Student athletes take a service trip to Dominican Republic

Jaycee Kalama, News Contributor

Beavers Without Borders is sending a group of student athletes to the Dominican Republic in June to learn about other countries and cultures overseas and interact and serve with people in a developing country.

In 2009, Oregon State University’s athletics program was the first in the nation to do a trip like this, and other schools have followed suit. It allows student athletes to study abroad during the summer, an opportunity that is often challenging for them due to their time commitments. Students get to engage in experiential service-based learning outside of the usual classroom setting. 

“I went to Antigua and Chiquimula in Guatemala and it was an amazing experience. We handed out roughly 400 pairs of shoes on the trip, helped feed a community in need and build a nursery,” said Kayla Latham, a fifth-year marketing student and former member of the women’s soccer team. “We also got to ride to the top of a volcano on horses on our day off and make chocolate. We had an amazing group of people who were all eager to help and do their best and we had a lot of fun in the process. It was an experience of a lifetime.”

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Since its creation, Beavers Without Borders has gone on 11 trips, with over 100 student athletes in total. Students in the BWOB program earn course credits for their time overseas and David Bernell, Ph.D, of the School of Public Policy serves as the faculty leader of these courses.

BWOB’s first experience was in Guatemala, where OSU students built a home with electricity supplied by solar photovoltaics for a family in the city of Alotenango. Among the 11 trips, BWOB has visited Macedonia, Ethiopia and Costa Rica.

“Since the summer of 2014, BWOB has returned to the same community in the Dominican Republic, the town of Los Llanos, to engage in projects at a children’s home, a retirement home and in the farms and fields that provide food for these institutions,” Bernell said. “This long-standing relationship with the people of Los Llanos has allowed for sustained engagement, particularly with Father Cesar Soriano, the Catholic priest from Los Llanos who organizes our projects in the DR.”

Senior Associate Athletic Director for Student Athlete Development, Kimya Massey, said

that BWOB is a cornerstone program for the Student Athlete Development program. 

“We are very focused on providing opportunities that allow growth and personal development and this program embodies both of those ideals,” Massey said.

According to Bernell, the trip is a valuable chance to learn about a culture different than theirs.

“I think students are very well served by getting some time overseas, experiencing firsthand what other countries and cultures are like, and being able to engage with people they would not otherwise get a chance to meet,” Bernell said.

Those going on the upcoming 2019 trip to the Dominican Republic will spend time in the capital city of Santo Domingo, learning about the history and culture of the country by exploring the old colonial zone and visiting a museum celebrating Dominican struggles for freedom. Last year the program even visited a local little league organization and played baseball with the kids. 

The student athletes will be challenged to work hard, practice teamwork, learn to be a strong leader and possibly try things they never thought they would do in their lifetimes, according to Massey. 

Throughout the years, the service projects have included housing construction, agriculture, building maintenance, renovation and shoe distributions. In 2017 and 2018, BWOB has partnered with Soles4Souls, a global not-for-profit institution that collects donated shoes and clothes to distribute to those in need.

“You become so close with 20 people who were strangers a week ago and your perspective is opened  to a world that is so different than your own,” Latham said. ““It allows you to learn lessons that you’d never learn from within a classroom. For example, how blessed we are in the U.S. to have all that we have, how to communicate with others without being able to speak the same language and how far a simple act of kindness can go, are just a few. We need more of this.” 

Oftentimes, students  establish relationships and stay in communication after their time abroad, according to Bernell. 

“I highly recommend it for student athletes and encourage any student on campus to study abroad when given the chance. The things you learn in the community when you study abroad are hard to replicate in any classroom,” said Massey.

The program has an estimated cost of around $3,600, which includes airfare, all lodging, most meals, ground transportation and excursions. Applications can be found on the OSUGO website.