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Not Your Average Spring Break

Taylor Baker is currently a junior at Pepperdine University, where she is an international studies major – specializing in management.  Along with eight fellow Pepperdine students, she recently served with Outreach360 in the Dominican Republic through the university’s Project Serve initiative.  This is her story:

As I thought about my spring break plans this year, I knew I wanted to do something that would allow me to give back and challenge me to some degree. Pepperdine University partners with Outreach360 every year, and when I was informed of the opportunity to serve for a week in the Dominican Republic and work directly with the community, I jumped at it. I spent my sophomore year of college studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and traveled extensively throughout South America, so I had this preconceived notion about what to expect. But I was wrong; the experience exceeded my expectations far more than I could have imagined. Now, I know it doesn’t sound like your traditional college spring break trip to the Caribbean, but I didn’t want that because I knew I could always hang out with my friends whenever I wanted. I wanted to capitalize on my time as a young individual and spend this week doing something meaningful and give back.

Free Time

Being from the suburbs of Southern California, I never thought I would actually awake to the cluck of roosters until it happened this morning. After the lovely wakeup call, my fellow team member and I set out on a run at 6:30am – just before sunrise. We ran down to the pier surrounded by a gorgeous view, calm waters, wandering dogs, and the sun peeping through the clouds just above the palm trees. I don’t often like to run in the mornings, but with all those rice and bean dishes paired with nightly ice cream runs, I figured I might as well.

Outreach360 took care of us by providing three meals a day plus snacks, allowing for free time every day – all of which we spent at the beach, showing us two documentary films, instructing a cultural dance lesson, taking us to the international trade market between Haiti and the DR, which is monitored by the UN, and taking us on a hike/beach excursion. This was definitely a mutually beneficial experience for both the volunteers and the children, and I’m thankful I was able to play a role in the process.

Challenges

Upon meeting the rambunctious students, there was an apparent stark difference in the classroom cultures of the US and the DR. It definitely felt like the students had free reign of the classroom, particularly during the first day or two. However, as the week went by we realized how much potential they had and that, when their energy was channeled correctly, they thrived. As we built trust, respect, and rapport with them throughout the week, it was then that we were truly able to teach the students while learning from them at the same time. We may have also received a couple braids and flowers in our hair during recess. Love was our primary form of communication despite our differing first languages.

The hours passed by so slowly, but the days flew by. Being completely unplugged from technology for a week was very freeing. Not having to worry about staying in touch with people or making plans has been a nice change in pace. I always love a good change in pace, and I believe it’s something I need to seek more often. Periods of transition always allow room for adaptation and growth.

This trip was very enjoyable, and I am pleased to have worked with a fantastic staff. It has also been very challenging. These challenges, however, were both normal and necessary. They occurred because I was out of my comfort zone and therefore forced to grow. I have a newfound respect for teachers and this profession as this week was not easy. I also love the idea of a siesta and think the US should adapt this part of the Dominican culture (everyone needs a little nap once in a while).

It’s not about me

There’s a lot to be gained when you give a little. I quickly put into perspective my problems back at home. I realized that I was complaining about the papers I had to write and the tests I had to study for, when these kids were thankful for the mere opportunity to be in school. I also quickly learned that the “lesson plan” for the day really wasn’t the most important thing; interactions were more important. We created a space where they felt cared about, loved, and inspired. I was reminded that it wasn’t about me: how tired and hungry I was or how many mosquito bites I had. It was about serving the children and representing hope, trust, and faith. I encourage anyone who is able and willing to be challenged and give back to volunteer with Outreach360.