(Shivanie joined the annual Alternative Spring Break trip in February 2014 to the Dominican Republic, organized by Student Success and Engagement)
After some days, they were gone. I was sad and missed them terribly, even though I had never learned their names. As I grew older, I knew that one day I would travel to another country and have a similar experience, only this time I would be at the opposite end teaching local children.
I wanted change in my life, and in 2011, I came to Humber College as an international student. It was scary and exciting all at the same time, leaving my old life and starting afresh in a big city where I had endless dreams. I know I made the right choice to come to Humber College, as I have done things I had never dreamed possible and discovered so many new and fascinating things about myself. Humber is simply my home, and I cherish every experience I have here, spending my days off from class in the library or working on campus. I am deeply involved on campus, and I love my academic program: Bachelor of Commerce-International Business.
I heard about Alternative Spring Break in 2013, but by the time I got around to getting more information on it, the deadline has passed. Incidentally, one of my classmates went, and I heard all about the trip that I missed. It was on my radar for the following year, and this time I got on the list to go. One of my classmates, Paul, signed up to go too. We were excited to go together.
Speaking figuratively, the storm happened before I left. I had challenges around paying for my trip, studying for midterms, etc., and I was not even excited to go until I got on the plane destined for the Dominican Republic. It was Reading Week, and I studied on our layover and whilst I was in the Dominican Republic. During my time at Outreach 360, I bonded with the wonderful staff of the center, twelve new strangers from Humber College—representing all three campuses including the University of Guelph-Humber. I also got a chance to meet some cool and amazing people from the United States and people just like myself from Brock University, Algonquin College, the University of Western Ontario, and McMaster University. Through my journey in the Dominican Republic, Paul became my best friend.
When I was in the Dominican Republic, I also put what I’d learned during my classes in International Business to work such as Cross Cultural Communication and World Geography. On my way to the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, I saw a Coca-Cola sign on a makeshift shop with no one present on a deserted stretch of brick road, and I recalled my class on International Marketing on how major companies end up in small towns. With my background knowledge, I was able to figure out how this sign ended up in a deserted place in a rural community.
I learned so much about the local culture, its history, and respecting local customs and norms. I also ate amazing local food such as arepita de yuca and arepita de mais, not to mention fresh pineapples, watermelons and fried plaintains…. mmmm….those were so good. One evening, I had a fun time in an amazing dance class of Bachata and Merengue. We sat under the stars each night doing our group reflections, never seeing each others’ faces in the pitch blackness of night. Everyone around me was talking about how grateful they were to be living in Canada as they saw the digital divide, poverty and locals making the most of what they have and finding ingenious ways of surviving in Monte Cristi. As I breathed in fresh night air and heard the donkeys and chickens in the distance, I knew it was not the same for me. I did not have to fly 1,804 miles from Canada to Hispaniola to be grateful. I live each day whether I am in the Dominican Republic, Canada, Guyana or wherever else being grateful for what I have. However, what I did take away from my time in the Dominican Republic was “vivir en el momento” or, in English, “live in the moment!”
As I walked to the main town with my flip flops and bug spray on in the evening to get coconut ice cream from the Bon, the local children calling me “Americano! Americano!” I remember thinking, I am indeed living in the moment. This phrase resonated with me after I had to lead a small group activity on our first day in Monte Cristi. One of the crucial things I took away from my trip was how much I learned about myself in the process.
On the Wednesday after siesta, when we were trekking back to camp on foot for our half-hour walk to camp, I remember how upset I was. As I neared camp, a little girl in pig tails named Rudyisa came running and jumped straight into my arms and at that moment I remembered how happy I was to be where I was. I also recalled my seven-year-old self in that moment when the American group came to visit my school. Hiking El Morro on the last day was a challenge which I conquered. It was my first time hiking coupled with my fear of heights. With each step I took, I discovered new and interesting things about myself. As it was myself with my thoughts, I remember thinking…vivir en el momento!