“Pensamientos Aleatorios” – El Salvador Day 12/15

I have had MANY experience on this trip that do not necessarily fit into a day’s blog post, so because I did the exact same service project today as yesterday, I dedicated this post to some aspects of this trip that don’t necessarily fit into other blogs, but nonetheless are quite interesting and educational.

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The first is how the city is structured and built. There are many different styles of living in El Salvador (ES). The rural Santa Marta is very open to nature with how the homes and rooms are built. However, San Salvador (where my Hotel Oasis is) has a more modern look in terms of traffic, buildings, etc.

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To elaborate on the city structure, ES has one of the best highway/road systems in Central America. Even though ES is considered a two thirds world country, it is important to remember it has modern aspects of what we consider “modern”, which is essentially just social construction. I thought this photo of construction workers nicely captures this notion.

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The food here is so great and flavorful–chicken, fish, beef, every meat I’ve had is just delicious! Fruits and veggies are another highly eaten item and avocado (and lime) is great in almost anything. Plantains can be fried like potato chips to make a tasty snack and I bought many of them! Pupusas (a thin bread folded in meat, beans, and/or cheese) are another great food and I learned how to make them.

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Street life is always busy in the urban areas, with people selling food, items, hanging around, or the rare sight of street performers. A single photo does not do this guy justice, though nevertheless here’s a glimpse of his show.

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In the United States I’m used to security guards and the occasional police offices, but in ES there is the national civilian police paid by the government. They carry many different guns (simi-automatics, handgun, shotguns, etc.) and it took some getting used to being so close to them because they patrol many areas we frequent. They do smile.

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The last day at Programa Velasco, my service site, was similar to yesterday. The highlight though was I was able to sponsor Axel, who’s almost 3 years old and is just an awesome little guy. I have always wanted to support a child in a different country and it felt so right to do so. Hopefully this will ensure Axel makes it to the 1st grade and lives a happy, safe life. I’m already looking forward to getting some mailed updates from him!

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“Adorables Niños” El Salvador Day 11/15

H. Bart Merkel, Vice Provost of student affairs at Grand Valley State University says: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Indeed, how you grow up has so much influence on your childhood, adolescent years, and young adult path. I was home schooled and had the fortunate opportunity to grow up free of mental/physical abuse, bullying, peer pressure and dictation. Exactly on the contrary: I grew up doing what I liked, which is drawing, playing video games, and helping others. My tattoos, hobbies, friendships, and profession echoes this testament.

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For this study abroad experience there are three placement sites where my classmates and I could work for the next few days. The first is with current and ex gang affiliated youth, the second is with girls who have been victims and/or survivors of human trafficking, and the last site was working with kids 2-7 in a preschool program. I, of course, chose the most educationally focused placement. Ironically and iconically, I asked for wisdom via our celebrity guest Melissa Leo before she left us what was the best way for new college students to possibly realize what their place in life is and how to commit to a career path. Her response: “Ask your mother or father how you genuinely acted as a kid and how you developed naturally, and where might this lead.” This was powerful because in summary, how you acted as a kid is a natural representation of your true self. I kept this in mind as I reflected on my own constructive childhood and for the kids I would encounter today.

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After dividing and getting to our placement sites, the school was a beautiful building surrounded by vegetation, bight soothing colors, and posters and paintings of Mons. Romero. We met two North American coordinators and they explained that this building started as an orphanage, gives scholarships to needy families, aims to provide holistic care, includes a health checkup which is “preventive focused” while other health clinics are “curing focused” with natural medicine a priority, detailed commitment that all children have access to a genuine counselor/physician, and equal access to education that will prep students for elementary school.

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As soon as I entered a classroom on our tour, the kids gravitated to me and began jumping, talking in Spanish and grabbing me to follow them to different places around the room. My two classmates and I said our names in Spanish, and because my name is a common Spanish/Italian/Hispanic/Latino name it was easy for them to pronounce, albeit said in a slightly different way. I was placed with 5-year-olds and our first part of the day was recess.

