By Emily Klingman
While many students found fun in the sun during their spring break, others decided to give back by heading to the Dominican Republic for a service trip.
Led by Kim Cameron, Center for International Education (CIE) assistant director, and Angelica Benitez, adviser for Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, the International Studies Abroad (ISA) and the CIE embarked on a trip to Santiago, Dominican Republic.
“This was a great group of students, and they dove right into the service and formed relationships with the kids at the school that will last a lifetime,” Cameron said.
According to Cameron, the trip was far from a culture shock, but the students in attendance participated in unique activities, including a salsa dancing lesson, a plantain cooking lesson and a chance to slide down natural waterfalls.
Most of the group’s mornings were spent in the dining hall with the children of Caritas Arquidiocesana de Santiago, where they taught them some basic English. After their lunch, the group spent time completing beautification projects such as taking apart an old sandbox, building a new one in its place and fixing up old playground equipment and repainting it.
Micaela Munoz, a senior biology major, said some of the best parts of her trip included spending time with the children.
“Having the chance to make such strong connections with these kids was a life-changing experience,” she said. “From the moment they first welcomed us to the goodbyes, they showed so much love.”
Freshman Patrick Brennan, a secondary education major, felt similarly. His favorite parts of the trip included getting to know the children and the group’s day trips to the beach and 27 Charcos, a collection of 27 waterfalls hidden in a mountain range.
Munoz’s first thoughts upon arriving in Caritas were admiration for how beautiful and full of life the city was.
“I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was not expecting the city to be surrounded by such green and beautiful valleys,” she said. “I was also surprised with how alive the city was and how friendly the people were.”
Munoz’s most memorable moment of the entire trip was saying the final goodbyes.
“Looking around, you saw both children and volunteers hugging and sobbing. I knew at that moment that we made a difference,” she said.
Back home, Munoz is able to reflect on her trip and appreciate what the group learned and was able to experience. She believes trips like these are not only important, but essential. She said being able to “experience a new culture firsthand is something that changes you and your perspective on the world.”
Brennan feels the same way.
“It’s important for people to know what other countries are like and how lucky we are here in America,” he said.
Cameron thinks this trip affected the students in a positive way.
“It opened their eyes to a new culture and new surroundings, and they were able to experience something that most people cannot,” Cameron said.
With future intentions to join the Peace Corps, Munoz said the service trip was one of the most rewarding experiences she has had volunteering.
“I came back from the DR with such a new appreciation for family and education,” she said.
Next year, the CIE is planning to do a service trip to Morocco, Africa, for 10 days after graduation in May 2015. It will be officially announced later this month.
Printed in the 4/16/14 edition