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April 16, 2024

Unexpected culture shock in the Dominican Republic

By Elizabeth Sherwood | March 28, 2013

Despite the cold weather, I am still on that Spring Break flow, so to speak. This past week I was lucky enough to go on a trip to the Dominican Republic with my family.  I flew in and out of Santo Domingo. I have to admit that I was completely disappointed in myself with my preparation for the trip. I had not read any literature about the culture, so everything was a shock to me.  People drive super fast and do not always adhere to traffic laws.  The types of living conditions I saw made me so upset that I do not even want to describe them here.  The place where I stayed was on the southeast portion of the island, which did not have as many tourists as I thought it would. Were they there but just did not go out and explore? The tourists that I did see, however, were mostly European.   People were from all over and spoke many languages. It made communicating difficult almost all the time. Somehow, however, the tourists blended well with the locals and although no one seemed to notice or care that the population in that small section of the island was so diverse, I though it was great.

All of the restaurants in the small beach towns offered many European fusion dishes with a focus on Italian food. A few waitresses stressed that they knew Spanish and Italian very well but no English. I could talk with them a tiny bit. The predominance of English got to my head over the years, and I thought for sure that most people on the island would be able to speak it. It surprised me how much it bothered me that I could not speak Spanish, and therefore could not communicate with a majority of the people. There is something scary about not understanding someone who looks right at you and asks you a question.  Any decent human would show a common courtesy and answer. But I could not.  Above all, I got to thinking that people would take advantage of me.

I felt dumb.

Then I realized — I didn’t care about whether or not I could speak their language or whether or not they could speak mine. I just cared about being there with them and sharing the sun. We could all understand that.

The whole experience got me to thinking about how people must feel when they visit America.  I can only hope that we are as hospitable to them as Dominicans were to me. There is something to be said about feeling at home in a strange land. I would like to say thank you to the people who welcomed me and even understood me without a single word passing my lips.

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