“Balmy,” “hot” and “humid” are not words most Howard Community College students would use to describe their winter break. But for the students who volunteered to take part in the college’s Alternative Winter Break trip to the Dominican Republic, that’s just what they experienced. The students weren’t there to just soak up the sunshine and escape the frigid Maryland weather, they left home with an important goal: to help teach English to children at a local elementary school in the province of Monte Cristi. Proficiency in English is a highly valued skill for the impoverished people of Monte Cristi, enabling those fluent in the language to market themselves more successfully to employers and gain additional educational opportunities locally and beyond.
Before embarking on their trip, the students learned about the cultural and linguistic differences between the United States and the Dominican Republic, as well as the importance of being flexible, creative and sensitive during their service abroad. Joining the students as guides on the trip were Rick Leith, assistant professor of English, and Robin Bauer-Taylor, associate professor of Spanish.
Each day was filled with a busy schedule. In the morning, the students would have breakfast and prepare lesson plans before conducting a teaching session with the local children. After lunch, they would listen to educational teachings and enjoy play time with the children before returning to home base for “siesta,” when they could relax and spend time reflecting on their day.
In addition to teaching, the students were also able to partake in cultural talks, excursions, and social activities. They visited important sites in and around Monte Cristi, including a clock tower that was designed by Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel) and natural wonders like the salt flats. They also learned about the history of Dominican-Haitian relations before traveling to a market in the city of Dajabon, which lies on the border of the two countries.
For assistant professor Rick Leith, the most rewarding part of the trip was “watching our HCC students gradually come to realize that while knowing English would lead to vastly increased opportunities and choices for the children, far more important was instilling in them, through love and caring, a sense of self-confidence and a desire to stay in school.”
The trip was coordinated by the college’s Center for Service Learning in partnership with Outreach360, an international organization that provides service-learning opportunities designed to transform the lives of children living in economically disadvantaged areas by providing them with critical educational opportunities.
In addition to on-campus and local service learning opportunities, the Center for Service Learning typically offers alternative break trips during winter and spring break. To help maximize the students’ experience and growth during these trips, a service learning teaching method is applied to each trip. Before leaving, students prepare by reading assignments, participating in group meetings, conducting independent research and watching films. During the trip, the students take part in group discussions and keep journals about their experiences. Upon returning home, more group discussion takes place to reflect on the trip and all that was learned.
View additional photos from this year's Alternative Winter Break trip on the college's Flickr page. To learn more about the Center for Service Learning and other volunteer opportunities through HCC, click here.