Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Study Abroad in

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

3 posts from February 2011


Learning How to Learn


Last Friday, our group went on an excursion to an area called Jarabacoa, where we spent the day at a beautiful resort with an obstacle course, a pool, various athletic facilities, a rock wall and gorgeous views of the mountainous Cibao region. There we held our one-month check-in meeting with our staff to address the experiences that have shaped our lives in the Dominican Republic thus far. Among the many items on the agenda were various charlas, or small discussions, on academics, public transportation, host families and piropos (cat-calls that women experience daily). For each theme, we were required to perform a skit, and then participate in a debriefing session afterwards to discuss our thoughts in further detail.

I acted in the skit on academics, in which our group portrayed a typical day with our wildly enthusiastic Spanish professor who loves to give high-fives and alligator applauses (not sure how else to describe them). After the laughter had subsided, the conversation took a mildly negative turn as we expressed our frustrations about a class that many viewed as disorganized, random, and without a tangible topic or focus. We had concerns about grading, testing, and reading materials, and about how the language gap was affecting all of the above. At first, we sought support from our directors to address the situation administratively, perhaps through a conversation with our professor that could result in a class more formatted to our needs. We soon realized, however, that a better tactic might be to change our own behaviors as students. Our facilitators and some of our peers reminded us that the education style in much of Latin America is very different from that of the United States, and that there is a much larger focus on self-teaching and individual research. In many parts of the world, true learning is not dependent on the extent to which one follows a syllabus or a study guide, but on one’s ability to ask questions, to initiate a dialogue, and to formulate opinions on a topic of interest. In this setting, the professor is less a supplier of expertise and more a source of myriad ideas and concepts for the student to apply to his/her own studies.

Once the group began to realize that what we were experiencing was a sort of ‘clash of cultures,’ or more specifically, a clash of institutional education styles, we began problem-solving to find solutions to our discomforts in class. We decided that we would ask more questions to try to steer the dialogue towards specific themes and ignite debate, that we would ask for clarification on assignments, and that we would even rearrange the classroom into a semi-circle formation to make the setting more conducive to discussion. Where at first we were protesting having to take the class at all, by the end of the charla we had found our own formula for the situation and were ready to take an active role in our own learning process. One might say that we took up the issue as Americans and put it to rest like Dominicans, but perhaps a mix of the two styles will help us achieve our academic goals to the fullest. 

Maggie Federici

Clark University

Comfort in the Known


We are a relatively small group compared to other study abroad programs; we only have nine.  Because of this, in the last month of our adventures here in the Dominican Republic, we have had the opportunity to get to know one another very well.  We get along well, we work together well, and we are all willing to support and listen to one another.  This has obviously made orienting ourselves in this country easier.  Personally, I was proud to be part of a group that could be so open with one another and offer advice on how to deal with certain situations.  There is a definite comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone here.

However, that being said we have also attached ourselves to one another.  The comfort we find in each other has, in a way, hindered our ability to branch out and meet new Dominican friends as well as our speaking Spanish.  While we speak Spanish in our homes with our host families and our classes are in Spanish as well, outside of home and school we speak English.  Before coming here, most of us had thought Spanish would be spoken all the time, but unfortunately we have been speaking English when we’re together.  Again, this is a comfort thing.  Because our classes are together and we are not integrated into the PUCMM community with the other students it’s hard to make Dominican friends.  We do have interactions everyday with Dominicans in our organizations we work in, however work is different than having friends.

On Friday, January 28, we had a one-month meeting in a place called Jarabacoa, a beautiful town in the mountains.  We talked about our experiences here with host families and school and the country in general.  We acted out skits of common experiences with our families and the piropos (men who yell things to women on the street) and in conchos, the public transportation here in the Dominican.  Through the making of the skits we learned that we are all experiencing the same things in our daily lives.  In addition to the skits we created goals, not only for this semester but also for our lives.  Many of them included speaking Spanish more often with each other than we have been. 

