November & December

And just like that, we are halfway through the year here. It’s hard to believe that it was only a few short months ago that we were first starting this journey here in the DR. It feels like a lifetime ago, and like it was just yesterday, all at the same time. The months of November and December really seemed to fly by since we had so many exciting things happening in such a short amount of time.
These past few months we spent a lot of time with other teachers and students, immersing ourselves more fully in our world here. Early in November we went to a baseball game of the local team, The Toros, with our supervisor and some friends from school. Sadly, the toros had a pretty rough night. It’s safe to say that none of us are good luck charms, but it was a really fun evening regardless. We also got the chance to hang out with some other volunteers from the U.S. who are working in La Romana as well. They were nice enough to reach out and invite us to there house for an election viewing party. It was really cool to meet new people from outside the school and PBO bubble.

Later in the month we decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner, with another one of the teachers from the Hogar, Lisa, at her house. We made up a grocery list, went on a couple of big shopping trips, and invited a whole bunch of friends from the school to come to this little event of ours. The Friday after Thanksgiving we went to Lisa’s house to help her finish making the food for dinner. We made tons of different dishes from potatoes, to beans, to pie. And yes, we did have turkey! Tons of people ended up coming for what turned out to be a really fun night. It was definitely nice to get a little taste of home too.

We also had our first visitors from the U.S. come to experience what life is like in the DR for us. At the beginning of November Sofia’s boyfriend, Patrick, came down for a few days, and at the beginning of December my (Marisa) friend, Sarah, visited. It was really special to be able to share our experiences here with friends from home. The general consensus from our visitors seemed to be that life at the school is pretty crazy but also pretty awesome. A fair assessment, I’d say.
November and December were also big months for events at the school. In the span of a few weeks we had “Sport Day,” where the kids got to compete in different athletic events against one another, “Music Day,” and, of course, “English Day.” After spending all of November working tirelessly with our students to prepare for English Day, the event itself was a huge hit. Some of Haela’s preschoolers and some of my first graders sang a song, my second and third graders did mini presentations, and Sofia’s students showed off how much English they have learned in longer presentations. It was easy to see how much time and effort everyone had put in to making the event so amazing—from the songs and dances in the openings, to the dioramas of each country’s monuments, to the presentations themselves.

Another big event that happened in late November was the marathon fundraiser for the school. On the morning of November 27th we were up bright and early, at 3:30 in the morning, to head over to Casa de Campo to help prepare for the race. My students started showing up around 6:00 and we all helped them get their bibs and trackers on. Running the 5K was really neat because we got to see different parts of Casa de Campo, and it was a beautiful morning. After the race all of the students were clearly so proud of themselves, and were excited to have made such an accomplishment. It was amazing to see how far they had all come in such a short period of time. After the race and English Day, things really started to speed by. The weekend before the end of classes and the start of final exams and evaluations, we took a day trip to Isla Saona, an island right off the coast of the Dominican Republic. We got to swim in a natural pool and see some starfish, then relax on the beach and have a great lunch, before taking a catamaran ride back home. It was a great way to recharge after the craziness of the race and English Day, and get ready to finish out the semester strong.
The last couple weeks were busy with exams, and evaluations, and grading, and end of semester activities, but once it was all finished we got to celebrate. After the last day of exams we got to attend a long day of Christmas parties. In the morning, the kids from the preschool and primary school got to celebrate the end of the year with a little show, a lot of cake and treats, and christmas presents. They were all so excited to be receiving something for christmas, it was so heartwarming to see. After the little kids had their party, the older kids came in for their own. It was a day filled with a lot of fun and a lot of food and treats. A few days later we got to attend the quinceañera of one of Sofia’s students, so we get to celebrate even more.
All in all, the last month and a half were pretty great—crazy busy, but pretty great. Now we’re all pretty excited to be spending a few weeks at home with our families to rest and recharge for the second half of the school year. Can’t wait to see where this adventure takes us next.

