I’ve been back in New York for almost a month and wanted to reflect on my year living abroad in the Dominican Republic. Over the past few weeks I have reconnected with friends and family, many who have asked about my experiences, and done a major purge. They have seen my wonderful Instagram pictures of my adventures, but I wanted to write a post on what it is really like to be abroad and what it is like coming back.
It’s good to be home
There is truly nothing like being home. Living in the Dominican Republic made me realize how much I took for granted living in the US – 24 hour electricity, consistently running (and hot) water, access to food and products that I love (as a vegetarian I didn’t always have amazing options at restaurants, but now I do!), and simply being around my support network. This month has been fantastic just seeing my friends and family, with whom I am very close, and enjoying first world privileges. I definitely appreciate everything that much more.
Before I moved, I worked at a nonprofit in New York City which supported immigrants and low-income individuals, so I did recognize my privilege having grown up middle-class. But I never realized how easy life in the United States truly was.
The Dominican Republic has much promise but has been hampered by political and economic policies, which I do not feel qualified to speak about, but many of the daily challenges can be explained by these factors. In Santo Domingo, I struggled to cope when the electricity would go out, or when we didn’t have water. Once I got the hang of it, I was able to manage daily life, but the adjustment phase took a little while.
It wasn’t all fun and games
Yes, I did go to the beach and I traveled around the country quite a bit. But my weeks were generally filled with stressful commutes to work via public transportation and moving quite a bit between apartments during the year. Overall, living abroad wasn’t a picture perfect experience, but I don’t regret it and I am lucky to have had the experience.
What I Will Miss
During the spring semester I had an intense teaching schedule juggling many different classes. My students were hardworking and entertaining. There is one class in particular that I have been working with since the fall and I have gotten to know them all well. When I told them I was returning to New York they were sad and disappointed that I wouldn’t be with them again in the fall. I didn’t realize the impact that I had on them, nor the impact they had on me until the last few weeks. As they finished their final exam, each gave me a hug and wished me good luck in New York. It was really meaningful for me to be able to wish them well and I hope to stay in touch with them.
Learning about a different culture
Dominicans are a lively people. When they feel a strong emotion about something, they make it known. They can get very excited about the smallest things (strange animals at the zoo, dramatic scenes in movies) and have no fear about voicing it. I was shocked the first time I went to see a movie and my fellow moviegoers were yelling at the screen or clapping with excitement. Americans are much more laid back in this regard, unless it comes to sports, which I’ve come to realize is universal.
Another thing I noticed was how excited Dominicans would be about Dominican cuisine. As an American, and a vegetarian at that, I love food as much as the next person but I am not tied to any particular cuisine. I couldn’t say what “American” food is, perhaps fast food but in terms of native plants or dishes, we don’t really have one as a culture. The country is so diverse with people from all over the world that it would be almost impossible. I think that I was happier seeing Dominicans getting excited about eating the food than I was about eating Dominican food. When Dominicans know that sancocho (a soup with a variety of meat) or chivo (goat) will be served, the gleam in their eyes is unmistakable. Many Dominicans seem to eat the same thing for lunch every day and never get bored – the bandera (the flag) – with rice, beans and meat. Many don’t feel like they’ve eaten unless they have rice. While I have stuck to my typical dishes (pasta, vegetables, eggs, etc) I have learned to make a few Dominican things such as platanos fritos and have improved my egg frying game.
Pace of Life
While I appreciate the relaxed pace of life in the Caribbean, I sometimes found myself frustrated. As a New Yorker, I am accustomed to things happening with precision and speed. Americans believe that time is valuable and should not be wasted, but this belief can sometimes lead to rushing and anxiety. In Santo Domingo, things can always happen “ahorita” or in a little bit, or even the next day. It was interesting to live in a place where time floats like air, and there is no rush. I am hoping to hold on to this relaxed attitude in New York, but I’m sure I’ll be back to my New York minutes very soon.
Nature, flora and fauna
There’s nothing like travelling to work and passing by palm trees with coconuts and knowing that today is another sunny day. While short but strong afternoon showers are common this time of year, it is generally hot and sunny… every… single… day. Without a car, using public transportation, the heat is overbearing and miserable, but I have absolutely enjoyed wearing sandals practically every day for the past year. Moreover, the towns outside the capital have stunning views and beaches and being able to drive to a remote location for a weekend is priceless.
For now I am happy to be back at home with my family and have been taking the time to be grateful for my year abroad and what I have come back to. I’m sure I’ll be back to the Dominican Republic soon to visit, but until then, it’s the Big Apple for me.