Final weeks

I cannot believe that today was my last day in the Dominican Republic. This experience has gone by so fast. I have had a great time these last couple weeks and I couldn’t have ended my experience in a better way. The first week of April the school was closed for the holiday break Semana Santa. The entire country is on break and many businesses close early or are closed the entire week. I took full advantage of this week off and traveled with a German volunteer that I met here. We traveled from Sunday to Wednesday, going to Santiago and then to Monte Cristi. We spent one day and night in Santiago, walking around, exploring the city and going to a museum. The museum is called Centro Cultural Eduardo León Jimenes, the center develops educational and cultural programs around ecology, art and history of the Dominican Republic. During my time in Monte Cristi we went to a beach, hiked a “small mountain” El Morro and went on a snorkeling tour. Sadly, I do not have any pictures from inside of the water. It was interesting to see another part of the country and be on the west coast of the DR. I think the people were very similar to where I live in Los Alcarrizos but the streets were much calmer and quieter and the people moved a little bit slower. Which is similar to the U.S if you go south, near the beach life is a little bit slower. This trip was a great way to start my last three weeks here and was an amazing last vacation.

My friends from Germany at the Pottery class

Once the break was over, I resumed my normal routine in the school and helped with the grant proposal. They were able to use what I wrote in the initial proposal, so I am very happy that I was able to contribute to the future of Lecheria. During the week I made sure to take in all the sun and spend as much time as I could on the roof of my house listening to the neighborhood and the birds. During my last weeks here, I was very conscious about being present and appreciating the small things. On the weekends, I spent time at the community pools with my friends and was able to take a pottery class in the city. It was my first time doing pottery and it was so much fun! We made plant pots and were able to paint them as well. I think it is a great souvenir to bring back home or even to leave in the house as a gift. I will be looking into classes when I come back to Buffalo, NY.

Liceo en Modalidad y Arte María Montez, the school that I have been working with separate from my internship, invited me to their English club meeting one last time before I leave. They were so wonderful and presented me with a certificate from their school for helping and contributing to their school and English program. I am so happy that I was able to make a good impression on the institution and on the students. It is an important aspect of studying abroad that is easy to forget, but being from another country, you may be the first person from that country that a person meets. Or you may be the only person from that country that the person will ever meet. Because of this, it is important to be cautious of your actions and words so that you are portrayed the way you want them to see you and the people from your country. After the meeting I was invited to attend the school’s art show competition. I brought my roommate Paloma, there was singing, dancing, acting and of course art from different mediums. The students are so talented and their love for the arts and creativity is inspiring.

Art from the students
Art from the students

I may have mentioned before but the school that I am working with has a lot of Haitian students, due to the location of the Batey and the amount of Haitian immigrants that settle here. Since the community has mostly Haitian immigrants the community speaks Haitian Creole. Many parents of the students do not know any Spanish and only speak Haitian Creole in their homes, which creates a problem with the students and their Spanish. While the school is helping the students that know little Spanish by offering 1:1 sessions with volunteers to help enhance their Spanish skills, the teachers have also started having Haitian Creole classes. They have a class once a week for an hour with one of the teachers that speaks Haitian Creole and lives in the community. I was able to attend the first class and it was so much fun! The teachers were able to see a little of what it’s like for me and the other students trying to learn a new language. It is going to be a great addition to the skills the teachers already have, to be able to communicate a little bit with the students that are struggling with Spanish. Everybody had so much fun and it is always a great time bonding with the teachers without any students around.

Haitian Creole class

Today was my last day in the school and saying goodbye to everyone was really difficult. Yesterday, I said goodbye to two of my roommates and other volunteers because they left for the weekend. Three months is a weird amount of time because it feels like a lot of time but also feels like nothing. I kept telling myself I wouldn’t cry saying goodbye because it may not be a goodbye, I plan on visiting Europe soon and I will see them again. However, when you experience something so new, difficult and fun together you become a family. Everyone I have met here has accepted me into their family and I have accepted them into mine. The students, the teachers and all the school personnel have taught me so much about myself as well as their culture. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and I am proud of myself for getting through everything that comes with an experience like this.

Now that the experience has come to an end, I am thinking about my transition back to Buffalo, NY. This has been my home for the past three months, my routine has changed, my surroundings have changed and I have changed. I’m thinking of how I will navigate my new environment in Buffalo because that has also changed. Graduation is coming up and soon I will be an LMSW entering the job force. Who knows what opportunities will be open when I return to Buffalo, NY, but I am ready to find out. I am ready to bring everything I have experienced here and all the positive changes I have made in myself to Buffalo, NY and to my new career.

I want to say thank you to the University at Buffalo for giving me this opportunity and to you all for keeping up with my journey and showing me nothing but support.

