Reflections from Nicaragua

Going into this experience I did not know what to expect. I was feeling so many different emotions. I was scared, excited, anxious, and so much more. When we first arrived, it was late at night after a long day and I was tired. I couldn’t really see what was going on and it looked scary to me. When we got to the rooms I was also feeling very skeptical about everything. It was not what I thought it was going to be. I definitely had a down moment that night and was praying the next day things would get better. It did (: After all the orientations, I had a better understanding on what was going on and that weekend we got to explore the country and have some fun. The lagoon was the best day and my favorite day there. It really was paradise. After having so much fun that weekend, it was time to get to work. I was excited at this point to help in the community and help people in the clinic. We got to go to the pharmacy and many of the medications the people needed were unavailable which was sad. We also got to go to triage, which was a lot of fun. We got through so many patients and I really felt like I was helping out and was able to use my skills to help the nurses and to help the patients get a better experience. We also went to homecare, which was such an eye-opening experience. All of the people let us into their houses and were so welcoming. The houses were so small and in some homes, there were many people in the house. I can’t even explain what the houses looked like, it made me speechless that these people lived on so little. They were so kind and so appreciative of us, it made me feel so good that I was able to do something for them. We also had many days of working hard in construction to build the clinic. We got a lot further than we thought we would, helping the clinic be built faster for them. The only thing that bothered me was how skinny all of the animals were, I wish I could have taken them all home and give them the love they deserve. Speaking of food, I am so happy that I am no longer eating rice (and I don’t like beans so that didn’t help much). It is just a different culture and their priority was to feed themselves and their children instead of the animals. At the dorms, we did not have any TV and there was the bare minimum everywhere, so all of us got very close.  Every night we would sit outside, talk, color and listen to music. I made closer relationships with people and new relationships with those I never knew before. It was so nice going on this trip with such a wonderful group of people that I got to share this experience with. It is hard because there are so many details about the trip that is almost impossible to put it all in words, but it’s great that I have the others that I can talk about the trip with and have those memories together that only we understand. I would do this again in a heartbeat. It was such an amazing trip that people need to experience to understand.

~ Sarah Vallee ’18

Hola todos

Today is our last day here in Nicaragua. For those wondering, we will be landing in El Salvador at 6:30pm, then again at JFK airport at 1:20am. The time will then change at 2 am so we are assuming we will be back at GCU by 4 am. We are excited to see you all!

-Leaving today is a bittersweet feeling. We have made new friends, and have really enjoyed touring the country as well as working in the health clinic. Each day we worked construction (and were taught how to rebarb and prep an empty dirt filled building to create a floor) and then for the second half of the day went on home care visits, worked in the lab, shadowed Drs. and triaged patients. We also worked with interns from all over the world and heard their stories and experiencesfrom their time here.

-We had many eye opening experiences on this trip that has forever made us extremely grateful for living in the United States, and showed us what we truly take for granted each day. We are excited to tell you more details when we arrive home.

Adios amigos 🙂

“How consoling it is in the evening to find oneself tired and worn out because the whole day was spent doing God’s work.”
-St. John Bosco

Farewell To Europe

These are the final photos of our trip, a collection from beginning to end. What a time it has been! We have come so far both as friends and as travelers. We have landed back in Warsaw, Poland and are all currently setting up shop for a couple of hours, until our flight departs back to Newark. We’re returning with a heart full of new love, stories full of laughs, and baggage slightly more heavy with souvenirs. We all have our favorite parts of the trip and I thought you’d like to hear about some of the pivotal moments in our personal experiences. Enjoy!


My first ever experience in Europe was breathtaking, jaw dropping, and filled my stomach with butterflies. Culture shock is real! It is fascinating that other people in the world communicate in languages other than English! From struggling to even making it to Belgium at first, I am happy we are able to look back at it and laugh. There were various memories that I created with Dr. Gross, Dr. Bennett, Kait, Dan, and Katie that I will never forget. We had many laughs on this trip, and I learned so many new things.

Although probably about 90% of this trip will stick with me, the one thing I will always, always remember is that a young guy who was about 17 years old was conversing with our tour guide in the train on our way to Dachau from Munich. Our tour guide then informed us that the guy was telling him how it was very good for us to come a long way to learn about the concentration camps and other history, so that it can never happen again. Which is very true. History is in the past, and we learn from it. We learn from history, just as we learn from our mistakes.

