Breaking free of the bubble
Alternative Spring Break trips gives second-year new perspective
We spend our entire lifetime trying to figure out how to live. As college students, we pull all-nighters to make better grades to get better jobs to make more money to improve our quality of life and “live better.” Your train of thought may not exactly follow those lines, but in general, that’s pretty much how it goes.
Look no further than recent McIntire School of Commerce acceptance statuses for proof. My personal favorite read: “Comm $chool 2015.” That’s not to say that is indicative of all McIntire students or even the majority of them—it’s simply evidence of a larger cultural issue.
It certainly didn’t take my Alternative Spring Break trip last week to realize how backward mentalities could be. Any old student in the College could figure that one out. Still, traveling to Monte Cristi, located on the coast of the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti, brought me into an entire community that got it right, who accepted and embraced their lives unconditionally. The following are a few takeaway lessons, all of which gave me an important thing: perspective.
Life Lesson 1: Live colorfully.
I think I officially fell in love with Monte Cristi when I discovered that it was perfectly acceptable to paint your house bubblegum pink. Walking through town, you feel a little bit like Dorothy discovering Oz—everything is bright and colorful, even the tree trunks.
The paint they use to brighten their poverty-stricken world could not be more reflective of their spirits. They are a loud and joyful people who blast music at full volume through the night, not to avenge annoying neighbors but because they want everyone around them to share their happiness. It’s a beautiful sentiment, even if it does make sleeping through the night impossible. I know we can’t paint Charlottesville orange and blue, and that playing our music at full volume will likely get most of us evicted, but we can still spread love and colorfulness in our own ways.
Life Lesson 2: Watches are overrated and iPhones are irrelevant.
This past week was all about living on Dominican time. Translation: on time means three hours late. The Dominicans are all about priorities, and sticking to a schedule isn’t one of them. If you meet an old friend on the way to work, stopping to have a quality conversation takes precedent over clocking in at exactly 8 a.m.
You will never see a Dominican start a conversation with, “Hey, can you do me a quick favor?” That’s a great way to get the cold shoulder. Conversations are started with important questions. How are you? How’s your family? What about your niece’s boyfriend’s sister? I watched so many Dominicans make time for each other, because they truly realize at the end of the day it’s those unexpected sidewalk conversations that matter.
American culture, meanwhile, is centered on speed and technology. We communicate on our own terms, talking to people and incorporating them into our lives when it’s convenient for us. In the Dominican Republic, that’s no way to live. Make time for those you love face to face, embrace life’s detours and stop living off of a to-do list. What you gain will dwarf any time you lose.
Life Lesson 3: It’s not about me.
This one is exactly what it sounds like. We college students get so wrapped up in ourselves we constantly lose sight of the bigger picture. It can then come as a shock to see the lives of people in developing countries are defined by the sacrifices they make for the survival of their family or community.
Sometimes, however, a little shock is a good thing. It doesn’t matter if you are in the Dominican Republic or in Charlottesville—there are many people out there who have much bigger problems than having to stay in on a Thursday to study for a test. As the end of the year comes rushing toward us, and stress levels go through the roof, it’s important to always put our personal sacrifices into perspective.
I’m already physically removed from my experience in the Dominican Republic and I know with time, as the reality of my life here on Grounds picks up speed, I will only move further and further away mentally. More than anything else, writing this has allowed me to cement the post-trip changes I want to see in my own life before I begin to forget.
But it’s not all about me. Luckily, you don’t have to go to the Dominican Republic to get a wake up call. Even a small town like Charlottesville is full of groups of people who offer entirely new perspectives on the world and, more importantly, really need help.
The bottom line is learning how to live is not something we do alone—it’s something we learn from others. It’s important to challenge your views by surrounding yourself with those completely different from your own. As long as you refuse to venture outside your bubble, you will never even be aware of the worlds you are missing.
Anne-Marie’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.