Students Immerse Themselves In Dominican Culture on Summer Trip

Kate Leahy, Staff Writer

Each year juniors at Seattle Prep are invited to embark on an immersion trip to the Dominican Republic to not only serve but learn about and live with the people and communities they meet. For about 10 years, Prep has offered this trip as a true service experience for those looking to become humbled and emotionally changed by the individuals they encounter.

John McLaughlin, a representative of America Across Borders and organizer of the trip said the trips’ goals are “to offer a transformative immersion experience for students and teachers, to do authentic and meaningful work via the groups’ service projects and to inspire the returning students to be more deeply and meaningfully engaged in their local communities once they return home.”

Many current seniors who participated in the immersion trip last year agreed that it was a lifechanging experience focused on not only rebuilding communities in the Dominican Republic but learning more about yourself and supporting the less fortunate individuals. Senior Mackenzie Skogland said “by giving students a personal connection to people in poverty it makes the situation a lot more realistic. When students go to the DR it gives the them a new outlook on life, but also those in the communities. This trip connects two different worlds, but for a few days we stand as one.”

This experience also allows students to gain a better understanding of local, domestic and international social justice issues. McLaughlin felt that “by studying the realities of rural, urban, and immigrant poverty in the DR, and then meeting actual people living that reality, they [students] come to understand how intimately life in Seattle is connected to life there, despite the geographical distance.”

Isabella Wagner, another senior, also said “we build the idea that service is not us versus them where we are their heroes and they need our help, but that service serves us as well as others.”

Last year, students spent time living and working in the farming communities of Franco Bidó and Batey Libertad. Wagner said “This is where we did our homestay and where I was really able to put myself in the shoes of those people because I was enduring the experience first-hand. I never imagined I could build such a close relationship with my homestay family in just 5 nights, but I am still in touch with them and thinking about them today.”

Skogland added “this community showed me so much love and even though I had only met them that day I felt like they were my true family. Their fight and bravery inspired me to work harder in my own life.”

Trips like these are extremely valuable to both students and the communities they serve. McLaughlin said its important to do trips like this because “in offering your true, authentic presence, and in receiving generosity from people who have nothing to give but their unadorned love, you’ll meet God as you never have before, and you’ll never forget what that was like.”

Similarly, Wagner added that “the greater impact comes from the relationships we form with our families in Franco Bidó where we did a homestay and with the little kids we led through a summer camp in Batey Libertad.”

With nothing but rave reviews for this trip, students say its impact on both yourself and the communities they served with was everlasting. Skogland said “It changed my life. It is an amazing opportunity and it will give you a connection to new communities you wouldn’t get on any other trip. This trip will show you how to fight for what’s right.”

Wagner added how this trip “gives students the chance to step outside their comfort zones and experience something new. Everyone has their own unique experience on the trip, but one thing I know that we all get out of it is love.”