McCourt students recently returned from a student-led trip to the Dominican Republic to learn firsthand from government, non-profit, and private sector leaders who are responsible for shaping the country’s policy future. 

Twenty-six McCourt students representing 12 different countries participated in the trip, which was led by Agustín Porres (MPP ’16) and accompanied by MPP Faculty Director Barbara Schone.

The itinerary began in Santo Domingo with a meeting with Vice President and Social Policy Cabinet Coordinator Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, with whom they discussed politics and governance issues. She introduced them to members of her social policy cabinet and prompted a tour of the National Palace, which houses the Dominican Republic’s executive branch. 

"Personally, the opportunity to interact with actual politicians and see how their decisions impact the lives of people motivated me to continue getting involved in politics," said Porres.

The group traveled to El Seibo, a lush, mountainous province near the eastern end of the Dominican Republic, where community leaders introduced them to a worm and fish farm and expounded upon the social programs that exist in the province. The students also met with local families for candid conversations about how they receive social programs and their effectiveness.

“What was most touching of the El Seibo visit was the eagerness of the recipients to teach and show us the farm, the processes and fruits of their labor, their gratitude extending to a fish fry prepared for us at the end of the day,” said Shalini Malaki (MPP’16). “In a quantitative and analytical program it is a most rewarding experience to see a policy program, meet those who implement and benefit from it and reinforce the values and visions that pushed us into the field of policy.”

"The experience of seeing the impact of social policies by visiting people at their houses gave us the possibility of a deeper understanding of the situation and also to think and evaluate policies from a human perspective," added Porres.

Students also met with leaders outside government, including Roberto Herrera, Country Manager for InterEnergy Holdings, to learn about public-private interactions. They also met with Marco Herrera, Executive Director of FUNGLODE, a think tank based in the capital, to discuss think tanks’ influence and role in the policy process. 

Those who gathered to reflect upon the trip described several common themes, including the transferrable skills and knowledge they adopted as a result of their firsthand experiences. 

“Social safety nets have been my area of policy research before I came to Georgetown, but it was at Georgetown that I was able to see the effect of this policy first hand,” said Alishae Khar (MPP’17) “It has reinstated my belief in the use of micro-level interventions, targeted at the poorest of the poor as a poverty reduction strategy.”

“The policy trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the policy making process in all its phases: design, implementation and impact evaluation,” added Cristina Pinto (MPP’17). “It was also an amazing opportunity to learn from the Dominican culture and meet young Dominicans that, like ourselves, believe in change and want their country to succeed. I had a lot of fun, enjoyed getting to know my classmates better and definitely believe this kind of experiences are a perfect complement to what we are learning inside the classroom.” 

Students also expressed gratitude towards their receptive government hosts, who put forth much effort to make the trip as educational, open, and hospitable as possible. 

“With our education and classroom experience from the McCourt School, my fellow classmates and I asked the meaningful, hard and important questions, all of which, in my opinion, were answered as directly as possible without censorship from the social cabinet or the recipients from the program,” Malaki observed.

In looking to build on the trip’s success, student organizers are already working to develop a proposal to travel to Mexico prior to the start of the Fall 2016 semester. 

Similar to the Dominican Republic trip, the endeavor will aim to increase understanding of a country from a policy perspective; facilitate interactions with public, private, and non-profit leaders; and strengthen the McCourt community. Porres and Pinto, along with students America Avalos, Galia Rabchinsky, Maricarmen Medina, are spearheading the initiative.