Boston College students are expected to be “men and women for others,” but through how many students are St. Ignatius of Loyola’s beliefs actually manifested?
Due to its Jesuit tradition, BC heavily promotes service to its students. Programs such as PULSE and 4Boston are popular and, in return, highly selective. Although the thought of being rejected the chance or being under-qualified to volunteer boggles me, I understand the politics behind volunteer work a bit more now that I’ve participated in a service trip.
Over 10 days, 25 participants explored the first European colony of the New World through the Dominican Republic Service and Immersion trip run by the Learning to Learn office. The trip focuses on the country’s educational system and aims to give students a firsthand experience of what Dominican culture consists of through food, art, history, music, and people. Despite the fact that not every participant of the trip was fluent in Spanish, those on the trip learned that solidarity, smiles, and selflessness transcend cultural and language barriers.
Whenever I had the chance to connect to Wi-Fi-which was rare-I would check Instagram and Facebook and was overwhelmed by the number of pictures of friends in Cancun, San Juan, and Punta Cana with “#sb2014″ in the captions. Spring Break is supposed to be exactly that, a break, but instead of basking in the sun and buying drinks, I was learning about the issues that aren’t plastered all over resort brochures in the Dominican Republic. Although those vacationing in the Caribbean and myself were around palm trees, beaches, and warm weather, we operated in different worlds. I traded 5-star hotels for run-down inns where the water runs sporadically, lively nightclubs for gravel-ground playgrounds, and access to the Internet for dialogue and nightly reflections. I know these people worked hard for and are deserving of their leisure time, but I think more students should explore the volunteer and service opportunities BC offers, especially those outside the U.S. Traveling to an unfamiliar city or state within the U.S. is exciting and different, but traveling to an unfamiliar country allows for more growth because one is forced to adjust to how things run in places in which one is not comfortable. I saw similarities between the Dominican Republic and Mexico-the only other place outside the country to which I’ve traveled-but, even then, I felt out of place in a land inhabited by people who speak Spanish, my native tongue.
The U.S. and the Dominican Republic have similar problems, but these problems-education disparity, poverty-occur more severely in the Dominican Republic. The DR has a literacy rate of 87 percent, as opposed to 99 percent in the U.S. Over 50 percent of Dominicans live under the poverty line, whereas only 15 percent of Americans live under the country’s poverty line. People might question groups such as the one I was part of as to why they are going to a foreign country to do service when there is so much work to be done in the U.S., but just because these problems are occurring in another country, this does not mean they should go unattended. Poverty and illiteracy are terrible things no matter who they affect, but it is easy not to care about a situation by which you aren’t impacted. The opportunity to learn about a different culture and volunteer with kids that are seldom surrounded by people they can look up to arose and I took it. Being in the Dominican Republic taught me a lot about the culture and allowed me to personally see how happy many Dominicans are, despite poor living conditions. Therefore, it’s only right that I bring that positivity back to my daily life, but this is the difficult part-the post-trip.
Similar to how I felt when I was on Kairos, being in the Dominican Republic allowed me to feel removed from the daily routine I experience here at BC. Toward the latter part of my stay in the Dominican Republic, I kept thinking to myself that the situation I was in was not reality, but instead, an interruption of the actuality I left back in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Believing that every moment I experienced during my time in the Dominican Republic was just a fantasy would be a disservice to the boys and girls that impacted me in ways that words cannot convey. Now back in the States, I reflect on my situation-I attend one of the best universities in the U.S., don’t have to share a bed, have access to a working shower, and am surrounded by family and friends and can’t help but feel guilty because I’m able to remove myself from the poor living conditions I had to deal with for 10 days. A lot of kids can’t do the same.
Although I feel as though I added to the misery these kids that embraced me deal with because I left them after only a week, I know they don’t think the same.
I’ve been so focused on this idea of changing the world-the bigger picture-that I haven’t realized how much of a difference I’ve made through the little things. The struggle is taking what I learned and internalized over the course of the trip and applying it to my everyday life, but this struggle is miniscule when compared to the obstacles some of the people I’ve met face. The saying goes, “nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something,” and I’m starting to believe that I’m changing the world, even if it’s one small gesture at a time.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.