OSU Institute of Technology students Taylor Shatwell and Cameron Bridger said they learned a lot during the five days they recently spent in the Dominican Republic as part of the Oklahoma Study Abroad Project.
OSAP is a study abroad service project initiative by the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges. Eleven two-year colleges sent up to two students each on the trip to study the impact of global warming and climate change on the small farming community of El Castillo as well as conduct a service project in the village.
“It was definitely a trip where education was first,” Bridger said. “I was surprised how much of our time we spent learning. We did a lot of case studies, and we had to present on the causes and effects of global warming and climate change and then present possible solutions for the village.”
Shatwell said while they did spend time planting fruit trees and pine trees, which help minimize erosion, there was also plenty of time to learn and reflect and work with the children from the nearby school.
“Farming and sustainability are so important to their community, and I couldn’t believe how young they learn that,” she said. “I never saw kids who were so willing to help in my life.”
In total, 21 students and three faculty members from 11 colleges traveled to the Dominican Republic to participate in the first-ever OSAP trip.
Kenneth Kern, international student director, said OSUIT President Bill R. Path was very supportive about this short-term study abroad opportunity when he learned about the trip.
“Dr. Path said he would like OSUIT to be a leader in this project and covered the full amount of the trip for both of our students, which added up to about $5,000,” said Kern. “We wanted to show OSUIT has a commitment to study abroad, and we could not have selected better students for this trip.”
The students selected from each college underwent rigorous application and interview process in order to be chosen to participate.
“Every school selected their top students. It’s always easier to work with people who want to work,” Bridger said. “Before we left, I didn’t know a single person who was going other than Taylor, but there was no drama. There were no splits, no divides, we all got along great.”
Shatwell said she wishes more students would take advantage of international learning opportunities.
“It gives you insight about what’s out there, and it broadens your mind,” she said, and getting to share the experience with other college students was priceless. “We all were from different parts of Oklahoma, we all came from different places. I think we were intrigued by each other. We all asked what our school was like, what our majors were like.”
For the two students from OSUIT, the experience was more than just a trip. In order to take part in the study abroad program, they also had to enroll in a special class. Now that they’re back, Shatwell and Bridger will now have to organize their own service project on campus.
“What the successful outcome of this program means is that short-term study abroad opportunities like this could work well for OSUIT,” Kern said. “The ideal student for us has little or no study abroad experience and limited resources to take advantage of study abroad programs.”
Bridger and Shatwell said they couldn’t help but view their trip through the lens of their respective programs.
“I’m in Construction Management so I kept looking at the roads and the construction of the buildings and how everything was built,” Bridger said.
Being a student in the Nursing program, Shatwell took health and wellness into consideration when interacting with the children and villagers.
“Everyone is wearing Crocs or sandals running up and down this mountain, I just couldn’t get over it,” she said. “The nearest hospital or clinic is an hour’s drive and most people don’t have a car. What do they do if someone gets hurt?”
Because of the people they met, the service work they did, the education they received and the cultural experiences they had, their study abroad trip is something neither will ever forget.
“All the experiences we bought back with us, it was totally worth it,” Bridger said.