Alumnus embraces travel, international service

Josh Guerrero, an SVSU alum, just returned to the United States in August after spending two years in the Gambia, a small country in Western Africa.

Guerrero always knew that he wanted to travel. Prior to becoming a student at SVSU, he was in the Marine Corps, but did not have the opportunity to travel much.

During his time as a student, he was able to participate in a faculty-led study abroad trip to Japan.  From this experience, Guerrero knew he wanted to see more of the world.

Following his graduation from SVSU in December 2011, Guerrero joined the Peace Corp. because of its affordability and opportunity to travel.

Prior to the trip, he went through two months of language training.  Although English is the Gambia’s official language, it is used primarily only around the capital region.

Guerrero learned Sarahule, which is a minority language spoken by 10 percent of the country.

In June 2012, he set off to the Gambia.

While in the Gambia, Guerrero lived in the village of Baja Kunda.  He had his own “house” on a family compound with a host family.

His host family was comprised of one father, two mothers and fifteen children.

Working as a primary teacher trainer, he taught classroom management and center methodology to the teachers in the basic cycle school, which is equivalent to grades kindergarten through ninth. Most of his work involved observing teachers’ lessons, then providing feedback to help them improve. Additionally, he led training workshops, tailoring the lessons to specific needs.

Despite just starting off as a teacher himself, Guerrero felt confident training teachers with more experience than him.

He says that SVSU prepared him, even referencing his notes from classes while in the Gambia.  The way his professors modeled themselves provided him with an example to follow.  He was also thankful for being taught the technical aspects to do his job effectively.

Following this life-changing experience, Guerrero has adopted three life philosophies.

The first is “celebrate the small victories.” While in the Gambia, Guerrero shared knowledge about malaria with his host father, convincing him to get mosquito nets for all the beds.

This was incredibly important to Guerrero who worried about the children in the home, particularly his 5-month old host sister.

Second is “don’t take things for granted.”  The house he resided in was small with few amenities, including no sink, shower or lights.

Guerrero had to walk to get water, then filter it and add a few drops of bleach to ensure the water’s safety before using it. Furthermore, there were only outdoor pit latrines.

Lastly is “less is more.”  Embracing the simple style of living, Guerrero read 52 books during the two years he spent in Africa.

Rather than watching television or playing video games, he was able to go on walks or spend time with his host family. He learned that life still exists without constantly using other technology.

The simple living inspired Guerrero to get rid of some things upon returning.  He donated many items to Goodwill in an effort to downsize.

“I don’t need them,” Guerrero said.  He now focuses on what he needs rather than wants.

For any student interested in pursuing a similar opportunity, he would like to share a few pieces of advice.

“Have an open mind,” Guerrero said. “Things will be a lot different.”

As a Catholic, he had to be open to living in a primarily Muslim village. He was able to learn much about their beliefs.

Guerrero also kept an open mind in regards to food.  When a student caught a rat in the bush, he cooked it up and offered to share with Guerrero.  Although many would cringe, he tried it, because it is part of their way of life.

He also wants students to keep in mind that making mistakes is inevitable, but they shouldn’t be afraid to go.

Guerrero is currently looking into graduate schools in the United Kingdom, and is hoping to pursue a Masters in Archaeology.

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