In March, 10 students and three staff members arrived in Barahona, Dominican Republic, as part of an Oiler Serving Abroad (OSA) service and culture trip.
In 2013, a pilot group of UF representatives visited Barahona to establish a partnership with organizations there. “The idea is to keep going to the same place so that we can have a sustained impact,” said Chris Sippel, director of international education. “We want to help them and also help our students understand the Dominican culture better.”
Sippel, Ben Dolan, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, and Rachel Walter, director of housing, were the UF faculty and staff members who accompanied the students.
OSA is a student-led initiative, started by four students in the fall of 2012. They had a vision to create opportunities for students from diverse academic disciplines to serve others while gaining cross-cultural experience.
That vision was realized this year as the inaugural group of OSA students – from a variety of majors – completed projects together in a new culture. The group stayed in a guest house at an orphanage, and projects included painting a basketball court and a mural, and helping to build a structure in a community near Barahona.
“In my personal opinion, working together and setting aside focusing on their majors let them learn so much more about themselves as individuals, leaders, and even about their majors,” said pharmacy major and resident director Dallas Smith, an OSA team leader. “These individuals were immersed in a completely unfamiliar culture and yet managed to learn so much about themselves and gain life skills that will mold them into the people they want to become as they progress through college and then even whatever futures await them.”
When the group was working at the orphanage, the 21 boys who lived there were eager to help. Many of them worked alongside the UF group at their facility. They even accompanied the group to the beach for a day of fun activity.
“It was so overwhelming to see two very different cultures interact they way they did,” said Smith, who was touched by his interaction with one of the orphans in particular. “For some reason, Frederik and I managed to swim out and away from everyone else and just talked. Talking doesn’t seem like a huge deal to most people, but remember, I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish, and he hardly spoke any English. However, we managed to get past those barriers and were able to really connect … it was so rewarding to talk to Frederik about how constant God was in all parts of the world.”
In addition to spending time at the orphanage, the group also had the opportunity to get to know students at a local private university, slightly smaller than The University of Findlay. UF students attended their Ash Wednesday service, toured the school, played a game of basketball and were invited to dinner and dancing. The university also arranged tours of two local hospitals, which was especially beneficial to the health professions majors who were there.
The rector of the university in the Dominican Republic already has visited Findlay and established a Memorandum of Understanding to promote further exchanges between the institutions.
OSA is planning a second trip to Barahona in May. Students must apply and be accepted to participate. The cost is $1,600 per student, which includes travel costs, food and lodging.
Student leaders help to plan and organize each OSA service and culture experience, in partnership with the offices of Campus Compact, intercultural student services and international education. “It’s a great collaboration between students, faculty and staff – and different offices on campus – and that’s a lot of the program’s strength,” said Sippel.
“I’ve gained knowledge about flexibility, adapting, Dominican culture and communication,” said occupational therapy major and resident director Jenise Berning, who also is an OSA team leader. “I’ve been able to directly relate some of my experiences to skills I will use in my future profession, such as being client-centered and culturally aware. I’ve also enjoyed the many friendships I’ve made through this trip with others from another country as well as with fellow Oilers. With such a diverse group from Findlay attending the trip, I think OSA allows silos to be broken down and Oilers of many different disciplines to connect in a very meaningful way through service abroad.”
Faculty, staff and students interested in applying to go on an OSA trip should contact Dallas Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.