Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Study Abroad in

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

« Monumental Moments-- Fall 2013, Issue II | Main | Before & After »


Retiro de Trabajo Spring 2014

In the guagua ride to Pedro Garcia, I was pretty nervous. Not that I’m a diva or anything, but Ryan had bought shovels, pickaxes, machetes (that’s right, machetes) to take with us, and I had used zero percent of that equipment before. (Mentira, obviously I’ve used a shovel. But you know what I mean.) And to add to that, we were staying with host families for the two nights we’d be there; as if the first time meeting a host family wasn’t enough, right?! But let me tell you, those host families cooked good food. So A+ decision.

The goal of the weekend was to construct a mirador, or look-out point, along the newly constructed tourist route somewhere on the way to Puerto Plata (I’m not good with directions). When we arrived, the site did have the most beautiful view, but it was completely overgrown, with uneven ground and trash everywhere. We worked for 3 hours on Friday (the first day) to strip bark with machetes, pick up trash, and begin leveling the area. By the end of those 3 hours, I already had blisters from using the machete (but how many people from New Hampshire can say that?!). We returned to our host families houses exhausted. I watched a Scooby-Doo episode with my host brother (globalization, amiright?), and then watched the other host brothers (who were like 14 years old) try to teach the Peace Corps volunteers and Marvin how to impressively use a whip. (Key words: try to. Sorry, Marv.)

The next day we worked for the. whole. day, blisters and all. We leveled the ground, built a railing, felled palm trees, and built a retaining wall out of recycled tires, rocks and palm. I used a pickax to chop down hills, a rake to level the ground, a machete to cut the grass and strip bark, and a shovel and wheelbarrow to move the dirt. It looked awesome at the end of the day, but we still had work to do, and we were all getting on each other’s nerves. We were hot, hungry, thirsty, sweaty, sunburned, and SORE (did I mention the machete blisters?). But when we returned to our houses, there was a party going on at the colmado! Domino tournament, and bachata/merengue in the street under the stars.

Our trip to the campo was incredible. I’ve never been so sore for so long in my life, with blisters in the most inconvenient places (couldn’t hold a pen for a while), but it was one of the most rewarding experiences this semester. Seeing a wild piece of land turn into a professional-looking lookout point, and being one of the ones who actually did it, was amazing. And we were able to enjoy ourselves as night with the local people, practicing our Spanish, dancing, and experiencing Dominican life in the campo—which is something very different from what we get in Santiago. 


(Shameless plug: If you want more personal insight on my experience in the DR, head to )


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

This sounds like an incredible experience that I can absolutely relate to. I’ve never constructed a mirador before, but I have helped build a trail. I’ve also never watched Scooby Doo with my host brother, but I have watched Terminator with him here in Thailand (globalization, man). I’ve never been to an impromptu party at the colmado but the majority of my experiences here in Thailand happen in just that way: an inexplicable surprise.

Every unit of our Khon Kaen program focuses on globalization in some way, shape or form. What we don’t focus on explicitly however is the role of globalized media, especially in the way of American TV shows and movies. When I’ve talked to Thai friends my own age and younger, their favorite pastimes usually include some kind of American show, like Vampire Diaries. Media in this form can shape societies in subtle yet major ways. It’d be really interesting to delve more into the topic of the American television industry and how it shapes peoples perceptions throughout different countries.

That sounds like a rewarding experience. Although here in Khon Kaen we have not done any physical labor, I think many of the villages that we visit would really benefit from help building up infrastructure. In Thailand, the provincial government (TAO) is responsible for improving infrastructure; roads, irrigation, ect. However, the TAO is often unable to carry out these responsibilities. It seems like responsibilities are often handed off from governmental body from governmental body. No one really knows who holds the ultimate responsibility and therefore infrastructure development often never occurs.
I also can relate to the nervousness you described when meeting your first host family. It is hard for us because our Thai language skills are rudimentary so communication is limited. My closest relationships are often with the younger children in my host family (namely the toddlers who can hardly talk anyway.) Regardless of the communication barriers that exist, the love and affection that our host families have for us is heart warming.

It’s so interesting to see how our experiences in the Dominican Republic and Thailand differ. We’ve gone on several homestays, but these are mostly information gathering trips. We don’t create anything tangible until the very end of the program. It sounds like you had an incredibly rewarding experience, especially since it was such a huge change from the day you started working to the day you finished. If I had seen those pictures without captions, I would have never guessed they were of the same place!
Even though there are definite differences in our programs, we have some similar experiences as well. I’ve never seen so many machetes in my life than I have since coming to Thailand. Every village we go to I see 60 year old women walking around casually with oversized knives. I’ve also spent many evenings watching Beyonce music videos with my host brother and listening to him belt “Girlfriend” by Justin Beiber (the words to which he didn’t understand whatsoever).

That sounds so interesting! And sweaty! I haven’t had the chance to use a machete (though plenty of people carry them around in Thailand), I did get to paint a gate at a temple to prepare the temple for an upcoming festivals during one of my homestays! We were painting right in the middle of the day- hot! Fortunately our host families provided us with particularly large and stylish hats to protect us from the sun! It was a rewarding experience, chatting with people in Thai (or just smiling and gesturing when my vocabulary ran out), and working with my host family and the community at the temple painting the gate together. It was a great way to be immersed in the culture and community, and get to know people a little better!
I’ve also watched Scooby Doo in Thai with one of my host brothers! You mentioned something about globalization!

Woah! Sounds like a fantastic time! I am glad you had such a fantastic time on your home stay, as here in Khon Kaen we spend about 1/4 of our time in a village. I was really nervous as well, going into our first real home stay in Yasothorn Province. But just like you, the food was absolutely delicious! (Aroi!) The community was very welcoming, and by the end of our 4 day stay, I was dreading leaving. I cannot wait until project time and go back to the communities for a couple off days.
On another note, I have a fun machete story of my own. On our second homestay, my family took us on a tour of sorts around the town. Well, it was more of a tour of activities. And one of those activities involved visiting one of top five machete makers in Thailand! We got to watch him make a machete and we helped make a case, but unfortunately, we did not get to keep them.

It sounds like you're doing some great things! I took a look at the before and after photos, and I understand how much work you had to go through to complete the mirador. The overlook looks so professional! I've been involved in some labor projects, but none involving machetes. That’s certainly an experience you can treasure for a while. Now that it’s over, you know what you can accomplish and how strong you are (especially when working with machete sores).
Here in Thailand, we spend a lot of our time on home stays. This is my favorite aspect of the program. Of course, I always get nervous before meeting my host family, but it always ends up being a lot of fun. As you wrote, interacting with the children always seems to be easiest. It’s always entertaining watching them watch television shows, whether they’re local or international. Sometimes TV is the easiest way to break a language barrier.

Your experience sounds so unique and exciting! I totally understand how overwhelming a home stay can be, especially your first one. A large part of our program is unit trips which include homestays, community tours, and exchanges with villagers, government officials and NGOs. We have gone on five homestays so far and I still get nervous for each one! It is intimidating entering a new community with its own unique dynamic and culture. Also, trying to build relationships is scary yet exhilarating when dealing with the language and cultural barriers.

It is so impressive that your group took the initiative to actually help and benefit the community that you were visiting. Really getting into the work and not being afraid to get dirty (which it appears you definitely accomplished) is such a rewarding experience for both you and the villagers. Whenever we go on homestays, my favorite part is getting to actually contribute to the community and just experience a normal day in the life of my homestay family!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment