Summer vacation is also a great opportunity to travel and take part in trips to help others. Mercer on Mission is a group that takes students around the world to work tasks in other countries. A form of studying abroad, the program offers students a look at other cultures while providing them with a unique work experience. Anthony Schmidt, a junior studying Engineering, talks to The Cluster Staff about his three-and-a-half week summer experience.
Cluster: Where did you go for Mercer on Mission?
Schmidt: I went to Uganda, specifically the Southwestern region of Uganda.
C: What did you do while you were there?
S: We had two major projects at two different schools. At the first school, we helped build a latrine, and at the second school, we helped build a well. We also had two minor projects at the second school. We updated the latrines and also updated the gutter system, which they funneled into a big barrel and used for drinking water.
C: Was there anything in particular that you learned while on your trip?
S: Well, there’s the obvious fact, that I learned about Uganda. Before this trip, I probably couldn’t have pointed it out on a map, much less told you anything about it. I got to learn a lot of stuff about Uganda, and the Ugandans. I learned about their history, and also learned about myself as well as the American way of life. We very much over-complicate stuff, but the Ugandans live a very simple life. They’re happy just to be alive every day. Whereas we are upset if, you know, our iPhone breaks or whatnot. It’s been a humbling experience. It’s really changed a lot in me. They’re very content in what they have.
C: Do you have a good story or experience to talk about?
S: There’s a lot. Maybe it’s not so much a story, but I loved interacting with the kids at the school, you know? I liked talking with them, and talking about what they’re learning, which was a lot of fun. I guess it’s just more of a high-point, working with the kids. A part of our mission was to work with the kids and to teach them about sanitation, too. We made up a song for them, and performed it for them. That was a lot of fun and they got a kick out of that. In their culture, acting out things, like theater, is actually quite big, so we kind of put on a skit with the songs.
C: Do you have any plans for next summer, yet?
S: If I don’t get an internship back home, then I will definitely think about going on another trip with Mercer on Missions – probably one of the engineering ones. I know they’ll have a Vietnam one, and I’m sure they’ll have others, too.
C: Can you tell us about a friend you met there?
S: One of the teachers, actually, when he wasn’t teaching his subjects (which were math and science), he’d come out and talk to us while we were working on the latrine. He had all sorts of questions about America. ‘How is your school set up?’ They do four quarters with breaks in between, as opposed to our two semesters. He asked about our majors. He is one of the few in his village with access to a computer, and we’re actually Facebook friends right now. He still sends me a message every once in a while, asking ‘Hey, how’s America? How’s the weather?’
C: What would you say to anybody considering Mercer on Missions?
S: Definitely apply. You can always back out later if you decide not to do it. This really only comes once in a lifetime. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to go on another trip next summer, or to really ever go to Uganda again. I know I talked a lot about work. It’s not all work; we had a lot of fun, too. We got to go on a drive, and go gorilla-trekking, and got to explore the towns we were in. It’s not just manual labor the whole time. You definitely have some fun too. Just be prepared for no air-conditioning.