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Students Experience Life-Changing Spring Break Trip to the Dominican Republic

April 15, 2024

By Fatima Magana '22

ALLIANCE- As the academic year winds down, the campus community often reflects on the many spring break trips taken. Each year, students at the University of Mount Union spend a semester learning how to be leaders through the Social Responsibility course that is part of the Department of Justice, Diversity, and Interdisciplinary Humanities.

For more than 30 years, students have traveled to countries like the Dominican Republic to apply in-class concepts by serving communities in need. This spring, 11 students from diverse programs of study visited Cambita Garabitos, San Cristobal where they interacted with elementary school-aged kids teaching them English while learning Spanish from the children. Hands-on projects that students from Mount Union worked on included reconstructing rooftops for impoverished people and building a walkway for a handicapped elderly woman.

Alexis Dupont ’24, biology and neuroscience double major, Joseph Haas ’24, human resource management and Spanish double major, and Ashley Cooper ’26, biochemistry major discussed their experience throughout the week in the Dominican Republic.

Dupont, who heard of the class and international trip through two of her friends who went to the Dominican last year, wanted to experience a new culture as well. Students with more than one major follow a busy schedule, but the Social Responsibility trip was one Dupont could not and did not want to miss.

“This was my first time traveling outside the country and immersing myself into the Dominican culture was an eye-opening experience as I liked noting the differences and similarities between the two countries,” said Dupont.

While interacting with native people was fun, Dupont learned a lot about the services in the United States from the service projects the class focused on abroad. Building and painting doors, putting new rooftops on houses, mixing and laying cement, along with teaching kids English showed Dupont the different needs that people have.

“People in the Dominican unite themselves relying on each other, but something that caught my attention was how there were law officials, but the law was not being enforced,” said Dupont. “The communities we served did not have trash pickup; realizing how lucky I am made me appreciate what I have back home.”

Dupont’s favorite experience throughout the trip was attending the Sunday church service, as the people in the community included them in everything. A translator helped them understand the service as they translated the event from Spanish to English with the Mount Union students learning other traditional dances after the service. Another experience Dupont noted as her favorite was interacting with native Dominican college-aged students. The visiting U.S. students were shocked to find out that they were around the same age as the Dominican college students, but the Dominican students looked older than our Purple Raiders.

“Although we (students) felt like we did not do enough for the people in the community, they showed their appreciation by gifting us candy and treats,” said Dupont. “Though this experience helped me build new goals for my future career.”

Wanting to attend PA school upon graduating, Dupont explained that seeing how people who cannot afford healthcare are treated, helped her envision what type of health services she wants to offer to patients. To gain further experience by taking another trip abroad with a focus on healthcare, Dupont added that once she begins practicing the profession, all her patients, regardless of their socioeconomic status will be treated equally.

Like Dupont, Haas embarked on this international adventure thanks to learning about friends' experiences from the previous year. As a Spanish major and a person who loves traveling, Haas not only took this opportunity to enhance his Spanish skills but to help and serve others as well. He also has worked for the Regula Center and participated in Alpha Phi Omega throughout his collegiate career at Mount Union.

"We did different types of physical labor such as building roofs, cement walkways, and doors for houses," said Haas. "We also interacted with local elementary students, teaching them English and learning Spanish from them; interacting with kids was my favorite experience!"

Stating that before the trip during spring break, the class did not know each other aside from their names, returning from the Dominican Republic, Haas and his classmates built friendships and unbreakable bonds solely from serving those in need and traveling abroad. After traveling as a class, the classroom setting is livelier, with everyone discussing their day-to-day activities.

"On our last day in the Dominican, we traveled to Santo Domingo, the capital city to enjoy some sightseeing and engage in shopping with street vendors, which was another opportunity to practice my Spanish," said Haas. "Mount Union has taught me to value global experiences that expand my cultural awareness, and this trip certainly did that!"

Cooper joined her classmates on this international experience because she heard of how life-changing the trip was while wanting to make a change in others' lives and gain a new perspective on social issues. Looking forward, Cooper envisions herself helping people from all walks of life, therefore, traveling to the Dominican Republic helped her learn about different situations that life can put people in.

"In the DR we worked on many hands-on projects many of which were construction-based, working around or on a house," said Cooper. " I really enjoyed replacing a roof because we were able to help the family whose house the roof was going on as well as work with the church community which made the experience even more enjoyable and fun."

Started by Stephen Kramer, professor emeritus, the Social Responsibility course and trip have been changing the lives of people in countries like Haiti, Jamaica, and Nicaragua as well as the lives of students who have traveled to them and built meaningful relationships. Learn more about the Department of Justice, Diversity, and Interdisciplinary Humanities.