The University of Iowa

Student Reflections on Diversity Abroad: Dominican Republic

April 28th, 2020
Lauren Wood Dominican Republic

My name is Lauren Wood and I am a senior preparing to graduate in May with a BFA in dance, a BA in exercise science, and a minor in political science. Because of my extremely busy class schedule during my time at Iowa, I have not been able to travel abroad so when I saw the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic during the winter session of 2019, I knew I had to jump at this amazing opportunity. I recently decided to change career plans and have decided to pursue medicine. I wanted to use this trip to determine if going to medical school was the right path for me in the future. What I didn’t expect is how these two weeks would be some of the best days of my life. 

I come from a Mexican-American family. My mother’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1960’s, while my father’s family has European roots. Due to my family background, it is difficult to know I am Hispanic from the color of my skin and my name. Growing up, people had a hard time believing me when I told them I was half-Mexican which created a bit of an identity crisis my whole life. Although I would be laughed at when I was younger because I didn’t fit people’s expectations of what Mexicans should look like, my culture has always been something I hold close to my heart. When I saw that this study abroad opportunity was in the Dominican Republic, I knew I had to go, not only to experience medicine in another country, but to be able to fully experience another Latin American culture.

Because I am not fluent in Spanish, though I can understand when it is spoken slowly, I thought language was going to be a big barrier in my experience. I was so wrong! I was able to practice my Spanish as best I could and was able to see so many similarities between Mexican and Dominican culture and was able to understand and participate in these similarities. Aside from times when I am with family, for the first time I felt fully accepted and able to embrace my Latin American roots without any question about my physical qualities. 

Lauren Wood Dominican Republic

This experience has inspired me and given me more confidence in fully embracing more of my Mexican culture. I have now made it a goal of mine to become fluent in Spanish by the end of the year. Also, I am creating my BFA capstone project based on experiences with my identity and how it changed during this trip. In addition to these revelations about identity, I fell in love with my experience in the hospitals as well. I reaffirmed my desire to become a medical doctor, and hope to spend a part of my career back in the Dominican Republic helping the communities who need it the most. 

For me, this trip was so emotionally and spiritually fulfilling. I feel so much more confident in myself and my heritage. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been proud of my heritage and love my Mexican culture, but because of my outward appearance, it has been difficult for me to completely identify as a Mexican-American woman, especially when I am outside and away from my family. After my trip abroad, I feel proud and confident in who I am and have no doubts about my identity. I may not look like what the average person in the U.S. thinks of a Hispanic, but it is who I am. There is no “look” to Hispanic people - we can look like anyone. I am here and I am proud!

To the next adventure,

Lauren Wood


Please note that the opinions and views expressed by diversity ambassadors are solely those of the students and do not reflect or represent the views of International Programs or the University of Iowa.