Esalena: Travel Addicts on a Dime
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Dominican Republic, etc.
My name is Esalena Rubianes, I am originally from Stockton, CA. I have always loved to travel and loved learning about different cultures. I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and so the best part of traveling is always getting to see the brothers and sisters in other countries. There is a unity that exists worldwide and it is so encouraging to be able to experience it firsthand.
I have been a pioneer for the past 3 years, which is a volunteer position where you dedicate 840 hours a year to teaching others about the Bible. I decided to move to the Dominican Republic after a 3 week vacation I had taken here last year because I had fallen in love with the island, the people and the idea of a challenge. Also, there are many people here interested in learning about the Bible and so the need for volunteers is great.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Originally I had planned to move with a good friend of mine, and we decided to document all of our research. There were so many unanswered questions and it was hard to find simple, straight-forward answers. I was desperate for an insider’s view and so I decided that is what I would provide for the next person in my position. So Travel Addicts on a Dime was born in the very beginning of this mad journey I now find myself on.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Ummm….favorite blog entries…my latest one where I describe what it is like teaching a young girl who is deaf and blind is pretty dear to my heart. I have never experienced anything quite so extraordinary, and it definitely has made an impression. However there was one entry that describes the cockroach attack that, although was terrifying at the time, is now fairly hilarious.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Dominican Republic differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
My life here is so incredibly different, in almost every way. I no longer work full time at a job with no real future. The convenience level of everyday life is definitely lower, and it nearly broke my heart when I realized I would probably never again eat a bowl of fresh raspberries or blueberries. The heat is pretty outrageous and getting used to it has been rough. I didn’t really experience a culture shock, but once moved into my own place that was without internet I was cut off from friends and family back home, and that was tough. Traveling is so different when you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, because you know that no matter where you are, all you need to do is find the local Kingdom Hall and you will be taken good care of. It’s an instant community of friends although you have never met before.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Dominican Republic? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I do not think I was fully prepared for this, yet who ever really gets to say that? I think that the main thing I learned was what I should have brought with me, certain things that you cannot get here or are just ridiculously expensive here. I had only brought 2 suitcases with me and figured I would buy everything else I needed once here. Well, now I know better. Its worth it to pay the extra baggage fee and just bring things from the States. Apart from that, I wouldn’t really change anything else. I was taken care of by the local Witnesses so well, I could never repay them. They helped with getting me a place to live, a job, shopping, ect.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Well there are many. One that seems to happen often is taking the wrong concho. When I first arrived, I never knew where I was, so one wrong concho and I was completely lost. In the beginning I would refuse to get off until I arrived back to where I started. But that’s how some of the best conversations happened with cocho drivers.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Dominican Republic?
LEARN THE LANGUAGE! It is probably one of the most frustrating things to not be able to communicate as well as you would like. It is worth the hard studying and effort before your trip, make time for it. Also, when you hear people say that you need to get accustomed to the Island Feel, it’s not a joke. You can be sure that 90% of the time, things are not going to go according to plan. You have to go with the flow. And, last but not least, keep in mind that although your home culture may do things more efficiently or effectively, you cannot judge this country by those standards. There are a lot of deficiencies and chaotic things here, but you have to accept differences and demean their entire way of life. You will drive yourself crazy if you always compare things to how they worked back home.
How is the expat community in Dominican Republic? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Again, one of the advantages of the World Wide Brotherhood of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that like-minded people are always nearby. However, when I do find native English Speakers I do experience the relief and comfort that comes with the feeling of home.
How would you summarize your expat life in Dominican Republic in a single, catchy sentence?
If you are looking for adventure and a good challenge, this is the place to be, just be sure you are willing to watch all of your well thought out plans fall apart and melt with the Caribbean heat!