My favorite thing of Europe was the food! I took pictures of just about each dish and was never not satisfied. I look forward to coming back to Europe again soon! Any chance you get to travel, do it! There will be no regrets.

— Maria Lopez (Freshman)

For the students, this trip was the very first time we have been to Europe. There have been some happy times where we did not worry about being away from home, whereas other times we missed home deeply. Throughout this 10-Day trip we covered a lot of ground and saw many things. (Obviously we learned a lot too). Some things were brand new while other facts were first hand.  A few things resonated with me from my experience on this trip.

During our meals and throughout our train rides we met people who lived in the countries we visited, while also meeting few from America as well. While talking with these people they talked about their countries problems and asked us questions about our country’s issues such as immigration. What stuck with me was the fact that these European countries have very similar issues as America. We tend to think that America is unique with our issues but in reality, our issues are very similar to other countries.

Another thing that stuck with me is the fact that people in the countries know America and can even name a few states. These people also know all of the surrounding countries and possibly even countries distant from them. What shocked me, however, wad the fact that most Americans would have some level of difficulty naming all 50 states in the US, but these people know America plus some surrounding culture.

Lastly, in Belgium, we went on a tour of battlefields and famous monuments. It was very moving to see where they battles we learn about in class took place. While visiting these sites I could almost picture in my head what would be going on along with all of the distress and sadness that occurred. There are so many memorable parts of this trip, that I could write a novel but these are a few towards the top of my list.

-Catherine “Katie” Barnes (Freshman)

While traveling, we met a variety of people of whom had radically diverse opinions on the current state of Europe, specifically England and Germany. We met a German woman on the first night who worked for the EU yet detested the way Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, allowed all immigrants from the civil war into Germany. This woman was a conservative-leaning EU worker. Toward the end of our trip we met a German man who is a social democrat and fully supported Merkel’s decision. Overall the various political opinions allowed us to see some of the issues facing Europeans today.

-Daniel “Danny” Ginchereau (Sophomore)

I would have to say, through our travels, perhaps my favorite experience, or at least the one that left an impression on me was the two days spent in Paris. Specifically the trip to the Opera Garnier and the Eiffel Tower. I think that these were my favorite parts because these sights were something I had been waiting to see for most of my childhood, and what has already passed of my adult life. The Phantom of the Opera was my first broadway show, and after having seen the musical once more since, and reading many different variations of the infamous novel by Gaston Leroux, the drive to visit the structure that had inspired such a phenomenon had become stronger.

While just simply walking up to the building, I could hear the build of the orchestra in my head. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overture filled my ears from my mind’s music, and made my heart pound. Strolling through the building on the inside prodded other music from the show to fill my soul, including a number that took place on the enormous staircase. Visiting Box 5 (and seeing it labeled for the Phantom) was almost unbelievable. However, the relation to the musical I love so much was only my initial excitement. The more I learned about the building itself, and its history, only increased my love for the place.

Last, the Eiffel Tower, the heart of Paris…there are truly no words to truly explain the emotion I felt walking up to this architectural masterpiece. It is the iconic symbol of the city of lights. The icon that I have emblazoned on my clothing, on my notebooks, and calendars, and now, on my heart. The twinkling lights moved in time with my heart beat, and it was that moment, that I knew that Paris had stolen my heart. The city and I are now in sync, and since I left…I can hear it calling me back. If no other part of this trip convinced me that I need to revisit Europe the minute I leave (which every day has taught me that I must) the visit to Paris definitely had. I am in love.

–Kaitlyn “Kait” Mulrane (Senior)

There you have it folks. This trip had left handprints on each of our hearts in multiple ways. We had embarked on this journey as acquaintances, but we are going home as a family. Sharing the experiences (some of us for the first time) had changed the way we look at history, the world, and ourselves. We could not be more grateful for this opportunity, and plan to go back as soon as possible. Of course the faculty that tended to our needs, wants, and whims was in a major way, responsible for the smooth trip. From directions, to food, to cultural understanding, Dr. Gross and Dr. Bennett were indeed the heart of our experience, and for that we are all especially grateful! There was no better way to spend a GCU Spring Break than to travel to Europe–though some of us did catch a bit of a cold. Despite the rain, snow, delays, cancelations, and all, I don’t think that any one of us would change one thing we experienced. It was magnificent.

