An Interview with a Trek Sister!
Bittany Sincox, an alumna of Grand Valley State University and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority and I have been corresponding about her Trek experience! Over email, we conducted an interview about her Trek experience and what it meant to her!
Hello! My name is Brittany Sincox and I’m an alumne of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority at Grand Valley State University. I’m 22, love coffee, and have a huge passion for budget travel!
What is your “sorority story”? How’d you find yourself involved in Fraternity and Sorority Life?
I knew I wanted to be involved during college, so I made the last minute decision to go through sorority recruitment just to see what they were all about. I was initially interested in sororities for the philanthropic aspect, but the sisterhood is what made me stick around and fall in love with Greek life.
What is your “Circle of Sisterhood” story? How’d you hear about us and what made you want to get involved?
Circle of Sisterhood was adopted as GVSU Panhellenic’s Philanthropy a few years ago, and once I became involved within the Panhellenic executive board I was able to hear more about it. I loved the message and goals of CofS, and making education more easily accessible to women is something that I think every sorority woman can really rally behind!
How did you feel when you were selected to participate in the Trek?
I was ecstatic! After hearing stories of some of the Treks and how great the experience was, I was eager to be a part of it.
When and where was your Trek, and who were your other Trek participants?
Our Trek was in May 2018, in Haiti, and included one member of each sorority at GVSU, plus a Panhellenic Executive Board representative and an advisor. I served as the Alumni Team Leader, making our team 12 in total.
What were your expectations?
I didn’t have too many expectations going into it… because honestly I didn’t know what to expect! I knew it would be something emotionally and physically difficult to go through, but I didn’t quite understand in what capacity. It was especially hard to judge what was going to happen, because only two weeks before the Trek, we had to switch locations due to political instability in Nicaragua. All of our previous preparations and learning things about the culture and lifestyles in our Trek location were completely flipped around!
What was your biggest misconception about your Trek?
I actually expected my living conditions to be far worse than they actually were. When media portrays countries with high levels of poverty, they make it seem like an absolutely horrible place to live, and citizens don’t have access to the outside world and modern day luxuries. Haiti had some of the most gorgeous scenery, and the community had fairly decent infrastructure considering that they were recently hit by a hurricane. Since it was mountainous, things like roads and electricity and running water weren’t available in my particular village, but many still had a few nice items like solar powered stereos or cell phones. There were definitely still many obvious issues that existed within the country due to the political instability and lack of refined infrastructure, but it certainly was not a dangerous and treacherous environment like popular media makes it seem.
Tell me about your host family?
My host family was lovely! It was two parents, two boys who were around my age, and a girl who was 12. My host mom was so nice and considerate. Sometimes she would come into my room and wash my clothes for me while I was on the work site without me asking first! My host sister was energetic and loved dancing. Almost every night we had dance parties in the backyard and played games… which was incredibly exhausting after being on the work site all day, but it was always something I looked forward to!
What was the work like?
The labor is exactly what you would expect: hard. Many of the girls on the Trek got terrible sunburns, blisters, bruises, etc. We spent almost every day digging holes in the side of a mountain, mixing concrete, and even carrying water up to the work site. It was the kind of work that got so intense that you really couldn’t think about anything else besides finishing the task at hand and eagerly awaiting your next meal.
Was their a sense of community?
The community was the best part. Everyone was so warm and welcoming. We were constantly dancing, playing games, and found interesting ways to communicate with each other. Although I can’t speak Creole and many villagers didn’t speak English, a large amount of them spoke Spanish so we were able to communicate that way. I even got to talk with some of the girls in the village about their relationship problems and crushes and fashion, and these types of close interactions and conversations really made me feel like I had friends and a real place in the community.
One of the members of our team turned into a mini celebrity in the village. She loved to dance with the kids and we couldn’t go anywhere without parents and kids shouting her name asking her to dance with them. The entire community was actively involved with us and wanted to get to know us better. They were amazing!
What about the experience surprised you?
The first shock that I ever had was the first day on the work site when we had to carry water. The walk was fairly short, but we had to travel up a steep mountain with a rocky and unstable path. Many of our team members struggled greatly, meanwhile village children were carrying 10 gallons of water with ease up this mountain. It was a shocking reality to realize what everyone had to do everyday just to get access to clean water and made me eternally grateful for what I have available to me back home.
Was it hard to leave?
It was a bittersweet feeling. I loved the community I was in and the experience that I had, and it was refreshing to experience a way of life that was so different from mine. I hardly thought about my stresses waiting for me back in the USA. However, I definitely started to feel homesick at the end of it and missed having contact with my close friends and family.
Coming home, what was the most difficult thing to navigate? How did you feel?
The reverse culture shock was some of the hardest I’ve ever gone though. I’ve lived abroad before and wasn’t expecting it to hurt me much, but I had to isolate myself for almost two days after returning. It was emotionally exhausting to come back and realize how much we all took for granted every day and it made for a bit of a rough re-entry back into my everyday life. I went through a wide range of emotions. I felt blissful after showering with hot water, but also felt pure anger after hearing people complain about their “first world problems.” It was easily the most unexpected part of my overall experience.
How has this experienced shaped you? What views have strengthened or changed?
I have always been passionate about women’s education, and this experience has made the fire inside of me burn even brighter!
I realized while I was there that some of the biggest issues that perpetuate a vicious cycle of poverty is the lack of opportunities. Even if you are the hardest worker, the smartest person, and the most ambitious… sometimes it is still impossible to leave a life of poverty due to a societal lack of opportunity. Going forward, I want to encourage other women to pursue their passions while also actively utilizing my position of privilege to find ways to create more opportunities and increase accessibility to education. I also hope to educate others on how they can use their positions of privilege to promote positive change.
What are you up to now?
Currently, I am pursuing my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from University College London in London, England. I have always had a passion for science and research, and hope to one day get involved in science policy or working for organizations that provide scientific mentors to developing laboratories in other countries. I really want to be able to use my love of science to make a positive impact!
What advice do you have for next years Trek participants?
I think the best thing to do is to go into the Trek with little expectations, and to be open to experiencing new things. Embrace the new way of life that you’ll be living, really get to know the culture, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to try unfamiliar foods or to dance around to local music like no one is watching.
Thank you so much Brittany for sharing your story!
Have your own Circle of Sisterhood story to share? Contact Mia McCurdy at email@example.com