You Get What You Give

Setting: 27 Waterfalls, Santiago, DR

Saturday, February 9, 2013

“Come on, Jenn, you can do it! You didn’t come all this way just to slide down the highest fall.” I had my host sister and another teacher from Santiago Christian School in the pool below cheering me on, the guide holding my life vest tightly, and my host dad saying things in Spanish I could hardly hear or begin to process beneath the chaotic thoughts of fear running through my mind.


Last week Sunday was a big day for America: Superbowl Sunday. As I sat in my apartment, refreshing my Facebook just watch my newsfeed blow up by football fans and social butterflies enjoying the afternoon festivities, I began to feel uneasiness in my stomach. Homesick, that’s what it was, and I couldn’t deny it. All of me had had enough; I was ready to go home.

Why? I have no idea. Maybe it was the feeling of being cooped up in a city where I can hardly go outside alone without feeling like I’m on display or some sort of victim. Maybe it was the feeling of being anti-social– the feeling of not having friends, of being the “odd man out” for the first time in my life.

Whatever it was, I had had enough.

This could have ended several ways. I could have continued pretending student teaching was the only thing I cared about and isolated myself. I could have dwelled on my homesickness. I could have sucked it up, gave it my all, and never have to look back regretting any part of my experience here in the DR.

Fast-Forward to the Waterfalls.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that I, indeed, jumped. I didn’t sit in the back of a truck for an hour, hike for 45 minutes, and sweat like a construction worker in the Midwest summer heat just to ease my way down the waterslide. For how much I gave, I deserved to get the ultimate thrill of jumping from a 30-foot, slippery ledge, submerging into a 12 foot crystal-clear, perfect-temperature natural pool, and resurfacing feeling refreshed in every way possible. Giving the process of the hike my all deserved getting the greatest kick at the end.

On the ride home, as we weaved along the raggedy roads through the mountains between the beach and the city, in a small truck jam-packed with 6 people, what seemed like an infinite amount of bags, and a lot of beach sand, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much I have to be thankful here. As we passed through villages filled with poverty, small children, stray dogs, and wooden-barred windows, all I could think about was giving.

As I watched the children approach the windy, broken roads with crazy traffic flying by, all I could picture was the daily lives of these kids. Do they go to school? Do they work? Where are their parents? The more I thought about it, the more my heart started to ache. All I wanted at that moment was to give those kids everything they could ever need. As unrealistic as I know that is, at that moment, it seemed perfectly logical.

Unfortunately life doesn’t work like that. I can’t give everyone everything they need, and even worse than that– I can’t always find the motivation to give at all at times. Sometimes giving is painful, and giving my all is practically impossible. There are times and places in my life that I look back and think, “Man, I really gave that my all, and I got hurt pretty bad.” and there are even more times and places that I look back and think, “I wonder what better things could have come if I gave a little more.”

I can’t think of a better way to end my time here in the DR than giving everything my all—whether it’s student teaching, jumping off waterfalls, or forming relationships. Furthermore, I can’t imagine a better way to spend the rest of my life than giving, and giving my all. Life isn’t easy, and giving is definitely not either, but how much better could life be than to give and to share? I think the satisfaction that brings greatly surpasses the things I get from keeping to myself.

Jennifer Van Der Hoek, Columnist

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