Thursday, December 13, 2012

Heroism in the Dominican Republic

One of the four pillars to being a great leader is to be a hero. We usually associate Superman or Hercules to what it means to be a hero. The problem with that is that they are both fairytale characters who demonstrate inhuman powers like super strength which gives the idea that you need god-like qualities in order to be a hero. When I think of a hero I think of concrete values that emanate from a person, values in which they're willing to fight for. I think that is more difficult than showing your super strength. It's difficult because that doesn't always mean you'll have people backing you up; you may feel alone which is why being a hero is one of the hardest things a person can do. It doesn't always mean doing something as drastic as risking your life to save another. Heroism can be shown in the smallest of ways; by standing up for the kid at school who is being bullied or standing for something you believe in when it goes against what everyone else believes.

In my experience in the Dominican Republic, I feel I showed heroism at my service site among other places. I went to Hospicio which is a home for the elderly. The majority of the residents there were picked up by the gracious nuns and nurses that run it, meaning they don't have family. And the ones that do have family are not visited by them and feel very alone. My short four hours a week playing dominoes, coloring, and talking with them was not a chore but fun, easy and something I looked forward to. I didn't feel like I was being a hero, but to them I was. To some, I was their only 'family' and even though I was only there four hours each week, I think it was much more to them than just playing dominoes and coloring.

I think that another aspect to being a hero is to be attentive to seeing what is needed and trying to fill those needs. Sometimes making the smallest changes can make the biggest differences. Sometimes all you need to have patience and be alert to be able to see where these differences can be made.

Here in the Dominican Republic I learned what it was to be a hero. I learned it through the interactions I had with the children at a school that I taught at and trying to find what was needed from me. My responsibility at the school was teaching the children how to speak and write in English on a basic level. This was a little scary for me at first because I had never taught children English or any other language for that matter so at times I felt like I was not successful. However, I found that I had to have patience in myself as I tried to see what things these children most needed from me. With that patience I was able to push through and reach out to them on a deeper level. After learning about them from talking to them and with my supervisor, I found that many of them needed love because they did not necessarily receive it at home. With that, I tried to demonstrate love to them through the words I taught them and how I treated them because I wanted them to feel loved. 

~Sarah Jerome and Victoria Garaycochea (: 



Chris Lowney says there are four pillars to become a successful leader: self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism. Self-awareness is the idea of recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses, and how those strengths and weaknesses affect relationships with those around oneself. Having a strong self-awareness prior to arriving in the Dominican Republic is wonderful. However, once you are here, in the Dominican Republic, those strengths and weaknesses will be tested. You may find yourself recognizing strengths and/or weaknesses you did not know you had before. Upon leaving the DR, you may find that the self-awareness you were so sure of has changed. Aspects you had never considered may come to the forefront of your thinking, and parts of yourself you thought were unchangeable are suddenly being questioned.

This change in self-awareness is nothing to be frightful of. Our self-awareness is continually changing as we progress through life. Allow yourself to be open to change and not to change. Just because you are a part of the Encuentro experience does not mean you have to return to the USA a completely different person. You might, but do not force yourself to do so.

The best way we have found to strengthen our self-awareness is to dive into the uncomfortable. Take full advantage of every opportunity at hand while you are living in the Dominican Republic.  Have deeper conversations with your host families and group. Go beyond asking the comfortable questions of “How is your day?”, “What is your favorite color?”, “What is your favorite food?” etc. Instead, begin to ask the questions that you really want to know. Dive into the unknown. It was John F. Kennedy who said, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Enjoy this experience. Make the most out of it, and allow yourself to have fun. This experience is a time for you to grow and learn about yourself and others. There are going to be a lot of good times and there are going to be bad times. But always remember, regardless of your situation or how confused you are, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer
than You.” - Dr. Seuss.

Enjoy Encuentro Dominicano J

You will be in our thoughts and prayers. Enjoy.

P.S. Try the quipe.


Ingenuity from Comunidad Catorce


In our time down here we have learned the importance of ingenuity. We chose this definition of ingenuity as it best related to our experiences here. 

  i.      “Jesuit ingenuity is the ability to innovate, to absorb new perspectives, to respond quickly to opportunities or threats, and to let go of strategies that no longer work in order to embrace new ones.  As Loyola put it, ingenuity is being comfortable traveling through the various regions of the world and using all the means you can to reach your goals. 

