Jennifer: Drinking the whole Bottle
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the Dominican Republic, etc.
I come from two Cuban parents that left Cuba for New Jersey in the late 60’s / early 70’s. I was born in Jersey, so, yes I’m a Jersey girl, but not at all like the kind on that silly MTV show. Well a little like that. Being a Cuban from New Jersey means a lot of things: I’m sassy and welcoming and a straight shooter. I don’t do passive aggressive; I’m passive or aggressive but nowhere in between. I love parties and alone time. I want a life rooted in history and tradition but want to travel and discover and explore all the corners of our world. Unfortunately, we’re not filthy rich so the only way I could see the world is by working abroad. In 2011, my husband and I decided to try just that. He would teach, I would write. We chose the Dominican Republic because it offered us the lifestyle we were looking for at the time.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Almost immediately. I say almost because when we arrived I was super pregnant and exhausted so I didn’t do much of anything but nest in our new apartment. As soon as our daughter was born (2 months later) I began blogging. In the beginning I was blogging to keep people back home informed of our new family but it quickly became so much more than that.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Well, jeez. That’s like naming a favorite child. These stand out for being focused on life abroad:
- Somewhere in Between Two Time Zones
- Connecting the Dots of a Bilingual Prayer
- Revisiting Pandora’s [Travel] Box
Tell us about the ways your new life in the Dominican Republic differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The funny thing about my culture shock is that I come from a very similar culture and so I wasn’t expecting to be shocked… but I was. And to be fair maybe it wasn’t so much the culture shock as culture fear, a new way of doing things. I didn’t know the “lay of the land”, so I didn’t feel safe to just travel around the streets like I felt back home. Many times I just wanted a coffee or to go to a mall (we’re full of those in NJ) but that wasn’t really the scene here and if it was I had no idea how to get there. At the same time, people warn you about safety and taking proper precautions, which just made me not want to leave my home. I remember when my husband would walk our dogs at night I would tell him he could only walk them from where I could keep an eye on him from our balcony. Seems so silly now but it was a very real fear for me then.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in the Dominican Republic? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don’t think I was fully prepared but I don’t think there was much I could have changed or prepared more for. At the end of the day, we had just moved to a new country AND were having a baby. There is no preparation. Not really.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Things you think will be easy are difficult and things you think will be difficult are easy. Getting our kids’ passports in a country where government paperwork is a mess? Simple. Getting an iced coffee without milk… impossible.
The lady at the counter didn’t understand.
I repeated, “I just want ice in my coffee.”
She looked at me like I was an alien and said, “But we don’t do that here. It isn’t on the menu.”
So I asked “Is the iced coffee made from a machine that automatically combines the iced coffee and milk?” Because then I’d understand why she is saying that the iced coffee has to come with milk.
“No,” she said, “I would manually have to add the milk.”
So I looked at her like she was an alien, “Sooo. Could you just skip the milk part and give me the coffee with the ice?”
“But no one drinks coffee with ice here,” she responds like I am the crazy person.
I skip over the part where there is obviously one person who drinks ice coffee here and just ask for an order of coffee and a cup of ice and make the damn thing myself.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the Dominican Republic?
- Life is a party. In every way shape or form, life here is a party. There is no reason too small for loud music, loud talking, ice-cold Presidentes, yummy food, and cake.
- Customer service here sucks but the people are awesome. People ask me where I’m from and strike up conversations. Strangers delight in my children and keep an eye on them for me. When our tire blew out in the middle of the highway there wasn’t a shortage of people who pulled over to help. Some people offered their physical help, others offered us the use of their car jack, others gave us their jack and told us to “keep it.” Another time, riding around on an ATV, I ran out of gas. One guy went and came back with gas. Another sucked the gas through a hose to get the gas from the container to my tank. It splashed all over his face and he probably swallowed some and yet asked for NOTHING in return. It was an incredible showing of helpfulness.
- There are no rules. Both in a local and worldly level. Red lights here are a suggestion. Leaving too much space in front of you on line means you’re open to line cutters. It was frustrating in the beginning but then I realized that for everything they do here that seems crazy to me, I probably do plenty that looks crazy to them. The truth is there are no global truths; there are only cultural truths.
How is the expat community in the Dominican Republic? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
No, but that is more due to the school that my husband teaches at then the community itself. Our community is a large, diverse, beautiful community that has made being away from our families much easier.
How would you summarize your expat life in the Dominican Republic in a single, catchy sentence?
Beer Tastes Better with Sunny Weather with Friends