For spring break this year, I flew off to the Caribbean to participate in a study abroad program called “A Taste of the Peace Corps” in the Dominican Republic. During a phone appointment with my ASU advisor, I discovered that I was required to complete an internship for my degree. She told me about a few study abroad programs that I could participate in instead that could take the place of a semester-long internship.
The GIE program in the Dominican Republic especially interested me because it was only a weeklong program; therefore, it fit into my schedule well and it was cheaper than other options. As a service-oriented individual, joining the Peace Corps has always been an option lingering in the back of my mind.
I was drawn to this program because I would learn more about the Peace Corps, discover what volunteers actually do, meet real Peace Corps volunteers actively serving in the Dominican Republic, engage in community service, and actively participate in lectures that corresponded to what we were experiencing hands-on.
As an ASU Online student, it can be challenging to connect with other classmates over the Internet. Participating in this study abroad program allowed me to meet other like-minded Sun Devils who were just as passionate about international service and learning more about the Peace Corps as I was. I engaged in meaningful discussions and critical thinking with my fellow program participants through our nightly lectures. Through our fun service days and exciting excursions, I made friendships, connections and unforgettable memories with some amazing people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
While in the Dominican Republic, our itinerary was organized in a way that could give us the best possible taste of the different Peace Corps sectors. We built a house out of plastic bottles, we taught English lessons at a local elementary school, we took part in a medical brigade, and visited the sites of Peace Corps volunteers.
Our program activities and lectures coincided seamlessly. For example, one night our lecture was about taking community diagnostics, which meant interviewing community members about the needs of their community. The following afternoon, we all went to a local town, split up into groups, and actually spoke to locals and interviewed them about their communities.
There were some “fun” days, or excursions planned into the program itinerary as well. All of us took a ride on a cable car overlooking Puerto Plata, spent the day at a National Park, had some time to go shopping and hang by the beach in Cabarete, and hiked up Mount Brison.
This experience significantly changed how I think of the Peace Corps. Jessica and Julia, our two ASU program leaders, are both returned Peace Corps volunteers. Therefore, at any time throughout the program, we could talk to them about their experiences and ask them any questions we had.
Some of our nightly lectures also gave us tremendous new and valuable information about the Peace Corps. We learned about the different sectors, the type of work one will actually doing there, what goes into implementing projects, how and when to apply to the Peace Corps, and much more! One of the most helpful parts of the program was doing site visits to Peace Corps volunteers actually serving there. It was insightful, honest, and inspiring to speak with the two wonderful volunteers that we met.
This trip impacted my worldview on so many levels. Having both traveled and lived abroad before, I have already been exposed to different cultures, ways of life, and social issues around the world. Nonetheless, this GIE study abroad program opened up my eyes to a whole new set of global and cultural issues and threats to human security evident in the communities here. It also gave me the opportunity to learn about and connect with a new culture.
The Dominican culture is one of the friendliest and most hospitable that you will ever encounter. They will give a stranger the shirts off their back in the name of hospitality, even if they don’t have another one to replace it.
One of the most humbling parts of the trip was during our medical brigade. Our Dominican translator pointed to one of the medicines in our pharmacy and said, “in the US, this is used to treat depression. But here, we don’t have depression, so we use it for other things”. This is a country where many of its communities do not have roads, running water, clean water, or electricity, and yet there is still no depression.
My time serving and learning in the Dominican Republic through ASU’s GIE study abroad program solidified my thoughts to join the Peace Corps. It changed my world perspective, connected me with other inspiring Sun Devils, and taught me about the meaningful things in life all while getting my internship credit.