(Still) Living the DReam
In Retrospect: From the Director’s Desk
by Elaine Acacio
In the CIEE SL office, we have a quote wall. One in particular is a Haitian proverb “piti, piti, wazo fé nich li” (little by little a bird builds his nest). This is fitting in many ways. Development and change take time. Learning to balance process and efficiency takes time. But it is also symbolic of dedication and determination.
In these last five years of directing the CIEE Service Learning program, I have taken away three major lessons. One, expectations on students and their academic rigor can be high if and always there is ample support and follow up. The second lesson may sound cliché, but it is the conclusion that you have to love what you do. Community development, collaborative work, and the constant reminders of the harsh realities of unequal distribution of wealth, power, access, and options—independently is challenging to digest, and collectively it can be downright discouraging. But what gets you through these challenges is not idealism, nor altruism, it is passion, drive, and love for what you do and the people you work with. The third lesson I often share with students during their first days in the Dominican Republic while dissecting the words of ‘service’ and social change, is the fact that you can change the world, but you don’t have to be the main (or only) protagonist.
As any educator will say, there is nothing more gratifying than witnessing the ‘click’ in your students: knowing that they are learning to balance task oriented priorities with that of process, that they aren’t romanticizing their experience and yet at the same time, they no longer see the community from a needs-based lens. We have had five years of constant reflection, evaluation and dreaming of how to do things differently to improve the experience for all our constituents—students, community partners, host and sending universities, and for CIEE staff. In study abroad time, we are still in our sophomore year, and while I don’t profess that we have finally conjured up the perfect combinations, the program is now at the point where we are oiling it rather than fixing parts. I am very proud of the loyalty of our community partners. I still remember doing exploratory meetings back in 2006 and explaining the term service learning and our participatory approach with community based research and often getting the response of, “lo que ustedes quieren hacer” (what you guys want to do) and now, fast forwarding 5 years, our community partners tell us what they want in terms of work and ideal student profile they need to get the work done.
Being a small niche program, we’ve had our share of challenges. From low student numbers, to trying to debunk misconceptions that service learning is “fluffy” and not academic enough, to constantly critiquing our footprints in terms of responsible development within communities we work with. Sometimes though, these challenges are what make this program a diamond in the rough. Students are able to get a unique experience of collaborative work and where the true junction of service and learning is fused and responsibility and commitment to the community supersedes the incentive of just making the grade. At the end of four months, students are sometimes in shock of the work they are able to accomplish. For us however, we consider the four months as a training period of sorts for students.
“One of the biggest things I took away from my experience was that community development has parallels in places throughout the world, those in the DR with those in the US, and everywhere else… and what I found was that the best work and most success came from strength and determination within the community. That every place has leaders they just need a platform to lead on.”
“That sustainable development is a process and that you should not become frustrated or disillusioned by what may appear to be very slow progress; the process is what matters and it is essentially what makes development sustainable. You must involve and train the community, and realize and be open to learning from the community and from the process, and not enter the process thinking that you have all the answers, because you never do.”
“Many great lessons - but most importantly the idea that every community, no matter how poor or how rich, no matter the language or race, has an incredible richness of knowledge and experiences that we can use to enrich our own understanding of the world we live in.”
“The program really helped me to clarify my life path and how I would like to make a difference in the world.”
“I learned that success comes from the heart. When we just care about each other because we are all human and in need of love and support, that is when amazing things start to happen.”
“After leaving the experience, I was prepared to do a wide range of things. It has helped me learn a certain level of cultural competency with Latino Caribbean culture, which helped me attain my current job in the US. It has helped me think critically about development, and particularly the role that privilege and culture play in development. It has given me a perspective on poverty that I could not have attained anywhere in the US."
“We have become a hasty society, driven to see results immediately, which has led us to focus on short-term solutions to long-term problems. What I learned that we, as human beings, need to take patience in everything that we do. We need to slow down, figure out long-term solutions, and implement them step-by-step. What we can do immediately, however, is learn. We can constantly be in a state of learning and understanding in order to really, truly, be able to implement change where change is needed.”
“I was inspired to devote my life to community organizing, or at least making the world a better place in a sustainable, tangible way.”
Over the past five years, 52 students have participated in the CIEE Service-Learning Program in Santiago, DR. Where are they now? What are they doing? We put out a survey this past fall semester to gauge the level of impact the program has had on our alumni and to find out more about the bright futures that are in store for them. For the 32 students who replied, the results- described in the rest of this newsletter- demonstrate that our students are very socially aware and remain civically engaged.
When asked, “Did your study abroad experience with SL Santiago play a role in your specific field of employment/ study?”
94% of our alumni said yes. Whether focusing on chemistry, business or international development, it is clear our program has had a large impact on our students’ areas of study and employment after graduation (see right). Our students choose to live with a heightened sense of social responsibility.
Below is a list of a number of organizations and employers of our CIEE SL alumni.
Communities for Change
Marketing for Good
Teach for America
Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra
The French Government Education National
Elder Services of Worcester
Northwestern High School
CIEE Santiago, Service Learning
Sabin World School
Orange County Congregation Community Organization
Horizons for Homeless Children
One Respe Massage Therapy for Wellness Center
Below is a list of academic focuses.
Chemistry, BS Spanish, BA
International Studies: World Politics and Diplomacy - Major Geography - Major, concentration in Geographic Information Systems
Sociology, Bachelor's Degree
BSB International Business, Nonprofit Management BA Spanish Studies
Art and Psychology courses as prerequisites for M.A. in Art Therapy.
International Development and Social Change
Sociology and Spanish
MD, specializing in either family medicine or OB/Gyn
Masters in Community Development and Planning.
Psychology Community and Non Profit Leadership
Post grad program for teaching certification in the state of Texas for grades 4-8 generalist.
Psychology and Spanish, B.A.
B.A. in International Development and Social Change Planned: M.A. in International Development and Social Change
BA in Criminology, Law, and Justice
Master of Public Policy
World Traveler Check-in
Our students have been active travelers since their experience in the CIEE SL program.
Pa’ la República!
Almost half (44%) of our alumni have returned to the Dominican Republic, whether to visit host families, community organizations or friends, to continue traveling or to work in the country. Half of those who returned visited on more than one occasion! It is clear that our students’ engagement has drawn them back to continue fostering relationships created abroad.
Even if alumni did not return to the Dominican Republic, 53% have traveled outside of the United States.
¡Mi casa es su casa!
Though the majority of our alumni live in the United States, 22% are residing internationally. All of these alumni are living in Latin America or the Caribbean. Here are new their homes:
Buenos Aires, Argentina
La Paz, Bolivia
Riviére Salée, Martinique
Santo Domingo, DR
“After returning from the DR through CIEE’s Service Learning program, my friends and I all got together to share pictures and catch up on what we all did while abroad. I always knew that my experience wasn’t the ordinary study abroad experience, but it was then when I realized just how unique my program was. We were completely immersed in our host culture, were provided with the knowledge, skills, and modesty to actually help in a country other than our own, and we came back with new understandings of the world and the meanings of culture and service. We were not just tourists or students who experienced just the surface of Dominican life; we became a part of it.”
The relationships formed between the students and the communities are developed not only as a working relationship but often times into a long-lasting friendship. Alumni have shown that they will go out of their way to stay in contact and for those that do, they often times return to the DR to personally check-in with the organization.
The CIEE service learning program requires students to have studied a minimum of 4
semesters of college Spanish. This is due to the level of immersion into the Dominican communities our student’s are privileged to work with. A large interest of the program was to see how many students continue to speak Spanish on a regular basis. Survey results show that 78% of our alumni continue to speak Spanish on a weekly basis.
The Pontifica Universidad Catholica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) is a private, non-profit university with approximately 10,000 students. Founded in 1962, PUCMM has been ranked by the Intern-American Development Bank (IDB) as the best academic institution in the Dominican Republic.
George Washington University
Johnson C. Smith
St. Catherine University
St. John Fisher College Scripps College
Southern Methodist University
University of Colorado-Boulder
University of Denver
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
University of Richmond
University of Texas-Austin
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Warren Wilson College
Internship placement in a service site corresponding to your academic interests.
Expose yourself to an experiential, collaborative learning model through grassroots and community- based learning.
Engage yourself in promoting community-action and change with through an applied field research and Capstone project.
Be a part of an ongoing and co-curricular rural partnership in organic farming and environmental justice.
Build practical skills such as grant writing, critical analysis & problem solving, and formal speaking and presentations in a target language.
Visit sites of cultural, economic, & social importance (Free Trade Zone, Dajabón binational market, Boca de Nigua & Engombe (sugar mill ruins).
Is this program right for you?
The CIEE Service-Learning program in Santiago, Dominican Republic is designed for students with four or more semesters of college-level Spanish and demonstrated experience in volunteerism or community service. Participants engage in active service while reflecting upon the complexities and challenges facing Santiago’s Cibao region through an approach that integrates academics and urban and rural community-based service. The program is ideal for students interested in grassroots and community-based learning, and those who are thinking about Peace Corps or other service- and community-based opportunities after graduation. The program is also ideal for those wanting to acquire skills and experience conducting fieldwork-based research, and those seeking to substantively improve their Spanish language ability.
SL Track Courses
Community Partnership: Theory and Engagement
Poverty and Development: Dominican Republic Case Study
Social Research Methods
Intermediate Spanish II
Advanced Spanish II
Independent Research and Capstone Project
About Santiago de los Caballeros
Santiago de los Caballeros, the second largest city in the Dominican Republic, is surrounded by mountains in the lush valley of the Cibao region. Places of historical, cultural, and ecological interest are nearby, and it is just a little over an hour’s drive to the Atlantic Coast. Known as La Ciudad Corazón (City of the Heart), Santiago is the commercial and cultural center of the fertile Cibao valley region, housing our host university the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM), ranked the best academic institution of higher learning in the Dominican Republic by the Inter-American Development Bank, in addition to the León Jimenez Cultural Center and cigar factory, and the commercial street of Calle del Sol. Although it is a growing city with a population exceeding 800,000, Santiago retains many features of a small town.
Students work with a partner organization in a variety of development initiatives throughout communities in Santiago. All projects are responsive to community needs. These organizations provide a diverse focus in public health, education, micro-business, legal assistance, social justice, and community organizing. The organizations, which are situated in different sectors of the city, are located within the local public transportation routes.
For the internship component of the program, students work within Acción Callejera, Arte A Mano, Centro de Atención Primaria Juan XXIII, Fundación Cuidado Infantil Dominicano, Niños con una Esperanza, and Oné respe. Please see detailed descriptions of each of these organizations in our website.
If you are thinking about joining Peace Corps or other community-based volunteer /community organizing program upon graduation, then this program is for you! CIEE Santiago SL is also a recognized partner of the Bonner Scholars program.
“The Service Learning program in Santiago challenged my thoughts, my set view of life, and ultimately my person as a whole. One of the most important lessons I learned was that in order to understand the people and the world around you, you must first understand the culture in which you are surrounded. This was facilitated by the CIEE staff and the once-in-a lifetime educational excursions around the country that provide us with more diverse experiences of Dominican life.”
-Neil O’Loughlin, University of Illinois at Chicago