When you as a middle-class American have to come down here and live in a new world, you have your methods of solving your problems. Your routine has worked for you in the past so you naturally will stick to it. However, the DR isn't the U.S. You will be given a fresh perspective on life, on language and relationships. Say you are at the grocery store and you have to look for and buy something. You have to ask in another language that you hope you get right on your first try. You use different money and have to convert every item into currency you understand. You have to discern the labels and different brands. Suddenly, something as simple as shopping has turned into a difficult task. 

In this grocery store, you'll have to figure out new strategies to overcome your barriers. Suddenly, you're forced to speak Spanish in a situation and you'll regret not learning what the word for "soap" was in Spanish class. You'll have to work with what you got, your limited Spanish vocabulary. You don't have your handy smartphone with you to translate every bit of Spanish around you and there won't be 3G to give you directions to the street vendor. You will have to rely on your ingenuity. 

This won't just happen in the grocery store, you will face this in campo, talking to your service site director, and traveling around this country.  This experience will force you to rely on yourself and help you to problem solve. You'll have to adapt to new situations, solve problems you've previously never encountered, and all in a foreign country/language. You will have resources at your disposal but don't just rely on them. But believe in yourself, your capability to think outside the box, and in your ingenuity. 

Dios Bendiga

Elizabeth y Evan
Comunidad Catorce


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Top 10 Places in the Dominican Republic.

Written in no particular order...
Remember, the DR is full of places unexplored by past Encuentro students.
1.     Bahia de las Aguilas
Near the western end of the Dominican Republic near the Haitian border, lies this nearly abandoned beach. Some of the most beautiful sights we have seen. No frills, and little tourists. However, it takes quite a journey to get there. 
2.     Pico Duarte
Making the three day trek to the top of the highest mountain in the Carribean could not have been more worth it. You can certainly expect beautiful views and some of the best stars we have every seen.
Tips: Contact Luis, try to avoid the mud and rocks
3.     Punta Rucia/Cayo Arena
Punta Rucia is a quite town with not much going on. However, the small sand-bank, Cayo Arena, hidden in the ocean is worth the visit, some great snorkeling.
Tips: Try asking a local fisherman to help you get to the island
   4.     Salto de Jimenoa II - Jarabacoa
This is a fun excursion fairly close to 
Santiago. The waterfall is beautiful and you 
are even allowed to swim in the freezing cold water.
   5.     27 Waterfalls
Why would you not want to jump of 27 waterfalls? If you are thrill-seeking this is some of the most fun our group had.
Tips: Can possible cure your fear of heights because there is only one way down
6.     Samana (Las Terrenas/Las Galeras)
Off the East Coast the peninsula is famous for whale watching and beautiful beaches. Las Terrenas is full of Europeans and is slightly more touristy. Las Galeras is a more secluded experience.
7.     Mount Isabel de Torres - Puerta Plata
Taking a cable car to the top of a mountain is as beautiful as it sounds. At the top of the mountain there is a botanical garden with many walking trails.
    8.     Dajabon/International highway
A planned excursion for EDP, but was one of the most interesting things we have seen. The differences between Haiti and the DR are dramatic. We learned a lot from this experience.
    9.     Cabarete
This beach is not too far 
from Sosua but is known for it’s kite surfing, an interesting sight to see.
10.  Aurora Cigar Factory in Tamboril 
The Dominican Republic is known for it’s cigars, and viewing the process was both educational and interesting. 

Top Ten Places To Go in Santiago

After 4 months here, we want to share with you some of our favorite places in Santiago and what we think are the top ten places to go:

1. Naturalis Te- Down the street from Bon on the guagua route, this is the best place to go if you are in the mood for fresh tea, juices, and smoothies.  There is free wifi so it is a great place to go to study or do homework.  They also have oriental food like delicious dumplings or fried rice.

2. Ahi Dance- Near the monument, this is our community’s favorite place to go dancing.  There is great music and a fun atmosphere.  It is also a popular place for Dominicans so you’ll get to practice your dancing with experts. 

3. Calle del Sol- Just a short walk down España, Calle del Sol is a street where street vendors can sell their various goods.  From hats to Larimer to Dominican clothes you can find anything there.  It’s always fun to go for the afternoon and just walk around.  While you’re there make sure to pick up a Skim Ice from a Skim Ice man!

4. Juan’s Colmado- Juan’s Colmado, down the street from ILAC, is the place to go if you want a snack anytime during the day.  Helpful hints for getting the most our of Juan’s colmado:
  • Don’t shy away from the baked goods on the counter.
  • If you want chocolate you have to ask for it. It’s hidden!
  • Salami sandwiches are a colmado specialty.
  • Sodas in the glass bottles are cheaper and when you are finished you can bring them back for Juan to recycle.
  • Dino cookies are only 7 pesos and the strawberry flavor is surprisingly good!
5. Yadel’s hot dog stand- Yadel lives just down the street from ILAC and at night opens a hot dog stand in front of Juan’s Colmado.  The hot dogs are only 50 pesos and there are always seats available to hang out and eat. Perfect for a late night snack, Yadel’s hot dogs are a treat!

