An Educational Trip of a Lifetime!

Written by: Nicki Sanchirico Exsc/Kines ’18, DPT ’21

About one year ago, I woke up early during my intersession break to catch a flight to Guatemala.  No, I did not go there to simply escape the cold, although that certainly was a perk!  I traveled there with twelve second- and third-year University of Scranton Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate students, as well as two of our professors, for an educational trip of a lifetime!  Our professors organized a trip for us with a non-profit organization called Hearts in Motion (HIM). On our trip, we teamed up with four students and one professor from another Jesuit institution to provide physical therapy triage services to individuals who ordinarily do not have access to care.

Each day, we woke up with the call of a rooster who lived on the hotel grounds, ate a delicious Guatemalan breakfast, and traveled via bus from our hotel to various locations surrounding the town of Zacapa. At each site, patients lined up to receive our services before we even arrived. As students at a Jesuit school, we are taught to always strive for “magis” or the “greater”. To ensure each patient received the greatest quality of care, we split up into groups that included two to three student therapists and a translator. Our professors, along with two physical therapists from Guatemala, rotated around to each group as needed. This gave us the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from each other throughout the day.

Just as we are taught to strive for “magis”, we also aim for the Jesuit ideal of “cura personalis” or “care of the whole person”. Prior to going on the trip, I doubted how much we could help each person if we only saw them once; however, I was pleasantly surprised when my professors told me that the patients would be able to receive follow up care if needed. At the end of each day and at the end of our trip, we had guided prayers and reflections on our experiences. Out of the 250 patients seen, a pediatric patient marked one of the biggest imprints on my heart. The child had cerebral palsy and malnourishment. His mother reported that he often wanted to stand or walk, but it became too difficult for her to help him by herself. Through the triage services, our professor helped us to retrofit donated braces to his legs to make it easier for the mother to assist her child with ambulation. HIM then offered the child continued services to help address his neuromuscular and nutritional deficits. The look of pure joy that filled the mother’s face after she realized her son would finally be receiving the care that he needs is an image that I will remember throughout the rest of my academic and professional career.

In addition to the educational and emotionally moving physical therapy patient experiences, the cultural immersion experiences made the trip unforgettable. Throughout each treatment session, we gained new insight into the Guatemalan culture and the differences between each surrounding town. Our last couple of days in Guatemala was spent in the beautiful city of Antigua, exploring and enjoying many experiences that the country offers. I had the opportunity to tour a coffee plantation, ride a horse up a volcano, buy Guatemalan goods crafted by the locals, and indulge on authentic food. I am beyond grateful for the service immersion experience that allowed me to fine tune physical therapy skills and my Jesuit ideals of “magis” and “cura personalis”, while having fun along the way!

This trip was just one of the many volunteer opportunities that the University offers to students. Although this trip was specific to physical therapy students, service opportunities are also available to graduate students of other majors. During a typical year, graduate and undergraduate students can participate in both international and domestic service immersion experiences through The Center for Service and Social Justice. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, The Center for Service and Social Justice was still able to offer immersion experiences to students; however, it was in a virtual format! This winter, they offered a virtual domestic immersion chance to explore racial justice in Detroit, as well as a virtual international immersion opportunity with Christians for Peace in El Salvador.  The variety of service and immersion experiences offered by The University of Scranton allows students to enrich their life as graduate students and create unforgettable experiences!