For the last time,

–The GCU Travel Crew

Munich & Dachau: Day 9

Today was the last day we would be spending in Europe. We began our early day with our guide Mikail. We walked the very streets, stood in front of the very places that Adolf Hitler did. It was incredible! Reading about these places, and walking the same streets is a completely different feeling.

Mikhail was an excellent guide, and even gave a little background on the city of Munich before we traveled back in time, to a place where Nazi Germany was the norm. We walked over to Hitler’s headquarters (it is still standing today) which has now been converted into a music school. We then traveled to the eternal flame that burns day and night in the middle of a square, to honor those who suffered during the Nazi regime for their religion, sexual orientation, political views, and/or handicaps.

We then traveled to his former University, LM University. LM stands for Ludwig Maximillion–the first king of Bolvaria (now a state of Germany) and his son. We learned that this is where the students who formed the White Rose Organization had gotten their education. The White Rose was a group of students and one professor who created and distributed leaflets denouncing Hitler and the Nazi regime. They were all caught, and eventually beheaded.

Following the sight seeing around town, our group traveled to Dachau, a medieval town just outside of Munich. This is where we toured the first concentration camp ever to exist, thus making it the model for all other concentration camps to be created afterward. As we arrived church bells tolled in the town behind us, creating quite the eerie setting. The iron gate slammed behind our entrance with such finality, already settling sorrow in our hearts for those who suffered there. Walking along the stone and gravel fields, our steps linked history to the present, echoing the sinister steps of prisoners, marching to their deaths.

Mikhail took our small caravan through a small path where there lay stones dedicated to the fallen who were unknown. The craziest part was, as we were standing over these memorial stones, an owl above our head cooed its words, as if mocking the dedication stone, begging to know “who” these dead were. We witnesses what the prison cells, inside the camp looked like, and we visited the sights of the gas chambers and the ovens…chambers that consumed so many lives, connected to a multitude of never resting furnaces where the living were forced into the world of the forgotten. The thick stone walls of these rooms acted as a refrigerator for the cells. It preserved the cold hand of death against the warmth of life waiting just beyond its perimeters.

Dachau was closed when we left, walking through the empty pebble fields alone. The world around us was absent from the rest of the city around it. Grey stones, against greying grass, anchoring grey trees, against a backdrop of grey cinderblock buildings. The lack of color was so different from the beautiful blooming garden of Munich. It seemed as though Dachau concentration camp was aware that life’s color was not present in a place where death welcomed so many to their graves. As we left, and the historical sight was beginning to shut down, the leaving pilgrims, visitors, and locals followed suit, however their silent prayers filled the echoing space around us, and were as clear as ink on a page. Bless those who suffered here, and bless those who ended the suffering.

Tomorrow we leave for the United States early in the morning. Tomorrow will be the last blog for this trip, and I know I am not the only one who is sad to leave. The rich history swirling around us in Europe still has so much to reveal to us, but I suppose that just means we will have to come back soon!

Until then…Auf Wiedersehen! 

–The GCU Travel Crew


Day 8

Happy 24th birthday to our girl Andrea ! We love you and are so grateful for you! Thank you for being the best tour guide/translator/ long term volunteer leading our crew/ personal singer! Xo


La Clinica’s lab technician and her lab

Paris Has The Key To Our Hearts!

The passed two days have been a whirl wind for the GCU Travel Crew! The city of lights had a tight grasp on our hearts, and our eyes! Our second day was a calm day where we visited the Bastille where prisoners used to be held in a huge palace. However during the revolution the building was destroyed, and now a tall bronze, now green (like the Statue of Liberty) resides in its place. Then we followed with an extremely memorable mass service in the infamous cathedral Notre Dame, where our lives were painted with color. From our spirits to the stained glass windows, it was like living on the inside of a jewel box. We shopped and ate afterwards (just like real Parisians)! However, our first day was where all of the action happened.

We began the first day in Paris with a flurry of sight seeing. We began our day at the Concerigerie and Saint Chapelle. Both historical structures had opened our eyes to a world of color, tragedy, and inspiration. We followed our first two visits with a quick visit to the Louvre and the glass pyramids. You can’t go to Paris and pass up these sights! Both filled with such incredible architecture, and history. Truly a fascinating vision. On our journey to our next location, we passed many plaques which were scattered through out the city. Each plaque was dedicated to many of those who fell during the occupation of Paris in 1940. Each told a brief story about the dedication, which was truly interesting. It was like following a time line throughout one of the most major cities in the world.

