Dominican Republic 2017: My First Experience Abroad

Christie Johnston

Study Abroad 2017

Question 1: Provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. 

For my STEP Signature Project, I decided to go with the Study Abroad option. I browsed through all the study abroad choices on OSU’s website and I finally landed on the project that goes to the Dominican Republic over winter break. The trip was an 8 day trip beginning in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and ending in Jarabacoa, DR. Over the course of the trip, we traveled around the city and learned about sustainability and the natural resources that are available in the Dominican Republic. The main focus of the trip was a service project in a rural village outside Santo Domingo. Here, we installed a water pump and a water distribution system for the village, and got running water from a well all over the village.


Question 2: What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

My view of the world definitely changed when I was in the Dominican Republic. Being over there made me truly realize how many simple things we take for granted in the United States. Running water, reliable internet connection, water that is safe to drink from the tap; these are all things that the U.S has everywhere, but are few and far between in the Dominican Republic. I definitely have a greater appreciation of the way other people live, and I am more aware of the things we can and should be doing to help the people that need it.


3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

Although the Dominican Republic is somewhat developed, and definitely farther along than some other countries, a lot of what I experienced was extremely different from the United States. The biggest realization that I came to over there was the fact that U.S. does not really realize how good we have it when it comes to things like running water, electricity, cell phone service, internet connection, higher education and other things we take for granted. In most places in the DR, the tap water cannot be consumed because it isn’t treated and is not sanitary enough for consumption. That was the biggest change for me, because throughout the trip we had to plan out our drinking water for the day and make sure we all had enough to drink since we couldn’t just fill up at a sink.

In the U.S., untreated tap water is almost unheard of, and we take for granted the ability to just refill a water bottle in the kitchen sink. Having to experience this myself really made me realize how much we take for granted in the U.S. Another thing I had to get used to was the internet connection or lack thereof. Although our hotels had wifi, and one even had Cable TV, the internet connection was nowhere near the quality it is in the U.S. I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it would be if you really needed to get work done via the internet, and the speed interfered with your work.

Also, I really noticed in Santo Domingo, the electrical grid was extremely disorganized, almost in a dangerous fashion. If you look up when walking the streets, the power lines hang very low to the ground and are almost in knots above you. It does not appear to be very safe, and was a huge change from the United States’ fairly organized electrical grid. I was used to seeing power lines in rows beside streets, but here there were power lines wherever they were needed, with no organization to them whatsoever. The disorganization probably makes maintenance much more difficult for workers, which is likely not efficient on time or money.

The most life changing event that I felt on the trip was probably when we did our service project in La Piedra. Even when we were driving up to the village, you can look out the window and see the poverty that these people are experiencing. Most of them live in small shacks made out of either wood or roofing tiles. They don’t have electricity or running water for the most part, and they have minimal space to cook, sleep, and live. The weirdest part about seeing the poverty that the people were living in, was that most of them had cell phones in their hands. This was interesting because of their living conditions, we see them as being extremely underdeveloped and anti-technology, but they all had fairly new smart phones. Again, seeing these people that live this way, and that have always lived this way really struck a chord for me. We take for granted so many things in the United States that these people wouldn’t even dream of having, and that most American people cannot live without.


4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

I think that as a college educated young adult, this was a very important experience for me to have. I have never left the country before and I think that I will be able to carry these experiences and the greater appreciation for my education and things that the United States have all throughout my future career and life.

During the trip, we learned a lot about the importance of not only environmental sustainability, but also the outreach and education in order to teach other people about the environment and how to preserve it. As I chase a career in extension education, my main goal in life will be to educate children about agriculture and our environment here in the United States. Having experienced this in a different country, I will be able to bring a little more to the table in that regard. The environmental problems that the DR faces in it’s current state are much greater than what we are facing here in the United States, and I think that I will be able to bring attention to that and spark the younger generation to have a passion for helping people and protecting the world we live in.


The National Botanical Garden of the Dominican Republic


Boca Chica Beach, Dominican Republic


Jimenoa Falls, Dominican Republic


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