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It was like nothing I had ever seen before
We went to Navarrete, a town just west of where we were staying in Santiago en la República Dominicana. We turned left off of the main highway to see a small village with kids out in the streets playing games and hanging out, you get the idea. But I want you to take a second and think: what images do you have in your head? What is the village like? What are the houses like? Where do the kids live? Where do they go to school? Got it? Good.
This village was like nothing I had ever seen before. The houses were metal with dirt floors, complete with a luxurious tin roof. The road was dirt, the games and toys they had were sticks and their hands, with an occasional bottle cap. The school was at an incredibly kind woman’s house- she had offered her house up for about 35 children to come in and go to school. The people living in this section of town and of the DR were Haitian immigrants, and we had talked in a couple of my Latin American studies classes about the situation many immigrants face in certain countries. This was racial discrimination. This was poverty. It blew my mind. It changed my perspective.
In Latin American Studies classes, students do not just sit in class and take notes about some theory that the professor is researching. No, in LAS classes, students get to listen, discuss, ponder, and think critically about real polemic issues the region is facing and currently trying to solve. This type of class gives us the perspectives we need to better understand what really happens in Latin America, and how people’s lives are affected. It gives us the opportunities to be able to think deeply about the issues, their causes and their (possible) solutions. Thus, when we go to the Dominican Republic and witness poverty and discrimination that we discussed in class, we are able to think deeper, empathize, ponder solutions and interact with the local community in a much more meaningful way than ever before.
I felt this way studying abroad in the Dominican Republic in 2013; I felt this way when I attended a conference on Latin American politics and organization in Washington, D.C. (Seriously, we got to go to D.C. as part of our class!); I felt this way when I volunteered abroad in Peru in 2015.
So to make my long story short, through my experiences in LAS courses and abroad, I have:
- Gained global awareness and competencies,
- Developed the ability to make cultural comparisons,
- Cultivated cultural empathy (for myself as well as others),
- Obtained skills that will benefit me in my future job(s),
- Experienced true self-fulfillment,
- Seen and experienced things that I have never seen/experienced/felt before.
Dominican Republic- Playa Sosúa June 2013
My first day in Navarrete. Meeting the kids and getting to know their situation. July 2013
In Peru, exploring Lake Titicaca; June 2015
We teamed up with the kids to paint murals for the new school we helped build in Navarrete. July 2013
Professor Schlewitz and I representing El Salvador at the Model Organization of American States conference in Washington, D.C. in March 2014