By Diego De La Peza, MPP ’17
Landing in the Dominican Republic felt surprisingly comfortable. This being my first time traveling abroad by myself, and first time living in a foreign country for such a long time, made me a bit nervous. Once I left the airport, and began speaking with locals, the country reminded me a lot of Mexico, a familiar country. I had wanted to do my internship in a Latin American country as it is my area of interest. People were extremely welcoming, especially when I spoke Spanish which many people did not expect coming from a “tourist”. I quickly realized Dominican Spanish was going to be something I needed to get used to. Their accent, speed and use of different “lingo” had me sometimes just smiling and nodding my head, as I felt rude having to ask “que?” for the third time.
Interestingly enough, both of the locals with whom I had my first two meaningful conversations brought up the issue of corruption in the country. My taxi driver mentioned the corruption within their law enforcement, who stop people just to get a “mordida” or a monetary compensation and who are easily paid off when crimes occur. The young man who I sat next to on the bus from Punta Cana to Santo Domingo talked about the corruption by government officials who profit at the expense of the citizens and who only help their immediate friends and family succeed as government officials. After hearing the same topic twice in less than an hour, I began wondering if these are common sentiments amongst Dominicans or if they were subtly trying to warn me of this corruption. Halfway through Santo Domingo, my bus broke down and we waited for an hour for another bus to come take us to our destination; a reminder that public transportation everywhere needs some changes.
Getting to Santo Domingo, I had my first authentic Dominican meal. Sonia, the owner of the studio I will be staying in, had a fresh meal ready for me. The food, although different than what I was accustomed to, was delicious. I can truly get used to eating like this. The studio is a block from the “malecon” (beach boardwalk) and close to many hotels of Santo Domingo. As I settle in, I cannot help but feel excited for my stay here.
I am looking forward to beginning my internship at the Instituto de Sexualidad Humana and being able to learn the cultural and academic differences that exist in this country. Besides the possible difficulties in understanding the different Spanish dialect, I believe that the Dominican Republic’s conservatism and influence by the Catholic Church might be difficult adapting to, especially when doing research on the topics of sexual health and reproductive rights. I believe my experience at ISH will serve as a learning opportunity both in international and health policy, as well as a learning experience for myself.