Matthew Aiken (MA) ’17, DPT expected 2020, and Erin Ciarrocca (EC) ’18, DPT expected 2021, reflect on their experiences doing service in Guatemala during intersession.
Where are you going on your service trip/how long?
MA: Our service trip took place in Guatemala over the course of 10 days. Specifically, we stayed in Zacapa and Antigua.
In a paragraph or two, describe your experience and what kind of service you did.
MA: Our service trip was based out of Hearts in Motion (HIM) an organization that provides various medical services to individuals throughout Guatemala. This trip specifically focused on physical therapy. Our group consisted of three groups of physical therapy students from the following Universities: Marquette University, William Carey and The University of Scranton.
Each day we traveled to neighboring towns and provide physical therapy in either a pre-existing clinic or in a “pop-up” clinic. While at the clinics we would treat various types of patients ranging from poor posture causing pain to patients with much more severe and involved neurological issues. Each day we would attempt to work in different groups of students from different schools in order to grow and learn from one another.
What inspired you to go on a service trip?
MA: I was inspired to go on this service trip by various people. Some of my friends have attended previous trips similar to this one and have given it remarkable reviews. Furthermore, I knew for a while that I wanted to take part in some type of service trip, this trip specifically resonated with me because it was a chance to both help other people while continuing to grow as a person and as a student in the physical therapy society.
What is your biggest takeaway from this experience?
MA: My biggest take away from the service trip would be the hospitality and the thankfulness each and every patient expressed. No matter how small of an issue we treated, every patient was grateful. This hit close to home for me because I feel that in our society we can sometimes get so caught up in our everyday lives and ignore what is directly around us. In addition, this trip has shown me how complacent we can become in our everyday lives if we don’t live to help others.
EC: I was most awestruck by the gratitude each patient demonstrated for the care we provided. Often patients would hug and kiss us at the end of their treatment, offering a “Dios te bendiga,” which translates to “God bless you” on their way out of the clinic. As a first-year student, I initially questioned my ability to truly help these patients, but I found that their willingness to listen and learn along with a pure determination to better their own lives was so much stronger than my insecurity. They welcomed my knowledge with open arms and embraced any treatments we offered without skepticism. This type of open-mindedness and faith in the goodness of others was unlike any I had seen before and it was something I would like to model in my future career as a physical therapist.
5. What advice would you give to college students interested in participating in a service trip?
MA: Do it! If there is an opportunity for you to go on a service trip, especially if the service is something you are passionate about, then I highly recommend taking the leap of faith and going for it. If you have concerns about the trip reach out to individuals who have previously attended or a moderator of the trip. We are lucky enough that our school runs numerous service trips that can cater to all types of needs. These opportunities are not always present after we graduate. Therefore, I strongly encourage, even if just a small part of you wants to take part in a service trip, go for it.
EC: My advice is simple — go for it! I decided to go on this trip with only a few days’ notice, no idea who else was going, and relatively low confidence in my ability to treat Spanish-speaking patients, but within just a couple hours of working in the clinic found that the opportunity was just what I needed to grow as a student. I didn’t plan on utilizing my Spanish much, but I was immediately thrown into translating so my comfortability speaking with patients increased each day. I was able to learn from my peers and the professors, which gave me a whole set of new tools to take back for classes this spring. More importantly, this service trip gave me a chance to share the blessings I’ve been given as a University of Scranton student with people who haven’t been afforded the same opportunities. I was able to carry out my mission as a physical therapist, but also as a Christian, in serving and loving God’s children.
6. Do you think you’ll continue to serve in some way after you graduate?
MA: Yes. I am already thinking about ways to continue serving both here in the United States and abroad. Since I was young, I have felt a need to help others, hence a degree in physical therapy. Over the past six years at Scranton, this calling has only grown stronger. The Jesuit ideal of men and women for others has become not just a saying, but, rather, a lifestyle that I look forward to continuing.
View more about Erin Ciarrocca’s trip to Guatemala here!
Check out a faculty perspective here!
Learn more about the DPT program here.