Published: Sept. 15, 2016

A group of students and faculty pose for a photo in Haiti

While on a Study Abroad trip to the Dominican Republic last spring, sophomore Britney Wilson experienced a number of life-changing “firsts.”

These new experiences have impacted how she now views herself and the world. It was Wilson’s first time out of the country, her first visit to a beach, the first time she was in a location where she didn’t speak the language—and it was the first time she saw small children living in squalor.

Wilson credits the trip organized by the Student Academic Success Center (SASC) and Study Abroad Programs for her epiphany. In the Dominican Republic, students visited a village of Haitian sugar cane cutters living in abject and unrelenting poverty. It was a village of shacks, naked children, no clean running water and trash burning in piles.

“I saw first-hand the conditions small children lived in,” said Wilson. “Although these children didn’t have much, their hearts were big and filled with love. This touched me personally and made me grateful for every little thing I have. The experience has opened up my world.”

In a collaboration between Study Abroad and SASC, 20 students participated in a semester-long SASC writing program, which culminated in the trip.

Such an eye-opening trip to a culture so different from her own inspired Wilson to want more exposure to the complex global society in which we live.

A shift in perspective

Wilson realized that she definitely wants to travel again through Study Abroad. While she’s already been to the Dominican Republic, Wilson intends to return and delve deeper into the culture. To prepare for that return and future trips to other areas of the world, Wilson is studying Spanish.

“I used to be timid and didn’t want to speak up,” said Wilson, who is majoring in psychology and plans to go to law school. “I’ve learned that I definitely want to travel more and learn about other cultures. I feel confident enough to anyone anywhere now.”

Prior to her freshman year at CU Boulder, Wilson was selected to participate in SASC, a multi-cultural academic learning community that serves low income, first-generation and/or underrepresented students on campus. The SASC writing program provides instruction and support for students to develop skills to think critically and express their ideas in any context.

Courses have small class sizes and are integrated within the larger learning community at SASC.

“Our students often do not consider a study abroad experience to be possible for them for a number of reasons,” said Shane Oshetski, a writing instructor with SASC. “With the experience they gain, we hope they will take what they have learned and engage in a longer study abroad experience in their undergraduate career.”

To prepare for the spring break trip, students learned about the history, politics and educational system in the Dominican Republic, including the cultural differences that contribute to the long-standing friction between the Haitians and the Dominicans who live there.

The students also visited the cities and beaches of the island where the Dominicans live in a stark contrast to the segregated lives of the Haitians.

It was through traveling and stepping out of her comfort zone that Wilson was able to expand her world view and came to truly appreciate the diversity of cultures and social situations in a different country, to see the world from a new and transformed perspective.

“This experience has made me value life more,” said Wilson. “It gave me a strong urge to make a change, to help others in need and to prevent inequality and racism.