"Traveling and experiencing a myriad of cultures is a type of education you will never find in a classroom," says Sagitta Woodman '12. After earning her bachelor's degree in social work, Woodman spent three months building on her Salve Regina education in the Dominican Republic. Below is a first-person account of her journey.
After my 2012 graduation from Salve Regina, I wanted to take my newly acquired knowledge and expand it. I looked through agencies offering international internships, however the price tag was out of my reach. I utilized my networking skills at my senior-year placement and connected with a coworker whose family lived in the Dominican Republic.
I found two wonderful possibilities. My travel partner in this journey was Fae Stone '11. Working with a different country's system is part of the learning process, however, both of the internships fell through once we arrived in the country. This did not stop us in finding enriching experiences during our three-month stay. We were blessed to live with two amazing host families, which enabled us to have a deeper understanding of their cultural norms.
We lived in the capital city, Santo Domingo, for six weeks. During our stay, we took an intensive Spanish course and visited local organizations. I was able to visit a maternity clinic for youth, a group home for children working on the streets, and an orphanage. One young boy stated, "My parents left me, so I went to find them. I found my dad, but he left me again. That is when I went to the streets and now I am here." You could see their stories in their eyes. I left feeling like there was a need and I did not know where I fit into the solution puzzle.
We moved away from the city life to a small rural town named Esperanza, meaning hope. After some misunderstandings, we found two internships. The first one was twice a week at a local private clinic, where we took on the role of patient advocates. There are public hospitals in the Dominican Republic, but many lack funding and do not provide adequate services. The private clinics are used more frequently, even if the clients have limited income.
The second internship was at Color de Vida, an elementary school. Our task was to assist two children with learning differences who were not excelling in the classroom. I worked with a young boy, age 8 and in the first grade, teaching the basics of writing his name, numbers and utilizing his creativity to learn geography. We also taught English to a group of fifth and sixth graders, ages 9 to 14. We explored the different states in the United States, sang English songs and played games, utilizing Spanish and English to expand their learning environment. Many times, my own values and social work values were challenged. I had to evaluate the line between cultural differences, especially when examining discipline and client privacy. Through these experiences, I obtained a broader mindset and various new practice techniques.
I became accustomed to living in the Dominican Republic. The culture taught me to live in the moment and to practice patience. After leaving our new home, we traveled to Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Peru. It was truly fascinating to see the differences in cultures within each one. Cuba was vibrant, with a cultural depth embedded with dancing and music. Mexico has held onto its indigenous influences through beautiful and unique art forms. After working with Salve Regina's Social Work Club to raise funds to rebuild a house in Belize City, I was excited to visit the country. We were able to get a glimpse of the Belizean life, even though it was hidden away. The houses were falling apart and in flood areas. It is difficult to observe the locals' living conditions, in order to create paradise for tourists.
I feel truly blessed to have had this time in my life to experience the world to its fullest. Each country and its unique cultures taught me valuable life skills. I will be attending Fordham University for my master's degree in social work this fall. My concentration is refugee resettlement and immigration. This past year will enable me to utilize newfound knowledge and skills in working with populations from varying cultures.
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