A bit on Dominican Food

(fried cheese)

For breakfast I usually have a whole wheat bun with cheese melted in it, though I have also had mashed plantains, cereal, and fruit. Lunch is the biggest meal for Dominicans (my host parents come home from work to eat it). We usually have some variation of beans and rice, a salad/tomatoes, and sometimes fish. There are always TONS of avocados at lunch (my host father eats multiple avocados at every meal). Today we had plantains in two forms, steamed (I I think?) and sliced/fried with spaghetti and avocado. Dinner usually varies—I’ve had mashed plantains, mashed potatoes, spaghetti, soup…Last night I had plantains with fried cheese (the cheese is white and almost looks like thick slices of tofu that has been fried—it squeeks when you chew it!)

Throughout the day we usually have “meriendas” or snacks—my favorite is mangos. The mangos here are so sweet and juicy! There is also always homemade fruit juice in my house—my host dad is very into fresh fruit juice! I’ve had mango, papaya, passionfruit, orange, watermelon…yum!

(plantains, rice, & beans)

My First Class and Dominican Birthday

On Tuesday I had my first day of class in the DR. Luckily there are a couple of other study abroad students in my class so I didn’t have to get there alone (this school is the hardest to get to and the farthest away). We left at 7:30 am – giving ourselves an hour and a half to get there. We walked up to one of the main streets where we could catch a guagua—we stood there for a few minutes shooing away full guaguas that were trying to get us to squeeze in until we found one that could fit us. This guagua took us across town to another large street where we could catch a different guagua that would take us farther north and drop us off right next to the university. We arrived at the university with 45 minutes to spare—the commute wasn’t nearly as confusing or long as we thought it would be…phew!

The class that I am taking at this university is Dominican Migrations—we’re going to be learning about Dominicans who leave the DR (mostly for the US) and those who are coming into the DR (mostly Haitians). My class is on the larger side for the college—maybe around 40 people (this is the largest class I’ll be in while here). My professor seems very nice, smart, and interesting and has had exchange students in her classes before (she seems to know to speak a little slower so we can follow!). Since it is a large class and it might be hard for everyone to participate our grades are going to be based around a few quizzes/tests and maybe a final paper—which is what we were told to expect from most Dominican classes (apparently it’s not uncommon for your ENTIRE grade to be based off of ONE final exam…ahh!). I think my main challenge with this class is going to be understanding the other students when they talk in class—they talk SO fast!

Tuesday afternoon after class we learned that tropical storm Emily would be coming through Santo Domingo—for the next 2 days we were told not to leave our house in case the storm got really bad. In the end we just ended up getting a lot of rain and it was a bit cooler than usual (a nice change!)…so we had to stay inside for nothing! …though it gave me a change to spend some time playing with my host brother—we did some drawing together, watched Finding Nemo in Spanish, made a paper racetrack and raced cars…I also got a chance to get to know some of the kids who live in the apartment complex and learned a bunch of Spanish clapping games (and I taught them “quack diddly oh so”, which they love!)

Wednesday was my birthday—I woke up to my host mom taping signs that said happy birthday to my door! A group of kids who live in the apartment complex made me a card and in the evening they all came over to eat cake and sing happy birthday with my family and me! It was a laid back but nice birthday :)

My host brother and the little girl (Elisa) who lives downstairs eating birthday cake

The card the kids made me

My door

My host mom serving up my birthday cake

My apartment (kitchen is to the right, and the bedrooms are the doors you can see in the back)

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

My first week in Santo Domingo was amazing! When I arrived in the city I went quickly through customs and emerged into the loud, hot exit ramp, which was surrounded by crowds of people holding signs, or calling out the names of the people they were waiting for. As I pushed my cart down the walkway I couldn’t find the person holding the sign for my program—I had a moment of panic, but quickly found the people who were there to pick me up. As we waited for other students to arrive I got my first taste of the Dominican heat!

My first week here was filled with lots and lots of orientation activities. We all got to know each other, learned a bit about Dominican culture, how to stay safe/healthy, how to get around on public transportation, and where we would be taking classes…We also started to get used to the FAST and often difficult to understand Dominican Spanish.

After our first night in a hotel, we met our Dominican host families. I am living with Doña Carolina, her husband Jorge, and her six year old son, Jorge David. They also live with Yudelca (not sure of the spelling…) who helps with cooking and cleaning, but is treated almost like Jorge David’s older sister. We live in a small apartment right off of one of the main streets, in the apartment complex where many of the other host families live. I got very lucky with my host family! They all love to joke around together and are very laid back—they are also great about helping me with my Spanish. So far I have been able to have some great conversations with my host parents and my Spanish is already improving. My host brother is adorable and is quite the little character! He likes to “do exercises” so he can “be strong like Papi”, and loves being goofy all the time. For the past couple of days my host mom’s mother and nephew have been visiting from Santiago (the other large city in the DR). Her nephew is three years old, so it has been fun having him around to play with—he loves asking me lots and lots of questions all the time!

(My bedroom)

So far I have had a few chances to explore the city with the study abroad group during orientation, but it’s going to take me quite a while to become familiar with the city—it’s so big. Santo Domingo is a large city filled with people and cars, but it doesn’t have many tall buildings like cities in the US! The streets are lined mostly by apartment buildings and small stores. There is a “colmado” on almost every corner—small stores that turn into a place for hanging out and dancing at night (the Dominican people LOVE to dance!). The noise in Santo Domingo never stops—there is always music, car alarms, honking, generators, kids yelling. Unfortunately I haven’t taken any pictures of around the city yet, but I will try to so I can post some soon!

There almost always seems to be traffic here and the driving is crazy—there are no rules! The majority of the vehicles on the road are public transportation. There are “guaguas”, which are vans that look as if they are about to fall into a million pieces. The “guaguas” are always stuffed full of people and follow a set route—I’m slowly learning the hand signals and phrases they use to signal where they are going. There are also “carros públicos” which are the car version of a “guagua”. There are also taxis, government buses, and a metro (but the government buses and metro go less places—as of now the metro goes from nowhere to nowhere, though the government is planning on expanding it).

I am living a block away from “el Malecon” which is the main road that goes along the water. If you look down this road you can see resorts where tourists go to see the country’s beautiful beaches and almost nothing else. For those who dare to venture out of the resorts there is the Zona Colonial; a popular area where there are many stores, restaurants, and bars. The zona is full of activity at night.

(Out the window of the bus we took on our fieldtrip)

This weekend the group went on a fieldtrip out of the city. We went to see el “Ingenio Boca Nigua”, which was a sugar processing plant where slaves worked. We also went to see a woman who says she communicates with Saints to help heal people and solve their problems—while there we learned a bit about Dominican syncretism. After this we drove to a nearby beach for lunch and a swim. There was a small café with a dance floor where a large group of Dominicans were dancing to LOUD music that could be heard all the way down the beach as far as we could walk.

(Ingenio Boca Nigua)

(Baths to solve any problem imaginable)

(Coco Beach)

On Sunday a small group of us decided to see if we could figure out the “guaguas” on our own and went to a nearby beach called Juan Dolio. It was a perfect day and the water was just the right temperature—the beaches here are beautiful!

Tomorrow I have my first class in the DR. I will be taking classes from three different schools—a small, Jesuit, predominately male school, a larger school where I will be in classes ranging from 30-40 people, and the school organized by the study abroad program. Tomorrow I start class at the largest school where I will be taking a class called Migraciones Dominicanas (Dominican Migrations). I’m nervous but excited to find out what classes in the DR are like. This week I also start visiting possible internship sites!