What I Did This Summer
What I Did This Summer
This is the first in a series of articles about Carolina students and their exciting, diverse summer activities.
Close your eyes and imagine traveling to the Caribbean. Beautiful, white-sand beaches. Clear skies. Crystal blue waters.
That's one scene that awaited a group of Carolina students who flew to the Dominican Republic for a Maymester study-abroad adventure.
But during the eight-day trip, the students also saw extreme poverty. They spent time with orphaned children who craved adult attention. And they made a difference in the lives of a small group of nuns and the orphanage they manage.
“The trip provided students with an awareness of international poverty,” said Maymester course instructor Peter Cardon, director of international programs in the College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management.
“The students also acquired public-relations skills helpful in promoting a non-profit organization -- in this case, the Orchid Foundation, which supports the orphanage at which they worked for more than a week.”
In addition to playing with the children and getting to know the people who ran it, the Carolina students painted the large, main orphanage building.
“We wanted to provide some meaningful service -- painting the building -- and give emotional support to the children,” Cardon said. “We accomplished in four days what the nuns expected to take two weeks.
“The orphanage is well run by Catholic nuns. However, with 165 kids, the best efforts of the three to four nuns running the orphanage still leave many of the children starving for adult attention. The children loved getting some time to play with our students.”
The Maymester trip was exactly what pre-pharmacy major Kerri Brown had been searching for in a project.
“I had been looking for a summer study-abroad trip to take because I received a Summer Study Fellowship with my academic scholarship,” Brown said. When she learned about Cardon’s course, she knew she had found the one.
On May 8, Brown and 12 of her classmates boarded an airplane bound for Santa Domingo. It was Brown’s first plane ride.
“I was not really sure what to expect about the Dominican Republic,” she said. “I had never been on a plane before, much less out of the country, so everything was new to me.”
What Brown discovered upon her arrival surprised her.
“I had anticipated some things, like not being able to drink the water,” she said. “However, I was definitely not prepared for the levels of poverty that we saw there. I have been in poor neighborhoods in the United States, but the poor neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic are on a totally different scale. It broke my heart.”
Work hard, play hard
“I honestly was not disappointed in anything regarding the program,” said Elise Bunyan, a hotel, restaurant, and tourism management major. “I went into it not really knowing what to expect, and I was really amazed with how organized and put together it was. We went down to the Dominican Republic to work, and we finished all of our painting with time to spare. We were also able to experience a lot of the Dominican culture when we had free time at night. We ate at a lot of different local restaurants, and got to go to several of the beaches as well.”
The best part came on the last day, she said.
“After lunch the children performed for us. It was very touching and made me realize even with how little we did for them, it still made a really big impact on their lives. We gave them hope and lots of smiles.”
Promoting a non-profit
Once the students were back on South Carolina soil, they had to complete the course requirements.
“They were all required to develop a presentation about the foundation that sponsors the orphanage,” Cardon said. “They used Power Point slides and other visuals to create their presentation, and then they gave the presentation to a group of their choosing. The Orchid Foundation is located in New Jersey, and the students educated their group as to how to become a member and how to support the foundation and its works.
“The students got public relations experience and practice, and the foundation got some well-deserved publicity.”
The Dominican Republic excursion was the first time Cardon had taken Carolina students on such a trip, and he called them wonderful ambassadors for the University and the United States.
“The students worked hard in uncomfortable weather, and the nuns and others in charge of the orphanage were deeply touched by their generosity and good will,” he said. “The children loved playing with them.
“It is always wonderful trying to make a positive impact on the world and developing relationships,” he said. “But I walked away feeling as if the Dominicans had given more to us, rather than vice versa.”