When Stephany Reyes-​​Seri was growing up, her mother often reminded her to appre­ciate every­thing she had because many chil­dren in the Dominican Republic would give any­thing for the same oppor­tu­ni­ties afforded her.

Reyes-​​Seri had vis­ited her mother’s home­town of Santo Domingo, but the North­eastern busi­ness major had never seen the extreme poverty that exists in areas out­side the cap­ital. That is, until ear­lier this year, when she worked in those poor com­mu­ni­ties as part of a field study through Northeastern’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute—an expe­ri­ence Reyes-​​Seri said changed her life.

Her group—which included 34 North­eastern stu­dents and three staff members—worked with Esper­anza Inter­na­tional, a micro­fi­nance orga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides small busi­ness loans and busi­ness training to low-​​income res­i­dents in the Dominican Republic. Reyes-​​Seri vis­ited a sug­ar­cane plan­ta­tion where workers, mainly Haitian immi­grants, made around $6 a week.

Reyes-Seri’s group inter­viewed about 200 bor­rowers about their busi­nesses and training, their finan­cial record-​​keeping prac­tices, and their under­standing of basic busi­ness and eco­nomic con­cepts. Her group ana­lyzed the responses and offered Esper­anza insight into best prac­tices and rec­om­men­da­tions for improving aspects of the loan pro­grams and busi­ness training.

Reyes-​​Seri also took morning classes to learn about micro­fi­nance and what makes the enter­prises sus­tain­able. And prior to her 16-​​day visit to the Dominican Republic, she spent two weeks in Belize doing sim­ilar work for a dif­ferent micro­fi­nance institution.

Before she left for the trip, Reyes-​​Seri admits she strug­gled to decide her post-​​graduation direc­tion. But after seeing how micro­fi­nance could lift impov­er­ished res­i­dents’ spirits as well as their finan­cial status, she left with a much clearer pic­ture. She hopes to return to the Dominican Republic to help the many in need who lack oppor­tu­ni­ties to suc­ceed in business.

This expe­ri­ence has had a tremen­dous impact on me, and what­ever I do in the future has to be related to improving the lives of the poor,” said Reyes-​​Seri, who is preparing to enter her senior year at North­eastern this fall.

On a more per­sonal note, she says the expe­ri­ence in the Dominican Republic helped her forge a stronger con­nec­tion to home.

I never lived in the Dominican Republic, but growing up in a house­hold in which merengue and bachata [music] was always played really loud, I def­i­nitely felt a con­nec­tion. All the foods we eat are tra­di­tional Dominican dishes. When vis­iting rel­a­tives I would hear sto­ries about ‘back home,’” she said. “I always was and still am proud to say I am Dominican and embrace every aspect of the culture.”