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Published: March 10th 2014
I always joke that when my toenail polish from one trip wears off, it’s time to get the next trip underway. While I had only short domestic travel planned for awhile, a serendipitous opportunity has arisen.
In gathering information and helping faculty and staff learn and begin applying the first round of new standards for faculty-led international travel, we found that an upcoming trip, already committed to and with students already deep into preparatory activities, didn’t have a leader who would meet the college’s requirements. We tried several potential solutions, but what it’s come down to is that I will lead the trip. This is because I’m available, have led one before, and am on salary and in an institutional role that means my participation falls under the terms of my contract. I can also muddle my way though a conversation in Spanish.
Thus I find myself about to go on a service trip to the Dominican Republic.
While similar in many ways to my last trip to Cambodia, there are some important differences. On the front end, I’m helping in an administrative capacity (such as preparing some of the liability paperwork and talking with the two people who will assist on the trip), but not providing the background information, orienting the students, or discussing topics such as culture shock. These activities are already underway, and although I’m joining at times, they aren’t mine to do. On the ground, the service organization that runs these trips will provide infrastructure and emergency response, and facilitate students’ relationships with the people and culture in the small community of Batey Isabela. My work during the trip will include escorting the students from Oregon to the DR, providing oversight, and with the assistants, helping students to process the emotions, thoughts, and meanings of the experience, as well as make connections between what they’re doing and learning with their career goals. I am also, I suppose, the arbiter of questionable behavior. I’ll be carrying sand and mixing cement. As faculty in the students’ college, I’ll be helping with their follow-up activities on our return.
The trip differs from the Cambodia trip in a couple of other ways. I’ve been to many Caribbean and Central American countries, but not the DR; my trip to Cambodia with students was my 6th
to that country. Service learning is a major focus of this trip and is centered on construction of a sports court; service wasn’t the primary activity for Cambodia and consisted of updates for a US-based non-profit’s responsible travel guide, as well as visiting socially responsible and local organizations and businesses and blogging about these. Our accommodations will be a community center floor, meals cooked by local women, and what sound like pretty temporary sanitary facilities; in Cambodia, we were in hotels and ate at restaurants. I am less connected to every aspect of this trip, whereas my assistant and I did all of the preparation, trip leadership, and follow-up for Cambodia. Finally, this is a less-plugged-in trip. I’ve read that electricity may not be consistent (or possibly, available), and I don’t want to have to keep track of anything valuable. I’m not taking a computer, but instead will be writing in my paperback Moleskine journal. This means that my online account will be posted post hoc.
The more-pragmatic, hands-on nature of the trip will be a good experience for me, since most of my international service consists of teaching, consulting, making connections with NGOs and non-profits, and presenting about what I learn when I get home. I’m looking forward to a different, less-linguistic experience that I hope will include a certain amount of dancing. And, of course, the opportunity to try out and report on gear of a different nature.
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