It has been about a week since I arrived in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Before I start my internship at the school in Lecheria, my supervisor at Community Service Alliance (CSA) wanted me to spend the first week doing Spanish language instruction and cultural immersion activities to get acquainted with the Dominican lifestyle.
I am currently living with a host family, which consists of my host mother, Griselda, her 25-year-old daughter, Aimee (pronounced eye-may), Aimee’s 3-month-old daughter, Sophia, and their dog, Ginger. Although it has only been a week, I already feel like I’m part of the family. We eat dinner together every night when Griselda comes home from her job at a funeral home. Griselda is a wonderful cook and has introduced me to a variety of traditional Dominican dishes, including mangú – pureed plantains served with fried cheese, scrambled eggs, or salami – followed by jugo de chinola (passion fruit juice) or arroz con leche (similar to rice pudding) for dessert. They have taught me to say “buen provecho” before we begin eating, which is a way of telling someone that you hope he or she enjoys the meal. After dinner, we usually watch a movie or a few episodes of Escándalo (Scandal) on Netflix. It is an American show, so it is spoken in English, but the subtitles are in Spanish.
I have been drinking coffee at all times of the day, for a couple reasons: 1. Dominican coffee is delicious, and 2. I don’t think I would be able to get through the day without it! While preparing for my trip, I was told that I would probably be physically and mentally exhausted by the end of each day; I did not realize the extent of it until I experienced this myself. My brain is constantly in overdrive, switching from English to Spanish and back again. I try to rest whenever I get the chance, but sometimes the rooster who lives next to my host family’s apartment building doesn’t always let that happen – no es un chiste (I’m not joking!).
Every morning, CSA’s driver, Mickey, picks me up and takes me to the office to do one-on-one Spanish instruction with Maria Cristina, who is in charge of the cultural immersion program. She has covered a range of topics, including Spanish vocabulary, Dominican history and culture, even Spanish curse words – given that I will be working with adolescents at the school, I will probably hear these from time to time. My supervisor told me that Maria Cristina would become my “Dominican mom,” and it is absolutely true. She has helped me navigate the Dominican culture and language, as well as the actual streets of Santo Domingo. At first, I felt silly when she insisted on hooking arms every time we crossed the street, but when I realized how crazy the traffic is, I was holding onto her for dear life. For those of you who are familiar with the game “Frogger,” that is what it feels like when I’m crossing a busy street!
I have gained a lifetime of experiences during the past week, and there are many more to come. I am trying to embrace each moment, whether it is good or bad, exciting or uncomfortable. Although the idea of living in a foreign country for three months was slightly terrifying, I am so grateful for the support I have received from my friends and family back home, my host family in Santo Domingo, the CSA staff members, and the faculty and staff members at UB who have helped me prepare for this incredible journey.