Goodbye Dominican Republic and hello Buffalo, NY

One month left….

I have a little less than one month left here in the Dominican Republic. I feel like I have been here for so long, but I also feel like I arrived yesterday. Over these past three weeks I have shifted my work with Community Service Alliance (CSA). Before I arrived, they gave me a calendar schedule of what they expected from me as part of the internship. During the last third of my internship, about 3/4 weeks CSA has asked me to help with a grant proposal. I have never written a grant before, so I was shocked when they asked me to be a part of the team. The proposal is to create a space that will better help the community’s financial independence, safety and vocational training for some individuals in the community. Although I haven’t written a grant proposal before, the team has been very helpful and open to hearing my suggestions and has given me space to write freely. I am very excited to be a part of the beginning stages of this program and to get an experience that I may never have gotten at another placement agency.

With Easter break approaching, the school has been sending the students on school field trips. I was able to assist two classes, we went to the aquarium and a museum. A second-grade class went to the aquarium and a first grade class went to the museum. Both times we took a large bus, school psychologist played music and the kids danced the whole way there. Both trips were in the city near Zona Colonial so it took about an hour to arrive with traffic. Zona Colonial, is located near the coast and as I have mentioned before the school, I am volunteering at is in a rural, low-income part of the Country. For many of the students it was the first time that they were out of their neighborhood and/or to see the ocean. They were ecstatic! Seeing their faces pressed against the bus’s windows was probably my favorite part of the experience.

Students at the aquarium
After the museum with the 1st grade class

My roommate and I at rock climbing

There is a metro system here that makes it so easy to get into the city from Los Alcorrizos but first you need to take a carro público (taxi) for about 20 minutes to the station and then you can go anywhere in the city. My roommate and I went to the south part of the city to a rock-climbing event. It was such a fun experience! We had no idea what to expect but we met so many people and to my surprise so many people that can speak English and Spanish. I met a woman that was finishing her PHD program as a marine biologist who is from India originally but has been going to school in Europe. I was so amazed by her experiences, we talked the entire time I was there. Doing small events that I would do in Buffalo but meeting new people from around the world, exchanging numbers and networking is the best thing that going abroad offers. You will always meet at least one person that you will keep in contact with for the rest of your life.

As I spend my last three weeks here, I am truly going to live in the moment. People say experiences like this only happen once in a lifetime but from my personal experience and meeting the people I have along the way I’ve learned that experiences like this happen if you want them to happen. There are many organizations that you can connect with to have a once in a lifetime opportunity. The study abroad program at the University at Buffalo being one of them. If I could say one thing to the students reading this that have an itch for going aboard. I would tell them to take the leap, don’t let fear hold you back, you will always learn something new about yourself and you will never regret it. Your limit is endless.

I only have a couple posts left, thank you everyone who has taken the time to keep up with my journey so far!

Conexiones y Familiaridad

I am more than half way through my internship. I have officially been here long enough that it feels like home. I no longer wake up and wonder to myself why it’s so warm outside! (Not excited to get back to the cold). After reflecting on my time here so far, I realized how much I have changed in just eight weeks. People will tell you that getting your MSW is the hardest thing they have ever done and while I don’t disagree, this experience is coming for that top spot. However, the most difficult times bring the best rewards, and I am most certainly feeling that now. Throughout this experience, I have become more confident in my abilities and learned to be more kind to myself. Taking a leap like this has reminded me that in order to grow, we must overcome the fear of unfamiliarity.

The meeting with Fe y Alegria and Therapy Adventures

This experience has forced me to face my fears and insecurities head on, and each time I am stronger. For example, a member of the non-profit organization Therapy Adventures visited the Dominican Republic to see about expanding their organization. The non-profit organization brings therapy and other services to communities and schools in Belize, Panama, Jamaica, Ecuador, Guatemala and hopefully the Dominican Republic. I was asked to accompany Rigil, Luz, Cesar and Arnold, the vice president, operations at AHI Travel, to a different Fe y Alegria school in the community that would benefit from Therapy Adventures and Community Service Alliance’s services. We sat down with the psychology department and gave a “pitch” about the services that could be provided. The school was very interested, and the meeting went great. I was really nervous to go, and I didn’t have much confidence in my language ability. However, I was a productive member of the conversation and the knowledge and training that UB School of Social Work has given me put me in a great position. After the meeting I felt more confident with my language skills, more confident in my ideas and training as a social worker. On top of that, I now have connections to another organization that is passionate about the well-being of children and their families and has connections all around the world.

