In March of 2002, I decided that it was time for me to take a break from Tallahassee, but Lord knows my parents weren’t trying to hear the whole “I need a semester off” story. But I had to get out of here, do something new, learn about a new culture and put what I had learned as a Spanish major to use.
So I made the choice to study abroad. With the help of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship, I was off to study in one of the most beautiful places in the world – the Dominican Republic.
I lived with a Dominican family and took classes at the Pontificia Universidad CatÃ³lica Madre y Maestra, in the country’s capital city of Santo Domingo, located right on the Caribbean Sea in the southern region of the country.
Every morning, I woke up to the sound of “Aguacate!” from the fruit man making his way through the neighborhood, calling out for people to buy fresh produce from his wheelbarrow. I would then prepare my mind for the cold shower I would have to take to begin my day, since the only hot water in most Dominican homes came from a boiling pot.
After breakfast and morning conversation with my family, it was off to campus. To get to campus, I would walk to the main road and take a “public car” to get to school. The “public car” system was most definitely a unique experience. The basic idea was to squeeze into a beat-up compact car with seven other people and pay the driver seven pesos (about 20 cents) to drive you down the street as close to your destination as possible.
Once I finally reached the university, I met up with the rest of the students from the study abroad program to go to class. I took classes in Caribbean literature, Spanish, Dominican and African heritage. My favorite class was African heritage, because my teacher Blas Jimenez, a self-proclaimed Afro-Dominican – most Dominicans do not claim their African heritage – taught me to get knowledge for myself.
He gave me thought-provoking articles and book excerpts dealing with Africa and the people of the diaspora, and acted as mediator in open discussions when I returned to the next class.
To vary his lessons, Jimenez gave lectures in the locations of and among the people he would describe.
But my experience took me far beyond this city. Traveling with a group of students, I took many trips with the school to different corners of the country, often watching what was described in the lecture right outside the window as I traveled.
The best part about the trips was watching the landscape on the way to each destinations. The green trees and meadows stretched on for miles, intermittently interrupted with splashes of bold yellows and bright pinks from plants and flowers along the mountainous countryside.
Not only was the land of the Dominican Republic awe-inspiring, I also learned valuable life lessons.
I learned that people truly are more alike than we are different. And sometimes people who seem to have nothing are some of the “richest” people you’ll ever meet because they’ve learned the true value of life.
I began to understand myself more as a black woman and, even more importantly, as a part of the human race.
I saw all the women relaxing their hair the moment their roots got a little wavy and soliciting whistles with their stretch jeans as young men paraded around in the latest fashions.
People of all ages were out hustling on the streets. Old men hung out at the corner stores playing dominoes while babies cried and mothers sang to calm them.
The universal truths of humanity were evident in the faces of everyone laughing, screaming, humming, trying to overcome, asking nothing more out of life than to just be happy.
Once I was in the Dominican Republic, I learned that everyone has much in common, and the assumed differences soon turn into only slight variations.
A trip abroad made me realize that we’re all one people striving for the same thing, just in different skin.
contact ebony yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.