathematics and professional studies major Grace Evans. Evans, 21, said that she thought of the idea last spring, when she started traveling internationally.
“I’ve always been interested in care breaks and we’re not just going to a different country to be tourists, we’re going to give back to a community,” Evans said.
Evans explained that she is unsure at the moment what kinds of service work they will be doing in Jamaica, because the volunteers usually do not find out the exact details of their expected work until they arrive at their destination.
Having personal experience with care breaks in previous years, Evans not only talked about what she is hoping students will take away from this experience, but what she is hoping to take from it as well.
“One of the interesting things about this trip is that we will be staying with Jamaican families in their houses, which creates this unique atmosphere,” she said. “Students can learn about community development and know that they can change lives when they want, too. It’s all about the passion that people have in the communities, and it’s something you don’t get until you live it.”
In planning of the event, Evans said some outside help was required to make the winter international care break a possibility. Between working with the Pittsburgh-based community development organization Amizade Global Service-Learning, as well as receiving on-campus support from students and faculty, Evans said the trip planning was made much easier than usual.
Among those going on the winter care break is addiction counseling graduate student Corey Fraction.
Fraction, 23, said that he is really looking forward to being one of the first students to be volunteering for an international care break.
“I think it’s a privilege, because not every one gets to experience a different life style,” Fraction said. “Being in a different culture will be a learning experience.”
Fraction, 23, who works with children at George Junior, said the part of this trip he is looking forward to the most is working with children.
“Personally, my passion is kids and by going on this trip, I want to bring that passion with me [and] make a difference in these kids lives,” Fraction said.
Gnalian said that she’s not sure what to expect since it is her first care break, but she said that it means a lot to her that she is one of the first students to be involved in such an experience.
“It’s definitely exciting, and I’m looking forward to experience it and tell our story to future students and encourage more students to go,” Gnalian said.