Over winter break of 2016, I traveled alongside fifteen other students to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Our goal for the eight-day long trip was to learn about and engage in a multitude of environmentally-based projects that were being directed within the country, from implementation of hydroelectric power to a wide-scale reforestation initiative. As we were guided through these projects, we became increasingly immersed in a culture that is so different from our own, while also finding a few profound similarities between the two.
Previous to this trip, I had traveled to the Dominican Republic twice on family vacations. I was already aware of the beauty of the country’s beaches weather, but a vacation to a resort was not the best way to expose myself to the true culture and state of the nation. Staying in Santo Domingo, as well as traveling to rural areas outside of the city, was starkly different. I was completely immersed in the culture; everywhere we traveled we heard popular local music, watched performances by street artists, and ate food that I never anticipated (but did enjoy) eating. Speaking for myself, what stuck out most to me was the attitude of the people that lived in the Dominican Republic. As a developing nation, it faces many hardships when it comes to building infrastructure, maintaining law and order, and preserving the many beautiful ecosystems it sustains. Despite these struggles, I quickly learned through encounters with those living in the Dominican Republic are more gracious, polite, and kind than most people I have ever met.
As an environmental science major, I have been taught a lot about the importance of managing our natural resources in a way that allows for their continued use. This concept is especially important in developing nations, as it is one that they can enforce from the beginning. Doing so is a daunting task, but my group and I were given the opportunity to meet with people who had decided undertake it and better their communities and local natural environment. One project in particular that stood out was the establishment of the Caribbean’s largest solar power plant located in Monte Plata. Every employee who aided in the construction and running of the plant was driven by a passion to help their community by generating 30 Megawatts of clean energy to be used by those living in Monte Plata. It greatly reminded me of why I had devoted my college and future career to the implementation of safe and healthy environmental practices.
Whether we were being led through coffee processing plants, water bottling facilities, the thick of the forest on a rural mountainside, or across local university grounds did not matter; nor did it matter who was teaching us about the progress that each project had made in conserving natural resources and preserving the environment. Our trip leaders and local citizens treated us as if we were long lost friends or family members that had finally returned home. Organization leaders spoke with such incredible passion for the environment and meeting their environmentally friendly goals, eager to both teach us and show their extreme appreciation for the beauty of their homeland. Our goal had been to learn of the developing environmental policies in the Dominican Republic, but we gained so much more than that through conversation, laughter, and developing a deep understanding between ourselves and those we encountered.
Many times our group was fed by the generous hands of a local family or organization that wished for us to have an experience in the Dominican Republic that was as genuine as possible. We learned of the food staples they depended upon and their sources, and also how difficult getting these staples could sometimes be. It was truly inspiring to me to listen to the hardships that so many families go through to maintain their own welfare as they insisted that they feed us and treat us with utmost hospitality. I gained wisdom on what it really means to be a generous and considerate human being in the face of difficulty on these days, and I fully believe that I would have never gained this wisdom had I not had this experience.
My trip to the Dominican Republic taught me more about appreciating what I have in the United States more than any other experience I have had. It reinstalled in me my own passion respect for the environment. I look at the natural beauties of Columbus, my hometown, and of the United States as a whole with a different perspective now. Seeing how those project leaders in the Dominican Republic view their rich natural heritage was inspiring, and sparked a realization in me that I hold the same responsibility that they do: to build my career upon the fundamentals of bettering our communities while also protecting the integrity of surrounding natural wonders.