A group of 11 students intending to participate in Le Moyne’s annual service trip to Quito, Ecuador banded together to prepare for the experience of a lifetime. From fundraising to group bonding to discussions of what it means to serve others, the students extensively prepared in the months leading up to their Ecuador trip.
But when the trip was canceled due to safety concerns in Ecuador, the students were left wondering: What happens now?
They were presented with a range of options, including splitting up to participate in different service trips offered at the same time or combining with another group to go to El Salvador. However, when Alice Zicari, who organizes all of Le Moyne’s domestic and international service immersion trips, offered the alternative option of going to the Dominican Republic through the Caribbean Social Immersion Program, the group agreed to go. “We wanted to stay as a team,” said Maddy Cittadino ‘20. “We did all this bonding, and we wanted to do the trip together.”
The group readjusted to prepare for their trip to the Dominican Republic, becoming the first group of students at Le Moyne to travel to the Dominican on a service trip. Because of this, the students had little to no specific expectations as to what their 8-day trip would entail.
With a mindful approach to service that emphasizes four central pillars—spirituality, simple living, social justice and solidarity—the group set off for the Dominican. When they landed, they quickly found themselves with a packed schedule. They attended a church service, entirely performed in Spanish, and witnessed a baptism. They visited a youth group at a church and played volleyball with high school students. They traveled to a banana plantation to see how fair trade plays a role in the lives of local farmers.
Throughout it all, they shared laughter, some tears and many unforgettable memories. For each of the students, the trip carried a slightly different meaning. For Emma Discenza ‘20, the trip meant gaining a greater understanding of the term “service” that extended beyond the notion of physical labor. “Learning about the culture is a form of service in and of itself. Now we’re so much more informed and able to share correct, thorough information to the Le Moyne community,” she said.
For Cittadino, a political science major working to become a public defender, it was a chance to learn how other countries serve the impoverished and how she might incorporate that knowledge into her law practice.
And for Jennifer Powell ‘20, a nursing student, the trip served as an opportunity to put into practice the Jesuit value of cura personalis, or care for the individual person. “The worldview I’ve been taught here is especially holistic—you look at the whole person,” said Powell, who learned more about how race and racism affects the people of the Dominican. She is now completing a semester-long project on the topic with the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Parent from Le Moyne’s political science department.
Jen Thieben from the College’s Wellness Center and Amanda Miles ‘10 from the Advancement Office served as the trip’s lead mentors. “It gives me hope for the future to see young people who are willing to just dive in and learn about other cultures, especially in a time where I feel like we really need to work on understanding each other,” said Miles.
As the students returned to the U.S., they found themselves forever changed by the experiences of their service trip. While they came back with an abundance of photos, stories and souvenirs to share, they brought back perhaps the most important thing of all: a feeling of gratitude and connection with the rest of the world.