They say I have been ruined for life. I will go back to the United States and never be the same. The scary part is, I believe them. I have spent the past semester in the Dominican Republic studying through the Encuentro Dominicano program and it has given me the opportunity to experience things that are far from the life I live in the United States. The fact that I have been changed is not scary in the sense that I do not want to do it, but it is scary in the fact that I will never fully be able to go back and live the same life I lived before coming here. It will be impossible not to make changes in my lifestyle because it would be denying the emotions I have felt when I have seen so many injustices.
I am not saying I needed to come to another country to see the injustices; I was just lucky enough to have been a part of a program that made a conscious effort to educate its students on many of the existing issues in our world today. There are so many simple life choices we make each day that can make a difference in the lives of others. It has made me aware of the amount of time I spend in the shower while others do not have running water. It has made me aware that maybe the difference in me spending that extra money on my clothing item means a family is paid a just wage. It has made me aware that having citizenship in the country I live in has opened up a world of opportunities.
This experience has changed me, and I could easily argue it was for the better. I have formed relationships that have made the statistics personal. The numbers I used to hear about how many people’s lives change when I buy fair trade, those numbers are now the faces of the people I met and the personal stories I have heard. Beyond becoming aware of ways in which simple choices can make a positive impact, I have seen and felt a deep sense of love.
Love, not in the romantic sense, but in the selfless gift, the no strings attached, the pure giving and caring for others. I have been touched by this love. Whether it was through the hospitality my family in the campo showed me, or in the love I felt for the children I worked with at Caritas en Licey, the love transformed me. I have learned what it means to lead with love and the vulnerability that comes with it. I have watched Sister Carmen (my service site director) give her whole self to helping the children at Caritas and the impact she makes with the love she shares. Love is powerful. Showing love and leading with love can change lives. I am now more aware than ever that I am to live a life than can make a positive impact, and this past semester has helped shape me into a person who can really do that.