We need to find a balance between our comfortable, little group and branching out to meet new people and learn more about the language.  The difficult part is how?  We all know we want it to happen but I think the problem is we don’t have the time and we don’t know how, or maybe these are just excuses.  It is important for us to function as a group and support one another, but at the same time support has to move outside of what we know.  We have to push each other to branch out and push each other to speak more Spanish.

Lexa Panagore

Clark University

Hidden Histories

Rachel pic 1
Rachel 3

Historic sites offer more than their stories—the way they are, or are not, maintained represents the values it has chosen to identify with and remember. Our first weekend excursion taught us what the people of Santo Domingo, the capital city, have chosen to celebrate.

An elderly woman named Eulalia Jimenez was our guide to two historic sites, Engombe and The Ingenio de Boca de Nigua, remnants of 16th century sugar plantations just outside of Santo Domingo. She explained that after Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492, many of those who followed planted crops like sugar because of the rich soil and various river routes feeding into the ocean. These early settlers brought slaves from Africa to help build and farm. These slaves labored in the hot sun and helped the area prosper and develop into the first major Caribbean trading post.

Our first stop was Encombe. The plantation’s buildings were weathered white stone skeletons whose floor plans were still visible. There was also a small church with a mini bell tower snuggled in-between the main house and the river that the plantation used to access the ocean. It was missing a door, windows, a floor and half a ceiling—basically everything except walls and an altar. I thought it was beautiful. But when we peered inside, we saw graffiti on the walls and garbage on the ground, piled in the corners. Our second site, Ingenio de Boca de Nigua, also showed signs of neglect. Two slave quarters still stood in their original form—tall, circular buildings with cramped wooden bunks stacked up to the ceilings. But shiny food wrappers were stuffed in cracks and horse and mule tracks scattered on the ground.

Despite how cool it was to walk around the plantations and listen to Senora Jimenez, I couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t anyone else in sight and realize that the beautiful stone skeletons were in danger of falling apart. There weren’t any signs or packets of information and neither of my two guide books mentioned either site. These sites were neglected and forgotten.

Back in our van, I began to understand the reason for why the city had not made an effort to preserve or recognize the historic plantations. As we drove towards the center of Santo Domingo, Senora Jimenez explained the plight of the Taino, the indigenous people who lived on the island before Columbus arrived. This was the first time I had heard about them. The Taino were completely wiped out by European diseases and expanding settlers. Celia, a fellow student who was born in the Dominican Republic and lives in the US, said that she had never heard that before. The Taino who lived here for hundreds of years and the slaves who truly physically built this place had been forgotten just like the historic plantations.

Once inside Santo Domingo we met our new guide, a man who worked for the Dominican Tourist Bureau. He led us around the Zona Colonial, the original colonial city founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496. The cobbled streets gleamed and the old houses bustled with life. In the center of the colonial city was The Catedral Santa Maria La Menor, the first church built in the New World, and Parque Colon (Columbus Park), a square commemorating Christopher Columbus. These areas showcased sculptures, black-iron benches and street cafes. The European influence had clearly still been maintained. We also walked by several impressive marble monuments of the revolutionaries who helped free the Dominican Republic from Haitian rule in 1844. These monuments were guarded and decorated with flags. This was the history we were supposed to see.  

The difference between the maintenance of the historic plantations and the colonial city, though they existed around the same time, is a clear demonstration of the parts of its history the city values. There is a clear link to the Dominican’s insistence on separating themselves from the “black race” and from any sort of African or indigenous past. The city was instead set on all that was connected with the white First World. Most likely this is because the city was founded and settled by Europeans. Yet the fact that people today still ignore those parts of their past shows that there still lingers hints of racism in the way they identify themselves today.

We traveled to the capital to tour historic sites and learn more about Dominican culture. We learned that Dominican culture contains issues of race and identity that exist in its history as well as its peoples’ daily lives. Even though the slaves, Taino, farmers and colonizers together made Santo Domingo what it was, what it is today is a result of histories and values that have purposefully been maintained.

 Rachel Keller

Kenyon College