Thursday, February 9, 2012

Adjusting to Life in Santo Domingo

By: Anna Groesser
Graduate and Gap Year 32-week Program, 2012

You can read about Anna's internship with Grupo PUNTACANA on the InteRDom website here.

I have been living in Santo Domingo for about one month now, and luckily arrived during their “dead of winter” season. To them, this means comfortable breezes and temperatures in the mid-80s. To me, coming from Northern Michigan, this is the height of summer! That being said, you can be sure I have enjoyed the temperatures while my friends and family in Michigan freeze. Honestly, my past month has been pretty relaxed. I’ve focused on getting adjusted to daily activities- for example, weekly shopping and visiting the local colmado for avocados and bananas (or catching the seller who passes through the street every day at 10am, and buying them from his cart). I’ve also toured some of the areas of Santo Domingo and have been slowly practicing my Spanish with strangers and friends (especially those helpful sentences such as “Can you say it with simple words?” and “A little slower, please.”)

Something interesting: after having been in Santo Domingo for only one week, I had experienced more culture shock than in my entire year studying in Tokyo. I attribute it to the fact that the Dominican Republic is not simply a foreign country to me, but also a developing country and a far cry from what I am familiar with back in the U.S. It’s a developing country, yes, but it’s also a busy, thriving and lively place. People are everywhere, things are going on everywhere, trash is everywhere. The streets are narrow and sidewalks are often non-existent. There is so much to look at and compare here. The driving is treacherous and sellers swarm cars at stop lights selling knickknacks, fruits and flowers, or trying to clean windshields. But on the other hand, the pace of “getting things done” in offices and banks and cellphone branches is often frustratingly slow. This is a city of extremes.
The FUNGLODE building is directly across from my apartment building. Their facility is high-tech and impressive, with Dominican security guards in evidence at all times of the night and day. FUNGLODE often hosts political and academic activities and during those evenings, the street below is full of cars looking to park (and lots of honking, to hurry each other along!) A few times a week, the president of the Dominican Republic visits FUNGLODE, and that’s always exciting to me.

My Spanish teacher was a confident and interesting Dominican Spanish language professor. We focused on speaking and listening mostly, as my reading and writing far exceed the former, and she gave me a birthday present on our last lesson day (a wind chime, perfect for my breezy and spacious 5th floor apartment). I hope in a few months to reconnect with her, due to her strong interest in community development within Santo Domingo.

The next phase of my time here entails me moving to Punta Cana in a few days to begin my development internship with Grupo PUNTACANA. I will be interning within two projects- one the creation of a local elementary school and the other in the improvement of a local high school’s computer lab. This is exactly what I went to graduate school for and I can finally experience these things in real life, and not as solely theoretical 20-page paper projects!