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StoryCorps: Bivins and Yoo learn from each other and build a friendship on class trips to Bolivia

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rebecca Yoo and Aaron Bivins have been to Bolivia twice together for a class in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Yoo, an undergrad, and Bivins, a Ph.D. student, have become friends through those experiences, and they learned from each other along the way.

The pair sat down in the StoryCorps Atlanta booth recently to talk about doing research abroad and how the class, Environmental Technology in the Developing World, has shaped their perspective.

Aaron Bivins and Rebecca Yoo (Photo: StoryCorps Atlanta)
Aaron Bivins and Rebecca Yoo (Photo: StoryCorps Atlanta)

“It was like a birthplace for one aspect of my passion,” Yoo said of their first trip to Bolivia in 2015. On that trip, Yoo was a student in the class and Bivins the TA.

“I really started to explore the opportunities of meeting my interest in traveling and also my academic interests,” Yoo said. “That was really cool.”

When the class returned to Boliva in 2016, Yoo joined them again, this time as a TA along with Bivins. It was a leadership role perhaps spurred by something Bivins did on that first trip.

“The team went out to collect water quality data each day, and I had led each day up to that point,” he said. “I kinda stepped back and thought that you could really grow from being in a leadership spot. So, if you remember, I basically said, ‘I’m taking the day off.’”

“It’s kind of funny to look back on it now, because from your perspective it’s like, oh, I’m just sending this undergrad student with a team to collect water samples,” Yoo said. “But I really appreciate that you were able to look at from my perspective and see what a daunting task it could look like to me.”

“Yeah, I think the unknown is difficult,” Bivins said. “I always talk to people, especially students, about the things you don’t know [that] you don’t know. … I think I started learning this from that interaction with you: that you have to give [students] the confidence to stare those things down and improvise and use what they do know to overcome the things they didn’t know.

“That’s become a theme of all my work with students. You were the guinea pig. Luckily it worked out.”

This conversation was recorded for StoryCorps Atlanta for the Georgia Tech Office of International Education as part of a series of conversations about studying abroad. The entire series is at oie.gatech.edu/storycorps. The Environmental Technology in the Developing World course is part of the global engineering leadership minor.