One day I was just going to class and I stopped when I saw a poster on the wall. Written was: “if you don’t know how to spend your spring break — apply for Alternative Spring Break with UHV! We are going to volunteer in Mississippi!” I thought it was a good idea to travel somewhere as well as to volunteer and get a new experience. The next day, I filled the application form and submitted it. I waited for the results for a couple weeks and finally I received an email that made my day because it said: “the selection committee has met, and I am happy to announce that you have been selected!” I was so glad about this news! Everyone congratulated me, only my mom said, “Why Mississippi?! It is a wild place where an alligator can eat you!” I said, “Don’t worry. I will be okay.” But she was right about an alligator because where we stayed, there was one. But I didn’t meet him.
A few weeks later, I was standing near the van with my backpack and ready to start a journey. It was my first time out of Texas. Before I was traveling around Texas, so I was super excited to go to fabulous Mississippi. Moreover, I was the only international student on the trip. So, it was a great opportunity to introduce my culture to my colleagues and local people there as well. A 10 hour drive later, we finally arrived at our destination – Biloxi. We stayed in Camp Wilkes, which I would describe as a scout camp. Furthermore, a few other schools came also to volunteer for the program. It was a pleasure to meet people across the whole U.S.
Our first day we worked on an environmental project with the Land Trust for the Coastal Mississippi Plain. We came to a trail and helped there to clean rubbish and weeds. When we were cleaning, a girl found a turtle on the ground. I couldn’t even imagine that you can just clean a trail and find a turtle. It was really nice! In the evening, we made a bonfire and spent time with the rest of the college students. The next day, we came to the Pascagoula River Audubon Center where we also cleaned the center of weeds. Day three of our volunteering started with the environmental project. We went to another trail and helped there to build stairs. Also, on that day, a raccoon came to our camp. It was astonishing to see an animal in wild nature. Our last day we worked with Community Care Network at Sue’s House and helped them to fix things inside the house. Sometimes we went to the beaches and spent time there too. It was really impressive to see the ocean.
A week passed very quickly. When I got out of the van back in Texas, I wished that the trip would continue. I saw another America, I made new friends, and spent an amazing week helping others. I enjoyed a lot! If you have an opportunity to volunteer with your university, don’t even think, just apply for the program. You will get much more experience and impressions while you volunteer rather than only traveling.
So, explore the USA by volunteering!
Written by Vladyslav Shapoval, 2018-2019 Global UGRAD student from Ukraine at University of Houston – Victoria