Annual Study Center Review
CIEE Study Center Community Public Health Program at the Pontificia
Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM)
Santiago, Dominican Republic
CIEE Program Director: Christine Wintersteen, Program Director, Latin America,
CIEE Resident Director: David Simmons
CIEE Academic Consortium Board Program Evaluation: www.ciee.org
CIEE Academic Consortium Board Monitor: Adrian Beaulieu, Providence College
Each summer, program directors write a Study Center Review for each CIEE Study
Center program commenting on the previous academic year. The program director
writes the review based on input from the CIEE Academic Consortium Board members,
resident directors, sending institutions, and student evaluations. Each report is made
public on the CIEE website at www.ciee.org.
The CIEE Community Public Health summer program in Santiago, Dominican Republic
is designed for students with an interest in Spanish language, medicine, and the allied
health professions in the context of underdevelopment and public health. Program goals
are met through coursework on community and public health, a Spanish language
course, exposure to urban clinics and a week-long field experience in a rural clinic.
The most important recommendation from the 2006 monitoring process was to explore
ways to best prepare students for the challenging rural clinic stay and explore the
possibility of including bateys as a site for the rural clinic.
The program met its goals during summer 2007.
New & Noteworthy Features
This program does implement the CIEE Community Language Commitment but only
following orientation, which is primarily conducted in English. Dominican Spanish is often
challenging for most students to initially understand due to its rapid rhythm but students
find they make significant progress in their language skills during their time abroad.
Following a language placement exam, students are placed in one of two language
levels: Intensive Intermediate Spanish or Intensive Advanced Spanish. The goals of the
courses are to improve Spanish language skills and to provide students with some
health and medically-related vocabulary so that they can communicate in clinical
settings. The courses also share a common cinema component to complement their
language learning. The films also promote discussion on health-related topics that
emerge in the films. Spanish language courses were evaluated well but students were
expecting to learn even more medically related vocabulary.
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Both courses are taught by Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM)
professors through the Area of Spanish for Foreigners, housed in the Department of
Applied Linguistics. Many of the instructors have master’s degrees in their fields and
attend workshops and training at PUCMM. This summer, both classes visited the Centro
León, a cultural center, as part of the language class.
All students enroll in the following courses: Spanish Language, Community Health
Practicum, and Pre-Professional Health Care Issues. In past years, the latter course had
a very well-liked professor teaching the course. The challenge for this professor was that
although he was very good, he was a historian by training. Beginning in summer 2007,
this course is being taught by a new professor who has a Masters in Public Health.
Course reviews were mixed but it is anticipated that with her experience and knowledge
in the field, this course will continue to improve.
One of the more obvious changes to orientation was the explicit commitment to speak
Spanish. While this has always been something the program has emphasized in the
past, there was no formal commitment to do so. Knowing this up front, our students were
very good at sticking to Spanish throughout the program (though it was not uncommon
to hear students talking to one another in English—at which point staff gently urged them
to continue in Spanish).
Another change this year was the decision to roll the “Academic Life” talk into the first full
day of orientation (it had previously been covered at the end of the week). Classes
began earlier this summer and staff wanted students to have this information before
attending their courses. The teaching pedagogy of PUCMM is more lecture focused,
rather than interactive and dialogical, and students need to know that their classroom
experience may be different than that of their home institution.
During this program, CIEE organizes several cultural activities including a tour of the city
and an important discussion on Dominican Identity with Dominicans and Haitians.
Following the rural clinic stay, the group visits the Hermanas Mirabel Musuem in Salcedo
to learn about the significance of this important group of national heroines.
Overnight Field Trips
Students participated in an overnight work retreat to the Batey Lbertad, a Haitian
community in the Dominican Republic. Students had requested this in previous years
and the resident director worked to incorporate this in summer 2007. This visit involved
doing medical translation for a team of visiting American doctors/medical students.