These past couple weeks have been about connection and familiarity (The title of this blog). I have created so many new connections here professionally and personally. There is a gym in Los Alcarrizos that’s a 7 minute walk from my house, that I go to about 4 times a week. The family that owns the gym have been very welcoming, they even invited me to go on a beach day trip! We went to Playa Baní, a beach just about an hour West from Los Alcarrizos. It was beautiful and on the way there we took so many pictures, I really felt like I was a part of the family. The teachers in the school have also welcomed me with open arms and I am forming more personal relationships with each of them, day by day. This week we celebrated Día Internacional de la Mujers (International women’s day), I am so proud to be a woman and to be surrounded by all of the hardworking, kind and patient women at Santo Niño Jesús Fe y Alegria.

Playa Baní
The amazing women that work at the school

I also wanted to give a little snapshot of what my typical week looks like. Monday-Friday is similar, I wake up around 6:30am and am ready with coffee in my system by 7:00am to head to the school with Luz and my housemate Paloma. Once at the school the students arrive at 7:45 and we sing the national anthem and the school pledge. I love the music that goes with the school pledge, I wish everyone could hear how amazing it sounds with the students singing over it! Then depending on the day, I will assist the school psychologist, work on my Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum or assist the teachers in the classroom. Wednesdays and Fridays I work with two girls for one hour to teach them English. My internship hours vary week to week, but I work about 30-40 hours a week. Once I am finished with work, I will ride with the other teachers home in a gawgaw, it’s similar to a taxi but it is a small van. Or I will go back home with Luz and Paloma. Once a week I cook dinner for everyone in the house, which usually takes up my free time before I head to bed. Other days I relax on the roof, go to the gym, catch up on my favorite shows, read or hang out with my housemates. The weekends are completely different each week, I tend to stay within the community, relaxing, going for walks but I have also traveled numerous times on the weekends. You can really make this place fit your lifestyle, to make it feel like home, to make it feel familiar.

One of my English students (With permission from the school)
View from the roof of the house

Un día a la vez (one day at a time)

I have officially been in the Dominican Republic for one month. Time is going by so fast, I can´t believe I only have 10 weeks left. I have met some great people, seen beautiful places and found my place in helping the community.

My Spanish teacher Christina Maria

Yesterday marks my one month of being in the Dominican Republic as well as my last Spanish class. I have had the privilege of learning Spanish one on one with Maria Christina. I have completed 25 hours of Spanish and cultural immersion and I can say that I am in a much better place with my Spanish than when I first arrived here. I have a lot more to learn but my pronunciation, sentence structure and confidence has greatly improved. Maria Christina has been a huge support during my transition to the Dominican lifestyle. She has taught me what to watch out for, the gym culture, sayings, slang and even swear words! I can confidently say that without these classes I would not be in the position I am right now and I would be having a much harder time adapting to the culture. The Spanish immersion that Community Service Alliance offers is a once and a lifetime opportunity.

Playa Frontón

A couple weekends ago, my housemates and I went up to Samaná for a weekend trip. Samaná is a town in the North on the Samaná Peninsula, with beautiful beaches. We stayed for two nights, and two days. Hiked for a total of 9 hours the entire weekend and slept on Playa Frontón for one night. We got to see beautiful sunsets and sunrises. We saved the best part of the trip for the last day. Samaná is famous for Humpback Whales! Yes, humpback whales mate during the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere, so we were able to go whale watching! Great way to end an amazing trip.

Throughout this month I have started with the work I will carry out for the duration of my time here. Observing different classes in the school and talking with the psychologist and other school personnel, I have noticed the differences in culture. There are many differences in how children and teachers act here in the Dominican Republic as compared to the United States. With that in mind I also noticed the lack of social and emotional development the students have learned and how the teachers do not have the time or resources to implement social and emotional curriculum in their classrooms. Due to this, the psychologist and I have started creating a social and emotional learning curriculum that we can teach a select group of students. To hopefully better their interpersonal skills, impulse control and emotional regulation. The curriculum is in its beginning stages but we are hoping to have it completed by the middle of March, I will keep you all updated!

Along with creating the social and emotional learning curriculum, this month I helped the psychologist run a sexual health education group for the 3rd graders. Discussing different parts of the body and how to treat yourself and others with respect. Those lessons were very fun and it was a great learning experience for myself. I learned how to facilitate a group and how to organize a group in the school. This is important because I will be facilitating groups after the social and emotional learning curriculum is completed. I have also been teaching one student English every Friday for one hour. She is in the third grade and we will be focusing on colors, numbers, objects in the house/classroom and parts of the body. I am thinking about taking on two other students that want to learn a little bit of English.

Completing an internship with Community Service alliance is not only about working in the school but it is also focused on the community in Batey and in Los Alcarrizos. There is another program here called Café Con Leche, it is a program where exchange students and other members of the community can train children of different ages soccer, two of my housemates are a part of this program. Myself, my housemates and other members of the community came together to create a mural at Café Con Leche. The mural says “CCL Preparando Futuros” which translates to “CCL preparing for the future”. This was a great opportunity for members of the community to get together and bring hope and community back into the area. To let the community know that Café Con Leche and other organizations are here to impact the community in a positive way.

