I’m posting this on the last Monday of classes for this semester. It feels so good to say that! I can’t believe that we’ve been here for over a month already. There is this weird feeling of relativity of time here, because it’s going so fast but at the same time it feels like forever ago when I said goodbye to my family or when we were on the plane coming here. I’m so thankful for my life here and I’m trying to take in every minute, every sight, every smell, every smile and every new vocabulary word.
Last Friday our grammar teacher and the language school director Arelis asked us what new things we learned through our program. Everyone else said some vocabulary and a few different tenses of verb forms that they had already learned. I had to honestly say that everything but two of the grammar topics that we covered were completely new for me. Needless to say that this Spanish class experience has been something that I have had to work for and study hard for. For any of you who know anything about Spanish, subjunctive almost killed me. I am excited to finally use what I have learned though. Knowing all of the different past tenses has been really useful in telling my family how my day was, but I’m excited to start at the social work site in three weeks and really be able to put all of this knowledge to practice. That hope is what really got me through these past four incredibly intense weeks of Spanish class. It is kind of cool to say that I took 11 college credits of Spanish in 5 weeks though. Hopefully I will come back to all fluent and rolling my double r’s like a pro.. probably not but it’s good to dream, right?
This past week I have spent a ton of time with friends from the group. I realized that after our Spanish classes are over there will be less opportunity for us in our group from Bethel to see each other. Once I start working at the social work site in the middle of October, I will walk about a mile to and from “work” every day. We will work at our sites from 9 to 4 every day with a little less than a two hour break for lunch. Kara and I will walk our mile or so to and from work every day. Because of this, we will only see the entire group on Tuesday nights for Bible study and then on Saturday when we take our weekly excursions. Because of this, I have been trying to spend extra time with other people from our group now before we are all split up more. On Monday, I ate lunch at my friends Corrie and Brittany’s house. They live in town and their dad is an artist. Their house is full of beautiful paintings that he has done. They have three younger siblings, the oldest of which speaks English. The atmosphere of their house is so different just because there are younger kids around, I’m sure it is hard to get homework done in their house. On Tuesday Kara and I ate lunch at our friends Jenna and Rachel’s house. Their home life is so different also. They have a younger brother who is 2 ½ and he is such a handful. Their mom cooks lunch for a local school every day and their dad works, so Jenna and Rachel are left home a lot. They live close enough to the base that they can walk to the base during the mornings and do homework there. On Wednesday night I spent the night with my friends Johanna and Mandy, who are Bethel graduates who are now teachers at a Christian school here in Jarabacoa. They both went on this trip with Bethel three years ago so it was fun to talk to them about their experience here and the kinds of things they learned from being here. Johanna was my RA at school my freshman year and it was so refreshing to spend time with them. They live in an apartment with another roommate and there are other American teachers who live in the downstairs apartment. Their living situation is very different from ours because they speak English at home all the time and are kind of isolated from the Dominican community. On Thursday I spend the morning with the only two boys from our group, Nate and Neil. We spent some time in downtown Jarabacoa, which was nice because I only get to go there when I get a ride there. I ate lunch at their house with them, which again was very different from my home life here. They live with a family with all boys. Because of this, their mom seems a little distant, and not as ‘motherly’ as other Dominican moms are that I have met. On Friday night Kara and I spent the night at our friends Rachel and Courtney’s house, which again was totally different. Their family is pretty wealthy. Their house has all tile floors and their kitchen and bathroom looked just like normal ones that we have in the states. Their family was really nice, but I noticed that they weren’t very patient with our broken Spanish and didn’t try to explain things to us if we didn’t understand.
Although my week has been incredibly busy, I have been learning so much. Spending so much time in these different houses has really allowed me to appreciate the family that I have been placed with. I can see that my placement here is a perfect fit. I don’t always have the patience or energy to live with young kids, and I appreciate that my family helps me with my Spanish. My Dominican mom is very connected with Kara and I, and I feel like se genuinely cares about us and wants us to be living in her house. This week has been a lesson for me in being content and satisfied with the family that I live with. I sometimes struggle with the physical location of where I live, Kara and I are the ones that are furthest from the base. We live up a mountain, and though it is so beautiful, we are pretty isolated from the rest of the students we are here with. Our family doesn’t own a car and we aren’t allowed to ride the moto that our family does have. So although there are still things that aren’t my favorite, because I think I’m a city girl at heart, I’m learning to be satisfied and totally blessed by the family that I live with. Sometimes when I walk outside in the morning I wonder how I could ever be dissatisfied with the place that I live, the mountains are so beautiful. But I think that sometimes I just crave that community and the excitement of meeting lots of new people in the city.
This weekend we went on an excursion that was way more relaxing than they have been in the past so far. In the morning we went to a place that Josh and Vicki called “Jacuzzi”. It was just a place in a river that had a lot of calmer pools of water so that it was more relaxing than the river experiences than we’ve been having recently. We didn’t have to walk through waist deep water with an intense current or risk our lives going down rapids in intertubes. We got to sit on rocks with our feet in the water and play “never have I ever” like we were in middle school again. Even though that game is normally played by middle school girls, it’s actually a funny way to get to know people because facts about them normally come out through embarrassing stories. After we got back from the river, we went out to lunch at this great ribs place. Brent told us that there was some extra money in his budget, so he treated us to this gigantic meal. It was so nice to sit with everyone and eat family style as a community.
I’ve been thinking a lot about coming home lately, not that I’m homesick but I think that it’s going to be really rough actually. After talking to Johanna and Mandy (my Bethel graduate friends who both did this semester program three years ago) about what it was like to transition back into American society, I’m realizing that that transition will probably be more difficult than getting used to living here. I don’t just mean the fact that I only have sandals here and will have no warm clothes to wear home from the airport in Decembe. J I mean that I don’t want to be bitter towards American society when I get back. There is so much consumerism and materialism. Dominicans here are happy with so much less than we are in America. It’s almost overwhelming to think about it. Since my family moved into our house in Woodstock, I’ve always thought that my bedroom is too small. But living here has shown me that not only is my room big enough, but it’s cool that I have my own room and my own things. Thinking about all of these changes is especially rough because I’ll be walking back into America at Christmastime, when this materialistic mindset gets almost manic and out of control. I am praying for preparation for these obstacles. Maybe I’m just getting ahead of myself because we’ve only been here for a month, but I think it’s also good to start, even now, to prepare myself for the obstacles that are ahead of me in going home.
Also, just as a last side note, I wanted to let you guys know that there is one more opportunity this semester to send me a letter. One of our teachers at Bethel will be coming down here the week of October 17th, and he has offered to bring down any letters that are in the semester abroad office by the end of the week of the 10th (so by Wednesday October 13th or so to be safe) for the students here. The only thing that he asks is that they’re only flat letters, so that his luggage load doesn’t get out of control So, if you wanted to send me a letter of encouragement or something (which would all be so much appreciated) you can send it to this address:
Semester Abroad Office at Bethel College
Attn: Margie Ewald, Dominican Republic
1001 Bethel Circle
Mishawaka, IN 46545