It’s a beautiful experience of being yourself and walking in someone else's shoes at the same time.
Peter Swanson got involved in the GT LEAD community through his service as a Leadership Fellow (Coach) for the Leading Edge program over the 2014-2015 school year, as he completed the masters program in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). This summer, he is serving as a student leadership facilitator for La Vid (a Christian student group at Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic) where he has been helping a group of students learn how to lead their group and grow in their career, faith, and responsibility. We were curious to know more about his experience in the Dominican Republic, and here is what he told us:
1. Where are you this summer and what are you doing (ex: studying abroad, internship, teaching, summer classes, FASET leader, etc)? Please describe your context and why you chose this path for the summer.
I just graduated from the masters program in ECE at GT. I hope to teach Electrical Engineering in a university in the Dominican Republic (DR) as soon as my Spanish is good enough to understand their specific accent here. I am currently working with a group of Christian students in the university in the mean time. My dream is to help people in all sorts of ways whether it’s through education, relief work, or spiritual growth with God. I have been doing volunteer work in the DR for the past four summers and I love the people here. There are so many needs here and the people have such great hearts, so I wanted to do what I can to serve and help here in the DR.
2. What are some ways that leadership plays a role in what you are doing this summer?
One example of the need for leadership is in my friendship with a boy named Manuel. He is 17 and his family didn't have enough money to support him so they kicked him out of the house at a young age. He was homeless when we first met him. Though he is uneducated and looks a little rough, he has a heart of gold. He is always laughing and joking. I have been working with him to learn employable skills and develop life patterns of time and budget organization. I pay him to do random chores for me until he finds a job. He tells me that God has changed his life, and he is so kind and prays for his other friends who are also homeless. We recently found a temporary housing situation for him.
3. In what way are you/were you involved with Georgia Tech Leadership Education and Development (LEAD)? And how has your LEAD involvement helped you with your summer leadership experience? In other words, were there valuable insights gained or lessons learned from your LEAD involvement that has been useful to you this summer?
I was a one-on-one leadership coach this past year. One of the most helpful things that I took from my time in Leading Edge was the ability to teach by asking questions. In the Dominican culture, there are many worldview and cultural differences. I found that when I used a statement-based teaching style there was a lot lost in translation. But using the question-based teaching style that Leading Edge taught us has been incredibly helpful.
4. What has been the most rewarding part of your summer? What has been the most challenging?
The most rewarding moments have been seeing the Dominicans gaining and growing a heart for the helpful people around them: their neighbors, friends, and family. So many of them have told us that growing in their relationship with God has brought unity and love into families that have a lot of brokenness (and still have a lot to healing to do). The most challenging thing to me has been the “catch-22” that I find myself in often. I want to help people financially, but the issue is that when I give out money or food, it often sends a message that American gifts are the solution to their financial problems. Instead of giving gifts of food and money, I have been creating ways to employ some of them (like Manuel).
5. What do you know now that you didn’t know before you ventured into your summer leadership experience?
Before I came, I was worried that I might not fit into this culture very well. I was afraid that I would need to practically become Dominican before I could become effective at helping them. However, I have learned that it’s okay to be my American self. I have been learning from the Dominicans and picking things up from them and they have learned from me also (My Dominican roommate and I were laughing hard one night as we played a funny game of impersonating each other's accent). It’s a beautiful experience of being yourself and walking in someone else's shoes at the same time.