By JOSE ECHEVERRY
Study abroad programs are often seen as an expensive trip that serve no purpose at all, other than for students to have fun.
However, a little over a month ago I got to experience the true reality of what study ing abroad really means. My perspective changed when I was given the opportunity to travel with a group of six other Lynn students to Santiago, Dominican Republic.
For the course of three weeks I had the immense privilege of being in one of the most beautiful countries in the Caribbean, but at the same time getting a glimpse of the harsh reality that most Latin countries face poverty.
Out of all the J-term programs available that send students abroad, I chose the Dominican Republic because if I was going to travel away, it had to be somewhere I could relate to. Being from Colombia, I wanted to go somewhere that would feel more like home and where I would be given the opportunity to give back to the less fortunate.
From day one, our stay in the Dominican Republic was very special. The main concern of the group before the trip was the culture shock. As part of the program, all seven students were taken to a rural village called Ranchete, which was located on top of one of the tallest mountains in the country. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine the magnificent landscapes that our eyes were exposed to.
The most special part of Ranchete was the real mission of why we were there. Part of the funds from the cost of the program went to the building of outhouses for three specific families that were in need of them.
Most of us had minimal to no construction experience. All three families welcomed us to their homes with their arms open wide filled with love and humbleness.
The week in Ranchete completely changed my life and my perspective on studying abroad. With the way locals treated us, giving us food every single day, inviting us to their homes and just always having a smile on their faces, created an impact.
The struggles of poverty we were exposed to were undeniably heartbreaking and some of the people lived in conditions that merely seemed inhumane; yet we never saw anyone complain or be unhappy. For them to offer us food in their homes and give their love was just simply life changing.
The materialistic world we live in was also my world before going abroad, but after seeing and witnessing the conditions that many people live in throughout the world, I learned that life is not about a cell phone or Wi-Fi, but about being happy despite the life situation. Studying abroad opens students minds to the reality of the world outside their comfort zone.
At the end of three weeks in the Dominican Republic, our hearts were attached to the people we had established relationships with. We had developed beautiful friendships with all the locals from the village and the staff.
“J-term in the Dominican Republic is an experience that I’ll remember and cherish for the rest of my life,” said Elisa Pisana, senior.
Most of the students who took part in this program have their own stories to tell.
“Whether it’s for three weeks or for a semester, stu- dents should at least give it a try and experience a once in a lifetime experience,” said Jeff Mata, sophomore.
I recommend that students take a moment during their time in college and study abroad.