“¡Viva la Mariposa! Tears came to my eyes. Something big and powerful spread its wings inside me. Courage, I told myself. And this time, I felt it.” -Minerva Mirabal (In the Time of the Butterflies)
Courage. One of the many character traits possessed by first generation college students, right alongside determination, strength and resilience. Every day upon embarking on their journey through higher education, first generation students are constantly learning to maneuver different spaces, tackling the everyday struggle of being thrown into academic spheres that have historically excluded their voice. In order for this narrative to be challenged and dismantled, first generation students must step out of their comfort zone and explore horizons they never saw imaginable, to some degree for their own curiosity, but also for those who came before them and were never granted the same opportunity. Thus began my own journey of studying abroad.
This summer I was lucky enough to have studied abroad in the Dominican Republic as part of LMU’s First To Go Study Abroad program. The 10 day program consisted of everything from guest lectures surrounding the relationship between the Dominican Republic and their neighbor country Haiti, to jumping off of 25 foot waterfalls at the breathtaking 27 Charcos. Throughout the process, I, along with 15 other members of LMU’s First To Go Program learned not only about the beautiful culture, traditions and history that make up the Dominican Republic, but were also given the opportunity to learn about ourselves, pushing ourselves to grow and be open to new and exciting experiences.
On more than one occasion, this experience pushed me to become a more independent individual and someone who was not afraid to take risks. Leaving my parents and family has always been a hard thing for me to do, which is why when it came to college, I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave LA, let alone study abroad for a whole semester. That is why I was so excited when this summer study abroad program presented itself, because it would grant me the experience of studying abroad, without necessarily being away from my family for too long. However, when the evening of my departure arrived, I remember being anxious and telling my parents to turn the car around because I had changed my mind. Thank goodness they didn’t listen to me and convinced me otherwise, because I would have missed out on a truly life changing experience. Getting on the plane that day was one of the most courageous and empowering acts I have ever taken for myself, as it made me realize that in order to get the most out of life, you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone. With that, I was ready to take on the study abroad experience, promising myself that I would try every new thing that came my way.
For me, one of the most influential days of the trip was day six, which was dedicated to memorializing and realizing the work of the Hermanas Mariposas, or the Mirabal sisters. For 30 long and terrible years, the Dominican Republic fell under the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, under whom over thirty thousand innocent lives were taken. The Mirabal Sisters, whose activist work was initiated by the third sister, Minerva, saw the horrible injustices taking place during Trujillo’s reign and vowed to dedicate their lives to fighting for the freedom of their people. These three strong and resilient women helped lead to the eventual end of Trujillo’s dictatorship.
On this day, the group was able to visit the house in which the Maribal sisters once lived, which has since become a museum, as well as El Parque de La Paz, literally translating to “The Park of Peace.” This park that stands for the empowerment of women through highlighting several innovative and spectacular women in a series of posters presented throughout. Looking at the immense impact that these three women had on the world and then seeing the constant reminders of different achievements all accomplished by women throughout the park reminded me of the power we each hold and encouraged me to keep fighting the good fight. Later that day I bought myself a little wooden butterfly at the museum of the Maribal sisters, which now sits on the corner of my desk back at home. Every time I look at it, I am reminded to stay resilient, stay strong and keep pushing forward. It reminds me that fighting for what I believe in will not always be an easy path, but it is certainly one worth taking.