When I was in college I always dreamed of studying abroad, but I just didn't think I could make it work. I had a full course-load every semester, a job, an apartment, and so many other responsibilities--how could I possibly put it all on hold to travel the uncharted path?
Now that I'm a mentor to other first-generation college students, it's important to me to help them realize just how possible it is to achieve each and every one of their goals. If travel is a dream, it can become a reality.
This May I had the honor of co-leading a trip to the Dominican Republic for 15 students who are not only the first in their families to attend college, but the first to study abroad.
Whether I was delivering a lecture on global social justice atop the Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración or standing back while my students drew their own conclusions on the subject matter they encountered, I was constantly reminded just how valuable and transformative world travel can be.
We spent a good deal of time in the classroom learning about the cultural and political histories of the Dominican Republic, but we got to experience the treasures of the island too.
Here the students are at a Dominican Batey (or sugar workers' town) where they learned about the working and living conditions of the Haitian migrant laborers and their families.
They loved planting fruit trees with the community.
This cross sits atop Santo Cerro and represents the gift that Queen Isabella gave to Christopher Columbus as he set sail across the Atlantic.
Fort La Conception, erected by Columbus shortly after his arrival on the island, was the site of a historical battle between the Taíno natives and Columbus' Spanish soldiers and indigenous allies.
This monument to the Mirabal sisters--Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa--honors three brave women who gave their lives fighting against the dictator Rafael Trujillo.
One of Trujillo's mansions is now a government sponsored coffee plantation that supplies local growers. I couldn't have been happier standing in between these rows and rows of baby coffee plants. ( :
On our last day on the island we made a trip to Playa Ensenada. This was the clearest, warmest, most beautiful water I have ever been in!
Our polished toes got a natural pedicure in the fine white sand.
The snorkeling was amazing!
This little island is really a sandbank surrounded by a coral reef in the middle of the ocean! The water was only waste deep and surrounded on all sides by deep blue sea.
Even from the shore you could smell the wood-burning fires in these beach huts cooking the fresh catch of the day...
...like these little guys!
And of course I had to bring my favorite travel buddy. Traveling Teddy became a kind of mascot with my students. They just loved his story. Here's one of my students photographing me photographing Teddy.
And here's our world traveling bear on his latest adventure to Santiago, Republica Dominicana.
This may have been a life-changing trip for my students, but it truly was for me as well. Travel stretches you as a person, reconnects your senses with the world around you, and reminds you that you're part of something so much bigger than yourself.
~ Nel ~
Note: All of the photographs in this post were taken by my
wonderfully inspiring students who are the
First To Go Abroad.