“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi

In early January, I had the opportunity to help lead a service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic. I traveled with 13 students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University to the community of Las Terrenas. The trip was one week long and I purposefully did not wear make-up for the week so that I would be able to incorporate this experience into my blog! For some reason, I have convinced myself that if what I am wanting to write about isn’t listed on my Day Zero Project, that I cannot write a post on my blog about it. Clearly false, it is my blog after-all 🙂

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the impacts that the trip had, impacts we may have had on the community, but more importantly the impacts this service learning experience has had on me.It has taken me a long time to publish this update because I wanted to ensure that I communicated the epic awesomeness of the students who went, the people we met, and the work we did. Although the main focus of the trip were the acts of service and learning, we did find a little time for some local adventures and exploring. Another reason it has taken me so long to make this post public is due to an article I stumbled across shortly after returning from the Dominican Republic. This online article talked about one young woman’s experience with serving in developing countries.

Immediately after reading this article, I felt as though it discredited the service I had done and that everyone in the social media world, who had also stumbled across the article, would feel as though our group did more harm than good. After spending time thinking about the points in the article, reading peoples’ comments, and reflecting on the purpose of our trip, I was able to identify key differences between her experiences and the experience that the students and I shared.

Mainly our group did not approach our service learning trip from the standpoint of what we could do for those we were serving, but what could we learn from those in the community through our acts of service. We did not set out to solve all of the worlds’ problems or fix anything that was broken by our standards. Our intent was to learn as much as we could about their culture and ways of living during the week we were there working alongside of community members.

I think that it is important to highlight our mindset going into the trip as having the frame of mind of “What can I learn from this” really helped to shape our experience. Our contact person in the Dominican Republic, Jose, did a great job preparing us for the trip. He came to CSB/SJU and talked to our group back in November and really made us reflect on our purpose for traveling to the DR. He emphasized the importance of us not going there to change or fix anything, but going to learn so that we could bring what we learned through our experiences back with us. This really set our minds and hearts in the right place for the trip.

The beginning of this experience started for my last October when, after applying for an Alternative Break Experience (ABE) faculty/staff position, I was offered an interview. I did not specifically interview for this trip, but in general for all of the ABE trips that CSB/SJU offers. I had my interview at the local coffee shop and on my walk back to campus called my mom to let her know that I would not be going on a trip. I felt as though I bombed my interview and did not express my thoughts clearly. Turns out I was chosen for one of the more competitive trips and my first choice preference for trips. Looks as though my interview went better than I thought!

Shortly after being notified of my selection to lead the winter break ABE trip to the Dominican Republic, I found out who the two student co-leaders would be. These two women (Sarah and Chibudom) were phenomenal!! They interviewed and selected students for the 11 other spots on the trip. I know it couldn’t have been easy to only choose 11 students, but the ones they chose were the best of the best! Once our trip participants were all finalized we only had a short period of time to do some fundraising. Since it was a volunteer trip, we were responsible for or all costs associated with the trip including the standard trip participation fee, our flight, food, housing, transportation, and donations to our service site. Want to say thank you again to all of you who donated through my fundraising page! I truly appreciate your generosity!!

Our group had two main projects. The first was collecting donations of school supplies and toys. The supplies (books, paper, markers, glue, tape etc) were donated to local schools and we wrapped the toys while there to hand out to kids from one of the poorest communities at a festival for the 3 Kings. While there, most of our time was spent working to help build a playground for a local school. Both of these projects, as well as the beauty of the country, are better shown through photos so be sure to look through the photos below as I will explain more about everything with the photos! Prepare yourself, there is kind of a lot! Like 70ish, but you can click the little circles on the bottom to browse through them rather quickly! 🙂 I had a hard time narrowing all the photos down so these are the select few I chose. HA!

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Also one of the guys, shout out to Andy! one of the students I was sick with, put together a lovely video of our trip! Check it out here

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“A Journey is Best Measured in Friends, Rather Than Miles” Tim Cahill

This is my first post from my new home in Minnesota!! I’ve only been here for about two weeks and I’m already checking things off my Day Zero Project list. My first day of work at my new gig was a week ago from this past Tuesday and it was by far the best first day of work I have ever had. You may be asking yourself, what made it so great?! Well, I flew to Washington DC with my fellow coworkers for a conference! We attended the ASACCUU Conference which is the Association for Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Attending this conference with my coworkers was super exciting on so many levels. Mainly because I left for the trip not really knowing any of the wonderful ladies I work with, but I returned calling them my friends and feeling as though I had known them for years. Adding to the excitement was the fact that I had the opportunity to ‘visit a state I had never been to’ I had never been to Washington DC or the state of Virginia, which we were in briefly.

The conference was set up so that during the day we attended key-note speakers and sessions that talked about some of the unique challenges and opportunities that come with working at a Catholic institution. The evenings were free, though, so at night we were able to do some sight-seeing. This was an added bonus because the first night we were in DC (July 23) was the eve of my golden birthday! One of my new friends had a friend from highschool that lived in the area that met up with us and we rang in my 24th birthday while sitting on a patio along the river at an outdoor bar. What a way to kick off my golden birthday, right?!

On Wednesday, my actual birthday, I attended a lot of very informative sessions that really sparked my enthusiasm for the upcoming year. After the conference concluded for the day, a group of the representatives from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University that were at the conference went out for a fancy dinner. The dinner was absolutely scrumptious and even better was the eye candy the chef provided during the meal (schmokin hot chef! haha!) Since it was my birthday, I was given a free dessert! So yummy! After dinner, my friends and I went to the White House. Yes, I spent part of my golden birthday at the White House with my friends. We are kind of a big deal 🙂 After doing some sight-seeing, we went to a speakeasy (where my friend’s friend worked) and celebrated my birthday in style!! (shout out to Katie, Kyleen, Ann, and Tara for celebrating with me!!) What a fantastic way to celebrate my life! Here’s to the fantastic year that is in-store for me!!

Thursday, the last day of the conference, I attended the best session ever! haha shout out to my amazing coworkers on their phenomenal presentation on the programming model that they created the previous year. I can already tell that I am going to learn so much this year from my coworkers and that is super exciting! After the conclusion of the conference, we had the opportunity to go on a bus tour of the monuments. Super cool to see all of them! It was hard to get quality pictures at the monuments as it was at night, but below are some pictures from the trip!

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