American Expat Living in Dominican Republic: Interview on Expats Blog

I was listed on ExpatsBlog the other week and they have posted an interview about my life in the Dominican Republic. Read and feel free to leave a question in the comments!

Sarah is not your typical MBA graduate – after completing her Master’s, she went on to work in nonprofit development in New York City. She then moved to Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic to teach English. She has always liked traveling and was thrilled to have the opportunity to move abroad and really experience a new culture. In her free time, she likes to dance, listen to music, cook, and explore new neighborhoods. Sarah’s expat blog is called En lo Alto (see listing here).

Lights at Parque Sid during the holiday season
Lights at Parque Sid during the holiday season
Here’s the interview…

Where are you originally from?
I grew up just north of New York City, and spent my whole life in New York State – including university and graduate school. Like many people who grow up in the shadow of a major city, I knew I would live in “the big city” one day.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

How long have you lived in Dominican Republic and how long are you planning to stay?
I’ve been in the Dominican Republic since July 2014 and I am planning to return to the United States this summer.

Boats in Barahona at Playa Quemaito at sunset
Boats in Barahona at Playa Quemaito at sunset

Why did you move to Dominican Republic and what do you do?
One of my biggest regrets in college was not studying abroad. After working in New York City for two years I sought opportunities to work abroad and found a job teaching English.

Did you bring family with you?
No, but I was grateful to have some family and friends visit me over the past few months.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I had been to the Dominican Republic a few times before so I had some friends here, which made the transition much easier. I lived in Washington Heights in Northern Manhattan for two years, which is mostly a Dominican neighborhood. Therefore, I knew a little bit about the culture – I was familiar with the food, some of the language, but I still had much to learn upon my arrival.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
When I moved to New York City, I found it very easy to make friends. In Santo Domingo, it is quite challenging. I have been working on improving my Spanish but it is a big barrier. My friends are mostly from other countries, or English-speaking Dominicans. The culture in New York also encourages a lot of “hanging out” but here it’s a different style of friendship.

View of the coast from Paraiso
View of the coast from Paraiso

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Santo Domingo has some nice spots and shopping, and a few really great restaurants. Of course the Zona Colonial has amazing architecture you can’t find in the United States, history that pre-dates the US as we know it by centuries. For a short visit, stick to Zona Colonial and spend time at the beach (my favorite is Juan Dolio beach.)

What do you enjoy most about living in Dominican Republic?
The weather and the people. Dominicans are very gracious people and whenever I need help I have always been able to ask someone and they can point me in the right direction.

How does the cost of living in Dominican Republic compare to home?
Compared to New York City, rent and transportation is much cheaper. Restaurants and food at supermarkets are about the same. My main concern is that salaries are way lower than in the United States so you have to either find a really good job in order to enjoy your time here, or live very cheaply. I have foreign friends who have jobs that provide housing which allows them to live very comfortably.

Costumes at Carnaval in La Vega
Costumes at Carnaval in La Vega

What negatives, if any, are there to living in Dominican Republic?
Adjusting to the culture has been a challenge as I am used to a fast-paced New York lifestyle. Here, things are very relaxed, but once I adjusted and understood the culture, it was easier to go through my days. Additionally, people are very family oriented, and coming here without family was disadvantageous, as I did not find many natives who liked to socialize with foreigners.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Dominican Republic, what would it be?
Learn Spanish before you come. It will help with adjustment much faster.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The language barrier, which I have been combating by taking Spanish classes!

When you finally return home, how do you think you’ll cope with repatriation?
This is a great question. I can’t predict that. I’ll have to readjust to the fluctuations in weather and to the New York pace of life. Now, I am relaxed and don’t worry too much about time. I am sure I will readjust quickly, since I will be around family and friends.

A view of the obelisk and the ocean from the Malecon in Santo Domingo
A view of the obelisk and the ocean from the Malecon in Santo Domingo

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?

  1. Do your research before you come. If you’re coming for work, really understand the company that you are moving for. What are the benefits? Have you spoken to people who have had that job before? My first job here was not what I expected and I did an extensive job search before landing my second job. The work culture is not the same as in the United States so you must be flexible and patient.
  2. Patience. Dominican time is real and must be respected. You must have patience and flexibility in order to survive here.
  3. You absolutely must speak Spanish here. It is almost impossible without knowing the language!
  4. Join Facebook groups and follow websites like Que Hacer Hoy RD and DR1 to get information about events.
  5. Be informed about immigration policies before you come – they have changed recently so make sure you don’t get caught off guard.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started my blog almost four years ago to document some fun events happening in Binghamton, New York, where I went to University. I maintained it while living in New York City and through my move to the Dominican Republic. I love to post photographs and information about events, and also cultural guides!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Feel free to comment on my blog or tweet to me with any questions. I’d be happy to respond!

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