Hogar, Dulce Hogar

It has been about a month since I returned from the Dominican Republic, and I am still feeling a mix of emotions about being back in the U.S. I was going to write this post immediately after I returned, but having waited a bit gave me the opportunity to paint a more accurate picture of the reverse culture shock “W-curve” that I experienced (Reverse Culture Shock, n.d.).

The W-curve starts with the honeymoon phase, then progresses to the crisis phase, the recovery phase, the adjustment phase, and back through the cycle again (Reverse Culture Shock, n.d.). I experienced all of these phases at different times, but I will give you the short version of my emotional roller coaster ride. When I came home, I was excited to be reunited with friends, family, and my bed (especially because I no longer had to mummify myself in a mosquito net). I also enjoyed taking a hot shower for the first time in three months! However, the honeymoon phase did not last long. I began to miss my hectic lifestyle from the Dominican Republic. Although the constant noise of dogs barking, bachata music blasting, and kids playing in the street made for some sleepless nights in the DR, I suddenly felt like I could not fall asleep without it. The silence was deafening. I also felt the urge to hop on the back of a motorcycle and get fresh aguacates y piñas (avocados and pineapples) from the local colmado (corner store), something that I did frequently during my trip. For now, hopping in my car and driving to Wegmans will suffice. My biggest “crisis” came when I started wondering if I will see my students again. I suppose the recovery phase began when I decided that I want to use all of these emotions as motivation to return to the DR in the near future. Just as I had to give myself time to adjust to the culture when I arrived in a foreign country, I had to do the same upon returning home. I feel that I have fully adjusted to being home again, but I don’t want that to lead to taking things for granted. Simply having a reliable source of electricity and running water now feels like a luxury. I hope to carry this sense of appreciation with me for the rest of my life.

La actividad de autoestima / The self-esteem activity.

When I am missing my second home, I look through photographs, message my old roommates and host family, and sometimes I am able to FaceTime with the teachers during lunchtime to see my students! I also brought some of my students’ projects home with me to remember all the activities we did together. The picture on the left shows a self-esteem activity I did with a girl in third grade. The circle in the middle says “Me gusta mi…” which means, “I like my…” and the student had to fill in each square with things that she likes about herself. The square on the top left says, “I like my personality because I am happy.” The top right square says, “I like my body because my hands can draw.” In the two bottom squares, she wrote, “I like my heart because I love my teachers” and “I like my mind because I like to work.” Reminiscing about my trip is bittersweet. Although I am sad that it is over, I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to have this experience. It was my first time travelling to the Dominican Republic, but it is definitely not my last. I want to thank my readers for embarking on this amazing journey with me. Hasta la próxima.

References

Reverse Culture Shock. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c56075.htm

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Despedidas

Playing a round of “Steal the Eraser” with my students.

Profe Patricia is back in the States! As I was looking over my past blog posts, I realized that I only briefly mentioned my experience teaching English in the Dominican Republic. I taught English three days per week in the afternoons. On Mondays, I taught a group of adolescents who were part of a soccer organization called Café con Leche, which means “coffee with milk.” On Tuesdays, I held classes at the school in Lechería with a group of teenagers and adults from the community. My most challenging class was on Wednesdays with a baseball team of 25 boys! They ranged in age from 10 to 17 years old, so you can imagine that trying to maintain control of the classroom felt like herding cats at times. I was extremely nervous before I started, but it turned out to be one of my favorite activities. Thankfully, my Aunt Rita used to teach ESL classes, so she shared a lot of great resources with me. I also found ideas for games and activities online. One of their favorite games was called “Robar el Borrador” (Steal the Eraser), in which two students would do a face-off to see who could translate a word in English the fastest. I started each class by teaching the vocabulary of the week, which included sports, food, introducing oneself, and so forth.

A picture from the graduation ceremony (Photo used with permission from the school).

CSA gave me the freedom to make my own lesson plans based on what my students wanted to learn. Of course, I couldn’t fulfill all of their requests, as some of the teenage boys asked to learn how to “pick up girls” in English. ¡Ay Dios mio! During the last week of English classes, I held a small graduation ceremony for my students.

For my next and final blog post, I will be talking about reverse culture shock. Most people prepare for experiencing culture shock when they first arrive in a new country, but not everyone is prepared for culture shock when they return back home. I am grateful that my field advisor, Stephanie Vroman-Goodrich, talked about the possibility of this happening (which it did) and provided me with resources that helped me handle these emotions.

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“¡Ella dijo que sí!”

