After four full months of deciphering Dominican Spanish, stuffing myself with plátanos and my host mom’s delicious cooking, riding motorcycles to get to class, and otherwise learning about Dominican culture, I am back safe and sound in my home in Atlanta after a teary airport reunion with my family.
I think the best word to describe my experience in the Dominican Republic is meaningful. I choose this word because it encapsulates all of my memories, from the happy and fun ones to the more challenging ones. I feel like I fulfilled my goal to learn about and to appreciate a culture different from my own. However, this was not always easy. Language and culture played a much larger role in hindering deep friendships from forming than I had expected. Although I hung out with locals on a daily basis, whether it be at the universities I attended or with my ultimate frisbee team, I struggled to have anything more meaningful than surface-level conversations. If I did, the conversations were with Dominicans who spoke English. While my program was small, I still spent most of my time with the other Americans, and although I formed lifelong friendships, I do regret having few Dominican friends that I will keep in touch with beyond my time here.
I am perhaps most thankful for the time I spent at the Alta Gracia factory. No one at the factory spoke any English, so when I was there I was challenged to speak and improve my Spanish without cheating and switching to English. Chatting with my boss always made for interesting conversation about the factory’s labor practices and the economic situation of the community that it serves. Going out to the factory on a weekly basis expanded my view of the Dominican Republic beyond the relatively industrialized capital city where I was living. This experience is something that has shaped my worldview and opinion on our global economic system.
I have loved the challenges that my time in the Dominican Republic has forced me to confront. I have been confronted with aspects of my own white American privilege that I do not necessarily think about living in the United States. And living in a country of the world simultaneously impacted by the Zika virus and systematically denying women’s right to reproductive justice has been thought provoking to say the least. While I certainly had a lot of fun bonding with my program and going on cultural excursions, I think I ultimately draw the most from my challenges here. These cultural differences that have checked my privilege, empowered my marginalized identities, and expanded my perspective. The Dominican Republic has taught me life lessons I will never forget. To me, that is meaningful. To me that is special. To me, that is what study abroad is.