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!

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