I have been stateside for about 5 days now.
I have been trying to wrap my head around everything that I have gained, lost, experienced, and taken.
I’m now the author of a 54 page book (in Spanish) of my research investigation. There are copies in both the US and Dominican Republic.
The best part about this though? I carried around a notebook everyday in Cienfuegos to write down observations and encounters, but in between every note and data point there are drawings and notes from my kiddos in the classroom. This is what makes this real. You can write a fancy book, but in reality, my book will eventually be in a garage sale. Even so, nothing will ever compare with the memories and moments I had with people in my community no matter how big or small.
I’ve grown in heart, soul, mind, and strength in more ways than I could ever count. I feel different and I think differently. I knew I was going to change, but I didn’t know it was going to be like this.
I also didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to say goodbye to my study abroad group. It was like we were all on a team. Fact of the matter is we really couldn’t escape each other. We were there through the good, the bad, the ugly. (The tears, the piropos, the keys falling down the grate in the street, the sitting for hours in the printing shop for our research books, the countless hours overpowering the study room, the hurry up and wait…basically the bend and stretch that was this semester.) We will never be together like we were ever again, and that was a really hard realization to come to.
Tom and I had our last panaful date in the Miami airport together before we said our goodbyes and headed back to our little pockets of the world. I got on the plane from Miami to Charlotte and ended up sitting next to Kathy and Ramona. (Ok…this needs a little back story. Tom and Jess had their own alternate personalities this semester named Kathy and Ramona. I can’t even begin to tell you how entertaining this was and how ridiculous our walks home from the university were!) Now here I was, sitting next to a couple that was real life Kathy and Ramona that not only made me laugh and made the flight SO great, but they literally embodied a personality trait from every single person in my study abroad group. (I had plenty of time to analyze this, and it was so entertaining to make tallies in my head.) It was a really cool moment, and one I’ll take with me for a while.
After we (FINALLY) finished our research, we all felt like a mixture of this:
If you want my biggest takeaway from the semester, I can’t give it to you. If you want the semester in one word: grace. I have never felt more unworthy and important than I did here. I was humbled and empowered, struck down and built up, but more than anything I saw what it meant to have nothing (spiritually, emotionally, or physically drained) and see people fight to the finish with help and grace from everyone around them. It didn’t matter where you were from, what you were doing or what you were going to do later. We are all walking this life together, regardless of your past or future. The fact of the matter is that life is not fair, and some people were given more than others and some people have more opportunities than others. Grace lets us be part of that reality together. And everybody needs it, regardless of where you come from.
The last week I was at my host family’s house, I had to answer the door for a package. They wanted me to sign for it, and I told them that I wasn’t part of the family and I really didn’t think it was a good idea. The post man told me, “No, no, no, everybody is family here.”
I’m going to miss my Dominican family, but I also know that there are so many more adventures ahead. I have so many treasures that I will never forget from these last four months, and I look forward to seeing what the next steps will be.
See you later, DR. It has been a pleasure.