ORLANDO | Three Dominican mission students made it to the U.S. in time to start their sophomore year at Bishop Moore Catholic High School after a year of online learning and a few weeks of intensive English. While this would be a setback for anyone, Carmen, Jennifer, and Julio embraced the unknown and completed their freshmen coursework virtually from their mountain village of Los Fríos in the Dominican Republic with the help of Bishop Moore’s distance learning program.
“For me a dream came true. This is a big gift for me,” Carmen said. “My first impression of living in the United States was how beautiful Florida is, all the lakes… and the people are really good. They are so friendly and like to help others.”
Originally scheduled to arrive ahead of their freshman year, the onset of COVID-19 prevented the students from traveling to Florida. Compounding the delay was the cancellation of mission trips due to the pandemic. That did not stop volunteer Abigail Spalding. She joined a one-week construction mission and extended the trip to spend an additional two weeks with the three students in the Dominican Republic. Because they had missed a year of immersion in American culture, Spalding worked diligently on English lessons to help ease the transition onto the campus in Orlando.
Although this was Spalding’s third time to La Cucarita, “the experience was completely different than any other trip” because she was no longer with a group of Americans, Spalding explained. Yet the trip did not fall short. “The best part of the two weeks was that I truly got to know these students in a deeper way,” she said. She acknowledged it was initially a “daunting task” to teach American culture to high schoolers “who have only ever known their mountain community and were pretty hesitant to speak English.” Still, they quickly bonded by watching some Bishop Moore lacrosse, volleyball, basketball, and soccer games live-streamed earlier in the year. The students began to dream of trying out for those teams upon arrival. They also spent a lot of time dancing to American music while making grilled cheese or pancakes in the kitchen.
The exposure paid off. “I was very impressed with the food scene and the many varieties of food in the United States,” Julio noted after arriving. He also loves meeting people of different nationalities and is eager to share his own culture with new friends.
Over the summer, Spalding worked with students on their summer reading list. “One of our biggest challenges was reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” she recalled. Karina A., a current Dominican student and rising senior at Bishop Moore, helped dissect the challenging novel. “It was encouraging for the new students to see how much Karina’s English has improved over her three years in the United States,” Spalding said.
Now settled with their mission families and two weeks of school under their belt, the students are adjusting well in part to Spalding’s hard work. “It feels amazing, because it is a great school…,” Jennifer said. She’s dreamed of studying at Bishop Moore since childhood. Taking in “the charisma of the people, my school, the food, the transit, the animals and my new family” is a lot she added. Julio too was taken aback by “the rules and regulations they have for the protection of all children.” Accustomed to a small classroom of maybe 10 students, he noted, “I am impressed with the way the school maintains order with such a large number of students.”
Mission Office Director, Ursuline Sister Bernadette McKay said, “Volunteers like Abigail are the lifeline to successfully completing our mission projects. They are the lifeblood of all that we do. Their in-person support, financial support, prayers and never-failing concern fuels everything the mission office undertakes. God has blessed us and for each of them we are wonderfully grateful.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, August 25, 2021