Reflections from the Field

AMIGOS 2016 Essay Contest Winner

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My parents thought I was crazy when I told them about my interest in spending part of my summer in the Dominican Republic. Not only had I never spent more than a week away from my parents, but I had never traveled abroad before. Let’s just say, it took some convincing. And, I think as it got closer to the time when I was supposed to leave, I had to convince myself too. Convince myself that I could do this. Convince myself that everything would be okay. Convince myself that it was all worth it. Now, I wouldn’t even have to think about it if I had the opportunity to go back.

Before going on my trip, I didn’t know a lot about the Dominican Republic. I knew the country’s history from a term paper, and the vibrant culture that it is now known for. However, rumors of poverty corrupted my image of the people in that country. I was aware of the fact that I would be traveling to what is known as a third-world country. In some ways, I thought that I was doing a good thing. But, now I see that the people there did much more for me than I could have ever done for them. Upon arrival, I was immediately greeted with the smiling faces of my host sisters, who I now consider part of my family. At first, I was freaking out. All of these people, looking at me! At my owl pajamas that my host mom made me put on! At my Americanness.

Let’s just say, it was a stressful night. But, I also remember waking up the next morning to the smell of ham and eggs, like at home when my mom already has breakfast ready. I remember my family dancing to Justin Bieber, just like I used to at home. I remember feeling so protected, the way my sisters held my hand, the way my mom always told me to be careful, just like my family at home in the United States. Suddenly, a place and people that had once been unfamiliar to me started to feel like home. I established a routine: get up, check for tarantulas in the bathroom, help with breakfast, put on so much sunscreen that I think my family was confused at how I could get whiter after being in the sun all day. My life in the Dominican Republic became normal. Instead of missing home in the United States, I embraced the new home that I had been given in the Dominican Republic. I cannot think of one specific memory that tells the story of my trip, instead, my whole trip is filled with wonderful stories. From chicken feet soup to the interesting experiences in church in my community and outside my community, I had an unforgettable time in the month I was in the Dominican Republic.

Now, as I go through the motions of school, homework, and soccer, I think about my relaxing and simple life in the Dominican Republic. It all seems like a dream. The walks to campamentos, having lunch at friendly strangers houses, hanging out with my partners, friends, and family. My sister, through Facebook and WhatsApp, tells me she misses me, but deep down, I know that I miss them so much more. I miss the pineapple cakes we had for dessert, the colmodos down the street with the candies and Coke’s, the people that always said hola to me, whether I knew them or not. I miss meeting new people, and going to sleep to the meows of our annoying cat. I miss watching the motos go by in my one-street community. I speak about my trip in past tense, but in my heart, I still feel the effects of my trip. I now know that poverty is relative, and I was lucky to have been put in a family that could and wanted to provide for me. I know that my priorities are completely off, and instead of stressing for upcoming tests and SATs, I should relax more, and not inflict worry upon myself. I know that although Americans have a legacy of wrongful motives when traveling to other countries, that does not mean that I cannot travel, learn, and experience all the countries and cultures of the world.

I now know that my life is bigger than the walls of my home and school. It has been many months since I have seen my family, but I still think of them any day. I see my nine-year-old sister in the goofiness of my Spanish teacher. I see my seventeen-year-old sister in the kindness of my mom. I hear the Dominican Republic when I listen to Romeo Santos. Yet, some things can’t be translated. Some things are only in the Dominican Republic. And, I think that is what makes my trip special: that not everything there makes me think of the United States. That is why a piece of me is still there, enjoying the arroz and habichuelas, and my time in a place that is beautifully different than the United States. I thank AMIGOS, the staff, the Dominican Republic, but mostly my family, in the United States and the Dominican Republic because without both of them, I would not be able to speak so fondly about my trip today.

– Grace, Participant in the Dominican Republic, AMIGOS 2016 Essay Contest Winner

Lauren Kelley

Lauren Kelley

Lauren is part of our outreach team and loves to hear stories from past participants. Be sure to tell her all about your favorite sights, foods, and experiences from Latin America.
Lauren Kelley