Going To The Dominican Republic On A Mission Trip Taught Me More Than Words Can Explain

Going To The Dominican Republic On A Mission Trip Taught Me More Than Words Can Explain

Overall this trip taught me to love others and live out a Matthew 25:35-36 life.


"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'"

- Matthew 25:35-36

A little piece of my heart will always be in the Dominican Republic. Although this was not my first mission trip, I still learned a lot. This trip taught me to put others first. This trip taught me to see the good in others. This trip taught me to love others. This trip taught me that you don't need money to be happy. This trip taught me to be okay with what I have in my life. This trip taught me that I have a purpose in life. This trip taught me that a smile can go a long way.

I learned so much about myself in the week that I was away. God has called us to love others. I barely can speak Spanish so the language barrier was a real problem but we made it work. A smile can go a long way. A smile puts everyone at ease and automatically makes everyone feel comfortable.

I accomplished a lot in the week that I was in the Dominican Republic. I could see God doing work there and it made it that much harder to leave at the end of the week. We visited an orphanage, a juvenile detention center, and a special needs home. We went into peoples homes to pray for them and give them food and water filters. We led a vacation bible school for over 200 children in a local church.

We walked into people's homes that were made from pieces of metal and wood and had sheets hanging up to separate the rooms. But the house was probably 100 square feet that on average 5 people were living in. This made me feel extremely grateful for what I do have. But seeing everyone's welcoming smiles as we entered their homes made me realize that they are content. Hearing their stories truly broke my heart but again I was able to feel so grateful for the life I have.

The things we take for granted from running water to filtered water, being able to use the tap water to brush your teeth, and being able to throw toilet paper down the toilet. All of these are simple things to us in America and things that people don't even think about.

Overall this trip taught me to love others and live out a Matthew 25:35-36 life.

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16 Signs You Live In Latin America

There's a chicken in my kitchen...and it's alive.

I still remember the first time I had to throw my used toilet paper in the trash. I was ten years old, traveling with my parents in Latin America and very confused as to why my toilet back home in the United States would work any differently than the toilet I was staring at 2,000 miles away. It looked the same, but if I flushed paper down this toilet, the pipes would certainly reject my Gringa ignorance, even if the locals wouldn’t.

Since then, I have studied abroad twice in Latin America, once in Central America (Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panamá) with the Traveling School and again this summer in Quiquinche, Ecuador.

During both of these experiences I have kept lists of the differences between my two homes and the value that these two very different lifestyles add to my life. If you ever plan on living in Latin America, specifically rural Ecuador, here are a few things you'll have to get used to.

1. Yes, you do have to throw your used toilet paper in the trash.

Most of the pipes in Latin America were not built to handle anything but human waste and you will clog the toilet. Trust me, if you live here, we’ve all done it at least once.

2. Your house probably doesn’t have hot water.

My house doesn’t even have an indoor sink, and that’s pretty normal in my community. This means you’ll learn to take nice “refreshing” bucket showers, which you can read about more extensively in my other article “A Bucket of Privilege."

3. You will have to learn how to light a gas stove if you have any hopes of cooking.

Electric stoves are few and far between. It might be scary the first time, but I promise, you’ll be burning your fingers and dropping matches on the floor like me in no time! Pro tip: don’t turn the gas all the way on to light the stove. If all else fails and you’ve used more 3 matches without success, beg the host sibling that is least likely to talk about your incapacity for all of dinner for help.

4. Why would you ever put fish in the fridge when you could just throw a lid on it and heat it up the next morning?

I’m telling you, we’re doing too much work taking the fish that extra step to the fridge. In Latin America, your family may or may not have a fridge. If you do have a fridge, you may find that its contents look very different than your fridge in the US. The only things that make it to the fridge in my house are fruit and vegetables that don’t technically have to be refrigerated and occasionally meat. A general rule: once anything is cooked, it doesn’t leave the gigantic pot on the stove. If you start putting it in Tupperware, your family will give you quizzical looks and you’ll probably never see that container again.

