Eliza: Amor Y Sabor
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to the Dominican Republic, etc.
I am originally from Cape Cod, Mass. but I grew up in New York City where I lived with my father, a fine artist. My father had been traveling to Haiti since the 1950s and on several trips I accompanied him, each time staying for around 3 months. These trips made a real impression on me and instilled a desire to live outside the United States at an early age. Although I dreamed of living in many places, the Dominican Republic was my first opportunity to do so. It started in 2002 when I went there to teach two classes at Altos de Chavón, a fine arts college that had a partnership with Parsons School of Design in New York. I was hired to teach the classes, one on Web Design and another on Interface Design, and provided with a translator. The response of the students, which included many professionals, was enthusiastic and I was encouraged to consider moving there. Eight months later that is exactly what I did.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I dabbled in blogging while I lived in the Dominican Republic but it was really after I returned to the United States that I started blogging in a regular basis. In October 2010 I started my blog Amor Y Sabor. At the time I was traveling back and forth to the Dominican Republic on a regular basis while I was waiting for my husband (fiancé back then) to get approved for a visa to come to the United States. My husband was from India but we met in the Dominican Republic, living the same neighborhood of Gazcue. In one family I had the cultures of America, India and the Dominican Republic. These cultures intertwined in our family but the common elements were always our love (amor) and sharing of food/flavor (sabor) which is where the blog title came from.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
As related to the Dominican Republic, I particularly like this one: This World Perspective which I wrote right after Hurricane Sandy and talks about even in the greatest of tragedy, we are better off in America than most Dominicans are on a good day. I also like: Always Time To Dance which talks about the importance of music in Dominican culture, one of my favorite aspects of it.
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?
I lived in the Dominican Republic for eight years and life was always different, maddening, frustrating, and wonderful too. I miss it. In fact, my family is moving down to Miami just to be as close to the culture we left as possible within the United States.
What differs from the United States is that people are happier with far, far less. I wrote about this in the post: The Price Of Privilege - we Americans complain a lot, demand a lot and even when we get it are still not happy. We don’t realize, until we leave the United States for an extended period of time and stay in a Third World country like the Dominican Republic that we have as much as we do. So the biggest difference I found was the infrastructure. Nothing worked in the Dominican Republic compared to the United States – the power supply, the water, the roads, the phones, the police, the cars, the government – you name it. The hardest part to get used to was how little control you had. You were basically powerless. Have a problem? There was no one to complain to – no supervisor, customer service department, government agency – nothing. You just had to deal with it.
As for culture shock, not so much. I had the experience of Haiti as a child so I had an idea what I was getting into, it was just being patient that was hard.
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 was not prepared at all. I needed more friends to guide me. I got robbed within the first month because I kept money in my room. I didn’t know how to open a bank account and I made the mistake of trusting someone friendly. I would have reached out more to the expat community in advance if I could have done it differently.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Well the funniest for me is some mix-ups I had regarding Spanish. I didn’t know much when I moved to the Dominican Republic. When you are learning a language, certain words sound similar. So one day, a girl I had working for me in the day, told me to tell the night girl that there were “dos platanos en el horno” which means ‘two plantains in the oven’ except what I told the night girl was there were “dos platanos en el inodoro” which means “two plantains in the toilet”. Once I saw her expression I realized my mistake but “horno” and “inordoro” sounded almost the same to me.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Dominican Republic?
- Don’t expect to equal your life in your home country. Go to be a part of the Dominican Republic. Take the good with the bad but experience for what it is.
- Be careful whom you trust. There are a lot of false friends. I came from living in NYC so I had my street smarts when it came to robbers but I was unprepared for the ‘tigeres’ and other cheaters who befriend you and offer help, only to gain your trust and take advantage.
- Travel the island. The Dominican Republic is very diverse in terms of its geography across the island. On the west it is desert-like with stone beaches, cacti and crocodiles whereas on the east there are cascading waterfalls and lush foliage.
How is the expat community in the Dominican Republic? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in the Dominican Republic is quite strong, especially through the online community at dr1.com. Honestly I did not reach out to expats in the beginning as I should have. I wanted to immerse myself in the Dominican culture and not just be around people from my own culture. However, it was within reach when I did want to connect.
How would you summarize your expat life in the Dominican Republic in a single, catchy sentence?
I described in my blog that life in the Dominican Republic is like living in high-definition video and I think that sums it up quite well.