The first week of my service trip in the Dominican Republic flew right by my eyes, and it's been a wild ride. It's been a week full of emotions, travelling, service, and learning; and it's been tiresome. Nevertheless, the week has been such an amazing experience and a great first impression of the Dominican Republic and what it has to offer!
There was so much culture shock, especially in the first few days when we learned about different aspects of the culture in DR and then seeing them come to life before our eyes. We learned during our orientation just about how personal and open relationships can be between people in the Dominican Republic. From people greeting you with big hugs and kisses rather than simple handshakes, to random people proposing to you on the streets, the relationships are so liberal and it's honestly so surreal to experience. However this has its own problems as there are certain people, typically called “piropos,” in the country that are comfortable enough to go to the extent where they end up catcalling people on the streets. The amount of times my friends have been victimized by this has been astonishing. It goes on to show how drastically different the culture here is, and that's something that surprised me A LOT.
My host mom, the program leaders, and the group are what are making this experience a real deal, and all of them have been so enthusiastic and welcoming to the point where I wasn't scared at all to jump right into the program. On my way to the airport, I was getting really nervous but once I saw and talked to my program leader, Jessica Meza, all the stress had been alleviated. Her warm smile and positive attitude got me really excited to take flight, and I couldn't have been more grateful. Then came my very first interaction I had with a Dominican. That was with my host mom, and of course, she greeted me with a giant hug. She's been speaking to me in Spanish all the time at a very fast pace, seldom saying a word in English, and at first it was difficult to understand. However, I have been catching on and I understand most of what she says now! Hopefully I can understand her fully whenever she talks by the end of the program. And lastly, the group. It has been so awesome for me, and nothing else. Everyone has been so extroverted and kind, it's made making friends all that easier. By the third day, I had already talked to all 29 other students, and I was ecstatic.
After this week, I was only left with good impressions of this program and what's in store. Everything is very organized and taken care of in an efficient fashion; whenever there's a problem, it takes no time at all to find a solution. The three program leaders have given themselves a very open persona, so it makes talking to them very easy. The activities and trips on this program are so rich and enjoyable such as the field trip to the zoo with the kids and to Saona Island. We’ve had the pleasure of spending our mornings of every weekday doing activities with kids on the poverty line at a school. I've gotten to work with a group of seven year olds, doing things like arts and crafts and sports with them. I have yet to have a formal English class with them.Overall, i'm so satisfied with everything that has happened so far and things should remain the same for the next two weeks, if not get better!
In the end, this program has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and has given me things that no traditional classroom could. And that's experience. Up until now, my experiences with the Spanish language has just been practicing words, phrases, building sentences, as well as learning some culture. All great things which have given me a strong foundation for understanding the complex language. However, this program has allowed me to actually step into a society that uses Spanish as it's primary mode of communication, as somehow put my skills to use. Now, my skills that I've merely collected from traditional Spanish classes are being put to the test. It's bettering my skills more in such a short time period, since I'm using it more often and listening to others use it as well.
All in all, the first week being over is a relief. It has really prepared me for what to come, and I can't wait for it all to happen already.
'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!