Plataneando 

Platanear (v.) – a Dominican slang word meaning to become “Dominicanized” and accustomed to living in the DR; literally meaning, “to become plantained” (due to the overwhelming quantity of plantains in this country). So this past month has truly been a time of plataneando for us. After the craze of adjusting to a new environment, a new language, and a new way of life, we have finally had the chance to slow down and feel at home. We have been able to focus more on friendships, building relationships with students and teachers, and becoming more comfortable in our roles not just as teachers but also as actual people here in our new environment.​We have had the pleasure of attending birthday parties and family gatherings of teachers and some of the older students. Earlier in the month we were invited to celebrate Karen, a 12th grader and student of Sofia’s, 17th birthday. We, along with a great group of the 12th grade girls, made little pizza bread appetizers for everyone to enjoy. We were able to get to know more students, particularly ones that neither of us have a chance to teach day to day. More recently, we were invited to a birthday party for a Nivel Inicial (preschool) teacher and colleague of Haela. This party was a Hawaiian themed pool party throw-down at a “Rancho” in Halto Mayor, a town just over an hour away from La Romana. We took a guagua (bus) to the site and the bus ride was fun in itself. The party hosts handed out pre made snack boxes and soda for everyone and we all sang happy birthday at least two times throughout the ride. The Rancho was beautiful and so were the decorations for the party! The hosts put in so much work to make it special for the birthday girl and for the guests. It was great to get to know all of these teachers outside of the school and spend time being goofy splashing around in the pool and dancing out on the deck.


​It is always such a great feeling when students or teachers invite us to events or even just to hang out and chat. We have been accepted and welcomed from the beginning but now we can truly feel the deepening of new relationships and personal connections. We get to know the students and the city so much better when we are invited into homes. For example we were invited to a baby shower for a teacher’s sister this past month and did not really know what to expect. We didn’t know if we would feel awkward or out of place not knowing the family. From the second we arrived we were swept away to meet every relative and dance with every guest. We were treated like family and had a great time. Similarly, we attended a BBQ at a 12th grader, Ezequiel’s, house in Higueral, a town just a few minutes away. Higueral is a farm town and it is much quieter and more tranquilo (that’s calm for all you gringos). Ezequiel is not any of our students and yet he still invited us into his home to hang out with his friends and get to know each other. It was a great day spent with amazing humans and wonderful food (although Sofia and Haela both fell ill that very night with a sneaky Dominican stomach bug that caught them by surprise, but nevertheless it did not ruin the great day!).


​Another huge highlight of this month was our first overnight trip out of our new home! We journeyed to Santo Domingo, the capital, where our good friend and sign language interpreter at the school, Jaribel, met us. Jaribel is our adopted mother here (although she is just a few years older than us) because she has taken us under her wing, especially in our time in the capital. Santo Domingo is the largest city in the country and it was very interesting to compare it to La Romana. We visited the Zona Colonial, an area that was the original settlement of the city and the first area discovered and settled by the Western world. The area still has many colonial buildings such as government headquarters and Christopher Columbus’ home. The Zona Colonial is such a beautiful tourist area and it was very nice to have lunch there on a cobblestone street with friends and get to experience a piece of the nation’s historical past.


​As a group we have definitely achieved successes in the past month and each little win is a big deal to us! As far as personal achievements go we’re all progressing in our endeavors as well. Marisa is going strong with her sign language classes and now she is able to communicate with the students in the deaf school and the older deaf students in the hearing school too. She is also working hard and making strides with her athletic extracurricular group who will be put to the test this November as the marathon approaches. Sofia is continuing to play volleyball with the students and teachers on weekends, which has led to some great relationships. She is also feeling confident about her students’ work in regards to the upcoming “English Day” event in which they will be reciting information in English to big crowds. Haela has also been working tirelessly to prepare her tiny tots for “English Day”. She wrote a great song for them to sing and they are making huge strides in learning it! She is also really proud of the variety of materials and topics that her natural science students in the deaf school have learned through her creative experiments.




All in all it has been a month of successful plataneando although there are still undoubtedly moments of feeling overwhelmed. We are looking forward to November and December and all of the big events coming up! We have the marathon at the end of the month in which all three of us will be running the 5K with a group of students and then “English Day” in the beginning of December. After that its basically Christmas, wow time is flying by! Until next time friends!

