In March 2019, Emersen Dodge, a Physiology and Spanish major from the University of Wyoming, traveled to Puerto Rico as part of an alternative spring break program. In this interview with Amizade’s Communications and Development Associate Melissa Nix, she shares her takeaways and memories from an eye-opening week of service and learning.

Melissa: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in Puerto Rico?

Emersen: My time in Puerto Rico was the best experience of my entire life so far. Not only did I get to be with an amazing groups of young students from my college community, I also got to interact with lots of hard-working locals, help out the community and learn so much! Puerto Rico in itself is breathtaking, but the people there made it even more special. The chance to learn more about the communities in Puerto Rico was really incredible. I gained so much knowledge that I have been sharing with all of my friends and family back home!

I loved working in the mangrove forest and getting my hands dirty (literally!). It really made me feel like I was making a difference. The people working with CARAS are so caring and passionate. They love what they do and it makes all the difference. They are supporting a cause that is so important and I am so proud to have been a part of that.

Melissa: Are there any memorable moments or stories that stand out for you?

Emersen: I have so many good memories from that week I could go on forever! But one that sticks out is this. A few of was were walking through the mangroves in our work boots looking for baby trees to plant. It was extremely muddy in some spots so we had to be careful where we stepped. One of my friends got her boot stuck in the mud and as I went to help her out, one of my boots got stuck as well! We all tried to pull the boot out. They even had me take my foot out to try to pull the boot up on its own, but it wouldn’t budge! Eventually we all gave up and left the boot stuck there in the mud, barely any of it left visible. Our hands and clothes were covered in mud and I was without a boot! I stood on one foot until a few of them went back to grab me a new one and we continued on. The leader said they lose quite a few boots every year to the mud.

Melissa: Now that you’re back home, have you made any changes in your daily life or your way of thinking?

Emersen: Yes! I have made a commitment to return to San Juan and continue helping CARAS and the people I met there. I am hoping to go after graduation! Also, I am extra conscious about my waste. While in Puerto Rico we saw lots of plastic and other waste from the ocean that was covering the mangroves and damaging the environment. I am super careful to always recycle and I have been trying to use less altogether. Also, I have an entire new group of close friends. The 10 of us that went on the trip got very close and still talk a lot.

Melissa: Would you recommend an alternative break program like this to other students?

Emersen: I would completely recommend this trip (or something similar) to anyone. Like I mentioned earlier, it was the experience of a lifetime. I got to try new foods, look at amazing views, make new friends, see a different part of the world, and make a difference in a community full of amazing people. Not to mention all the wonderful memories I now have. This trip was a once in a lifetime chance to make a mark on the world and have fun while you’re doing it. If you have the chance, please do this!

Thank you Emersen for sharing these wonderful stories from your experience! We’re proud to hear about your commitment to using less resources, and we hope you make it back to Puerto Rico soon! 

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