My name is Abby Siegel and I live in Miami, Florida. I am a rising Sophomore at Cornell University studying Human Development on a pre-med track. I have taken six trips with Outreach360 in the past and recently completed the Remote Summer Internship Program. I first volunteered with Outreach360 in 2011 when I was only 10-years-old. My dad found the organization while researching family volunteer opportunities for my sister's service project for her Bat Mitzvah. After our first trip in 2011, we returned to the Dominican Republic on another Outreach360 volunteer trip in 2013. Outreach360 has been a major part of my family's lives ever since. Over the years, my family has traveled to both the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua and each experience has been rewarding, impactful, and fun.
This summer, I was planning to go to the Dominican Republic as part of Outreach360's internship program and spend eight weeks in Monte Cristi. I was looking forward to being able to spend an extended period of time in the Dominican Republic because in the past my family had only volunteered for one week at a time. Due to COVID-19, the internship program was canceled. In March, Tom Eklund sent me an email asking if I would be interested in participating in a month-long Remote Internship Program that Outreach360 was in the process of creating. At first, I was skeptical of an online program and how it would compare to the immersive in-country experiences I had in the past. Putting my concerns aside, I decided to participate in the Remote Internship Program and am extremely happy I did!
The cases of COVID-19 in Florida have been rapidly rising so I knew I was going to be home for the summer, staying indoors, and looking for things to keep me busy. I never realized how much of an impact I could make in the Remote Internship Program in addition to the impact the program would have on me. I think that Outreach360 volunteers are able to have a significant effect on the students' education, even through a virtual environment. The students came to their virtual classes every day, eager, prepared, and enthusiastic about the material they were being taught. At first, I was hesitant if the students would absorb and understand the information as well online as opposed to an in-person setting, but they far surpassed my expectations. It was evident they wanted to learn and enjoyed being in class by showing up early each day and taking detailed notes. In addition, games online like Quizlet, Kahoot, and educational YouTube videos were incredibly useful in helping the students grasp the concepts we were teaching. These online tools were really valuable and added a whole new dimension that would not typically be a part of an in-person class. The students very much appreciated what we were teaching them but were also actively engaged in the casual, interactional environment we were able to create in the classroom over Zoom. This enabled the students to be active participants in the class, raising their hands to ask insightful questions, make meaningful comments, and respond to the teachers' questions.
I gained more than I could have imagined from working with Outreach360 students virtually this summer. They inspired me to continue pursuing my education with the passion they brought to class each day. From teaching the Health & Science classes this summer, it reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in medicine. I also gained important leadership skills; I learned how to manage a classroom of students over Zoom, ensuring that each student was following the curriculum and understanding the material being taught. I also learned how to collaborate with others to effectively teach a remote course with my teaching partner. Overall, I became much more confident in my teaching abilities. I was able to effectively teach difficult concepts to the students and inspire them to want to learn more about different topics in Health & Science.
I also enjoyed other aspects of the Remote Internship Program. One of my favorite parts was taking a Spanish class with Nilsan, an Outreach360 leader, and other interns. I loved the Spanish class because I was able to practice my Spanish and become more comfortable participating in conversations completely in Spanish. I had not been keeping up with my Spanish during my Freshman year in college and this summer's Spanish classes were a great opportunity for me to regain my proficiency in Spanish while at the same time learning about different aspects of Dominican culture. The Spanish classes also allowed me to step into the shoes of Outreach360 students. I was able to see how it felt to be called on and have to respond to questions in a language that was not my native language. I gained even more respect for the students I was teaching when I experienced how it felt to communicate in an educational setting in a non-native language. Additionally, I saw firsthand how practice and repetition are both key elements to learning and improving one's fluency of another language.
If I were to say something to someone considering a remote internship with Outreach360, I would say to go for it, and I promise that you will not regret your decision! It was an unforgettable, motivational, and extremely worthwhile experience to be able to make an impact on these students' lives. I loved every minute of the internship and miss seeing the bright and smiling faces of my students each day on Zoom.
Abby recently registered to participate in our Virtual Fall Internship. Learn more about this new Virtual Impact Program opportunity below.
For more information on Outreach360's virtual internships, please visit www.outreach360.org/virtualimpact.