By Jacob King
Spring break serves as a time of relief from classes and to begin the cliché college trip to Daytona Beach or Cancun. But for a handful of UF students, they will be spending their spring break doing something different- volunteering in the Dominican Republic.
Come spring break, this certain group of UF students will be setting their alarms for the early morning hours to begin travel to Barahona, Dominican Republic. For one week, they will have a packed schedule of traveling, exploring, and volunteering in the tropical region.
To organize such an excursion, which occurs three times a year, requires a great deal of planning and leadership.
“This spring, there are nine students and two faculty but of those nine students, there will be one or two of them that are the leaders,” said Rachel Gerber, assistant director of international education.
Gerber said that the student leaders, also known as OSA leaders (Oilers Serving Abroad), play a major role in the development of the DR trip.
She said the student leaders take on the responsibilities of marketing and recruitment for the trip. OSA leaders also coach students on what to expect before, during, and after the trip, too.
“They’re kind of like that person on the trip that takes care of most of the logistics,” said Gerber.
Dallas Smith, 5th year pharmacy major, is one of the two student leaders who play a major role in the OSA trip.
He said that the pre-program work is important, but even more significant is the work that an OSA leader does while abroad.
“Once we actually get down there, we’re the ones that are leading the program,” said Smith. “We lead the service projects, we lead reflection, and we’re the main contact for everyone down there.”
Although a very student-driven program, there is a group of advisers that take on the higher responsibilities of such a trip.
Rachel Walters, director of housing, is an adviser for the OSA trips and said how she serves as a helping hand for the trip- financially and any other way needed.
“So as the adviser, I get to tag along,” said Walters. “I do manage the money, as any of the advisers who go down, we do the money portion. But aside from that, it’s really being there as a backup and support.”
Once in Barahona, students can expect to put in hard work when volunteering.
“We stay at an orphanage and work with some projects at the orphanage, some things with children, which is a lot of fun,” said Walters.
Other service projects are done to help those living in poor conditions.
Walters said how they will do work, like pour concrete floors and other physical labor, in order to assist those in need.
Despite being a full week of traveling and volunteering, Walters and Smith agreed that Barahona offers something priceless that everyone can walk away with.
“The best part of going down to the Dominican, by far, is the people we meet down there,” said Smith. “They are truly amazing and they have so much love for each other.”
Having had the opportunity to go a couple of times, Walters said that developing relationships with people in Barahona and UF students has been one of her best rewards of the excursion.
“It’s cool to see their [the boys at the orphanage] faces light up as they recognize you, the people that are coming back,” said Walters. “This is a place where I get to have positive interactions with students and I get to know them on a personal level.”