I have had the privilege of creating connections with Maria Montes high school here in Los Alcorrizos, in the U.S this school would be a private school but here in the Dominican Republic it is a public school. This school specializes in the arts; visual art, music, dance, theater and multi-media. The students enter the school around 14, then in two years they need to choose which media they would like to focus in. After that they showcase their talent and are accepted into the school or are guided in finding a different school. The school hires licensed teachers to teach the core classes, as well as individuals in the community that specialize in the different medias. The school has an English club that students can join to better their English or if they have aspirations of going to the U.S to study. I was asked to be a guest speaker during their monthly meeting! It was a great opportunity and the students and community at the school were very welcoming. We spoke about the differences between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. In addition, the process of scholarships and how important it is to continue their English and expand their knowledge about other cultures.

Café Con Leche mural
Maria Montes High School

I have more work I want to complete as part of my internship and if the rest of my time here goes as well as my first month I believe I will be able to achieve everything. I am excited to see what the future holds for my time here in the Dominican Republic.

Until next time 🙂

Goodbye Buffalo, NY and hello Dominican Republic

My new kitchen
My new kitchen

So, I have officially been in the Dominican Republic for one week and I am loving it. It is a very big change from my life in Buffalo, NY. First off there is NO snow here and it is always 80 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny. I arrived at my house in Los Alcarrizos just about 1 hour from Santo Domingo. When I arrived Luz (the house Mother) and principal of the school welcomed me into her home with open arms. There are also three other volunteers living here, two from Germany and one from Spain. The one from Spain has been here for about 3 months already and is planning on staying here for a year. The two students from Germany have been here for about 5 months and are also planning on staying for a year. I have my own bedroom and share a bathroom with the two other girls in the house. We have dinner together 4 days out of the week that is prepared by one of us. I have yet to cook dinner for everyone but when I do I hope they enjoy my American cuisine! The house is just off of a main road and is very busy with people and children playing in the streets. The house across the street has three dogs that love to talk to one another, so that has been an adjustment. As for my accommodations I am feeling very comfortable here, and am excited to make lots of memories with my housemates. I arrived in Santo Domingo on Saturday and as a Buffalonian you know I had to watch the first playoff game on Sunday. Rigil, the director of my stay here, invited me to go to dinner with his family and explore some of the city. I was able to watch the game at lunch with his family and I am happy to report THEY WON!!

Watching the bills game with Rigil and his family

My internship is located in Batey which is about 15 minutes driving from my house in Los Alcarrizos. During my first week I was introduced to all of the teachers in the school. The school is called Santo Ninos Jesus Fe y Alegria and has students ages 4 to 9 years old. In the school they are implementing Montessori practices so that the students not only get an education but also life skills. They have been so nice and all of the other teachers and school personnel have been so welcoming and accepting of my lack of Spanish. Some things that are different than the U.S is that there are maybe 25-30 students in one class room with only one teacher, so it can be difficult for them to manage. There is also a time in the school called almuerzo, which is essentially nap time for one hour after all the students eat, then they have about two classes left after that is over. The students love us volunteers and are always so happy to see us when they arrive at the school, giving big smiles and many hugs. They refer to me as professor Jay, because Ejayah is difficult to say or the teacher with 5 tattoos. In Los Alcarrizos and Batey people do not have tattoos because it can be dangerous to get because of the cleanliness, so for me to have 5 tattoos (only three they can see) is crazy!

Santo Ninos Jesus Fe y Alegria
Santo Ninos Jesus Fe y Alegria
Permission of the school
With permission of the school

I have the opportunity to advance my Spanish here during my pasantia (internship) by having conversations with the community and taking Spanish classes every Tuesday and Thursday with Maria Christina. She is a teacher in a public school in Los Alcarrizos and teaches English, French and Spanish to her students. She has been a great teacher so far and I have learned about the different expressions here in the Dominican Republic and what to watch out for while I am living here. It has been very helpful and I am excited to continue to learn more about the culture and the language.

Zona Colonial
Zona Colonial

During my first week I have just been getting acclimated to my new life here and understanding my role in the school and as a housemate. But I have been able to see Zona Colonial, Dominican Republic with my housemates. Zona Colonial was the first city built by the Spanish on the American continent in the 1500’s. It has beautiful architecture and a lot of history, too much to write in one blog. So please feel free to read more about the zone if it interests you! My first week here has been a success and I am ready for my new life in the Dominican Republic and will update you all on my new adventures 🙂

Hasta la proxima vez! (Until next time)