Natalie Craun - 2014 Program Participant

Construction volunteers in the Dominican Republic

Leveling ground at one of the sites for a bottle clinic

What inspired you to travel abroad?

I wanted to discover what life was like in a developing country, step outside of my comfort zone, and sharpen my social and leadership skills.

Why did you choose Global Leadership Adventures?

I had a friend who had recommended it to me with the highest praise. I looked on the Global Leadership Adventures website, as well as the Facebook page, and was surprised at how complementary the reviews and stories from past participants were. I also wanted a program that was for high school students only, because I wanted to have something familiar with me in the unfamiliar environment of a developing country.

What is your favorite part about the Dominican Republic?

My favorite part of the Dominican Republic is its natural beauty. As soon as our plane began to descend, I knew I was entering a country with astounding beauty. The areas with a large population were indeed a bit run down, but as soon as you ventured out a little further, a connection with nature and the non-industrialized portions of the island was inevitable and amazing.

Volunteer with children in Haiti

Monkeying around in La Grua - one of the Haitian communities we visited

What makes GLA programs unique? What about your program specifically?

GLA is unique because the goals and plans for the projects focus on sustainability and the future of the community that they are impacting. The projects that we worked on were created to provide resources to the Dominican and Haitian people for years to come. The program is also unique because the mentors were not only inspiring, but they also had a vast knowledge of DR culture and a great relationship with the locals we worked alongside.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff supported us by giving us a background on the work that we were doing and how it would benefit the communities, giving lessons on sustainability, and always laying out clear, concise directions and advice for whatever task we were undertaking. They always made sure that we were taking all of the necessary precautions, such as staying hydrated and staying close to the group, while we were out and about in the communities. I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe while on the trip, and I think a large part of my comfort can be attributed to the diligence and care of the staff.

What do you wish you could change about your trip?

I wish I had learned a larger amount of Spanish before embarking on the trip. I knew only a few words and phrases, and I feel like an extended Spanish vocabulary would have allowed me build a stronger connection with the Dominican people. I also would have felt more comfortable because I would have been able to pick up more of what they were directing us to do while we were working on the construction projects.

What was a typical day like for you in the Dominican Republic?

  • 7:00 a.m. - wake up and get dressed
  • 8:00 a.m. - delicious breakfast usually scrambled eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and hot chocolate
  • 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. - load up on the buses and drive to whichever project site we would be working at for the day (drive could range from five minutes to a little over an hour)
  • 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. - work in the community, which could involve: constructing bottle school/clinic, picking up trash, playing with local children, learning about the history of the community, or planting cacao and coffee tree, depending on which community we were in
  • 12:00 p.m. - lunch prepared by locals: chicken, rice, beans, and fresh fruit
  • 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. - finish up as much work as we can before preparing to depart
  • 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. - either drive to a restaurant or return to home base
  • 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. - chill out on the public beach, at the restaurant, or at the private beach just a short walk from home base
  • 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. - shower and get ready for dinner
  • 6:00 p.m. - eat a dinner, that could range from chicken and rice to tacos to an assortment of Italian foods, always accompanied by fresh mango, pineapple, watermelon, and cantaloupe

Sunrise on a beach in Haiti

We woke up early to watch the sunrise on the beach on the last day of our trip

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

Outside of the normal day-to-day schedule, my favorite activity was the day trip we took to Dudu lagoon. We swam in the mouths of underwater caves, cliff jumped, zip lined, and relaxed in the sun all day. It was a beautiful place, and it was a nice way to take a break from the hard work that we had been doing the past few days.

What was your accommodation like?

We stayed in lodges that consisted of four large rooms. Each room had three bunk beds in it and was extremely spacious. The beds had netting around them to keep insects out, and each room had its own bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower. The generator only allowed the showers to run with full pressure for about an hour and a half each day, but we were usually able to cycle all six roommates through within this time constraint. Even if we weren’t able to, there was still enough pressure for the last couple people to take a shower (it just wasn’t as enjoyable). As I mentioned earlier in the day-to-day schedule, the food was delicious and filling. I would pick it any day over cafeteria food or even the lunch I pack for myself at home.

How have your experiences abroad impacted your life?

The Global Leadership Adventures program has expanded my outlook on global issues and sustainability in developing countries. I have a better understanding of human security, not only in developing countries, but also in the United States and in my own life. I am more conscious of my impact on the environment, and I support local produce by going to my town’s farmers’ market every week. I also have developed as a leader. I have more confidence in my leadership abilities, and I have improved my ability to connect with other people.

Volunteer playing with children in the Dominican Republic

These kids can't help but put a smile on your face