Shana’s Dominican Diaries: Orientation


Bienvenidos a…La República Dominicana!

With a week of orientation under my belt, I officially begin my studies in the Dominican Republic today. In only nine days, I’ve experienced every emotion possible.


I thought once I was all packed and ready to go, it would start to feel real that I was leaving. It wasn’t until I sat in the parking garage of JFK that it started to hit me. I felt sick, but also impatient. Saying goodbye to my family was the hardest. My stepfather is known for being the sensitive one in the family, so it surprised us all that I was the first to cry.


Thankfully, going through all of the security checkpoints and boarding was easy, and the flight was great. Upon arriving, everyone I encountered at the Santiago airport was so incredibly friendly; it made a traumatizing situation better. I was welcomed the “Dominican way” by two program leaders of CIEE, and along with four other US students, we headed straight to our home-stays fresh off the plane.


Upon arriving at what would be my home for the next four months, I met my new family and was treated to my first Dominican meal. My abuela assured me that I was make myself as comfortable as possible; her exact words were “Mi casa es tu casa”…or another phrase of that nature (she speaks very fast and some things she says goes over my head). After calling my mother however, I began to ache for familiarity.


Our first day of orientation began with a trip to the beautiful town of Jarabacoa. I was in awe of the beautiful mountains, the lush trees and how the omnipresent sun lulled behind us. I realized I was in heaven: that’s the only word I can use to describe the allure of the Caribbean.


Overall, the week of orientation was eye opening for me. I realized that orienting myself in this new environment is like starting school all over again, which in fact I was about to do. In just a little over one week, I’ve had to make new friends, learn how to best interact with my new family, deal with homesickness (and not just for my family and friends in the US, but for Jamaica as well), familiarize myself with a new campus and country, and battle frustrations with not being able to fully communicate myself in a language I’m not 100% fluent in.


Because of meeting some amazing people in my program and in the DR, our first trip to Jarabacoa, touring Santiago, my first night out at a “Discoteca,” taking my first merengue/bachata dance class, and an intriguing discussion about identity and race, I am excited to get started and experience all that Santiago and the DR has to offer.


As I begin my second week here, my goal is to live in the moment as much as possible. I want to take advantage of any and every opportunity I am presented with. After watching Philip Zimbardo’s “The Secret Powers of Time” yesterday as a group, I was reminded of how the concept of time is very different here in the Caribbean and in many Latin American countries. The video prompted me to reassess how I wanted to approach my stay.


With that said, I look forward to learning how to dance the merengue and bachata, watching baseball games, playing dominoes, gaining more insight on the race issues that plague the island of Hispaniola, dedicating my time to volunteering where my help is needed, learning more about myself and finally, growing from what I’ve learned.


From the Dominican Republic…with love,

SK xo


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