¡Una semana más en la República Dominicana! One more week in the Dominican Republic! I have been experiencing so many different emotions lately. I am excited to return to Buffalo to see my family and friends, but my heart breaks when I think about saying goodbye to the children at the school. I am also proud of the work that I have accomplished thus far, but I feel that there is so much I still want to do with my students. Whether I’m ready or not, the end is nearing. I was speaking with my Aunt Mary a couple weeks ago, and I expressed to her that I find myself getting caught up in my worries about leaving. Will someone else take on my caseload? Will my students be upset with me for leaving? She reminded me that it is much better to be sad about leaving than feeling anxious to go. I realized that I should focus on enjoying the rest of my time here and cherishing every moment with my students. There are also ways to plan for my transition out of the school; I recently met with the school psychologist and the other social work intern to make sure they would be able to continue meeting with the students on my caseload. In addition, I told my students in the beginning of March that I have to return to the U.S. in April. One student responded, “¿Por qué, profe? No. Te quedas aquí.” “Why, teacher? No. You’re staying here.” I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to build relationships with these intelligent, funny, loving human beings.

Avdias (ahb-dee-yas), a third-grade student, receiving his “Estrella de la Semana” certificate.

Last week we held a ceremony for the students who were chosen to be “Estrellas de la Semana.” Everything went as planned, and the students were beaming with pride as they shook the principal’s hand and received their certificates. The next day I found out that it was causing issues in some of the classes. I was told that a couple parents came to the school asking why their child didn’t win. I anticipated a bit of jealousy from the other students, but I did not expect that it would result in an angry visit from the parents! I created the program as a positive way to motivate the students, but I was worried that it was doing more harm than good. I met with the principal and teachers to get their feedback. For the most part, they had positive reactions. Many agreed that there was a bit of jealousy from the other students, but they also feel that it is a way to teach the students that they must work towards achieving a goal. After having this discussion, I couldn’t help but laugh. As with anything in life, you are never going to please everyone. As long as I have support from the school staff and it is a positive experience for the students, I will do my best to make sure the program continues after I leave.

From left to right: Carolyn, James, and I taking a tour of Lecheria.

One of the most memorable parts of my time here is when my family came to visit me. My mom, dad, sister, Carolyn, and her boyfriend, James visited the school and took a tour of Batey Lechería before we traveled to Samaná for the weekend. I could write an essay about all of the activities we did in just five days, but I will keep it short and mention the highlight of the trip – James surprised Carolyn with a proposal on the beach, ¡y están comprometidos! (They’re engaged!) The title of this blog post means, “She said yes!” I am so happy that James will soon be my cuñado, brother-in-law, my parents will have un hijo, a son, and my sister is especially happy that he will be her esposo, husband.

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Mi Último Mes en RD

¡No puedo creerlo! (I can’t believe it!) I am currently completing my final month here in the Dominican Republic. Now that my schedule is slightly less hectic, I can finally take the time to share more of my thoughts and experiences from the past month.

Un arco iris en Samaná / A rainbow in Samaná.

As promised in my last blog post, here is a picture from my trip to Samaná in mid-February. Kayla, Ana, Luz, and I rented a small condo for three days in a town called Las Galeras. It rained almost the whole weekend, but it was so beautiful that we didn’t mind (and all the rain resulted in a double rainbow as you can see!).

Last week, I traveled to Puerto Plata, a city in the northern region of the Dominican Republic, with CSA and a student group from the University of Michigan. UM is one of the several universities in the U.S. that has a partnership with CSA. The group spent the week building a cinder block wall around the perimeter of a baseball field. Children and families in the community frequently spend time at the field, and CSA wanted to make it a safer place for them.

Rachel, a student from UM, and I adding cement to secure the cinder blocks.

The wall now separates the field from a small river, which will help to prevent accidents and, hopefully, lost pelotas (baseballs)! I joined the group late because I did not want to miss too much time at the school, but I was able to help them build the wall before it was finished. I can’t remember the last time my body was so sore, but it was well worth it. Afterwards, we played baseball with some of the kids in the community. That was a day I will never forget.

I am enjoying my internship at the school more and more each day. Now that I am more familiar with the students, I have been able to plan activities that are specific to their needs. For example, I felt that the students would benefit from receiving more positive recognition. When the attention is focused on students who are disrupting the class, other students may feel unnoticed. However, this is not the teachers’ fault, nor anyone else’s. Each teacher has to manage a classroom of 20 or more students, anywhere from three to eight years old. After being left alone in a classroom of 3-year-olds the other day, I can say that simply keeping them all in the room – and with their clothes on – is an accomplishment! So, after brainstorming with the principal, Luz, we came up with a program called “Las Estrellas de la Semana,” which means “Stars of the Week.” Every week, the teachers choose one student from each classroom who displayed positive behavior with peers and adults and actively participated. These students receive certificates and have their picture taken, which is posted on a bulletin board by the school entrance. This week, we are going to hold a small ceremony for the Estrellas de la Semana. I’m hoping that this program will motivate other students to behave appropriately and participate in the classroom, but most importantly, I hope it will make the students feel proud of their hard work.

