IMG_4665 (1)Over spring break I packed my bags and traded in a leisure filled week for the adventure of a lifetime. Destination: Barbados!

Through a class offered at my college I had a chance to travel this break to this beautiful island that enchanted me from the moment I stepped off the stairs of the plane (and yes I did wave as if it was a private jet). The purpose of the course and our trip was to research our chosen topics at sites all around the island with the intention of cultural exchange as well as personal growth and knowledge. My topic of research was how the DIR model ( I’ll explain later) supports students with special needs in secondary school and into adult life.

Now before I begin my gushing over this amazing and enlightening experience, I would like to clarify something. I do not believe that I changed the world in one week because I went on a service learning trip! I do not believe I am a super hero or any other cliche thing people say about service trips. I did not go on this trip for those purposes.

Alright… Resume gushing

I arrived on the island on Thursday, March 3rd along with 15 of my classmates and our two professors. The weather was warm and breezy. As I stepped into customs I saw a giant poster of Rihanna welcoming us to the island. I knew I had made the right choice in traveling to Barbados. As soon as we got to our hotel in a town called Hastings, I threw on my bathing suit and hit the beach with my roommate Erika. I can honestly say I have never seen such blue water in my life.  I mean seriously! It looks like someone spilt blue food coloring in the water.IMG_0998

From Friday to Sunday we spent our days touring the island and taking in the rich culture and beautifully natural features. Exploring the history of jewish culture in Barbados, and the history of the island itself at different museums gave the whole group a new appreciation for this experience. Swimming in caves where the caribbean meets the atlantic made the world seem so big and touring the underground tunnel caves decorated with salagtites made me feel very small! One of the most memorial moments of touring the island was being able to snorkel with sea turtles and fish around an old ship wreck, in the water outside of Rihanna’s residency (I’m obsessed if you didn’t pick that up yet).  Being in Barbados allowed me to really be adventurous and daring and I couldn’t happier that I took the chances that I did. As Sunday night rolled around it was time to prepare for the work week. I had no idea what this week held for me and I was so nervous to begin because I had never be put in a teaching position before. Even with all of the nerves I knew I would be okay because I had an incredible group of people supporting me.

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DJ & I outside of Derrick Smith

My first day of work on the island I visited the Derrick Smith School and Vocational Centre, a school for students 11-38 with special needs. The school uses the DIR model which is a method of teaching that looks at students as a whole person, figures out there strengths, and then helps them build the confidence to know what they need to feel regulated. The classrooms are extraordinary and the staff is amazingly welcoming. I have never felt so at home before. I became a teacher, a friend, and a crush of many students. Throughout the week I built relationships with the students, I taught my first lesson EVER, and I learned how much it means to be valued as a person before your disabilities. I also learned that sometimes all a student needs to get through a lesson is a hug and a kiss. It is all about allowing students to learn in their own style and at their own pace.

I can not say thank you enough to that school for all of the opporunities it gave me and all of the wonderful memories I will cherish of my time there. On our last day I left the school with 3 bracelets, a love letter, and a face full of tears. I have never been so humbled in my life than when I was comforted by two of the vocational students when they saw me crying because I was upset I had to say goodbye. Some students with disabilities cannot recognize their own emotions let alone the emotions of someone else. That moment showed me the difference this school was making.

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DJ & I outside of Derrick Smith

From growing professionally I move to growing personally!

I am not a very adventurous person but Barbados put me out there! I talked to new people, made friendships, and most exciting of all I performed at a bar! In front of a crowd of strangers and few good friends, I was asked to the stage after a name chanting (started by my bartender). I performed two songs accompanied by a guitar and zero rehearsal. I have never felt so free and confident in my life. The energy and atmosphere of the island transformed me into a version of myself I was very glad to meet.

I hope one day I will be able to reunite with the island and the work there. I carry with me what I have learned and who I have become. I am forever grateful for the experience I had and as cliché as it may be Barbados has my heart forever.  My island, My second home.IMG_0989

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