A Grad Students’Wonderings into Global Affairs & Wanderlust
By: Janine Branch
My name is Janine Branch. I am a citizen diplomat, a change maker, a logistics coordinator, a mentor and coach, a trainer, a event planner, and a storyteller. This summer I traveled to Dominican Republic and Haiti for a experiential learning trip. I knew a long time ago from hearing stories from my grandmother of her worldly travels, that I wanted to travel through unique opportunities to be immersed into a different culture; educating my whole person through experience-based learning.
The primary purpose of my trip was to gain insight into the Haiti culture, with a short stop in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic to gain an understanding into the one island with two with worlds. After the day layover in Dominican Republic, I spent six days traveling to Cap-Haïtien, Port-au-Prince, Plaisance, and Labadee by way of bus, tap tap, and on foot throughout the country.
Traveling to Haiti was a rich, eye-opening, and perspective-building cultural experience. There is an awareness that is produced after an extensive experience (no matter how short), particularly when traveling to the developing world. The conditions of life most Americans get to enjoy—the immaculate streets, the broad array of stores, and the outright comfort of life, in my opinion, are taken for grated. And as another blogger, Tim Urban observes “suddenly the immense wealth of the First World is blatantly apparent everywhere you look and you remember that everyone you know lives like a king without realizing it.”
Despite the contrasts in values, there was a vibrancy and rhythm throughout the streets of Haiti. The beat was fast-paced, a structured chaos. The allure of dust kicking up from underneath tap-taps, piles of trash burning, mothers on the way to the market, the elitist traveling up the mountain to their mansions in Land Rovers, and men hustling to sell bags of water at the hottest part of the day. Even among the rhythm, varying levels of poverty were evident immediately as I crossed the border of Dominican Republic and Haiti. In the major towns and highways of Haiti; everything looks hungry – the mountains, the trash piles, the trees, goats, and people. The degradation of the land was very evident, and reflective of the tumultuous past of razing plantations after the slave revolt. Yet, the citizens of Haiti were proud of the valuables they have in possession. Laziness or taking a break was not an option or a way of thinking. Everyone had a hustle. Whether it was to sell water, shine shoes, suggesting restaurants, grounding cacao into powder, prostitution, or studying for school, etc. Everyone is doing something.
There are immeasurable observations that I made while I was in Haiti. Some of which I get to explore in my Individualized Study course, “Sustainable Development and Aid Effectiveness in Haiti.”Questions such as, why do women not drive? Where are the hospitals? Where does racism stem from and how does it affect global security? Where do donations really go? Why don’t more blacks not travel or volunteer? Nonetheless, I realize there is so much to the world that I do not understand or have yet to learn. I am curious to explore these questions and more through the development of my curriculum.
The conclusion that I made, is that even with my resourcefulness – is that experiential learning is challenging. It is easy enough to travel the globe as a tourist, but it is not always easy to work and spend an extended time abroad so that you get to know another country in a way a tourist never does. While I was in Haiti, I was unable to gain the trust of the community members to due racial, cultural, and gender barriers. Or participate in the thorough volunteer experience that I desired, but I’ve learned how I want to contribute in the future. When I return to Haiti next summer, I would like to become involved in a sustainable development effort a cacao and vanilla processing farm and factory, called DeLaSol Haiti. I would like to fully integrating myself into the community –an opportunity that a typical vacation could never provide. By applying the educational philosophies and practical experiences gained in the work place and during graduate school–I hope to make a contribution to improve the lives of others. I am continually motivated by the responsibility to engage the rest of the world in a mutually beneficial dialogue.