International Service Teams connect students with communities abroad, promoting cultural and self awareness.
A typical morning routine for Lily Colburn is to wake up, take a shower and get ready for the day. This past summer though, her showers consisted of a bucket and a cup of water to pour over her body. When living in The Gambia, sustainability of life becomes the only option. For two months Lily traveled with a Kansas State University International Service Team and was immersed in this new culture.
“The first thing to realize is that Gambians live sustainably not necessarily by choice. You can’t leave the water running when brushing your teeth because there is none to run, and there is no trash system,” Lily said. “The trash I created while there fit into a gallon sized Ziploc bag. I created just as much trash on my flight home.”
K-State’s International Service Team, a program at the Staley School of Leadership Studies, is focused on ethical and sustainable service projects allowing students to work with a community rather than for one. While in The Gambia, Lily worked on a project focused on sea turtle conservation. Part of this project was to walk a three-mile stretch of beach to monitor sea turtle nests. Lily took the first “turtle patrol,” with a Gambian native.
“Being able to have three hours of uninterrupted time working with someone and asking questions about their life really allowed me to learn about the more subtle things that happen in The Gambia that you wouldn’t learn from just being there for a couple of weeks,” Lily said.
The biggest impact this trip had on Lily was where her focus and values are now. She learned how important a strong community can be through the Staley School of Leadership and meeting new people within the International Service Team.
“When I heard my turtle patrol partner pour his heart out about his family members who have taken the dangerous step of immigration, it really put my perspective into a reality,” Lily said. “I definitely have a greater focus on developing and cultivating important and meaningful relationships with people I’m around now, and that is what The Gambia is known for.”
Taking this trip was a big decision. When Lily thought about not being able to work during the summer while in The Gambia, scholarships became more important than she realized.
“The choice of spending money to go and have this amazing experience while also missing out on the chance to make and save money for the upcoming school year was really difficult,” Lily said. “So having that scholarship was key in being able to have an experience of a lifetime.”
The return home might had brought a little culture shock but also a fresh view on how to apply her skills learned at K-State.
“It felt insane coming back to the United States, but I came back from this trip and put what I’ve learned in classes into perspective and can turn that into action,” Lily said. “The work you do in your host country is amazing and not to be taken for granted, but the work you do on yourself while you are there can be much more important.”