By UW-L student Megan Kelbel
Some UW-L students went someplace warm for Spring Break, but did much more than soak in the sun.
Archaeology Professor Christine Hippert led 10 undergraduate students in UW-L’s first Alternative Spring Break Trip to the Dominican Republic March 10-18. Their mission: devote time to service projects and further develop their understanding of race.
The students were engaged in the everyday lives of the Dominicans and migrant Haitians who make up Hispaniola. Students learned how tourism has hurt the island and led to deforestation. To help reverse the process, students participated in a reforestation project on an organic farm. They discussed organic practices with Dominican farmers and discovered that by restoring the land, they can restore Dominican families and the country’s economy.
Working alongside people of different cultures, the students developed a greater understanding of cross-cultural topics such as race, says Hippert. They learned Dominicans and Haitians share an African heritage, but they do not identify with each other and their relations are very strained. “This experience made students see race in a new light,” she notes.
Students shared their own experiences with each other and grew closer as a result. “It was an amazing example of cross-cultural understanding,” says Hippert. “Our students learned that some of the challenges experienced by others around the world also resonate for many people within our own borders.” The trip gave students the opportunity to use their knowledge from the classroom and apply it to make these real-world connections, notes Hippert.
It gave students an opportunity to give back to others and develop their own understanding. “Their experience shows the impact that international education and service activities have on students,” says Hippert. She hopes interest in the trip will continue so it can be considered annually.