ACES in the Dominican Republic

ACES in the Dominican Republic

Jan 4
Meredith Blumthal, Director of ACES Education Abroad Program

One of my favorite parts of my job as the Director of Education Abroad for the College of ACES is traveling to the Dominican Republic with my freshman discovery course. We are currently in the Dominican Republic and will be here until January 12. The class is a great mix of students from all backgrounds – urban and rural, representing six different ACES majors. We left January 2 and already have overcome the challenges of travel – airline mechanical issues caused major flight delays which meant we spent way too much time in the Miami airport, but we made it!

Students are learning firsthand about what it means to work and travel globally –even though we arrived at 1 a.m., we still had to be up bright and early for our briefing at the U.S. Embassy. We will be spending our time here in Dominican Republic learning about agricultural and food systems.  Specifically, our program includes learning about sugar cane processing, the entire coffee supply chain, and avocado and banana export processing.

It’s also important to understand the culture of a country if you want to work globally so we will spend time learning about and experiencing Dominican culture from our partners at ISA University in Santiago, which has been our partner for many years.  Although this is only my second time leading this program, ACES has been coming to the Dominican Republic for so many years that many people remember past student groups. Sometimes we even find Illinois memorabilia at their offices from past programs.

The coffee roaster we visit is a great example, as the folks at Columbia Street Roaster in Champaign helped connect our program with the roaster here in the Dominican Republic.  As a result, they always receive us with a warm welcome.  It’s a great example of how global agricultural is in our own backyard.  And after all my travels and experiences, one thing I have learned is that in international agricultural “it is a small world after all.”

The students don’t quite know it yet, but not only are they going to have a great learning experience here in the Dominican Republic, they are also building lifelong friendships with each other.  I have seen it so many times before.  There is something about our short-term study abroad programs in ACES that builds great friendships. It might have to do with traveling together for 10 or more days as you really get to know each other well. That doesn’t just go for the students, it’s a great opportunity for me to get to know them as well. And that’s a great privilege for me.