My study abroad-service learning trip to the Dominican Republic was a life-changing experience. I stayed in the area of Gaspar Hernandez of Puerto Plata and traveled through the cities of Las Canas, Sosua, Rio San Juan, Santiago, Bella Vista, Joba Arriba, and surrounding small villages. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to finish my Spanish minor in a different country and am proud that I had the chance to grow as a person. I was impressed with our scheduled activities and the amount of sightseeing that we did. Learning the way Dominicans speak while helping to improve the lives of the people with service was quite a rewarding adventure.
Throughout the numerous towns we visited, I noticed different cultural traits among the people. Despite the lack of financial stability, they still expressed their happiness. There were many people that lived in run-down houses, had no jobs, struggled to afford food or had to walk two hours to get to school or work, yet they found ways to be happy with what they had. In comparison to America, the Dominican Republic did not have the same resources and for that reason, in some ways, they were less fortunate. There were people whose houses had roofs that leaked every time it rained, who couldn’t afford to buy more than 3 outfits or shoes for their children. What was most concerning was that many people did not have access to clean water or lacked the financial means to pay for needed health services. We were there during the time of their new presidential election. I am grateful I had the opportunity to see how politics affected the people and the celebration by the citizens when the outcome was announced. Based on the conversations I had with some people, they had high expectations that this president will make drastic changes to improve their way of life.
We provided services almost every day. During the first four days of the trip, we were translators for a group of optometry graduate students conducting their optometry clinic. For 6-8 hours for each of the four days, we translated for the graduate students and helped at least 150 patients every day. We also went to a chocolate factory to learn about how they make chocolate and how they thrived as a small business. We had the opportunity to make chocolate ourselves, put together the packaging, and even witness the process of making chocolate wine. Another day, we painted the interior and exterior of a woman’s house that our program, “7 Elements,” partnered with for renovation. Based upon her request, we painted the outside pink and the inside in different shades of white. Within that same community, we made cement and laid it down in a different woman’s house that originally had dirt floors. Towards the end of our trip we visited a man who was a beekeeper and made his own honey. We helped him make wooden boxes to store his bees with the honeycombs. We sawed wood, nailed the wooden pieces together, and painted the boxes orange and blue. After helping Juan with his bees, we went out in that community and conducted surveys, asking people what improvements for that community they wanted to see. On one of the hottest days of our trip, we walked through a very large community up in the mountains offering to plant coffee, lime, and orange plants in the people’s yards. Since this was a very poor community, it was beneficial to plant these because it helped the people acquire a source of food. Although it was hard to witness the reality of their life, I was grateful I had the chance to make an impact.
Although this trip was rigorous with studying Spanish, we had a couple days full of fun excursions. One day we went mountain hiking for five hours. Another excursion we did was snorkeling. Although this was not my first time snorkeling, I found that each time I snorkeled, it was a different experience. Our teacher created a treasure hunt when we visited the city of Santiago. One of my favorite activities was when we visited to the University of Santiago. This was fascinating because I got to compare the college experience of the students in the Dominican Republic versus my typical college experience in the United States. A couple of free days allowed us to shop at the supermarkets, bargain at stores called “colmados,” and enjoy the weather at the beach.
My first Spanish study abroad was a miraculous journey. I was pushed to go outside of my comfort zone when interacting with the people in Spanish and doing classroom activities.