Experiencing Community Work

Vanja Petkovic, Serbia, Global UGRAD 2016-2017

As a Global UGRAD participant I have a chance to spend one semester studying at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida. Without exaggeration, I can easily say that this is the best experience that I have had in my life so far. Not just that I have a chance to attend one of the most prestigious universities for science and engineering majors, but I also get involved in plenty of interesting events and meet a lot of very kind people. And I believe that the best opportunity to integrate into a community is volunteering.

My first community service included packing lunches for children on the east coast of Florida. It was part of The Children’s Hunger Project – Brevard County’s Backpack Program. Around 30 of us packed 500 lunches for children whose parents are working during the weekends and aren’t there to make sure that their children have proper meals. Each of us got a badge like the one in the picture below, and I have been wearing it proudly on my backpack for the past two months, trying to spread the word about the project and inform as many people as possible.

Packing lunches for The Children’s Hunger Project


One of the organizations that I joined soon after my arrival at Florida Tech was AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). As a member of AIAA, I had a chance to volunteer at the Kennedy Space Center. There were many activities during the whole day for a large number of kids who came there with their parents. My ‘duty’ was to show them how to make paper gliders in a very simple way. The best part was when the glider was done and the toy was ready to fly. I will never forget those happy smiling expressions on children’s faces and all the gratitude expressed by the parents.

Making paper gliders with children at Kennedy Space Center

A strange thing happened recently on our campus – a forgotten shed was discovered, full of old astronomical equipment! I was one of the first students who got a chance to explore it. It was indeed very old, smelly and dusty. So many telescopes, binoculars, lenses and tripods just laying there in huge piles. Our job was to figure out exactly what that treasure consisted of and make it as clean as possible. At one point I found a couple of Astronomy magazines that were almost 40 years old! After several hours of work, the result was – clean equipment, dirty volunteers and telescopes ready to be used in a stargazing night that we plan to organize very soon!

The shed and the astronomical equipment  that we cleaned

One of the American holidays that I experienced here so far was Halloween. Two days before it, there was this huge event on our campus called Treat or Treat. Our dorms became themed haunted houses. Students dressed up in scary or funny costumes. There were children running around all day. The campus was so alive! More than a thousand visitors came through that day. My role was to collect the surveys at the end about the visitors’ impressions, comments and suggestions. The event was completely free and kids had a safe environment for celebrating the holiday of candies, pumpkins and costumes.

Treat or Treat event at Florida Tech campus

Each of these events played a significant role in my time spent here as an exchange student. I was learning about American culture, made a lot of new friends, and at the end of each of those days had that warm feeling around my heart knowing that I spent my free time in the best way possible – helping others and making them happy.

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