Photo Essays

Culture and Language Learning in Real Time (Dominican Republic)

Photos and Captions by Manisha Samal

Participants in the Culture and Language Learning in Real Time course are asked to explore how values, norms, and ways of thinking and interpreting the world are shaped by cultural experiences. The photo essay below details one student's reflections on life and culture in the Dominican Republic.

Alone in a crowd: While taking a tour of Santo Domingo, I noticed a Haitian man walking under the hot sun. He looked troubled. Haitians have the lowest status in the Dominican Republic and racism is often exhibited towards them. Trujillo, the dictator, had a long lasting presence of 30 years and influenced the negative impressions of Haitians on Dominicans. Nevertheless, there seems to be progress towards individual rights for Haitians, as there is increasing acceptance of them in prestigious universities like Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra.

The gross happiness product: During a break at an elementary school we observed, elementary kids posed and were very eager to have their photos taken when we took out our cameras. They were full of smiles. Dominicans whether old or young, tend to be very happy. They like to express what they feel in their hearts, and they convey a lot of love and affection towards others. This is reflected in the way they speak Spanish. Dominican culture can be classified as a high-contact culture.

Being closer in mind and space: While walking back from classes at PUCMM (Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra), I observed a few Dominicans conversing. I noticed that there seems to be quite a difference between Dominican conversations and American conversations. Dominicans tend to have long conversations with limited pauses. They tend to be very expressive when they speak, are a lot physically closer, and convey a lot of affection. Moreover, they tend to focus on the details of conversations as opposed to Americans who often like to go straight to the point.

The subject of endless time: Walking up the steps to the famous market in Santo Domingo where art, crafts, and jewelry are sold, a vendor sat on the steps selling necklaces in a very relaxed state. The pace of life in the Dominican Republic is much slower than in other cultures, and much like in India and Argentina, it is less hectic and more relaxed. This is related to the culture's time orientation, which presents time as being endless rather than dissipating. Focus is thus placed on participation in events, rather than being at an event. Accordingly, less emphasis is placed on appointments, schedules and punctuality.

To play while we work: “Hello. What's your name? Where are you from?” Dominicans are curious to get to know others and converse with people even if they are at work. There does not seem to be much of a divide between professional behavior and normal social informal behavior. In American and Western-European culture, there is a large dichotomy between how one should behave at work and how one should behave with family and friends. However, in Dominican culture, social life spills over into work life.