5. Where’s the dishwasher?

Say hello to your friends Lava and the hose out back. You will spend lots of quality time with them washing dishes. This is probably one of the only things your host family trusts you to do without the assistance of your ten-year-old brother and sister, so get comfortable.

6. If you liked that, get ready for a whole new washing challenge. Meet the Pila.

Simultaneously your best friend and worst enemy, you will find her next to the bucket where you wash your face and your other pal, the hose. A Pila is basically giant cement rock table where you will attempt to rub your clothes clean, while your family watches and “tries” not to laugh at your poor technique. Make sure to use plenty of Lava Todo, but make sure you wash all of the soap out or the mosquitoes will not leave you alone. (Son of a bicho!)

7. Dryer? Heck no. I hope that you picked a nice sunny day to wash your clothes.

If it’s rainy season, I’m sorry, but you’re screwed and will inevitably wear dirty or wet clothes for a few days while you wait for a few hours of sunshine to dry the rest of your clothes. Make sure to use plenty of clothespins so that you don’t find your dog ripping up your underwear later that night! You will find that clean underwear is almost as precious as clean water. 10 points to anyone who can get their clothes to look as clean as my mom's camisas below.

8. If you’re really lucky, you might sleep on a mattress.

If not, you’ll get used to that grass matt. Make sure to say goodnight to all of the bug friends you share your bed with! Fleas, mosquitoes and spiders, oh my! (I'd get rid of the fleas, but they make up one of the strongest friend bases I've ever had.)

9. In most families, you can forget about the Internet.

Although one of my host families has Internet, this is not common where I live in rural Ecuador. As a general rule, you should not count on Internet in Latin America to be consistent enough to turn in important things like, say, this Odyssey article for example. Goodbye Netflix!

10. Don’t pet that dog.

Sorry, but petting dogs is a surefire way to get fleas and here, dogs are not just pets. They serve a purpose. They are their family’s personal security guard and have been trained to be aggressive towards strangers. They are usually fed scraps and strictly disciplined if they take more than that. These dogs' families may love them, but they are not solely pets so don’t treat them like ones.

11. “Is she married???” my grandparents asked my parents in Kichwa, the indigenous language spoken around Otavalo.

My grandparents couldn’t speak Spanish to ask me directly, but it was still their first question upon meeting this 19-year-old blonde living with their son. When I answered that I was single, my family immediately came up with a solution for me. “Let us give you one of our children! Take Daky!” they half-joked, offering me my 10-year-old brother.

It is normal for people, specifically women, to marry young, especially in rural indigenous communities like mine. 18to 23 is the typical “marriage window,” and if you make it past that, your family will have no trouble setting you up with everyone they see. I talked to my mom’s 20-year-old brother for two minutes and my one friend from the U.S. had to come over to inform me that the whole town of Yambiro decided he was my boyfriend. “¿Tienes novio?” “¿Es tú novio?” “¿Dónde está tú novio? The questions that follow me and every other girl my age at social gatherings.

12. Because they get married younger, women also have children at younger ages.

Here, you will get used to the sight of women your age carrying around babies in sabánas on their backs. Raising children is also a job for the extended family. Everyone from the mother’s mom to her youngest brother will help out, taking turns wearing the sabanás. Having helped my oldest sister entertain her three-month old daughter the past month, I have more faith in the parenting skills of my youngest sibling, Daky, picured below, than my own.

13. There’s a chicken in my kitchen… and it’s alive.

Every morning during breakfast, I make at least one new chicken friend. Doors are always open and the idea of “clean” is a very vague one strictly reserved for spotless white camisas.

14. Cows on walks?

Each morning while climbing the mountain of stairs up the hill to my school, my neighbor (pictured below), nudges her cow out in front of me and “forces” me to rest. (¡Qué pena!) Cows are some of the most valuable things you can own and are taken good care of, going on daily walks to find the best grass to feed on all day. Cows and livestock are the first things that families sell if they face financial trouble, exchanging their animals for cash fast at the weekly animal market in Otavalo. For this reason, cows are treated with much more respect than cows in the states. Their value is recognized and cherished here.

