Ali Grass - Class of 2018

Ste. Genevieve High School in Ste. Genevieve, MO

“Saturday June 24th 5:25pm seat 22F on fight 2190: My heart is pounding out of my chest. I don’t think I have ever felt so many different emotions at one time. Next stop, Cusco, Peru.” This summer I traveled to Peru with a program called Projects Abroad to volunteer and shadow doctors. I landed in Cusco, Peru at about noon Sunday, June 25th with two new friends from the project (whom I had only met a couple flights before) Dara (Texas) and Izzy (Florida).

Our project representative, Patrick, then explained some details about our housing. We would be divided up in groups of 3-5 and stay in host houses. I hopped in my taxi, without my new friends, to meet my family for the next two weeks. I was staying with two other volunteers Aurora (Norway) and Ian (California).  Each day in Cusco was a new adventure. Most mornings (7am-12:30pm) were spent either shadowing/learning hands on from the doctors in the hospitals or volunteering at orphanages and daycares. Our volunteer projects at the daycare allowed us to clean the children’s teeth, test their eyesight, or ask them psychological questions about life at home. After our work was done, we would have about an hour to play with the children.

This was where I met Henry, a 3 year old little boy who bonded with me immediately. Being around these children made you feel nothing, but complete joy. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip even though I still wish I had more time with Henry. The project would then transport us back to our host families for a Peruvian lunch. At about 2:00pm the other volunteers in my house and I would leave to take the public bus to the Projects Abroad Office. Here we would meet other volunteers and have some type of “workshop.” Some of our workshops included: how to do stitches, Spanish lessons, an organic medicine lesson, and a lesson on the tropical diseases of Peru. After class, we would spend our evenings doing “tourist activities.” Some of these included: salsa lessons, a traditional Peruvian dance show, walking around in the “Square,” going to a Peruvian movie theatre, and eating at traditional restaurants.

We took an entire weekend away from our work to see Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and Urubamba. Machu Picchu was absolutely breaktaking and one of the highlights of the trip for me. Although this trips was filled with learning, laughter, and pure happiness, it wasn’t easy at first.

When I first arrived in Peru, I got separated from all of the people I met and taken to my host house without any other Americans. I waited there for a couple hours for the other volunteers, but once they arrived I soon realized weren’t exactly very “social.” For the first two days they gave the volunteers a lot of free time at our house to rest and adjust to the altitude. At this point I started to feel very homesick. I wasn’t around the new people who made me comfortable, I was 4,000 miles away from my family, and I wasn’t exactly enjoying the adjustment to Peruvian food. I’ll admit it, I did call my parents crying and pulling the whole “I want to come home,” thing. But, there was nothing anyone could do. I was laying in bed the next night, after a very long day, and I realized I had two options. I could be upset about the food, not being around my new friends, and being under prepared for the cold OR I could make the most of this AMAZING opportunity and make the best of my time.

It took a little time for me to adjust, but once I changed outlook on the situation the entire trip turned around for me. This was a lesson I had to learn the hard way, but will be able to use for the rest of my life. It’s one thing for someone to preach to you, “A positive outlook will lead to a positive life,” but when you have no option to either change your mindset or let it ruin you, you learn a lot about yourself. I think that was one of the most important things about this trip for me. I learned SO MUCH about myself as a human. I firmly believe traveling helps transform you into your most true self. I learned A TON about the medical field by working hands on in Peru, but I think I learned more about myself and life while I was there and I think that’s the beauty in the Patched Overalls experience. I cannot stress enough how much I encourage all students to put themselves out there and apply for this scholarship. I think a lot of students are scared and think, “I would never find anywhere to go.” But the possibilities are ENDLESS. Just in the program I traveled with, Projects Abroad, there are hundreds of different projects in healthcare, education, archaeology, and more. Not only are these offered in Peru, but LITERALLY all of over the entire world. If all of this is offered from Project Abroad, imagine the opportunities offered from other programs around the entire world. Taking on the responsibility of planning a trip by yourself seems like a large load of work, but between the help from Tyson, Mrs. Staffen, my parents, and Projects Abroad the entire process goes so smoothly and almost stress free.

The Patched Overalls Experience From the Mother of Ali Grass: Stephanie

 I would also encourage younger kids interested in the scholarship to NOT worry about the money. My trip, in full, costed roughly $4,700 which is much over the scholarship reward. However, I reached out to local businesses in our community and SO many of them were willing to donate money to help fund such a great cause. To anyone interested in this scholarship, please do not worry about the silly things like planning the trip or the money because at the end of the day the unforgettable times and life lessons are the things that will matter most to you. Also, if you just think you couldn’t be alone, trust me you can. This was my first time ever flying and I had to do it alone. YOU CAN DO IT, I promise. Take advantage of this amazing opportunity, not everyone can say they planned a trip and traveled alone at the age of 17, If anyone ever has any questions PLEASE feel free to reach out to me.

Patched Overalls is simply amazing. If we ever had any questions, they were answered right away. I’m not going to lie, the process is scary at times, but is also such a great thing and offered an outstanding experience for our daughter. I cannot say there was anything we didn’t like about the program. I can’t even explain into words how much Ali has learned. She has become a more responsible, respectful, and independent person since the trip. I also feel like this trip helped Ali learn so much about living on her own, guiding her way thru an airport (since this was her FIRST time flying), how different cultures work, and why we shouldn’t take our everyday luxuries for granted. Although Ali did a good job packing in such an organized way, she still was a little under prepared. She needed some more warm clothes and wishes she would’ve taken more snacks. That’s one of my tips of advice, MAKE SURE YOUR CHILD IS PREPARED. There’s nothing worse than being very far away and not being able to get them things they need. The snacks would’ve been helpful to Ali because she soon learned that Peruvian food wasn’t exactly her favorite, but she managed to find local shops where she could buy Oreo (which soon became her favorite LOL).

With such a big change in altitude in Peru, Ali’s body had to make a lot of adjustments. The hardest part of this whole experience came when Ali first got settled into room. With all of the changes going on, Ali soon became homesick and very emotional. Being thousands of miles away, it was so tough to hear her scared voice and know that there was really nothing you could do. Tyson helped both me and Ali out during this time. He sent her some encouraging words of advice, which I know helped her a lot. After a couple days, Ali really began to overcome the homesickness and enjoy her time in Peru.

Once she was having a great time, it was so reassuring to hear her talk about all of the exciting things she got to do. As a parent, it made me so proud hearing her talk about all of the things she was learning in the medical field and how much fun she was having with the orphanage children. I also think the culture changes were such a cool experience for Ali and I know she enjoyed every minute of it. The advice I would give to future Patched Overalls Scholarship parents is to make sure your child is as prepared as possible (snack, weather, documents, etc), and really check into an international phone plan. I would most definitely do this entire experience over again if it was possible. This was one the best life experiences for Ali and I can really tell how it made her become a better person. Thank you Patched Overalls for everything you have done for us, we truly appreciate it.

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