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Melissa Chapman

Freelance Project Manager

Jersey City, NJ

There will always be people that think they know what is best for you, but you ultimately know what you want in life.

I’ve learned you have to take the initiative if you want to get anywhere in life. If you just let other people determine what is going to happen for you, then all your goals and dreams may never be achieved.

Everyone always says that studying abroad in college can change your life. I made the decision to experience it myself during my junior year. I chose to study in the Dominican Republic. Perhaps the perception that the Carribbean hot spot’s beautiful beaches and boys would distract my studies led my father to retract any financial support for my desire to immerse myself in a Spanish language setting. He preferred that I travel to a Mexican inland city. With this news, I immediately started seeking funding so I could partake in an American program on the island. As it got closer to the deadline, an advisor informed me I received a new scholarship from an alumni family foundation. I was going to get the chance to start a new journey.

During my first semester in the country I fell in love. I was becoming bilingual, but also learning so much of a new culture. I had begun working with a local grassroots organization, participating in a project supporting an underdeveloped community on the outskirts of the city. My main role was to become aware of the issues facing populations such as these and support community education. I was in no way ready to leave this new life. I felt as if I needed more time to get what I fully wanted out of this experience because I was still overcoming the challenges of being new to a country.

I began researching ways to stay another semester. At this point, just living there was not enough. I wanted to do more to become part of the culture rather than just watch it every day. I found out how to enroll in a local Dominican school, making sure my credits would transfer back to Missouri. This was another experience I got to endure. I had to speak directly to the school officials myself as opposed to letting officials in the program pick up the slack if I truly wanted to stay. This furthered my education since I was the one communicating and making sure my situation would get settled.

As this next semester began, this was another time I realized I needed to take a chance. I got involved with a local boarding school for girls living in poverty. I first approached the head of the school to volunteer to teach music classes, requesting funding from my college church. I could have never anticipated the results of this small action. Another volunteer and I were able to put together a benefit to showcase what the students had learned. We invited community members, friends and other students from local universities to come support the girls. They presented the accomplishments from our classes and sold art the students themselves had created to further the funding of the arts program. I felt good leaving knowing I had laid the foundation for a good cause and to better the lives of young girls.

There will always be people that think they know what is best for you, but you ultimately know what you want in life. My time in the Dominican Republic changed my life by giving me the realization of how fortunate I am and there is always a chance to give back to those who may not realize they are capable of the same human freedoms. You have to go after anything and everything you desire or there may be a missed opportunity. My trip to Santo Domingo taught me to take advantage of leaning in to new possibilities.