Melanie: A Day in My Dominican Life
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Dominican Republic, etc.
I am a 30-something woman living in the Dominican Republic, trying to balance it all out – work, kids, husband and life in paradise. Originally from Philly, by way of college in Illinois, I originally “relocated” for one year in 2004, but I met my husband and, well, I never left.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging when I had my son as a way to keep my family up to date in the States with what he was doing. It was definitely more mommy-blog than lifestyle-blog. When I got tired of answering people’s questions about why we live here, what do we do and how life is different, I started writing it down. The blog is now a mix of personal experiences and reflections, family-stuff and information about the country.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I have a series of blog posts that address the issue of my illegality. I was an illegal immigrant until late 2012, when I was forced to complete paperwork or lose my job. It was silly to most people that the government was forcing the process, because really? Who cares? And that’s the response I got from most people in-charge of the process. Who cares? You’re North American, not Haitian. We’re not worried about you.
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?
I’ve been in the country for almost a decade. And every single day I have something that I need to “get over.” I was raised in a structured society with rules and regulations that applied to everyone. That doesn’t exist here. There are rules, sure. But they don’t apply to everyone. I also have a really hard time with the low self-esteem and lack of accountability that is so prevalent here. However, I’m mostly content with life here and I’m completely aware that no matter where you live, you’ll encounter problems.
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 wasn’t. I only planned to stay for one year, teaching in a school. I had been sold false information about my job and the people I’d be working with. That first year was rough. The second year, not so much. I was a baby when I moved here, just out of college. When I came back , it was to marry my husband and we were both pretty aware that it was going to be a tough, long journey. We only had a bed, a stove, a refrigerator and a couch. Oh, and an iron. I didn’t have a job or any contacts to get a job. But, we worked hard, forged relationships and formed a life for ourselves.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
There is a lot of… gossip where I work. It’s a characteristic, I think, of the demographic. A lot of community members come to the office to talk to me to tell me about things I should be careful about. Sometimes it’s serious – so-and-so’s 12 year old sister is pregnant. Sometimes it’s not – that guy is in love with you. And sometimes it’s funny. There is a local “witch”. I don’t know if she really practices witchcraft, or if she’s just an odd woman that others are scared of. One day, I received a visitor who wanted to tell me that she caught the witch “flying” the night before. She saw her. Really. I asked her how she really knew, and she told me that the “witch” was dancing on her rooftop. I guess she had forgotten that I knew where she lived and she had no roof, just a plastic tarp that would never sustain the weight of the witch. I wrote about it here!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Dominican Republic?
- Don’t expect to have the same lifestyle here as you do in the states. If you need luxury, make sure you have the money for it. A big SUV will run you dry – gas is super expensive. Furniture is expensive. A fancy lifestyle is super expensive.
- If you have kids, make sure you have an education plan. Schools here are terrible. Even the good schools are bad. And, with the exception of a very select few, even the “international” schools are not good (and will bleed your wallet dry).
- Learn Spanish. There is nothing more annoying than someone who has lived here for a while who still expects Dominican people to conform to their needs instead of learning the language.
How is the expat community in Dominican Republic? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a large ex-pat population in the DR. I don’t really intermingle – we don’t fit into any of the niches of the community – we’re not religious crusaders, we’re not a bi-cultural couple trying to go to the USA as quickly as possible and we’re not wealthy factory managers. Our personal community is mostly Dominican with some long-term ex-pats with similar lifestyles (from a wide variety of countries – from Korea to Belgium to the US). However, it’s hard, especially in bigger cities, to not run into other ex-pats and most are welcoming to other foreigners.
How would you summarize your expat life in Dominican Republic in a single, catchy sentence?
I don’t know. That’s a hard one: Taking advantage of life in paradise?