Adapting, Growing, and Learning…
Becoming a part of a new community, whether it be a new school, new church, new job, or a new country requires willingness to learn new practices, patience, and ability to change. None of these three character traits come easily to me.
Becoming a part of a new community, whether it be a new school, new church, new job, or a new country requires willingness to learn new practices, patience, and ability to change. None of these three character traits come easily to me. Instead, I have the tendency to be quick to argue, set in my ways, and anxious. It is amazing how not only do you grow and change, but you learn more about yourself when you take away the norm, your friends and family who are (for the most part) just like you, and adapt to new surroundings. Never the less, I seem to have found a place in my new community as I move into my second year with Caminante.
Adaptation in a new culture is physical and emotional. A close friend who visited me in August told me, “you’re so sassy.” At first I was slightly offended by this comment thinking my friend was insulting me or questioning who I had become, but then I realized this was an adaptation I had undergone as self-perseverance. While the hand on the hip, slightly aggressive verbal cues and female “sass” I have accrued may not get me very far in the US, it is key to being heard and respected in the Dominican Republic. They are characteristics I have learned to fend off American tourist loving men and demand attention in my classrooms from very active 8 year olds with little or no respect for “classroom etiquette”.
As any teacher will tell you, year one is terrible and year two is always an improvement. Only 3 weeks back into my “Salas de Tarea” (Homework Rooms) and I already feel much more confident working with my students on reading, writing, and mathematics as well as lesson planning for my music and English classes. Several of our Salas de Tarea use a curriculum called “Espacio de Crecer” (Space for Growth), I love this name because our goals are more than to teach reading and writing, but to improve outcomes, help students discover their abilities, and “grow” into wholesome and empowered individuals. Hopefully in one year’s time each student will adapt their learning patterns to be able to succeed in the public school system.
My role in Caminante has also changed with my growing confidence and experience. As we headed into summer I became a very important team member as we welcomed several volunteer groups and prepared for 5 short term volunteers working with Caminante for the fall semester. My success with these groups coupled with my role as camp’s “craft coordinator” meant I was participating, not just observing, in planning and debriefing meetings, writing reports, and leading volunteer groups of Dominicans, Americans, and Europeans. It is amazing how without even realizing it is happening; you become part of the team and rediscover your confidence and ability to contribute.
Adaptation to life in the Dominican Republic and as a GMI also includes learning to live alone, cooking with limited supplies, learning extreme patience and creativity for nights without power, and conserving water for those pesky days when the water shuts off. But all of these “adaptations” are gifts from God that are making me a stronger, (much) more patient, and flexible person. 1 Corinthians 3:7 says, “So neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters, but [only] God Who makes it grow and become greater.” I remember my first months of frustration when I would go home at the end of the day after a canceled activity and just being mad, not understanding why a few rain clouds or lack of snack for an activity constituted canceling all together, but after a year of learning about the culture and the expectations of those we serve, I understand why sometimes it is better to sit back and reschedule instead of holding a poorly attended activity. My mind still races with all the emails I must be receiving when the power has been out all day and long to catch up on my shows when the internet/power is out in the evenings, but I have adapted to the Dominican way of chatting with my neighbors outside on the patio or just enjoying a good book by candle light. God has taught me very un-American and un-capitalistic skills to take a deep breath, relax, and let things happen naturally… and to take a nap when your body needs one. While anxiety of imperfection and fear of being late still affects me, I have begun to learn how to accept the rain, reschedule or change plans (more) easily, and enjoy time unplugged.
Ashley Holst serves as a Global Mission Intern with Proyecto Caminante in the Dominican Republic. Her ministry is possible because of funds provided by Week of Compassion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She works with the children in Caminante’s Outreach Ministry.