This trip made me grateful for all that I have but at the same time it made me realize that I don’t really need all of the things I think I need in order to be happy. For example, in the Dominican Republic one cannot drink the local tap water because it can make one sick. Thus, for the duration of the trip I had to fil my water bottle up from jugs of bottled water. The water was never that cold due to the hot climate of the Dominican Republic. One may not think that this is a big deal but when I first got home I was so grateful that I could drink cold tap water. Not only this, but now I have access to free water anywhere I go. I don’t have to worry about bringing my water bottle with me, asking at restaurants if they use bottled water when washing and preparing their food, or having to pay for a glass of water wherever I went (since they have to use bottled water to fill my glass which isn’t free).
There is also the fact that I can run my toothbrush under the faucet water when brushing my teeth. There have been a few times since I have come home that I have had a mini panic attack because I put my toothbrush under the water; forgetting that I don’t have to use bottled water when brushing my teeth. I am also grateful for the water pressure and the fact that water is constantly available. I remember one night when I was out in the Dominican Republic I went to use the restroom. I went to wash my hands and lathered my hands with soap. When I went to turn the water on nothing came out of the faucet; so there I was stuck with soapy hands. I know it may seem silly to be grateful for such little things but I think that’s what the problem is. We forget to be grateful for the small things in life that we have. We don’t realize that not everyone in the world is lucky enough to be able to turn on their faucet and have a limitless supply of clean water Not only this but one should be thankful that almost everywhere they go has a functioning bathroom. The term functioning has a different meaning in the Dominican Republic. While there I have had to use bathrooms where there isn’t a handle on the toilet (so it won’t flush), there isn’t any soap, water doesn’t come out of the faucet, and there isn’t any toilet paper. I began to carry tissues and anti-bacterial around with me for these reasons.
There is then the subject of electricity. This is something that I think a lot of people take for granted. In fact, many of us don’t know how to survive when the power goes off for a few hours because we are so addicted to our electronics and the comforts that electricity provides. In the Dominican Republic the electricity goes out sporadically and one does not know when it will turn on again. It may be minutes or it may be hours. We were lucky enough to be staying at a Villa where they had a backup generator that would kick in when the power went out. There were a few times when there was a delay between the power going out and the generator going on. For this split second I was able to know that the people outside of where we were staying didn’t have any electricity. Part of me wished that we didn’t have a generator so that I would be able to get the full experience of what it is like for residents in this area. Being able to flip a switch at any time of the day and knowing that electricity will come on is a privilege that not everyone has. Before this trip I tried to do my part in regard to conserving energy. Now I am even more aware of it. During the trip it would drive me crazy that people would leave their chargers plugged into the wall without their device attached to them wasting electricity when those outside their door aren’t even able to switch on a light or keep their fridge running all day. I am not saying that we shouldn’t use electricity. Rather, I would like to make a point that one should be aware of and grateful that they are able to use electricity wherever and whenever they want.
Piggybacking off the topic of electricity I want to brush the topic of electronics. In the villa I stayed in we were lucky enough to have WIFI. However the WIFI only worked in the common area and did not reach the bedrooms. The WIFI was sporadic and the signal was not very strong. Overall, the quality was not up to par with the WIFI we use in the United States. This really gave me the chance to detach myself from my cell phone. Before the trip my cell phone was constantly by my side and I brought it everywhere with me. During the trip I left my cell phone at home since many places didn’t have WIFI and I wanted to be present in the moment. I would check my phone once every night to keep in contact with my family and to stay involved in social media. However, I found that I was way less involved on social media sites while in the Dominican Republic than I am at home. I liked this. In a way it was kind of freeing. Instead of being on my phone I would go down to the beach, explore town, talk with a friend, or read a book. Thinking back I think that I waste so much time staring at screens. Whether it be watching TV, being on my cell phone, or being on my computer. I didn’t even watch any television while I was gone and guess what? I didn’t even miss it. Separating myself from my electronics is something that I would like to continue to do because there is something so satisfying about it.
One of the reasons why my experience was so wonderful is because of all of the people that I was able to interact with. I met the most welcoming and kind group of people at 3MM. They did all that they could to make us feel comfortable and to make sure that we had a wonderful experience and let me tell you they succeeded. Everyone always greeted us with a smile and they all seemed happy to be at work. This is something I am not used to because usually when I am at work my co-workers can’t wait to get home. I saw workers who were passionate about their job and it was obvious that they didn’t want to be anywhere else. They care for the children and it shows. They also took the time to get to know us which I really appreciated. We were there for such a short amount of people and so many volunteers come in and out of 3MM that I wasn’t expecting to become so close to the staff.
