Christian Elliot, internship:  Brazil

My journey to volunteer for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics started earlier than the typical internship application process. I first put my application in for a position in August 2014, and it was not officially announced until July of 2016. The opportunity to experience different customs, norms, and cultures really interested me. While the games focus on athletic endeavors, it was the people behind the scenes who I found to be the most incredible: the Olympic volunteers from Rio de Janeiro, who were treated with the utmost respect by a Spanish diplomat while being escorted through the games; the unification between countries with political or economic tensions who can stop and exist in harmony; the happiness shared by people who have never met, and perhaps have no other way to communicate other than a smile, a wave, or a hug. Living, experiencing, and engaging in these types of interactions during my internship created an understanding and learning experience that will greatly benefit me and my ability to move through the world in a more fluid way. I left the games a more complete and fulfilled human being. Thank you, PICS, for your part and the role you helped to serve in allowing me to partake in such an experience. It is an experience I will never forget.


Hanna Dougherty, internship: India

My summer in the Himalayas will forever be one of the most powerful experiences of my life. For two months, I was cut off from every world I’ve ever known, confined to my own mind and heart for advice and support, while taking on a project of a lifetime. I lived, worked, and learned amongst a sisterhood of Buddhist nuns–women who taught me the true meaning of family.

For two months, I taught in the nunnery school under the admiring gazes of eight sweet kindergarteners—singing, dancing, and laughing until the afternoon fell. I have to be honest, it feels like it was all a dream. I have pictures and videos and mementos, but my mind just can’t wrap itself around the experience. On one hand, it’s quite frustrating because every memory I try to catch runs away with its wispy, dream-like footsteps. But on the other, dreams are some of the most genuine memories we have. I came to several profound realizations while in India: one of them being the power of presence. I won’t lie, my time there constituted some of the most challenging moments of my entire life, especially at the beginning of my trip when I had no one to count on, no one to talk to –no one but myself. 

Teaching in the school was also a huge learning experience, because it was my first time being a teacher . . . ever. It doesn’t sound life shattering, but you wouldn’t imagine how much pressure it is to stand in front of a class of kindergarteners waiting patiently for instruction. They look at you like you’re an omniscient authority, but you know full well that you’re only a nineteen-year-old college student. But I was there to do a job, not to cower and run away from something that scared me. Since I had no support, I was coming up with new lesson plans every few days, including songs, games, rhymes, and activities – all of which I made up. The kids had essentially no foundation in English whatsoever, so it was tricky trying to maneuver the oppressive language barrier that separated us.

I learned many important lessons and had experiences that would have been impossible without the generous funding from PICS. Since I was a child, I’ve longed to explore the globe and become immersed in other cultures, and help other people. I’m certain many other people across the world share this same desire. But too often, this dream is unreachable due to financial limitations. To live a dream and travel without the burden of finances is one of the most valuable things that can be offered to a person. I want to thank PICS for allowing me to pursue my dreams with ease and confidence.


John Shaver, research: South Africa

Throughout my summer spent in southern Africa, I have been stretched and challenged in many ways. And I’ve learned a great deal through the mentoring offered to me by my supervisors at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). I’ve been repeatedly confronted with the extreme significance of maintaining an intentional stance of cultural humility when engaging with those who are contextually, culturally, and otherwise different than me. There are few other experiences from which I have grown so significantly in both personal and professional ways. I learned a great deal about the history and legacy of HSRC’s influence in LGBTQI rights in sub-Saharan Africa, and I was fortunate enough to attend and participate in the meetings organized regarding LGBTQI-rights focused research agenda. As I continued to work with the development and initial implementation of the quantitative survey regarding male-male couples, I came to critically reflect on my own future. I hope to become a researcher that collaborates with a number of entities, both domestic and international, to advance the health of LGBTQI people. I have learned invaluable lessons this summer and have no doubts that what was taught to me by my supervisors at HSRC and by many LGBTQI community activists will affect me and the way I conduct myself and my work moving forward.


Zoe Lauricella, study abroad: Spain

I would like to thank everyone in PICS for the contributions they made to make my trip feasible. I am certain that without the assistance, I would not have been able to study in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. When I arrived in Spain, I was very anxious. In high school, I had visited Sevilla, Spain, but the Spanish families that I stayed with spoke some English so I was not completely reliant on my Spanish. This time around, however, I knew the host families did not know English and my sole form of communication would be Spanish. As intimidating as this was, in hindsight, I gained a confidence about my Spanish speaking that I did not think would ever come. Fearing the minor conjugation, pronoun, and grammar mistakes, I was surprised when on the second day of my stay, my host family complimented my Spanish. From that day on, I was no longer nervous to speak and realized if I made a grammatical mistake, it was not a need to worry. Now, I am eager to return to school with this newly found confidence in my speaking abilities and thrive in my Spanish classes.


Khari Thorpe, study abroad: Japan

Every day is a great to be a Wolverine, but what a great month it was to be a Wolverine in May studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan! The course I took “Doing Environmental History in Japan” taught me tons of information—while giving me the opportunity to not only see Japan’s beautiful environmental structures, but also to discover how they affected the citizens of Japan.

When my friend and I first arrived in Japan, we were greeted with bows and asked if we needed any help with anything. The people treated us as if we were family, even though we looked much different and were tourist. I experienced many teachable moments in Tokyo, both inside and outside of the class room. During our classes at Waseda University, our professor Leslie Pincus made sure we knew all of the information we needed regarding Japan’s environmental landscape, but we also learned cultural things that would help us, as Americans, to adapt to such a different style of living. My favorite experience had nothing to do with seeing any famous tourist landmarks. My favorite experiences were enjoying Tokyo’s vibrant culture and meeting new Japanese friends. Before going to Japan, I was constantly told how being a black American male would cause people to “take pictures of me, or touch my face.” This was not my experience at all, and I would like to believe that it was because I honestly allowed myself to sink into another culture that was not mine. Unlike some of my peers, I am not rich, and I supported myself financially throughout the duration of my college experience. The reason I love the University of Michigan and PICS is because they always had my back. Without the funding PICS gave to me, I would not have been able to see Japan, which is a place that I consider home. Home is not where you are from or where you live. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is in Tokyo, Japan! Arigatou PICS!