6. Calle Ocho- At Calle Ocho and Las Jardines, this hole in the wall “restaurant” serves gourmet empanadas.   There are a variety of types of empanadas including some of our community’s favorites: the Gourmet, Pizza, and Chorizo.  If you want a classic Latin American food, head on over to Calle Ocho.

7. Art store- Down the street from Bon is an eclectic art store owned by a feisty Dominican woman.  The paintings are originals from various artists around the area.  They are perfect for gifts or just for decorating your dorm room or house.

8. La Sirena- With various locations around Santiago, La Sirena covers all of your basic shopping necessities.  It is very similar to Target in the sense that you can get everything you could ever need there.  It will definitely be a staple in your semester.

9. Soho jazz night- In Bella Terra Mall is Soho Bar which has jazz night every Monday.  It’s a good time to relax on a school night and listen to some good music.  Warning: lots of gringos here.

10. Centro Leon- Centro Leon is great for two reasons: it is a museum and has a cafe perfect for doing homework.  The museum is packed to the brim with interesting information on the history and culture of the Dominican Republic.  The café is air-conditioned, has wifi, and offers baked goods and coffee options.  It is a great place to focus when writing your final paper for EDP class.

El Carnaval Spring 2012

            One of the Dominican Republic’s national festive activities is the famous El Carnaval. Taken place in February before Lent (like Fat Tuesday), El Carnaval is the cultural celebration of Easter. In particular El Carnaval is celebrated among many Latin American countries. Locals celebrate by attending a large parade with people wearing extravagant and sometimes scary costumes. Each city has its own parade. However, La Vega is probably the largest and most festive city to celebrate El Carnaval.
Some of things we experienced were the loud music (surprisingly a lot of American music like LMFAO), the myriad of colorful masks and outfits, and the infamous “pig bladder” that the people in costume use to hit you in the rear end. It can be overwhelming at times but it is really fun at El Carnaval.
Here are some tips to survive and enjoy El Carnaval:
1.       Go in a group – There were 8 of us in Comunidad 13 who attended this year and we came as 2 groups. It can be easy to get lost with the rushing crowds of people while music blasts from all over the place. Having at least someone you know by your side can be extremely helpful.
2.       Prevent getting pickpocketed – Try not bringing any valuables, like a lot of money, a wallet, fancy jewelry, etc. You can bring a camera but just make sure you hold on it tight. There have been several attempts of pickepocketing from past experiences. Just be smart.
3.       Watch out for your rear end – Like I mentioned before, there are people who sneak up behind you and smack your bottom with a football-like rubber ball. This only happens when you are walking down the parade; however, you can stay in the bleachers and watch the parade from the sides. It was kind of painful and stung for about a minute.
4.       Have fun and be safe– El Carnaval is not for everyone. Although, our experience was really exciting and memorable. You can order drinks cheaply like soda and virgin margaritas too!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

La Vereda al Medio (2nd campo)

Las Cruces Campo Immersion

Five weeks after arriving to the Dominican Republic, we (members of Comunidad Trece) embarked on our first campo experience in Las Cruces. After much preparation and consultation with the people of Las Cruces, we set goals to build latrines, cement floors and (for the first time in Encuentro history) a greenhouse. Our host families welcomed us with open arms and humbled us with their hospitality. Although admittedly awkward at first, we never could have guessed how incredibly close we would become with our families after merely ten days.

From ridiculously sugary campo coffee to authentic Dominican meals (rice and beans siempre), we embraced the many simple things Las Cruces had to offer. However, in time, our experience grew to encompass many profound moments and memories that will stay with us forever.

Our experiences emphasized the importance of relationships and taught us that even when words fail us, love founds a common understanding that surpasses language.  It for this reason that putting our experiences from Las Cruces into words proves difficult.  We each learned from, found comfort in, and struggled with multiple different aspects of the immersion.  Needless to say, it was an experience that impacted the members of our community on an individual level and in unique ways.  Overall, it is not only an experience that goes beyond simple explanation, but also an experience that we can all carry with us for the rest of our lives.

