August 08, 2018
A Global Opportunities trek to the Philippines gave Melissa Hulslander her first opportunity to set foot in her mother's native country.
"Being there was really more about understanding my mother," said Hulslander, a senior strategic communications major from Troy, Pa. "I don't think she ever imagined as a girl in the Philippines that her kids could grow up in the United States. She knows what education and opportunity can mean."
GO Philippines immerses students in the Filipino culture and includes educational, service and recreational components. Students distribute food, school supplies and other necessities at a shelter and an orphanage, and help build homes in the provinces of Batangas. Travel follows a spring semester course on history, culture, religion, language and cuisine of the Philippines.
Hulslander said her most memorable moments abroad were spent impacting the lives of others, including her pen pal, Liza.
Jeffrey K. Mann, associate professor of religious studies and program director of GO Philippines, matched each student participating in the program with a pen pal, who they later met while in the Philippines.
Hulslander made the 8,500-mile journey with a stuffed dinosaur, which she gave to Liza's 2-year-old daughter. Hulslander also visited a Manilla shelter where she was able to spend time playing and interacting with the children there, some of whom were being protected from traffickers. This included one young girl who loved playing with Hulslander's makeup.
"They don't want anything but your time," Hulslander said. "Meeting someone and being able to change someone's life is amazing, because you have so much more agency there than here."
The experience has confirmed Hulslander's desire to pursue a career as an attorney for marginalized individuals.
"I don't have a problem speaking up for people who don't have a voice," she said.