15. Food and quantity.

This is more specific to my community of Quiquinche, but may apply to other indigenous communities near Otavalo. Get ready for lots of servings of caldo de gallina, tostado, rice, potatoes, noodles, rice and more potatoes. Thank god Ecuador has ají to flavor the excessive amount of carbs I eat each day. Expect your family to keep feeding you until you say “Ya no puedo advancer.”, which literally translates to. “I cannot continue.”

Be careful about the expectations you set your first few weeks trying to stuff yourself to make your mom happy. Once she knows how much you are able to eat, there is no going back. “¿Sí advances un poquito más, McK?" my mom says to me every day while piling on five more cups of potatoes and rice onto my plate.

I've learned "poquito" is a relative term and does not at all mean a little bit in terms of food. Not surprisingly, ”Hay más tortilla.” are the three words my Guatemalan mom said to me the most, cementing my belief that my Latin American moms know no boundaries to my stomach.

16. New foods!

Get ready for lots of soup. If you haven’t eaten caldo de gallina for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at least once all in the same day, you’re clearly not living. If you’re lucky, you might get to try some of these Ecuadorian favorites as well: conejo (rabbit), cuy (guinea pig), pie de gallina (chicken feet) or cuero (pig skin).

Good luck picking up everything with your spoon because that is the only utensil you will be eating with for awhile. It is a special honor to be served guinea pig so treat this delicacy with respect. I’ve eaten both rabbit and guinea pig and liked both. Don’t judge it before you try it. My siblings were horrified that in some parts of the states they eat deer and are simultaneously baffled by the fact that we keep rabbits and guinea pigs as pets.

Cover Image Credit: Oskar Panamas

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Communication Is The Key To Cultivating Social Change

Dr. Yea-Wen Chen at San Diego State University offers her priceless, profound insight

"Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don't listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don't listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what's behind the words. "--Roy T Bennett

After a brief interview with my professor Dr. Yea-Wen Chen, an Associate Professor of Intercultural Communication at San Diego State University, I was left feeling inspired and encouraged about the general state of the world. In a society that holds so many predetermined expectations, the secret to moving forward is not expecting an immediate reward from your struggle. We talked about how the youth of America is facing a diminishing capacity to inspire the changes we want to see in the world. We pondered how to define this disconnect between beliefs translating to action. Perhaps the youth's increased technology poses new threats to communication and social hierarchy? Or maybe an increasing distrust in our political leaders? We pondering several causes, but all of them ultimately led to the same question:

How will we communicate differences for social change?

Dr. Chen and I danced around this question and came to a conclusion: the answer to this is a variety of actions, none of which are completely concrete.

First, we can introduce the idea of education. We trust the idea of higher education to teach us how to heighten our communication skills, but is this the correct expectation to have given that 85% of the jobs we are training for have not even been created yet? Dr. Chen poses a qualified affirmation to this question, agreeing that focusing on the technology and logistics of the education is the wrong way to go about it. With so many advancements being made, there will always be more to learn. The key is to focus on the things that won't adapt, the factors that make us innately human. Qualities like empathy, curiosity, and the ability to internalize and process important information are what we need to truly address the fairly uncomfortable issues of our generation such as mass shootings or global warming.

Touching back on expectations, Dr. Chen references that when people or situations meet our standards or expectations we are not fulfilled, but rather only when these expectations are exceeded do we begin to feel satisfaction. Pulling inspiration from black feminist Bell Hooks, Dr. Chen is inspired by the idea that we must see/identify the other in ourselves, as well as ourselves in the other, for effective communication.

Without actively practicing empathetic thought, there is no way that communication between people can be effective. With increased diversity and globalization, new problems arise all the time. If we can allow ourselves to feel deep connection that reveals our truly human links, it will help us deal with the divide of "us and them" that historically hasn't been completely distinguished.

In a society where listening is subordinate to using our voice, Americans need to learn to take a step back sometimes. By thinking to ourselves," why do I need to understand that?", or "what is the true importance of this issue?" we can cultivate a real conversation about the future. "It all comes down to personal experience", says Dr. Chen. And after all, life is too short to live it all ourselves, so sharing experiences can make all the difference.

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