Junior aids Bolivian people over summer break


Photo Credit: John Hwang

A couple of Bolivian children converse with one of the service workers. The students on this trip interacted with many children just like these.

by Luke Brangaccio, Staff Writer

A trip like his is not standard for many Glen Rock residents. Most families could be found in an island beach house or lounging by the public pool during the summer.

Yet this junior spent his summer working on buildings in the impoverished country of Bolivia, and he wouldn’t have traded it for a vacation in paradise.

John Hwang spent part of his summer in Bolivia where he helped those less fortunate and learnt lessons that he will never forget.

Hwang felt it was his turn to help people who don’t have the same privileges as Glen Rock residents. He and his fellow service workers matured and learned priceless lessons while giving the people of Bolivia new opportunities.

“I feel like the biggest accomplishment we had there as a group was mental and spiritual growth,” Hwang said. “I feel like a lot of people going in didn’t expect to fail, or expect to be disappointed, or expect rejection.”

The attendees spent their time in Bolivia doing things such as: repairing buildings, constructing entirely new ones, and practicing their religion in a setting that opens them up to new perspectives. Bolivia is a country in a far different condition than the U.S. and Hwang says the differences between these two countries are present immediately upon arrival.

He specifically mentioned that the cars people drive and the way the roads look are quite distinct.

“The economy is very different, and it’s much more tropical,” Hwang said.

Despite the massive cultural differences dividing the U.S. and Bolivia, Hwang says the residents he interacted with on the trip were similar to people back home.

“You’d be surprised when looking at how similar Bolivians are to people in the U.S. I mean, they’re people too. They have the same interests, they have dreams and aspirations to do big things,” Hwang said.

Two of Hwang’s long time friends, Robert Park and Yuna Chung, accompanied him to Bolivia and helped make the trip memorable and successful. They both appreciated what John brought to the group and recognized the importance of the lessons they learned together.

Park and Hwang have known each other since their elementary school years, and both have expansive histories in community service. The duo volunteer at Valley Hospital and went to Mexico for a service trip in 2014.

“John was a leader in Bolivia and I think he set the bar for how we should act. He would point out when someone was acting out of line and he was a guide that helped us all during the trip,” Park said. “John knows when to talk and doesn’t say meaningless things. He mentions things we need to do and things we haven’t done. He’s a valuable asset because he guides the team.”

Many valuable lessons can be taken out of a service trip like this, and Chung realized that it is important to stay grounded in the world, and taking nothing for granted.

“There were moments when we didn’t know how the day would be like or what we’d be doing, but those were also the most humbling experiences because letting go of any stress or fear really makes a difference in how we perceive things,” Chung said.

While Hwang’s service trip focused on religion and giving back to communities that don’t have the luxuries of a town like Glen Rock, it can still be an eye opening experience for anyone.

“I think this is something that people should do, not even in a Christian sense, or a spiritual sense, but really going out and experiencing what the world is like broadens your views on life. I think that’s a very positive thing,” Hwang said.