By: Kathy Tran, Intensive Spanish Language in the Dominican Republic
I was very fortunate to study Spanish in the Dominican Republic this past summer. At first, I was afraid to go on the study abroad because it was going to be my first time leaving the states and I didn’t know much Spanish. Despite these earlier fears, I made it through the many ups and downs of the 5-week experience and in the end, I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad, to have such an amazing director, teacher, and classmates, as well as the best host family.
Through the experience, I have learned not only Spanish, but about the Dominican culture. I have discovered myself and learned more about the world and life.
One of my favorite experiences was going on a hike to El Mogote in Jarabacoa. Growing up in Utah, I’ve always enjoyed hiking, camping, and always being in nature. And weeks spent in the Santo Domingo left me feeling disconnected with nature as I would spend everyday walking through congested roads, polluted streets, and the busy city life.
The hike was an opportunity to get out of the city and into the Dominican Republic nature. And it was also an opportunity to be with Dominicans and learn a lot from them.
Two other students from the study abroad and I joined a big group of high school, college students, and leaders from Partners of the Americas. We hiked up El Mogote and camped at the peak for a night.
The hike up was so difficult! I really was not expecting such a difficult hike, but it steep and long. It took us 3 hours to get to the top. I was exhausted way before someone told us that we were only halfway there. I wasn’t prepared for such a difficult hike because it was a hike for young students, so I didn't think it would be as intense. When we got to the top, I was just so happy. I really thought Utah hikes were tough, but Dominicans are extremely tough and they didn't complain one bit through it all. Throughout the hike, I had incredible conversations with these amazing Dominicans about life and views on certain things. I learned so much from them and I was so grateful to have learned Spanish to be able to communicate with them. They opened my eyes to the third-world nation and their differing lifestyles. I realized my privileges that I have in the U.S. and we all became close as we shared our differences and struggles.
When we got to the top of El Mogote, we were welcomed with a spectacular view and cold temperatures. It was a different side of the Dominican Republic to experience--no more hot, humid heat and beaches. By the time we set up our camp and ate dinner, it was dark. Before we slept, we enjoyed great Dominican music and dancing! One of the students brought his guitar, so amazing voices and such joyful spirits serenaded us all. They even wrote a song just for each of us and told us amazing stories.
When we woke up, we cleaned up the camp and hiked down. Eventually, everyone got down and we were all so very happy and hungry at the end of it. We then got a guagua towards town and we ate a lot of good food at the restaurant. We ate the typical Dominican diet of rice, beans, meat, yucca, mangu, Presidente, and egg salad. We also had some dulce de leche for desert. It was such a delicious lunch and it was well-deserved after two long days of hiking. We then topped it off with a swim/bathe in the Parque del Norte river. It was so much fun. At the end of the trip, it was sad to say goodbye to all of them because the tough hike had made us become such close friends as we all struggled to reach the same destination. We had amazing conversations as we braced the cold weather at the peak. And after all of that, we all celebrated together and had a good time.
I came to the Dominican Republic to learn the language and the culture, but in the end, I ended up with a family and a new global and open way of seeing and living.