Medical Missions

           Be warned: You are going to have to share ILAC! During the spring, different medical groups come through ranging from fifteen to eighty medical professionals and students. While there are some drawbacks such as a lack of pancakes and Spanish, there are many positive aspects of the medical missions. Aside from the surgeries they provide the Dominican patients, the doctors are really generous by allowing the Encuentro students shadow them while they operate. It is also a great opportunity to meet physicians from across the country that you normally would not meet.  For those of you who are studying to become doctors or for those who are curious, the medical missions give you the chance to observe surgeries. You are able to watch as many surgeries as you have time for, and the surgeries happen back to back all day.  The surgeons allow you to stand right next to them while they operate. Additionally, the surgeons are more than happy to explain the whole procedure while they are doing it and answer any questions you might have.
             While we were here we were able to observe orthopedics, dermatologists, eye doctors, pediatrics, general surgeons, physical therapists, and medical students from Creighton.  Although most of the doctors operate in the ILAC clinic, the physical therapists work at a few of the Encuentro Dominicano service sites.  Other doctors will also travel out to the campos to provide the villagers with free medical attention.  We strongly recommend taking the time to watch a surgery as it is a great learning opportunity!

The Sweets of Santiago

The Sweets of Santiago!

Every meal at ILAC is complete with a nice platter of pineapple, papaya or melon, but every so often we craved a good ol' quality baked good. Luckily, we discovered the best dessert places in town!

Oreo "cheescakey"
1) La Campagna - One of our personal faves, La Campagna has a delicious array of sweet treats. From coconut flan to oreo cheesecake (and even dulce de leche crepes!), La Campagna has a dessert for everyone. Macy's personal favorite was the oreo cheesecake; and for those of you who enjoy a dang good brownie, La Campagna has the fudgiest most delicious brownie in all of Santiago (so says Sara, and she's a tough judge). Plus, the waitresses are really friendly, and you can even purchase a special La Campagna "I love bread" t-shirt -- very Dominican... not! Definitely check it out; we promise you won't regret it!

Gretchen and sister Sydney at the bakery (with donuts)
2) Bakery by Accion Callejera - According Comunidad Trece member, Adam Lomas, the donuts at this bakery are "like angels having a concert in my mouth." Aside from these heavenly 15-peso donuts, there's a wide variety of other cheap yet delectable treats. This is a great place to stop after service or during a day in the city.
3) Plaza Lama - It took us a few trips to Plaza Lama to realize how much potential the bakery there has. Not only were we able to try delicous, fresh-baked breads and brownies, but we also made great friends with Emiliano, one of the bakery employees. On our last visit to Plaza Lama, we ventured from out typical brownie purchase, and tried the bizcocho tiramisu - it's a must-try! Worth every peso. If you do go to Plaza Lama by Hospicio, tell Emiliano hello from Macy, Sara, Nicole, and Juan! :)
Emily's birthday cake from Fifa
4) Fifa Bakery - We headed to Fifa Bakery (conveniently located in Santiago on Independencia) the day after our first campo immersion. The sweet, caramel-filled cake was the perfect treat! Although Fifa is better known for its larger cakes, they also sell individual sized pieces for only 70 pesos (not too shabby - it's a huge piece!). After buying your cake, head over to a local park and enjoy :)
5) Helados Bon/ Yogen Fruz - The first sweets we had on the island - not exactly baked goods (avoid the cookies and brownies, they tasted slightly like dog biscuits), but the ice cream will satisfy every craving!  We strongly recommend the truly Dominican flavors: Dulce de Leche and Tres Leches. If you're not quite in the mood for ice cream, Yogen Fruz is a healthier, lighter alternative.  According to Sara, Yogen Fruz is a lot like Red Mango or frozen yogurt in the U.S., but BETTER. Macy's definition: a mix between red mango and a DQ blizzard. Helados Bon and Yogen Fruz conveniently deliver FREE OF CHARGE (be sure to order before 7 o'clock PM). You can also typically catch a guagua right after dinner (if you ask Emily's permission nicely).

