For three weeks I was in the Dominican Republic. Yes, this was my first time in a Spanish-speaking country, so everything moved way too fast for me and my reaction to everything was very slow. If someone asked me if I spoke Spanish, my response was “Estoy aprendiendo.” That is, I am learning. Soon, I found that statement to apply to not only my Spanish, but to practically every other aspect of my life as well.
I am learning. I am learning about everything. I am not only learning how to build latrines or how to apply the Spanish I have learned in the classroom to the real world. I am learning to work with, communicate with, and enjoy just being submerged in a different culture. I am learning to enjoy just being with other people. I am learning to value companionship and friendship. I am learning to love all that life has to offer. I am learning to appreciate the people and the things that before I had taken for granted. I am learning the true worth and value of everything, as opposed to what might be printed on a price tag. More importantly, I am learning that you can’t always attach a numerical value to the things that are truly important.
I am learning that happiness is what you make it out to be. I am learning the importance of a look, a glance, a smile, and even an embrace. I am not only learning how much those actions can mean to someone else, but I am finding out how much they mean to me.
I am learning to communicate with others, when we are both at a loss for words. I am learning the importance and the need just to be able to connect with someone. I am learning about humanity. As I am immersed in someone else’s culture, I am not only learning about their way of life, but that they are sharing a part of themselves with me. And so in return, I am learning how to give back, and share a part of myself with them. I am learning that building latrines is not only the first step in improving one’s standard of living, but it also is a way to reach out to help others and to share. I am learning how to share – not just material objects but language, ideas, culture, and friendship.
I am learning what it means to be humble; humble in the sense that I am an ignorant American girl, or if you prefer the term, gringa, and there I was, thinking how I could help those people living in those communities. However, I am learning that they were the ones helping me in more ways than I could have ever helped them.
Sure, I helped them in terms of mixing cement and constructing latrines, but the people of El Fondo, Constanza, and my friends in Santo Domingo taught and gave me something I could not have obtained or learned myself. They taught me how to open my eyes; they were the ones who improved my standard of living. They showed me how much more to life there really is: the meaning of a smile, a look, a handshake, and an embrace.
Their generosity astounded me.
There I was, a gringa, living a sheltered life with so many things, if not everything, handed to me on a silver platter, and there they were living in those communities with barely enough money to buy a pair of shoes for their feet, and they were the ones constantly offering me all that they could. They would give me shade when I was hot, water when I was thirsty, a meal when I was hungry, and they would give up their seat for me when they saw that I needed to rest.
They taught me what true generosity really is. I only gave them my time and labor, but in return, I received more than I could have ever asked for. They not only taught me, but showed me, how to open my eyes and my heart. They gave me my humanity.
Sami Boyle is a local student who graduated from Carbondale’s Colorado Rocky Mountain School this Saturday, June 1. She spent three weeks working for Food for the Hungry in the Dominican Republic for her senior apprenticeship. This is a transcript of a speech she addressed the school to share what she’d learned.
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