Today, I booked my flight to Santiago in the Dominican Republic. My brother and I will be staying in Esperanza for three weeks in January, spending time with the non-profit Yspaniola and learning about the community. Their mission statement is:

“Yspaniola empowers marginalized batey communities of Dominicans and Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Through university scholarships, leadership training and community development, we provide resources for individuals and bateys to access local networks and rise out of poverty.”

Over the three weeks we will visit Santiago, Dajabón, Batey Libertad, Santo Domingo, and potentially spend time with students from another university who will be in the country on a service learning trip. We will meet people who live there and see some historic places. Cultural tourism in a sense. But also, we hope, real cultural learning. I’m not sure exactly what our specific itinerary is just yet, but that’s okay. I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish but I know I’m not anywhere near ready yet, espero que ser en un pais caundo las personas hablan en Español  me va a hacer pensando en Español. My grammar is all wrong. My brother knows French so maybe he will understand a little bit of Haitian Creole.

I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with my brother. Since we both went away to school we see each other less frequently. He is a deeply thoughtful person and travelling together will be extremely meaningful for both of us.

One of my goals in college was to travel. There is a list of places – Ghana, Greece, Egypt, Puerto Rico, Cuba – where I would like to go, if I had endless time and money. I never had the opportunity to travel for any extended period of time, since I decided to pursue the 5-year MBA program and worked throughout the summers and most winter breaks.

Canoeing in Algonquin Provincial Park Summer 2010

Regardless, I did have some great travel experiences over the past year and a half. Right before I began the MBA program I went to Ontario for a ten-day canoeing/camping trip. That gave me all kinds of perspective on wants, needs, persistence, and general life outlook. That trip was incredible and gave me the grounding I needed to persist in the graduate program.  For a while, I would find myself struggling with coursework and thinking it was the hardest thing but realize, “at least I’ve showered, I’m warm and dry and I’m not carrying sixty pounds on my back, and I certainly don’t have to eat moldy bagels for lunch again!”

I think this pack weighed about half as much as I did. Talk about schlepping.

About a month later two friends and I went to Montreal & Quebec City for five days and explored the streets by foot day and night, staying in hostels and meeting travelers from all over the world, and speaking terrible French.

New and old friends, all English speakers from U.S.A, Germany, UK, Australia on Labor Day in Montreal, CA.

Then last winter, I went to Israel with Taglit Birthright for ten days (see more photos) where I saw so many amazing and eye opening things. We saw many different regions of the country, and although it was great, I felt the trip was a tourist experience and had its own agenda, and I am looking for something more authentic. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot, made some friends, and even made Bat Mitzvah, but I always wondered about the views on the other side of history. I read this article and related to a couple concepts in it – definitely food for thought. Regardless, if you are Jewish and can get accepted to this program, go for it! Just remember there are always different opinions, and history is made by the victors. I’m not really sure what I think about it all, so what I can say conclusively is Israel is a beautiful country with a lot of stories.

Jerusalem, Israel.

It seems like Yspaniola is grassroots and community-based, and this trip will give my brother and I a good look into the real culture of the country or at least of the community where we are staying. Over Thanksgiving, we watched this PBS video about racism in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, part of a series called Black in Latin America as per the recommendation from one of the board members. This documentary opened up to us a new window to life on the island. After watching the video, my brother said, simply, “We have to go.”

My brother and I come from a culture of privilege where going to college is an expectation, literacy is a given, and we always have whatever we want or need. Growing up in northern Westchester gave us access to some of the  best schools and proximity to New York City, surrounded by wealthy neighboring towns. Our education allowed us to get into excellent colleges where we don’t have to worry about finances necessarily. Although I’ve been working since I was a freshmen in high school, I can never really understand any of this “privilege” until I see life from another angle.

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