When the looking back begins, I often find it hard to narrow down the nebulous span of a life-changing experience into a specific handful of instances, struggle to make concrete the impact, to pinpoint what truly made the difference and where I changed along the line. When I reflect on my four months in the Dominican Republic, there are so many faces that pop up, so many moments and experiences that have challenged and changed me in big ways and small. There's no denying that I'm leaving a different person than the one that stepped off the plane in August. I've grown up a lot and become more aware of the need in this world and the role I am called to play in doing something about it. I've learned a lot about myself and who I want to be and received so much more than I could ever hope to give. And I wish that I could in words sum up everything I've felt and seen, learned, heard, experienced, and been given. But summaries rarely do the small moments justice, and I firmly believe that journeys are never about the finish lines--they are about every single little step along the way.
This semester has most certainly been a journey. There will be many memories that I cherish. I have loved becoming a family with the four other girls in my group despite our countless differences. Challenging classes and trips around the country opened my eyes to the world in which I was living and gave my experience a depth it would never have had otherwise. My daily routines of service and my life at the ILAC center taught me just as much, if not more than I learned in the classroom. I will never forget my time at my service site, Acción Callejera, spending hours teaching English pronouns and simple verb conjugations to an 18-year-old boy who had never really been taught how to learn. Nor will I forget the life conversations I had at 3:00 a.m. with Antonio and José Luis, the security guards, or the hilarity of our evening volleyball games with the ILAC employees, the mornings spent drinking coffee and gossiping with the kitchen ladies, or the routine adventures we had taking public transportation, squeezing 32 people into 15-passenger guaguas and being the head-turning Americanas wherever we went.
I will forever smile at the memories I made in my campo, Rancho de la Vaca: Waking up at 6:00 a.m. to the sound of roosters and my campo grandma warbling along to her favorite Catholic radio station. Sweeping the street in front of my house to make it look presentable while she brewed me my first cup of coffee for the morning. Teaching my six-year-old sister how to dance like a princess and leaving the house feeling like one every time my mom did my hair in extravagant up-dos. Walking the rolling dirt streets from house to house to visit my growing number of "families," and being invited into every house I passed by for juice, coffee, and conversation. The swelling of blisters and ant bites as I shoveled and picked the roadside trenches for the aqueduct system we helped build for the community, and the pride I felt at watching the whole community come together and the work we were able to accomplish. Swinging little children around on my back, teaching them games and songs, and forgetting that I was supposed to be grown up. The nights dancing merengue and bachata in front of one of the colmados, the smell of tomatoes as we washed our hands and arms in the stream after a morning of picking in the fields with the men, and scrubbing baby pink and blue paint out of my hair after spending two days transforming the plain wooden slats of Ana and Danilo's house into a cute, little doll house on top of the hill. Shared meals, starry skies, card games, coffee picking, frustrations, hugs, lessons, and laughter. So much tangible love, so many tearful goodbyes, and so many pieces of my heart left behind.
Perhaps I had no one moment of impact, but I can say without a doubt that I've been impacted just the same. I've been impacted by the love and generosity of so many people who welcomed me into their lives, homes, and hearts. I've been touched and changed by the suffering, struggles, joys and beauty that I've seen all around me. More than anything it has been the people I've met and the relationships I have formed that have defined my experience here in the D.R. --people who will probably never know how much they've meant to me. My semester here may be coming to a close, but I know that the echos of this experience will continue to ring on, no matter where I go or where my future takes me. Because some impacts are deeper than feeling, deeper than words, and so much deeper than we know. Those are the ones that truly last forever.