VISIONS alum Bree Westcott, was recently featured on Glitter Magazine’s website about her VISIONS Dominican Republic experience. Here’s the interview:
Bree Westcott spent a summer in the Dominican Republic (DR) with VISIONS Service Adventures, an organization that offers community service based summer programs around the world. On this month-long Spanish Immersion program, she lived with a group in a vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of the lively (and loud, as she explains below!) city of Santo Domingo. Now in her senior year of high school, as she approaches the start of a gap year program before heading to college, Bree describes the DR experience and how it shaped her.
GLITTER: Was this your first major travel experience?
BREE: The DR was my first experience being truly immersed in another culture. I had been out of the country before, but this was on a whole other level, especially because of the DR’s economic standing. But that’s what I loved so much about it; I loved being able to experience things that only locals would typically be able to.
GLITTER: What was it like in the DR?
BREE: We stayed in a rural community outside of Santo Domingo. Girls in one house, boys in one across the street. Local children would greet us every morning and night as we made our way to and from our volunteer site. It was amazing.
We did most of our volunteer work in a very poor village about a 15 minutes ‘gua-gua,’ or bus ride, away. We ran a summer camp, taught English, helped finish building a local community center, and painted a mural. If we weren’t on-site, we were either out adventuring at beaches and other cool things the DR offers, or at home exploring our own community and getting to know our neighbors and peers. It was amazing; I loved every second of it.
GLITTER: What stands out most?
BREE: I fell in the love with the culture and people. Everywhere you go, and whenever you go, it’s loud! Either music will be playing, or trucks full of plantains will be storming by with super loud megaphones asking you to buy some, or the sounds of talking locals will fill your ears. I grew to adore this, and the never-ending, unfamiliar sounds became comforting and continuously interesting.
The people, both those from the DR and VISIONS participants were amazing. The locals were open and willing to let us learn about their culture, and vice versa. They were so kind and so comfortable with what they had, even if they had far less than we were used to. Their happiness was contagious, and it was what made the DR so special.
The amount of poverty the DR faces is very prevalent, but they seem to be so happy with everything they have. It was also so cool how interested they were in us. It was fun to share our culture with people who maybe wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about it if we weren’t there.
GLITTER: What was the group experience like?
BREE: It was so cool that some VISIONS participants were from outside the U.S. We got to learn more about other cultures as well, and we all became so close so fast. It was awesome. We all felt comfortable together by around the third day. I still keep in contact with lots of them and have visited some.
GLITTER: How did it affect your Spanish language skills?
BREE: Part of the reason I chose the DR was because of the Spanish immersion. Up to that point, I had studied Spanish for three years in school. When I got there, it wasn’t really a surprise for me to find out that I couldn’t understand a lot, nor could I speak a lot. However, the DR allowed me to improve my listening skills, and the longer I was there, the more I started to understand. With the help of the leaders and fellow participants, the initial fear I had of speaking in Spanish eventually disappeared. I learned that I had a long way to go to be fluent, but it motivated me to continue my Spanish studies.
GLITTER: What was it like spending time in a city like Santo Domingo?
BREE: It was eye opening. It is an old city stuck in a country that seems to be on the verge of becoming more modern, and that’s what makes it so beautiful. You would see a Dominican KFC right across the street from a very old castle-like building. It was a busy, interesting city that’s hard to forget. I was never bored there, and the simple act of people watching was intriguing.
GLITTER: What kinds of things did you take away from the VISIONS experience?
BREE: Many, many things. That where one obtains their happiness shouldn’t be from material objects or popularity, etc. Instead, it can come from our relationships with others, and what we’re achieving with our lives. In the DR, I found my passion for experiencing other cultures, my love for human connection, and giving back. I left with a confidence and happiness level that I had never experienced before and could not be more grateful for that.
GLITTER: What are you up to now?
BREE: Right now I am finishing up my senior year of high school in San Diego, CA. I am preparing for a gap year in Ecuador, where I’ll be living in rural community with a host family for about 8 months. I’m so excited! (And scared!) I’m also deciding where I want to go to college after that. Hopefully, I’ll either be attending the University of Washington or the University of Colorado at Boulder!
GLITTER: How did your VISIONS experience help to prepare you for where you are now and what’s still to come?
BREE: It helped me find my passions and inspired me to take my gap year. It helped me have an idea of what the experience will entail.
GLITTER: In what ways, big or small, would you like to change the world?
BREE: I believe I have to go out and experience more of the world before knowing. I know I want to be able to help everyone achieve the happiness they deserve, and help them realize their personal potential. I know it’s not just going to be me; if we truly want to change the world, it’s going to have to come from the efforts of many. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
GLITTER: What do you hope to be doing in 10 years?
BREE: I hope to be happy. I want a job that I love and that can support me. I also hope that job is involved with third world countries and traveling. I am excited for my future and can’t wait to see what’s in store!
For a closer look at Bree’s DR experience, check out her video: http://youtu.be/G4mV8QacMqI
For more information about VISIONS, check out Visions-Service.com.