Patrick Sasser can't tell you all the ways his trip to Kenya changed him, but he knows there are many.

In this interview with the Fort Walton Beach resident and University of North Florida nursing student, he shares details about a recent nursing trip to to Kenya.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your future plans.

I’m Patrick, and I’m 22 years old. I was born and raised in Fort Walton Beach. I graduated from Choctaw in 2015 and moved to Jacksonville to go to University of North Florida. I’m in my final semester of nursing school and will graduate in August with a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a minor in psychology. Once I graduate, I plan on pursuing a career in pediatric nursing.

How did you happen to go to Kenya?

This is the second year the school of nursing has had a trip to Kenya, and I couldn’t make it last year, but wanted to go this year. I told Dr. (Linda) Connelly (who leads the trip) that I was interested, and if she was going to take a group again to let me know. One day during fall semester, she called my name from down the hall. I talked to her, and she told me she wanted to take me on the trip, so I better start saving my pennies now. And so I did and was lucky enough to make it on the trip.

Your grandma said you were moved by some of your experiences there. Can you tell me about them?

Before this trip, I’d never been on a mission or humanitarian trip before. I’d only ever flown one other time and that was a vacation I took to London with my roommate in 2016. I had never experienced a country like Kenya before. I was only prepared from Dr. Connelly’s stories from last year's trip and the small orientation we got two weeks before leaving from the organization we partnered with for the trip. I knew the culture shock was going to hit; I just didn’t know how.

We were doing medical camps outside in the 85-degree heat, and our Kenyan patients never complained once for the long waits. The day I was in the eye clinic, the eye doctor showed up four hours late, and so the other nursing students and I did our vision screenings and assessments the best we could and had people wait for the eye doctor. Not once did anyone complain about having to wait outside in the heat. In fact, they were grateful and thankful to wait. I was very moved by that, because I don’t see that happening here in the U.S. People would have been so upset and even angry to wait that long, but the Kenyans didn’t seem to care.

I was also very moved by the preschool and elementary school we went to in the slums in Nakuru. These children live in very poor conditions and go to schools made out of tin. They share pencils with each other but are so happy. We weren’t allowed to show our sadness around them because they would get upset and wonder why we are sad because they are so happy.

The most moving part was when the school gives left over food to the kids that aren’t in the school (the school can take on only so many children out of the slum), but kids get food only if they have a bowl. But kids with a bowl will go and share their food with kids who don’t have a bowl. When I saw that, I had to go hide with a couple other students and we had to wipe each other’s tears. These kids have virtually nothing but still share the little they do have. It simultaneously broke my heart and warned my heart.

What obstacles did you face?

The main obstacle was not everyone we treated spoke English (although about 75% of our patients did). However, our translators were amazing and were so patient with us in helping us provide the best care we could to the patients. An internal obstacle I faced was overcoming my self-doubt and questioning of my skills in my ability to serve the patients. When you’re thrown into experiences like this, it’s easy to question if I’m the right person to be doing this and if I’m competent enough in nursing skills to provide proper care. So overcoming my anxieties and just relying on my training from nursing school was another big obstacle I had to overcome.

What did you learn?

Oof. I learned so much. The big takeaways for me were: Be joyful. No matter how terrible life seems or how little you may seem to have, joy is a choice, and Kenyans make that choice everyday. So can I. Be grateful. Even for the smallest of things show thanks and gratitude, and you will see your whole life change. Sustainable nursing development is at the backbone of change in countries like Kenya. Kenyan nurses tirelessly serve their communities and develop changes that not only impact individual health but also public health. I learned so much from the Kenyan health care professionals we partnered with that I’m going to take with me into my nursing career. I’m happy to share the same profession as those Kenyan nurses. I also learned so much about their culture, daily lives and even picked up some Swahili as well.

How do you think your trip to Kenya changed you? Your future?

I can’t put into words how this trip changed me, but I know it did. It developed my world view in not only health care but also in life in general. If anything, this trip taught me to be a better human. That might seem vague, but it did. I know I don’t want that to be my only trip to Kenya. I thought once I started working, I’d start saving money for a super nice apartment or maybe for a new car, but now I’ll be saving money to go back to Kenya.

Tell me about one of the most memorable people you met there.

I met many memorable people I will hopefully remember for a long time to come, but the most memorable was a little girl named Mary. I met Mary at the Olmalaika Home, a home for girls 12 and younger who are at risk of genital mutilation and child marriage. We met the whole group of girls and then had a chance to mingle with them individually, and we just really bonded. She took me by the hand and showed me around the home and where they go outside and play. She showed me a game they play with rocks that she was very good at and I was very bad at. She also took me to the swing set and swung with me. I then got to buy a cloth angel she had handmade, and I now have it here with me in the States. Although our time together was short, I will never forget the joy she brought me.

What surprised you the most?

What surprised me the most was the happiness of everyone we met from the workers we partnered with to the patients. They were happy no matter what, and that happiness spread to us. It was easy to be sad because I saw people walking miles for clean water or sleeping in the medians of the streets, because they don’t have a home. If you talked with them, you would find out you were the only sad one. They were happy, loving and welcoming, and that surprised me and stuck with me the most.

Tell me the wheelchair story.

Because it was a medical trip, we were bringing medical supplies over, which just so happened to include two walkers and a wheelchair. So three of us, including myself, had to pretend to need the walkers and wheelchair to get them to Kenya because they are strict on supplies entering the country. It started from the Jacksonville airport all the way to Kenya. The airline for our international flight from Philadelphia to Doha even offered me a wheelchair to get me to my connecting flight because it was a rapid transfer. I had to hold back my laughter and kindly deny and explain that I’d be OK and my group would help me. It was worth it though because a man got a walker to replace the crutches he had made himself out of a tree branch.