Next we ventured to a personal favorite of mine, Palace Garnier. This is the Opera House built in the 19th century by Charles Garnier. This theater is not only an architectural and artistic masterpiece, but is also the home to the infamous Phantom of the Opera. Authored by Gaston Leroux in 1910, this book was based on a real life event of the chandelier (or rather, its counter balance) falling and actually killing a woman. Since its formation, the book has taken off to be adapted into many movies and a hit musical which has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary on Broadway! On our tour we learned much about its architectural beginnings and we toured some of the most famous spots there, including the mysterious Box 5.

Following the Palace Garnier, the GCU Crew made it all the way to the Concord Grande de Palace. In this square, an extremely large obelisk resides, with Egyptian hieroglyphs engraved on the sides that honored the Pharaoh Ramses II. This obelisk was a gift from the Egyptians to the French as a sign of good will between the two countries. In fact, an identical monument still exists in Egypt too! This obelisk also stands across the square from the United States Embassy (did you know that the guards there won’t let you take pictures of it, or stand in front of it for too long? Neither did we.)

We then scoured the grounds toward the tomb of the infamous French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. That was definitely a sight to behold. Did you know that Napoleon was not really short. He was about 5 foot 6 in reality, which now a days is about an average height. The casket that Napoleon’s body is said to reside in, was absolutely massive, and that is just the beginning of the massive architecture! The entire tomb was surrounded by different sculptures, artwork, and ornate stained glass windows! The entire thing was just breath taking.

Following our trip to visit the great emperor, we crossed the Pont de Alexandre III. This is the most decorative (and beautiful) bridge in Paris. Built in the early 1900s by Tsar Nicolas II (the last Tsar of Russia) in honor of his father Tsar Alexander III to symbolize the friendship between Russia and France. After we crossed that bridge, we visited the Arc de Triumph. This was the sight one of our lost travelers wished to see (WE MISS YOU RICHIE!) This infamous structure is too magnificent for words. Inscribed on the inside of it are names of those who have been lost in battle for France, and there are sculptures and engravings covering every inch in respect to these soldiers.

Last but absolutely not least, we visited the heart of Paris–the Eiffel Tower herself. Many, many selfies later, we embarked on a river cruise on the River Seine that toured the major parts of the city. Being that this tour began at dusk at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, and rounded the river until the sun set and the city of lights came to life! It was spectacular. Though what I could say was an added pleasant surprise was the hashtag that was projected on the tower after dark. #Maintenantonagit (#NowWeAct) which is a feminist movement to honor the day to celebrate women!

All in all, the past two days were the most incredible of our lives. We were whipped in every which direction, experienced a plethora of new encounters. All of these wonderful sights to behold, and the true treasure was experiencing it together. Tomorrow begins our next and final journey, Germany here we come!


Until next time!

–The GCU Travel Crew

Enjoy the photos!

6 Mile hike…



Headed back down on foot !

Our new friend Tom, a volunteer from Ireland took on the adventure with the nursing crew!

Some of our views

Adios amigo !!

Made it to El Porvenir

Made it to the top 🙂

Last step of the coffee process
These women must separate the defective coffee beans and fill 1 large red bag for the days work. The boss walks by and grabs a handful of the “good” bag and if more then 3 beans are defected the woman must start over again. Men are not allowed to do this job because they are not thorough/patient enough.

Ready to be shipped out. Each bag is 150lbs
Papa y nieto led the way
Touring the Coffee farm
Picking cocoa off the tree
Cracked open so we all can try- FYI it does not taste like chocolate
Coffee beans fresh off the tree

Made a new friend – Christopher

The dorm for single men/women coffee farm workers. Up to 4 men sleep in one cubby- all doors and windows must be sealed for protection from bugs and animals.
Mothers/fathers with children will sleep in the bigger dorm

The kitchen at the top of the mountain where they made a wonderful lunch for us 

We love the animals, there were so many wild chickens, pigs and cows

On a sad note, the dogs here are not held to the same value as they are in the US, dogs here are filed with fleas and rabies and are considered dirty and protection for the family. There is an abundance of stray dogs and it has been breaking our hearts. Below is a picture of a pup we met while eating lunch, we were told not to feed him (but we snuck some snacks to him)

Disclaimer-You can see the ribs on just about every animal here.. the food supply is low and needed for the families before the animals can get fed. The wet season brings more grass for them to feed. (it is currently the dry season)