The year was 1994 when I started my second semester at college and feeling a new sense of freedom and empowerment. Far seemed the beginning of the year when at 16 I walked timidly the hallways of the Humanities college at my university. Now experiencing fully the college freedom of coming and going as I pleased and the added responsibility of doing well in my classes without parental supervision, total free will.
With so many years that have passed since then I look at that time and me in those pictures and I seem like such a little girl. However, at the time I felt like an adult, I thought I was grown because I didn’t depend on my father or any other adult anymore. I was in college and I had been working for three years. The college freedom I was experiencing was paired with the work I was doing as a surveyor of both politics and consumer products.
Because of that work, I had the opportunity to travel around the Dominican Republic with other people who were adults, some of them even had families already, and were my fellow coworkers; we used to go to different towns and walked through their neighborhoods, knocking on doors to ask them about products or partisan politics, which in DR the ladder is always a hot topic. Having to knock on doors and convince people to answer my questions prepared me for the career I had chosen as a journalist, and the college freedom I had made me feel confident when faced with opposition to my work.
Being a surveyor has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I’m lucky I had that opportunity at such an early age. Having the chance to travel to every corner of my country, something my family didn’t have the resources to do (except visiting San Cristóbal, my grandma’s birth town, that fueled my passion for travel), I hadn’t been far from the borders of my beloved Santo Domingo. Being a student was something most people appreciated a lot, especially the most humble people with the lowest educational level, felt a sense of pride through me.
What I learned then about Dominican people was that whatever they lacked in resources or educational attainment they had a surplus in goodwill and generosity. People would often invite me into their homes, offered me food, juice and water, and were empathetic in the days that it was too hot and I was walking the streets in the blazing Dominican sun. I learned so many lessons in humility and gratefulness, and realized the privilege I had, even when I was from a poor neighborhood, because they were way too many people in circumstances I had never experienced. In hindsight, those years as a surveyor shaped my commitment to diversity and inclusion, to empathy and to the common struggles of our humanity.
College Freedom And Life At 17
While I was experiencing college freedom at an early age, that didn’t remove the drama of being a teenager. The platonic romances, the falling in love without being reciprocated, and finally finding a spark of what I thought then to be the ultimate love, as probably all teenagers feel at some point. I was fortunate to have a lot of freedom at home as well, because my dad had a very open approach to parenthood and that made my teenage years a bit easier to navigate.
I also recognize that my life at age 17 looked much more grown to the lives of girls that age that I encounter currently, here in the US and back in DR. My days were filled with work, going to my classes in college and fulfilling my duties at home with the chores that were on my charge. As hard as it might sound, I think it gave me a great foundation to work hard for what I want and taught me discipline and work ethic.
All of the above being said, I must let you know that I did have a lot of FUN, being responsible and working hard never stopped me from living life large. Going to the regular movies constantly, belonging to a movie club, and then catching any French and Spanish movie they played at their respective cultural centers in Santo Domingo. Going to concerts to see my favorite artists and just doing ridiculous things with my friends were all part of my day. After all, you know how much energy inhabits a teenage body and I fully made use of it.
What about you? How was your life at age 17?Let's embrace diversity and create social change! © Dania Santana ~ Embracing Diversity
Multiculturalism, Diversity & Inclusion Expert | Author | Speaker