¡Hasta la próxima! Until next time!

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Me Llamo Patrícia

I want to start this post by explaining the title, “Me Llamo Patricia.” In Spanish, this means “My name is Patricia,” and that is actually my name here! When I first arrived at the school, people had trouble pronouncing my name. In the Spanish language, the “h” is silent and the double-L makes a “y” sound, so I understand the confusion. While talking to the principal, Luz del Alba, I told her that she can call me by my middle name, Patricia, assuming it would be easier to pronounce. I didn’t think she would really call me Patricia, but somehow it stuck. The students call me “Profe Patricia” (pro-fay pa-tree-see-ya). In Spanish, “profesora” or “maestra” means teacher – although I’m not a teacher, I will admit that I felt pretty cool when the students started calling me that.

Photo used with permission of school.

I have just completed my first month at my internship, and I cannot believe how the time is flying by. I have been working at Centro Santo Niño Jesus, the school in Lechería, and I also recently began teaching English to adolescents in the community through the Alerta Joven program. At the school, I work with students who have social, emotional, and/or academic difficulties. The majority of the students I work with are eight years old. However, these children have had to grow up much faster than a “typical” eight-year-old. Some of the issues they are frequently faced with include child abuse, hunger, and witnessing domestic violence. Their behaviors can be very challenging to manage at times, but the students’ level of strength and resiliency never fails to amaze me. This week, we have been working on emotion recognition and constructive ways to deal with emotions. I wanted to do this in a way that would be fun for the students, so I created “El Juego de Emociones.” It involves a spinner that has several different emotions (excited, angry, happy, confused, etc.) and when the spinner lands on one of the emotions, the student tells me a time they experienced the emotion, how they dealt with it, and how they can respond to these emotions in a positive way. Each time they take a turn, they earn one point, and when they earn five points, they receive una potalita (sticker). I didn’t expect this to be an exciting reward, but they love potalitas! Many of my students try to bargain with me to get two stickers for one point – they can be quite convincing. At times, it is difficult to understand what they are saying, as I am not yet fluent in Spanish. I was expressing my frustration to one of my housemates, Kayla, and her response made me

El Juego de Emociones / The Emotions Game

take on a different perspective. “Even if you don’t understand everything they’re saying, the important thing is that their stories are being heard. They just want to talk to someone who is willing to listen.” Kayla also reminded me that when she first arrived in the Dominican Republic several months ago, it took her a while to feel comfortable having a conversation in Spanish. Her advice helped me realize that it is completely normal to feel this way, but as long as I’m helping the students, I’m on the right path.

Now that you have an idea of my role at the school, I will give you a little background about my life at home. I live in a town called Los Alcarrizos, which is about a 10-minute drive in a carro público from the school in Lechería. A carro público is somewhat like a taxi, but it picks up multiple people along the way. The taxi driver tries to pick up as many people as possible, so you end up being packed in like sardines within about five minutes. One day, I took a carro público from the school to my house in Los Alcarrizos with nine other people (not including the driver) in a car that is made to fit four passengers comfortably. I was sitting on another intern’s lap, elbow-to-elbow with a few teachers, and I was practically laying on top of the principal! This was just one of the many times during the day that I think to myself, “Well, this is new.”

From left: Kayla, me, our friend Gloria, and Ana Maria at a “campesina” (countryside) themed party.

In Los Alcarrizos, I live with two other interns. Kayla, 25, is also from Buffalo, and Ana Maria, 21, is from Columbia. I also live with five Catholic nuns! Mary Alice is from the U.S., Kathleen is from London, and Fatima, Ann, and Loretto are from Nigeria. The nuns range in age from mid-30s to 80s. People usually ask me, “What do the nuns wear around the house?” I will admit that I had the same question in mind before I arrived, as I imagined they would be wearing a habit at all times. It turns out that they wear T-shirts and pants or dresses like everyone else, even when they are out in the community. While I never would have predicted that I would be living with nuns, it has been a wonderful experience thus far. Oh, and did I mention they love drinking wine?

I will be spending the upcoming weekend in Samaná with Kayla, Ana Maria, and Luz, the school principal. Samaná is about a three-hour drive in a guagua, a bus, from Los Alcarrizos, and it is known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. After the eventful month I have had, I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend. I’m sure I will have pictures to share with you all on my next blog post! ¡Hasta luego!

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Mi Primera Semana en la República Dominicana

Aimee’s daughter, Sophia. ¡Que linda!

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.

Mi maestra (my teacher), Maria Cristina.

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!

The view from the roof of my host family’s apartment.

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.

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