Somos las Voluntarias 

Hola a todos! We’ve been here in La Romana for about a month and a half now. It’s hard to believe it’s nearly October when you’re living in an eternal summer. So much has happened in this short time, it’s hard to know where to begin.


When we arrived in August, we had one crazy, overwhelming, confusing week at the school before we actually began teaching. This was a time to familiarize ourselves with the faculty, our specific roles at the school, our schedules, oh and Dominican “Spanish.” We were also given time (some of us more than others) to plan our lessons for the first week of classes. However, no amount of time could have fully prepared us to be English Teachers here at the Hogar. I think I can speak for the three of us when I say that we were questioning just how qualified we actually were for this job. None of us had majored in Education; we had one week to prepare ourselves for what some students spend four years or more preparing for.
Regardless, classes were beginning no matter what, and we jumped in head first, trusting our intuitions to guide us beyond what our lesson plans could. It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t sometimes. Even though the three of us are all teaching different age students, we face many of the same challenges: students acting out in class, activities that don’t go over well, and moments when we feel like we literally just can’t. But we also experience many of the same joys every day at the Hogar: students running down the hall just to say hello and give us a hug, well-behaved students that help make our job a WHOLE lot easier, helpful and patient supervisors to answer our many questions, and friendly co-workers who share avocado slices with us at lunch. This of course is just a fraction of the list of stressors and delights that come with the job.

Okay, I’m already getting ahead of myself here – who’s doing WHAT here, you ask. Let me explain. I (Haela) am teaching English for the “Nivel Inicial” students, ages 3-6. There are hundreds of these little buggers that I meet with a couple of times a week. The class sizes are fairly big (some nearly 40 students), so I am only able to take half of the class at a time. At the end of the day, I work with a group of students doing a “taller” or extracurricular activity, involving creative movement: yoga, dance, etc. Sometimes we just sing songs. I am also working in the Deaf School, teaching Natural Sciences to students in second to seventh grade, meeting with each class once per week. We are also all teaching adult English classes twice a week, and I am teaching the Intermediate level. The adult classes provide and interesting juxtaposition and a calming balance to some of the classes we teach during the day time. It’s almost shocking to have such an attentive group of students.

Marisa is teaching first through third grades. Marisa enters the students’ home room classrooms and takes over for the full 45 minute class periods. She is also teaching English in the Deaf School to fourth through seventh graders. On top of this, Marisa is in charge of a group of twenty hearing and deaf students ranging from seventh to twelfth grade, whom she is training for a 5k race in November. Coach Marisa is doing the impossible; she is training these kids (of varying athletic ability) to run over three miles, all the while in an area just larger than a basketball court. You go girl. She is teaching the Basic-Intermediate (middle level) adult English classes, after which, she attends a sign language class. Needless to say, her Tuesdays and Thursdays are quite long. 


Sofia is teaching eighth through twelfth grade English. Sofia does not have a classroom either, but unlike Marisa, she is often displaced and left to find a place to hold class last minute. But it always works out! She is also in charge of the fourth and fifth grade volleyball extracurricular activity. For an hour each day, she teaches these kids how to bump and set (yikes please no spikes yet, children), while maintaining a positive learning environment for all. Sofia played volleyball in high school and has become a fun and super patient coach to these young kids, some of which are still learning to control their own quickly-sprouting limbs. She is also teaching the Basic (lowest) level adult English class in the evenings. Sofia is getting an interesting insight into learning a language from the ground up, since many of her students have absolutely no background in English whatsoever. This past week I believe they worked on the alphabet and numbers, to give you a sense of where they’re at. But, her high level of Spanish speaking is a true asset to this class. A big thank you to her trilingual household!

As the month of September has swiftly rolled along, we’ve found ourselves building many friendships in and out of school. The people we have met have all been incredibly welcoming and eager to befriend us, and every new person we meet makes it feel a little more like home. When we are not working, or lesson planning, we are meeting up with friends, going to the beautiful beaches, watching volleyball games, trying local cuisine, or just resting, among other things. While we are still missing our Dunkin Donuts, friends and families, crisp autumn air and pumpkin spice everything, we are all settling into our new lives, with a few inevitable bumps along the road, and finding our places in this new life.