EDP: learning inside and outside of the classroom

When we applied for Creighton's Encuentro Dominicano program in the Dominican Republic, we knew that the program strives to connect learning inside and outside of the classroom. Many of us were drawn to the program because we knew we would be able to study and participate in service... we saw opportunities to grow in our academics, our understanding of service, our faith, and our sense of community. One of the ways the program helps us combine these aspects is through the mandatory class -- EDP -- taught by our Academic Director, Mary Bean. This class includes involves weekly service service,  and we study the sociology, history, theology and economics of the Dominican Republic.
EDP gives us a well-rounded view of the Dominican Republic’s history, culture, and development. Our semester is split up into three blocks (with campo immersions separating each block). In our first few weeks, we studied the history  and sociology of the Dominican Republic. In the next section, we studied theology and had many discussions about discernment, vocations, and living according to “agape,” or self-giving love. In our last block of the semester, we analyzed the country’s economics and debated the ideas of Jeffery Sachs and Peter Collier.  This class was extremely helpful in giving us insight into the culture and country in which we are living and introduced each of us to new ideas and concepts. Mary is a great teacher and her own experiences in the DR added depth to the class content.
In addition to the reading we do for class, each week we participate in a discussion online where we post current events from the Dominican Republic and connect these events to what we learn in class. These assignments easily help us draw connections between the Dominican Republic’s history and current issues. These discussion posts spark conversations within our community about current events.
Because Encuentro is a service-learning study abroad program, we take our learning outside of the classroom and work at service sites twice a week. At the beginning of the semester, we were allowed to pick which site we wanted to give time to. These sites include:
·      Hospicio- a nursing home
·      Caritas Licey- a before/after school feeding program in Licey
·      Caritas Cienfuegos- a before/after school program in one of Santiago’s barrios
·      Cienfuegos School- working in classrooms
·      Batey Dos- a preschool in a Haitian community
·      Acción Callejera- organization that works with street boys of Santiago
·      CONANI- a home for people with disabilities
Each day, before we begin EDP, we go around the room and the 19 members of Trece share our highs and lows from the previous day at service. This is an activity that keeps us updated on each other’s experiences, but it also reminds us each to examine both the joyful and difficult moments in our service. Our “highs and lows” also help us keep our service experience present in our academic work, as well. Once we have begun the class with these reflections, we can easily drawn connections between what we read and discuss for class and what we experience in our service sites. 
Another way we connect our studies and experiences is through our weekly assignments for EDP. Each week, we submit a “service-learning journal” in which we write about our experience at service that week – realizations we made, moments that challenged us to grow, or opportunities we saw to live out our faith or Jesuit college values. These papers help us gather our thoughts about our times at service and, looking back, remind us each of our struggles, challenges, growth, and moments of joy.
Mary’s class gives us the knowledge to understand the culture, problems, and society we live in, and encourages us to apply this knowledge to our entire Encuentro experience. Whether we discuss vocational pursuits, economic plans for eliminating extreme poverty, or examine the historical racial tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, EDP is a culminating class that connects our academic lives and our experiences outside of the ILAC classroom. 

 written by: katie garrity & gretchen stulock 
encuentro trece!

Life at ILAC

Bienvenidos a ILAC! This is one of the most beautiful places to live.  While you are here you will be living in a room with up to five other people from your community.  The rooms each have three bunk beds and desks/closets for each person; (plenty of storage areas) along with a spacious private bathroom.  A new feature to enjoy is…A CEILING.  This was recently added to give students more privacy.   While you are here linens will be provided, as well as weekly room-cleaning by your favorite ILAC workers. 

As students, you will enjoy a private library and student lounge area.  The library is stocked full of books that can be used for both academic and pleasure reading purposes.  Students of Encuentro also enjoy a computer lab with computers for use.  Laptops are encouraged due to the limited number of desktops.  While wireless is available, it has a tendency to drop. The lounge is a great place to chat, study, and watch movies. 

ILAC also offers plenty of areas for physical activities.  This includes the Tetanus gym, a basketball/volleyball court, a figure running path, and a large open field area.  New to ILAC are horseshoe and bocce ball courts.  Workers often play volleyball on Wednesday and Friday afternoons.  Students are encouraged to join in.

While at ILAC you will enjoy three meals a day at 8:00, 12:30, and 6:00.  Meals are signaled by the ringing of a dinner bell.  Students should be warned that Dominican food is not Mexican food.  While delicious, there will be no salsa, chips, or guacamole.  The food often reflects what is grown locally, such as batata, yuca, and plantains.  Lunchtime will always consist of a different variation of rice, beans, and meat.  Most meals have bread and fruit offered. The food is delicious.  Don’t be afraid to take seconds. 

This is only a short listing of the many unique attributes of the ILAC center.  Don’t be afraid to explore and the get to know the staff, center, and area around ILAC.  It’s an amazing place and experience that you will get to have while living here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bienvenidos Comunidad 13!

We are so excited to have our newest group, Comunidad 13, down in Santiago with us to embark on a brand new semester of Encuentro Dominicano.  We have new campos to live in, a new Emerging Leadership Program Lideres en Solidaridad, and new corners of the island to explore.  This semester should be great, and we're looking forward to sharing it with you all!