Anna Butz - 2013 Program Participant

Anna with her English students at the Escuela Nuestra Senora de la Luz, Cienfuegos.
Anna with her English students at the Escuela Nuestra Senora de la Luz, Cienfuegos. Photo by Marleny Lopez

What made you decide on an ISA Study abroad program, as opposed to the hundreds of other programs?

I chose ISA over other study abroad programs for many reasons. The first reason is that I was to live with a host family with ISA, and I believe that in order to have a truly intercultural experience, living with a host family is one of the best ways to practice language and learn about life in a new culture.

I also liked that the ISA Santiago program was not completely run by Americans, because I wanted to learn about the Dominican culture and language through working with people who were native to the country that I was to be living in.

I also chose ISA because included in the program costs were many excursions to different parts of the country. Some study abroad programs do not include this, and I wanted to be sure that there were opportunities to see other parts of the Dominican Republic.

Lastly, and perhaps one of the biggest reasons that I chose to study with ISA is because I had the option of participating in ELAP, a service learning program, in addition to studying at my host university. I felt that this would be a good way for me to become more involved with my host community outside of my studies at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra.

You’re from DePauw University, what advice would you give to other DePauw students contemplating study abroad in Santiago?

I think I am one of the only DePauw students to have studied in the Dominican Republic. Even though ISA Santiago was not on DePauw's pre-approved programs list, I went the extra step and applied to be part of this program because I felt that it was important for DePauw students to be able to study in the Caribbean. I would very much encourage any DePauw student who studies Spanish or Sociology (like I did), or even Latin American and Caribbean Studies, to study in Santiago.

To me, the Dominican culture is a very important part of our culture here in the United States, as many Dominicans have moved to this country. In Santiago, you will have many opportunities to practice Spanish, to work within a community, to volunteer, to take challenging courses at the PUCMM, and to have a better understanding of the relationship between the US and the Caribbean.

If you truly want to challenge yourself, studying in Santiago is one of the best ways to do so. If you truly want to learn and step outside your comfort zone, Santiago is very different from Greencastle, IN, and will make you think about life in a different way, which is something that you can't get in every study abroad experience. Be very open-minded and learn to appreciate all of the differences between the culture of Santiago and your own. Talk to people, learn to dance, and listen to stories. That way, you'll get so much more out of your experience.

What makes Santiago the best place to study abroad in the Dominican Republic? 

I believe that Santiago was the best place to study in the Dominican Republic because I think it is more true to Dominican culture than Santo Domingo. The Cibao is a very important region in the Dominican Republic, and in Santiago there are many things to do, but it is also small enough that you can get to know the ins and outs of the city. It is more traditional than the capital city, but also has a very fun night life!

Another thing I really liked about Santiago is that it is not a huge tourist destination, so I always felt as though I wasn't blinded by all of the things that foreigners do, which are often very different than the way that Dominicans live their life. Plus, you can get on a bus and be on the beach in Sosua in one hour, or go to La Vega and see the country's best Carnaval in February. Santiago may be a smaller city, but it is full of life and culture, and the opportunities are endless.

Of the courses you completed abroad, which was your favorite?

My favorite class was the Political and Socioeconomic Reality of the Dominican Republic (long title). I scored high enough on the Spanish test that I was able to take classes with Dominicans, so I chose to take two of them. This class was my favorite because we were required to read the news for every class and study a certain aspect of the Dominican society, economy, or politics. I learned so much about how the Dominican Republic is run as a country, and the different everyday challenges that are faced by Dominican society. I enjoyed learning how my fellow Dominican students felt about social issues, and it was a great opportunity for me to truly challenge myself in a Dominican classroom, but also learn about the socioeconomic reality of the country in an academic setting.

How has studying abroad in the Dominican Republic changed your life?

Study abroad has impacted my life in countless ways. I was a foreign exchange student in Chile for a year in high school, and as a young person I was able to mature a lot through that experience. There were many things that I regretted, many opportunities that I did not take advantage of. Therefore, when I decided to study in the Dominican Republic, I wanted to change that. I did my best to do everything I could, get involved with everything possible, and meet and befriend many people. 

Studying abroad has taught me how to think critically, and to understand that everything is relative. Every country and culture is different, and living in another country has certainly made me aware of my privilege, and how I can use that to make the world a better place. I grew up in a very white, middle class town in Iowa, so going to the Dominican Republic and seeing a completely different way of life made me want to challenge myself to think differently. I learned to question many of the assumptions I had, and to try and see the world through a different perspective, because everyone on this earth has a different perspective, and each one is important.

The more you travel, the more your thought processes shift and your values change. It can be scary, but to allow yourself to be changed by your experiences is one of the best ways to go through life. Studying abroad taught me that.