Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Day One in the Dominican Republic

I, along with my thirteen travel partners, were rudely awakened by the sound of thirteen phone alarms going off simultaneously at three-thirty in the morning. We were staying at the Wesleyan Foundation on the campus of The University of Tennessee and we were determined to not sleep through our seven am flight to Miami. Although, we may have only received a solid four hour nap the night before, we all woke up bright-eyed and wide awake. After all, it was Spring Break and we were heading to the Dominican Republic.

We arrived at the Knoxville airport around 5 am and successfully made it through security. Although it was early we were destined to start having fun right away. Naturally, after breakfast one feels the natural urge to go empty his/hers bladder. Poor Gabby, the student coordinator of our trip, was the first. As she entered the bathroom, the rest of us took our positions. We waited patiently for her to exit because when she did we were going to stand up and give her a grand applause for completing her morning duty. We had several false alarms, but eventually she exited the bathroom. In one simultaneous motion, we stood up and began to clap and cheer for her successful bowl movement. Greatly embarrassed and with the whole airport watching her, Gabby covered her face as she walked over to us and collapsed on the floor. A great start to a great day.

Though it often feels like eternity before you arrive at your final destination it wasn't long before we were on the flight to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. On this flight I had some time to think about my upcoming week. Including some initial fears I had about my first mission trip abroad. There were six main concerns I had. The first of which, naturally, was food. As a genuine Southern Appalachian boy, I had to question whether I could survive a whole week without the southern fried goodness I was use to. In addition, rumor had it that in the Dominican Republic rice and beans was an every meal staple. Not too reassuring since I do not care for beans and only like rice when I hit the mood for it.

My second fear? Housing. After all, we were going to a developing country where we ourselves were going to be working on housing. In my mind I had constructed the worst possible scenario. One room shacks, mats to sleep on, open windows, outdoor toilets, etc. We were told before we left that would need bug-spray for night and to not expect a remotely warm shower. In addition, we were not allowed to drink the water due to bacteria that would turn our stomachs ‘inside out’. So, we even had to brush our teeth with bottled water.

The next fear I had was transportation. Our final location was going to be outside of Puerta Plata, which itself is a four hour drive from Santo Dominigo. Stories I heard from last year’s mission trip included a bumpy ride, with "bar-like" seats, and no air conditioning. I will tell you now, that we as Americans often take for granite the simple things in life.
The next three fears all had to do with my relationship toward the people I would be helping. I worried that the language barrier would be too hard to overcome. I worried that their poverty would be so extreme that I would not know how to comprehend it. Finally, I questioned my ability to be helpful, whether it be leading devotions in the VBS we ran or the construction component of the housing. 

Before long, however, I had to face my fears. First up, the bus. To my pleasant surprise the bus was air-conditioned with padded seats and the road we traveled on---all paved. As a result, it allowed many of us to catch up on the sleep we had deprived ourselves from the night before. Needless to say, one cannot sleep comfortably on a bus for four hours. So after awhile, Jimmy-the Director of Housing at Emory  & Henry College-brought out his IPad and begin to blast the Joyful Noise soundtrack. We may have sounded hideous, but Jimmy and I was singing along with every word being sung by the great Dolly  Parton.

Around 8 pm that night we found ourselves pulling into the community that we would call home for the next week. The street was paved, but houses that were half-built surrounded us on all sides as stray and beaten dogs hid from us in the bushes. We pulled up to the Bishop's house and found ourselves to a grand welcoming by the community, complete with a meal of course. And could you guess what they served us? Fried Chicken. At that moment, I fell in love with the Dominican Republic.

  After dinner, we were shown by the missionaries to our housing. The men, all four of us, were sleeping at a separate location then the girls. We were staying with the director of the Christian school in apartments that he had built on the bottom floor. Although it was considered an "apartment" it was not the typical American apartment by far. It had a total of three rooms, all of which would fit into my dorm room at college. One room had a small kitchenette. The next room had two beds and the last room had a shower, sink, and toilet. The "shower" was merely a PVC pipe sticking out of the wall. But after 18+ hour day of traveling, that apartment seemed like a mansion and that cold shower felt like a spa treatment at the Ritz-Carlton.

Come back tomorrow and hopefully I will have some pictures integrated into my story!

Dominican Republic Blog To Be Post at 4 pm today!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Zealand in Images

Below I have uploaded just a few pictures of the beautiful New Zealand Landscape! Enjoy! More hopefully to come!

Studying Abroad in New Zealand--Guest Blogger Lillian Sawyer

New Zealand.  Home to hobbits, kiwis, and HBO’s Flight of the Concords.  Just looking at their calendar will have you pining for a vacation, and I was self loving enough to indulge in that vacation.  There was a fa├žade that I would be studying for five months but that is hardly the truth.

When people ask me about New Zealand I describe it as a painting.  Almost every place you go the landscape is unbelievably gorgeous.  I’ve looked out at miles of endless hills and thought, “This can’t be real.”  When I look at my pictures I wonder if someone sneaked onto my computer and photoshopped them.  It’s truly breathtaking and sometimes even I can’t believe it.

More specifically I think New Zealand is a surrealist painting.  Not only is the landscape “unreal” but so is everything else.  Let’s be honest here, and I hope I don’t offend any kiwis, New Zealand doesn’t exactly hold any major international importance.  They’re a peaceful, tree-hugging, and sheep shearing bunch of folks.  I’ve looked at plenty of maps where the makers forget to add the islands at all.  Therefore, when I was in New Zealand it felt like a break from the harsh reality and constant worries I feel in the US.  My world was completely tweaked - in a good way.

Even parliament seemed like the wacky imagination of an artist.  Who would have thought that grown men and women would behave like a bunch of kindergardeners fighting over the last cookie.  There was even name calling, forced apologies, and threats to remove the politicians from the building.  In the end, I can’t really take New Zealand seriously but living in a painting is a great experience especially when studying abroad. 

The lack of reality in New Zealand let me ease up on my usual tenaciousness.  I consistently got more than five hours of sleep every night of the week; that hasn’t happened to me for the last three years.  I was almost always relaxed and planning my next adventure.

Through my studying abroad program I went wine tasting (twice!), ATVing, white water rafting, ate tons of great food, and went to a Maori meeting house.  With other friends I went canoeing for three days straight barely seeing a dozen people total; it was a true scene out of Lord of the Rings or Jurassic Park.  I rented cars and drove across the islands.  I saw wild and rare penguins while kayaking.  I went on four hour tramps (hikes) and slept in tiny huts.  I saw the gaseous Milky Way Galaxy from a totally different perspective.  I got a sore fanny from biking around a lake. 

Most memorable of all, I got a flat tire and had to wait nearly five hours for rescue.  But, with a good friend at my side and the car conveniently breaking down next to a lake with a picnic table, I have no complaints.

I admit studying abroad didn’t consist of a whole lot of academic studying; it also set me a little behind towards my biochemistry major (Yay science!).  However, what I got from New Zealand was a whole new perspective about life.  Before going to New Zealand I had never once thought of myself as patriotic.  Now, due to simply living abroad and taking an International Politics class I’m actually proud to be an American.

My suggestion for those of you considering studying abroad is just do it!  It may not be for those stubborn students who are completely stuck in their ways and hate change, but for the majority of people it will be a major turning point in your life.  Go into a new country with a sense of adventure and openness to other cultures...oh, and don’t forget to have fun!

Lillian Sawyer hails from Oregon. You can read more of her work at her blog: