Monday, March 24, 2014

Why Travel

By Randy Thoms

            So the past week was spring break.  A week of parties, fun and excitement was in order and for a handful of us from SIU that is exactly what we got, along with no class work for the week -- except for one guy, I won't name names, who thought he was going to write a 20 page Global History paper and let's just say that did not happen.  The week began early Sunday, very early, 3am early for some with the time change, and St. Louis airport.  Then onto Charlotte where the 20 of us met up with Peru State and Lawrence Technological University students to total 40 on a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  From there Professors, Grads and Undergrads, a local guide and bus driver meandered our way to the interior, almost geographic center of the country for work service, cultural exchange and 3 hours college credit in a week - whoo hoo!
            As the trip progressed and the bus rides mounted, most of our time was spent working on various projects for a Woman’s Center and a National Park, or Monument as they call it in the Dominican, to enhance the visitor’s experience and Eco-tourism concepts and activities. We built an Observation deck with benches and railings, sitting benches along the trials, clean walking paths, plant seedlings, build trusses and a bamboo french-drain.We also gave a 30-minute PowerPoint on economic and educational opportunities and designed a new visitor center, which are the trusses we built, to the park utilizing local building material and techniques. Only in the last day and a half were the "fun" activities of river rafting and snorkeling.
            One aspect of travel is the interaction of culture.  All our meals were prepared by our guests and were of local foods, nothing microwaved or per-packaged.  Yes I missed my usual eats, but was able to taste and experience new flavors and combinations that one would not get by staying in the tourist areas of any given destination. So not only did we see the architecture and beautiful landscape of a foreign country, we were more engaged with the community, had fun and great diversions like learning local dances, at the same time. One object I found and bought was a "Rain Chain" used for the downspouts on gutters.  They are handmade metal funnels chained together for rainwater, and since they have a rainy season, experience showed the locals this works.  So I will have a piece of Dominican Republic right out my kitchen door everyday.

            We all have lots of work to do and this was a good break and time to recharge our batteries. It helps me see what is important, wanted or needed in life. It is great for students to see and experience other cultures first hand and get out of one's comfort zone. As with the Dominica Republic we got the see how, dare I say, 75 percent of the world lives. Hopefully this will inform future design and a thirst for future travel. On the plane ride back to the States, two of us sat next to a college kid on spring break as well.  He went straight from the airport to a all inclusive resort in Punta Cana for the week and said he had a six day hangover and the food was terrible....who had the better spring break?  

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