Reflections on the Dominican Republic
by Janie Serna
When I applied for the study abroad trip to the Dominican Republic to learn about higher education, I did not think it would challenge me in the ways it did. My intention for choosing this program was to see education from a lens outside of the United States and immerse myself in a culture where I would be forced to stretch my thinking about who I am outside of my social sphere in the U.S. In the Dominican Republic, I was forced to recognize my own power and privilege as an American, something I often overlook as a minority in the United States. I got to see and experience power structures involving race and ethnicity in education and social settings alike.
One of the most impactful moments for me was learning about Accion Callejera and their pedagogy surrounding helping children get off the streets and having access to education. Their play-based learning focuses on teaching the child to regulate emotions and how to build connections with one another while using formative assessment throughout the day to adjust teaching styles. When someone in the group posed a question asking for tips to help with the language barrier when we would be helping the children who only spoke Spanish or Creole, the directors' face lit up and explained that children don't communicate with language but with emotion. As someone studying early childhood education, this heavily resonated with me because I work with children every day, most of whom have language barriers. Being placed in a country where I was the visitor and even my own Mexican Spanish dialect was difficult for the children to understand, they were patient, warm, and accommodating to me despite the hardships they face every day in the streets, and that speaks volumes about privilege and power structures. Even entering the country, I noticed many people speak English and many signs in restaurants, streets, and stores are labeled in Spanish and English. It feels as if the world constantly accommodates Americans, but when people, especially children, come to the U.S., we expect them to accommodate us. This trip helped me acknowledge these emotions, tackle them in constructive ways, and reflect on the kind of educator I want to be for my students.