“Feliz Cumpleaños” – El Salvador Day 1/15

El Salvador is a country rich in vegetation, hospitality and community. Immediately after landing the burst of heat hit the group, with temperatures reaching 85 degrees (give or take 10 depending on the day). I am an avid coffee drinker, so when I saw coffee being sold at the airport it was the first item I bought. This, however, was not the best decision to make. Coffee was El Salvador’s first main export to other countries, so there is a strong sense of justification and respect in regards to it. Not only was the coffee $12 (1lb) but it was not fair trade coffee, which is the coffee type that should be bought instead. Tomorrow my group will visit a fair trade coffee shop, where the coffee is of a better quality and only $3.50.

My first step off the plane also got me smiles, winks and stares from the El Salvadorians who saw me. We drove to lunch via the driver who will take us around for the next few weeks and my first meal here were huge shrimps, chicken breast, and rice. It was delicious and tasted different, more flavorful if I had to describe it. Here I learned that calling myself an “American” is politically (and technically) incorrect. El Salvadorians are Latin Americans, so the term isn’t a good descriptor: “US citizen” is. The meal was so great I inquired about tipping, and was advised not to. While US citizens are typically individualistic, El Salvadorians are more collective, so leaving a tip to a specific server can causes imbalances in their group dynamics, because someone is achieving more than another. It’s about the collective effort, so the tip is added to the overall bill to distribute evenly.


Next, we went to the beach and saw a Pacific Ocean route. It was beautiful and the waves crashed as forceful as the sun shown down. It was refreshing, but not as refreshing as the mangos I bought on the sand. Two adorable little girls were selling mangos; 5 for 25 cent (know that kids as young as 7 and up start working to help support their families). I only had a dollar, so just bought 5 and told them to keep the change (really, I didn’t need 25 of them and a dollar alone isn’t worth much to me–and El Salvador uses the US dollar fyi, since 2009). It took a bit of communicating to let them know they could keep the extra 75 cent, but they were happy when they realized it.

The next stop was to an open market the was such a culture shock. As mentioned before, El Salvadorians are a collective, inclusive community and it show with how all vendors were helping and supporting one another. As expected, when my classmates and I walked by all eyes were on us, with vendors offering wares and wanting photos. I gave my attention to the kids, there were so adorable and kept walking up to us and selling stuff. I bought so many things from them, and will have to work on saying no if needed. We didn’t get carded buying alcohol and they carted to us, making our group the center of attention. We left after drinks and made our way to Hotel Oasis, the place we would be staying for the trip.

When we arrived at Hotel Oasis, the serving staff was outside and waved us in. I’m just in awe at their hospitality. We began with the study abroad orientation and expectations, then had a delicious dinner. After eating with great conversations, the lights went out and everyone thought there was a power outage. To my surprise, the staff came out singing happy birthday and presented me with a delicious carrot cake. This made my night, and further confirmed their hospitality was some of the best I’ve encountered in my life.



ACT, SAT & GRE – How I Never Had to Take Them and How to Potentially Avoid Them

The ACT and SAT are two widely accepted test many pre-college students take to assess their competence in math, English (writing), reading and science. However, it is easily possible to graduate college without ever needing to take these exams–if your academic journey is similar to mine. Below are three summarized options I took as an undergraduate to avoid standardized testing, including the GRE for graduate school admission. Also the “End Summaries” in red provide an even briefer summarization.

Home Schooling

I was never accustomed to taking standardized test even as a home schooled student. The majority of my exams were essay-based or project-based to broadly assess what I learned. Every subject had learning outcomes and my essays and projects needed to hit each learning outcome in detail or I would not get full scores. My GPA throughout high school was between 3.8-4.0.

End Summary: Standardized test are not the only way to assess what students know.

Associates Degree

This was ultimately the key in avoiding the ACT and SAT. Many students are now being told an associates degree is worthless.  This is highly inaccurate if it is used in the correct way.  Foremost, many community colleges have open admission policies, meaning they will assess your skills via a placement test instead of relying on the ACT/SAT. That said, I applied to my local community college, did not need ACT/SAT scores, and was easily admitted without them. After obtaining my Associates Degree, I transferred from Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and immediately took classes for my program at half the price since my Associates Degree handled all general education via the MACRAO transfer agreement. My GPA throughout both colleges was 3.5-4.0, I was an honors student at GRCC, and in a national leadership honor society (ΟΔΚ) at GVSU.

End Summary: If you know you want to obtain your Associates Degree first, look into their admission policy. If it is an open admission policy you may not need to take the ACT/SAT, which saves you time and money. However, be cautious if you decide to transfer before obtaining your Associates Degree, because many colleges and universities will still require you to take the ACT/SAT if you transfer with a low amount of credit hours.

Graduate Institution’s Discretion in Utilizing the GRE

The GRE stands for Graduate Records Examination and assesses prospective graduate students on fundamentals (general education) they would have learned as an undergraduate student. How the GRE is used differs significantly. For instance, ‘university A’ may require a set score for admission in any graduate program, ‘university B’  may only take into account the Literature in English section while ‘university C’ does not requite it at all for their programs. My graduate institution only required it if your GPA was below a set standard.

End Summary: Do your research before taking the GRE, depending on the university requirements and their program, you may not need to take it–which saves you time and money.

*Note–this article was not meant to discredit the ACT, SAT or GRE. This article is simply a testament that they are neither required to academically assess a student nor required to reach graduate study.

about_actMario Adkins is a graduate student in Grand Valley State University’s College Student Affairs Leadership masters program. When not drawing or playing his favorite video games, he can be found on campus collecting, assessing and process data as Research  Analyst in Teacher Education for GVSU’s College of Education. Follow him on Twitter @zerolocked