It’s 8:00 AM and the brilliant sun shining through my window wakes me up for another dazzling day in Santiago, Dominican Republic. I open the shutters and peek through the bars of my bedroom window to see a clear blue sky. The air is crisp and cool, unlike in the afternoon when it’s baking hot. I feel the energy of a new day running through my veins and I get excited for all of the adventures to come.
I’ve been living in Santiago for five months now, but each morning still brings a new adventure. When you’re living abroad, some of the most interesting things are the little things that you experience every day while just living your life. Whether it’s ordering something at the store, walking in a new neighborhood for the first time, or making new friends, these experiences are new, foreign and little adventures of their own.
My experience with language has been an ongoing adventure every since my first day in Santiago. People in the Dominican Republic speak Spanish, which I studied for two-and-a-half years in college, but I had never lived in a Spanish-speaking country before. When I first arrived, I realized how different Dominican Spanish is from the Spanish I learned in the classroom. Dominicans speak much more quickly than my teachers ever did and, they swallow letters at the end of words. They also use different words than those I learned in class. I had a lot of trouble understanding people and was afraid to talk because I didn’t want to make mistakes.
It takes a lot of courage to speak a foreign language. I also learned French in college and am learning Haitian Creole now. Whenever I speak in a foreign language, I have to summon up the courage to make mistakes and tell someone I don’t understand. For example, one day my host mom told me that she would give me a ride to the public transportation that takes me to work. She said, “I will leave you at the entrance” to the neighborhood where the public cars pick up passengers but I misunderstood her. Unfortunately, I thought she said that she was leaving something for me at the entrance of my bedroom, but I was afraid to say that I misunderstood. I ended up walking all the way to the public transportation before realizing my mistake!
Another example of an everyday adventure in the Dominican Republic is the food. Have you ever tried food from a different culture? I live with a Dominican family that cooks all my meals for me and sometimes I don’t even know what the food in front of me is! Fortunately, I get the opportunity to try new fruits such as papaya, passion fruit, and soursop. I have learned how to cook some traditional Dominican dishes such as moro (MOR-oh), or rice and beans. When I go to the grocery store, I look for new and interesting local products to try such as fresh juice and dulces criollos (DUHL-says cree-OH-yoys), which are traditional Dominican sweets and one of my favorite foods that I have tried so far.
Even though I’ve lived in Santiago for five months already, I’m still getting to know the city. Whenever I travel to a new part of the city or try a new restaurant, I feel like I have conquered a new challenge. People travel around Santiago in conchos (KON-chohs), which are public cars that run fixed routes, like public buses in New York City. Six people plus the driver squeeze into the tiny cars and pay about $0.50 per ride. I love learning a new concho route, because that means I get to see a new part of the city. I can see new neighborhoods and how the houses are built. I can find new stores or cafes.
One of the best everyday adventures while living abroad is meeting people. I have met people from so many different cultures and backgrounds in the last five months. Many of my friends are my coworkers, who have been teachers for many years. They show me around the country and tell me about the culture and life here. Outside of work, many of my friends are from Haiti. In Haiti, they learned to speak French, Haitian Creole, and English. Then they came to the Dominican Republic to study because college is less expensive in this country. In the Dominican Republic, they learned to speak Spanish as well. That means while most of my friends at home only speak one language, many of my friends here speak four languages fluently
I love all of the everyday adventures I have had in Santiago so far, such as learning a new language, trying unfamiliar foods, getting to know the city, or making new friends. Though I enjoy traveling outside of Santiago, it’s not necessary to go far to learn something new and have an exciting and novel experience. I make my own adventures right here in Santiago, living my life and learning about the lives of others. How do you think you could learn about different groups of people and foreign cultures in your city? Trust me, the experience is something you’ll enjoy and never forget!