Austin Peay State University (APSU)
Clarksville, TN – Earlier this winter, when Parth Patel visited the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago for the first time, he wasn’t expecting to find a Hindu temple tucked amid the island’s palm trees. “I’m Hindu,” Patel, an Austin Peay State University (APSU) junior, said.
“It was cool seeing the influence there because India is so far away. The temples were very traditional; one had scriptures on it, and I could understand the scriptures because they were in the same dialect,” stated Patel.
Patel is a member of Austin Peay State University’s President’s Emerging Leaders Program (PELP), a scholarship program that prepares high-achieving students for leadership roles through academic excellence and service learning.
In January, as part of that program, Patel and 12 other PELP juniors spent a week living in an old Catholic abbey in Trinidad while they spent their days restoring houses for Habitat for Humanity.
“We spent a lot of time together, sharing all three meals a day together,” Dr. Matt Kenney, chair of the APSU Department of Political Science and Public Management, said. For the last 10 years, Kenney has chaperoned PELP juniors on a service-learning trip to the island nation. “I split the class into four groups, and each group is responsible for each evening’s reflection section and a team-building exercise they designed. These students run the show.”
The students usually woke up around 6:30am, ate breakfast and then rode an hour to the job site. That’s where they spent most of their days, helping residents build and restore their homes.
“Doing service-learning in another country, we got to see a totally different aspect of that country,” Lauren Kennedy, APSU PELP student, said. “Because had we just done study abroad, we would have just been tourists. But as we’re serving the people and being driven around by the people, being fed by those people, you get to see the daily lives of what it actually looks like to live in Trinidad.”
“For me, I have been on other mission trips with my church or with other service organizations, but this one was different from all of them because of the cultural aspect,” Faith Hudgens, APSU PELP student, said. “I had never been to a country with such a unique cultural aspect while having our same language. It was incredible – learning all different dialects and the fact that we could communicate with them.”
For some of the 13 Austin Peay students, the trip was their first experience in a foreign country. For others, such as PELP student Emily Moore, it offered an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise.
“I was really excited because I play softball, so I don’t have enough time if I want to do another study abroad trip,” she said. “This trip worked out for me, timing wise. Also, I’ve had class with these people for three years, but we never really got to know each other like on a deeper level, so this was a great opportunity to make those lifelong connections and just spend time with people during this experience.”
The students also made a few excursions to the beach, listened to a steel drum orchestra and visited some of the island’s Hindu temples. Despite a few sore muscles and a lack of sleep, they returned to Austin Peay with stronger friendships, a growing desire to travel and serve, and three credit hours.
“I’m honestly blown away by the entire (PELP) program, the organization of the entire program, and that we started together and get to see each other progress, and to encourage each other,” Hudgens said. “We’re all doing different things, but we’re all leaders.”