One of the characteristics that makes my program here in the Dominican Republic unique is definitely its size. There are seven people total in the program, and we are all from different universities around the United States. Indeed, aside from one painfully awkward introduction-style email chain that I propagated, none of us knew each other before coming here. This has certainly had its advantages and challenges.
In general, I would consider myself a pretty independent person. If I find an event or activity that I am passionate about, I won’t hesitate to dive in and make new friends, even if this means showing up by myself. For this reason, I have found the small program limiting in that, when abroad, it is always necessary to have a friend come along wherever you go for safety reasons. But when there are only six people in the program, there are some times when schedules do not align and I have to miss out on things I want to do.
Additionally, we are all around each other so much that it can get to the point where we need some space. Fortunately, my program has been pretty close so far, and we haven’t experienced too much of that! Despite these limitations, I think a lot of the advantages of the program’s intimacy come from the fact that the small size challenges us to branch out and make friends.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am playing ultimate frisbee while here with a team called Rebulú. I practice with them on Monday and Wednesday nights, and it has been great to have a reason to get out of my comfort zone and interact with these fun and crazy women! Our first tournament is coming up at the end of February, and I couldn’t be more excited. Sports are a great way to form friendships while abroad.
I have also been able to make some friends at the local universities I am attending. While Bonó is a small, mostly male philosophy school and is great in terms of the fact that it feels like a family, it has been a bit difficult to break into their close-knit friend groups. INTEC, the technological institute that I am attending, has about 3,000 students and has a more typical college feel. The university classes require a lot of group projects, and this is great for getting to know people.
But maybe my favorite way of making friends is the spontaneous interactions when you meet someone on the metro and start talking and exchange WhatsApp numbers or run into someone new at a café. Being abroad makes you cherish these serendipitous exchanges, and I hope to remember this back on the Hilltop!
Perhaps the major reason why I was comfortable choosing the Santo Domingo program despite its small size was the level of support that the CIEE, the organization that the program is run through, provides its students. Even though we all live separately with host families, the CIEE has a central study center a ten-minute walk away for every student that is open 24/7 to do homework and hang out at. Even though the program is small and I definitely feel a huge level of independence, it is nice knowing that there are people I can talk to if needed and a home base of sorts for “American food and movie nights,” of which we’ve already had two!
At the end of the day, the challenges are what make this program unique and worthwhile. The program is pushing me to be flexible, open, and easy-going and to really cherish every moment while being here. I can already tell that some of these people are going to be friends I keep for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t trade my experience so far for the world!