Students also had the opportunity to hear about the plight of Haitians living and working
in the Dominican Republic from the perspective of the Haitians themselves. They also
visited a nearby rice processing plant—the rice processed at the plant was primarily
picked by members of the community. Many students remarked how valuable this
experience was for them.
In addition, students participated in an excursion to the capital city of Santo Domingo.
Activities include a formal dinner at a favorite restaurant, Mesón de la Cava (located in
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an actual cave), a walking tour of the city’s colonial zone by a local historian/guide, a
visit to the Mercado Modelo for Dominican and Haitian arts and crafts and, of course, a
sampling of the capital’s eclectic and exciting nightlife. Other activities included visits to
the aquarium, botanical gardens, and “Los Tres Ojos,” a subterranean system of
freshwater lakes. Although students enjoyed the experience, they felt the activities of the
botanical gardens and aquarium were not valuable.
All students live with Dominican families and enjoy their experience immensely. Most
host families work very hard to incorporate students into the many activities of their
lives—weddings, birthdays, holidays, and funerals—such that students have a very
complete sense of the everyday lives of middle-class Dominicans. Dominican families
tend to be warm and welcoming and students evaluated this experience highly.
Community Engagement and Integration
For-Credit Internship and Community Service Options
All students participate in service activities as part of the Community Health Practicum
course. These practical experiences take place in both rural and urban contexts. The
one-week rural Salcedo clinics are managed and supervised by the Provincial Director of
Public Health. Students stay in one of nine clinics, working with doctors, nurses, and
community health promoters on issues of prevention (usually through health education)
and treatment (only non-invasive) of patients.
Due to the fact that doctors working at the rural clinics have newly graduated from
medical school and only spend one year at their rural clinic, there is a constantly
changing pool them from year to year. Nurses and health promoters do not change,
however, which gives a sense of continuity to the work they do in local communities.
However, because doctors change annually, it’s difficult to forecast for students what
their doctors will be like and what their particular experience will be with that doctor.
Despite its challenges and frustrations, students find the experience very rewarding.
The other practicum begins mid-term and involves students working out of an urban
clinic (in Santiago) in a marginalized neighborhood. Students work primarily with
community health promoters in the afternoons developing health campaigns, health
education and promotion, home visits, and various kinds of screenings.
Not-for-Credit Community Service/Volunteer Projects
The overnight stay in Batey Libertad incorporated service to the local community. All
students participated in this experience.
Challenges & Future Directions
One of the biggest challenges with language courses has been to get them to be more
interactive and less written-exercise oriented. Students want to practice this
accumulated grammar knowledge in the context of conversations, dialogue, and
interaction. Particular classes that receive the highest student praise are those that
stage debates, for example, where half the class has to take an opposing viewpoint on a
particular topic and argue the case. The resident director met with PUCMM
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administrators and they agreed to work with instructors to include more role playing and
other kinds of interactive exercises that better capture students’ interests and better
simulate what students will be dealing with in their clinical settings
Some students face general frustrations and challenges in studying, living and serving in
a developing country. U.S. students often want to know exactly what to expect in each
context and a reality of the Dominican context is that flexibility and willingness for
uncertainty are paramount in successfully adapting to the changing aspects of life on the
island. Resident staff try to prepare students for this reality during orientation and
throughout the program.
Overall, the program is evaluated well. In the coming year, resident staff will focus even
more attention on cultural relativism, flexibility, and the need for divesting oneself from
feelings of American entitlement while in the Dominican Republic. Incorporating more
role plays and interactive exercises during the course of orientation can help students
better assimilate these ideas and assist them in their adaptation to life in the Dominican
Republic, particularly in their service experiences. In addition, staff will work on revising
the content of the Santo Domingo excursion to incorporate some activities that relate
more with the theme of the program and interests of students. Finally, the resident
director will continue to work with PUCMM staff to improve the courses, particularly
Spanish language and the Pre-Professional Health Care Issues.
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