It also became clear that many people here are very selfless and often think of others before thinking of their self. I heard stories from the workers that strengthened my belief in this. For example, one of the workers told us that there is a lady who lives down her street that doesn’t have much. Even though she doesn’t have much she still invites the worker over to her house when she sees her walking home from work wanting to give her something to eat or drink. One day the worker brought this lady a large bag of rice. Now whenever she walks home the lady is eager to share her rice with the worker. This amazes me because I think that if I was in that situation I would want to keep all that I had for myself. Throughout this experience I began to realize that it seems as though the more you have the tighter you hold onto it. While those who have so little are so willing to give. This is something that everyone can learn from. I think that this experience made me realize that the material things are not what matter in life. Rather, it is what you are able to do for others. I also think that this is why the people who have very little are so happy. They are living a selfless life and helping those around them. In fact, it is considered rude if one invites someone into their house and does not offer them something to eat or drink. Not only this, but they don’t seem to have that sense of always wanting more. They are content. Reflecting upon this it seems as though for me being content is difficult. I find myself always yearning for more. I have learned that this mindset will not lead me to happiness. How can I be happy if I always want more out of life? I think I need to take the time and reflect upon all that I have to be grateful for. I need to realize that those things I think that I need are really just wants. The only thing one really needs to survive is food, clothing, and shelter. Everything else that one has is a blessing that one should be grateful for. The problem is we have built a certain sense of entitlement to other materialistic things. This trip has opened my eyes to the fact that I have more than I need to be happy and that wanting more and more out of life isn't going to make me happy.
I was also very impressed by the people’s thirst for knowledge and their sense of hope. So many people that I interacted with knew at least two languages (usually Spanish and English) and they desired to learn more. I feel that here in the United States many people feel that everyone should just learn English and that we shouldn’t have to learn any other languages. What a poor attitude that is. It makes it seem as though we are superior to others so they should learn our language when that isn’t the case at all. Being bilingual opens up so many doors and after returning home I really wish to continue on with Spanish classes and improve my abilities. This is because I really enjoyed the times that I was able to communicate with people in their native language and I wished that I had more knowledge of the Spanish Language so that I could communicate all of my thoughts.
Overall, I loved being immersed in the culture of the Dominican Republic. I found the people there to be very friendly and I hope to take their friendly spirit with me and act the same towards others here. I enjoyed being able to walk to so many places and I loved the liveliness of the town. I remember the first day I arrived and culture shock hit. I saw adults and children riding motos without helmets while cars were zooming by and passing each other by entering the oncoming traffic’s lane. I couldn’t believe my eyes but as the days went by it didn’t seem so strange to me and I began to question it less and less. I was also able to experience poverty firsthand. One hears about those living in poverty but to actually be able to see it is quite eye opening. It made me grateful for what I had, made me realize what one really needs in life, made me realize that one doesn’t need much to be happy, and made me want to do more to help those in need. It took a while for it to really sink in that people really live in those conditions. However, the people that I met who lived here were some of the happiest people that I met. One man in particular that lives there is one of the most hardworking people I have every met and that really says something. It made me realize that one doesn’t choose to live in poverty and that it isn’t as easy as one thinks to get out of poverty; especially without any support. I am truly going to miss all of the people that I met during my trip. They are such wonderful individuals and I wish them the best in life. Hopefully, one day in the future I will be able to go back and see them all again.
There is so much that one can learn from studying abroad. I highly suggest that if one is presented with the opportunity to do so that they take advantage of it. Immersing oneself in another culture makes one question aspects of their own culture. This experience really helped to grow as a person. I was able to see how other people live and I think that I now have a better idea of what is really important in life. It also gave me a greater understanding of what a child who doesn’t speak English will feel like in my classroom since I was in many situations in which I didn’t understand what someone was saying to me. I also learned the value of being selfless and how helping others is a key ingredient to making oneself happy. I could go on for pages about how this trip impacted me. Being able to incorporate bits and pieces of other cultures into one’s own is amazing. I think that one of the biggest impacts it has had is that it has given me the desire to go teach abroad. This is something that I was thinking about before but after this experience it is something that I think I would find to be very fulfilling and rewarding. Hopefully soon I will be writing about my next adventure.