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Playing with the kids was truly a genuine moment of this study abroad experience when I interacted with innocence in the most absolute of context. El Salvador may have many ecological trials and political challenges, but these kids are able to have fun without the cares of murder, drugs, etc. Playing on the swing, climbing play ladders, sliding, high fives and playing with toys with them filled the bright, breezy afternoon and I had just as much fun as those adorable kids did.

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Inside the kids were learning about careers (the irony of this day is just unimaginable) and the children learned how to pronounce and articulate careers such as firefighters, police officers, doctors, etc., and we drew and colored in what these careers were visually. I drew a police officer and colored it in as the kids kept showing me their drawings and I would give them their deserved affirmation. I ended my time with them by playing with blocks, puzzles, stuffed animals, and other toys before leaving. I hoped to myself that these innocent kids could grow up free of violence, sexual abuse and other injustices we heard about during our orientation here. I want to know each and every one of them can go to college if they want and can pursue the careers they have a genuine interest in and drive for.

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Our last stop was to a few home visits, where the two coordinators would visit the homes of the parents and chat about their academic performances and behavior–both praises and concerns. We took the city bus to the first stop and it reminded me of home because I took one so frequently there. Interestingly, it was only 20 cents per ride. We got off and met a young women with an adorable 2-year-old son and we walked to their home to chat about casual, random conversational topics. We played with toys at their house and I let him draw on my 3DS and watch the intro to Tales of The Abyss, one of my favorite RPG games. The second visit was similar, though there were two older teenage boys with the youngest an excellent anime artist and the oldest owning close to 30 swimming medals! I congratulated them both and hoped that like the kids I met today at the preschool, they could make a living out of what truly makes them happy.

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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

Top 5 MUST HAVE items for College Students

Almost all students have a backpack that holds a few essential items such as writing utensils, paper, folders and textbooks. However, there are a few items many students may not carry that could be a huge benefit. In no specific order are the top five items of 2012 that can highly assist any student and ease many college days.

Mini Stapler

Having your own mini stapler is a not-so-common item that could be very useful after printing out essays and other similar papers. Many instructors require students to staple their work, otherwise they may not accept them. This is an easy way to keep your work ordered, just make sure to have a supply of staples handy!

Post-It-Notes

Post-It-Notes, aka sticky notes are so versatile and have many uses. Taking notes, bookmarking and creating reminders / to-do lists are just a few uses for these handy supplies.  They are inexpensive to buy and may very well save you from forgetting important dates, information and  academic notes.

USB Drive

If you do not own a USB drive give it a purchase. This is an easy way to transfer data files between computer devices without attaching files to emails or cloud/data storage. The USB drive I own is 2 gigs and flips out, or, attached (hidden) in my army dog tags. A few USB drives are actually key chain items or even mini skateboards! Find one that matches your style.

Laptop / Mac Book / Tablet 

Internet, word processing, calculator, PDF reader, music player, photo viewer, video editing and way, WAY more. I’m not even going to say this is optional, because if you do not personally own one [which I encourage if possible] you’ll be in your local college library using theirs. From online classes to digital textbooks, having this item [or access to it] is almost a must.

Echo Livescribe Smartpen

This item, unlike the others above, may need an introduction. In short, this pen is also an audio recording device that records and syncs simultaneously what you write in a companion notebook. You can also upload the pages to an online site and watch/listen to what you wrote/heard. Make sure to have that laptop for this feature! Take a quick look at it in action HERE! (And play around on the site to learn more about it).

Do you have any of these items? and/or Would you add anything else to the list? 

Mario Adkins is a senior at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). When not drawing or playing his favorite video games, he can be found on campus facilitating programs and events as both a resident assistant and vice president of membership for GVSU’s OΔK Circle–a national leadership honor society. Follow him on Twitter @zerolocked.