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Point of View: Our Week in the Dominican Republic

Submitted by on March 22, 2024 – 7:39 pm

By Keith Paul

In a world that’s increasingly interconnected, the significance of understanding and appreciating different cultures cannot be overstated. As educators, it’s essential not only to impart knowledge but also to foster a sense of global awareness and empathy in our students. It’s exciting that NECC understands this importance, which is why faculty and staff embark on a cultural trip to the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic, with its rich history, vibrant culture, and diverse society, provides an ideal backdrop for such an immersive experience. The journey offers NECC faculty and staff a unique opportunity to step out of their familiar environment and dive into a world that is both enriching and enlightening. Last week, 10 faculty and staff traveled to the DR to experience Dominican universities, meet with government officials, and explore cultural sites important to Dominican history. But perhaps more importantly, we all got to know each other, bond over shared experiences and new friendships. We shared who we are as individuals and who we are as stewards of NECC’s promise to our amazing students.

Participants included Sarah Cooper, Maria Hernandez, Tom Greene, Rachel King, Shawna Lind, Trish Schade, Marcy Yeager, and me. We were led by Noemí Custodia-Lora and Giselle Peguero. Seen in photos are our wonderful guides Clara Benedicto and Oliver Quiroz.

One of the key highlights of the trip is the opportunity to visit universities and high schools including the Universidad Dominico Americano, the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD), the Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC), the Universidad Central del Este (UCE) San Pedro de Macorís campus, and Liceo Cientifico Dr. Miguel Canela Lázaro, a high school attended by three current NECC students.

A workshop with colleagues from INTEC

We explored labs and classrooms and student life at each campus while continuing conversations about possible partnerships with NECC where faculty and student exchanges or degree articulations might be implemented. In fact, we were delighted to hear that visits to our Lawrence campus inspired officials at UASD, INTEC, and UCE to build-out simulation labs similar to what we have in the El Hefni Allied Health & Technology Center.

These interactions go beyond mere observation; they foster meaningful exchanges between educators from different backgrounds. NECC faculty and staff not only share their expertise but also gain valuable insights into the Dominican education system, teaching methodologies, and challenges faced by educators in the region.

In addition to educational institutions, the trip also included meetings with government ministries, including the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology (MESCyT) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX). At MIREX, we met with officials from the Institute for Dominicans Abroad (INDEX) who work to promote academic, technical, and social studies, aimed at supporting the capacity, training and development of Dominicans living abroad. In addition, the ministry operates the National Institute of Vocational Technical Training (INFOTEP), which governs professional technical training. INFOTEP has an office in Lawrence to help strengthen education and technical training for Dominicans living here.

A student-led tour at the Liceo Cientifico

The trip also included visits to cultural and historical sites. The Museum of the Mirabal Sisters gave us an important view into how the sisters were known for fighting to overthrow former dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo and were killed for it by Trujillo’s men, which ultimately led to the end of the DR’s most brutal regime. NECC travelers read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, a novel chronicling the lives of the Mirabal sisters.

We also spent time exploring the Museum of the Dominican Man which displays the history of the aboriginal and Taino peoples native to the island before the arrival of Europeans and African slaves.

A visit to the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration was profound in that the site was built originally by Trujillo (as an honor to himself) and later rededicated to honor the restoration of Dominican sovereignty from Spain.

Beyond formal meetings and discussions, the cultural immersion trip exposed participants to the everyday life of the Dominican people. Whether it’s exploring local markets, savoring traditional cuisine, or engaging with our Dominican peers, every experience is an opportunity for experiential learning. These interactions not only broaden perspectives but also foster a sense of empathy and respect for cultural diversity.

The insights gained from the cultural immersion trip have a profound impact on teaching and learning at NECC. Faculty return to their classrooms with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with fresh perspectives and a deeper appreciation for cultural differences. By infusing their curriculum with these perspectives, they can create inclusive learning environments that prepare students to thrive in an interconnected world.

At its core, the cultural immersion trip exemplifies NECC’s commitment to fostering cultural competence and global citizenship among its students, faculty, and staff. By experiencing firsthand the richness and complexity of another culture, we’re better equipped to help shape the lives of NECC students.