By Sandra Bernabe MSW ’16
August 2nd marked the end of my learning experience in la República Dominicana. Although I was excited that I would be returning to California, my departure was bitter-sweet, after all the DR had become my home away from home for 6 weeks. After spending time learning about its culture, its people, and visiting its wondrous attractions, I realized that the DR had grown on me.
During my ride back to Las Américas International Airport I had time to reflect back on my time spent in the DR. When I first arrived in the DR on June 21st, I was unaware of all that I would learn and experience in 1.5 months. My involvement in the MSM Research Project allowed me to learn about the DR’s sex tourism industry and HIV prevalence through the interviews held with male sex workers. As part of the interview process, I was responsible for administering rapid HIV tests to those participants who agreed to be tested. However, with this came having to deliver results. Although I only had to deliver one positive HIV result, it was the most difficult thing I have had to do. However, I was grateful for the counseling skills I acquired through the MSW program as I was able to utilize these skills throughout this project and especially when providing pre and post HIV counseling. I am hopeful that my participation in this project helped to increase awareness about HIV among the individuals who participated in the study. I also remain hopeful that they will use safer sexual practices to help reduce the risks of contracting and/or spreading HIV and other STDs to others.
When I first arrived in Santo Domingo, I was anxious about what the following 6 weeks would be like. Now that I am back home, I am grateful for having been provided the opportunity to take part in the MSM research project. Now all that remains of my experience in the DR are my memories, photos, and videos of my time spent in the DR. I am thankful for everyone who helped make this a memorable experience. I am especially thankful for having been able to take part in this experience with two other research assistants who became my main source of support while in the DR. I am thankful that it was they who took part in this journey with me, and I am also grateful for the endless support they provided.