Dominican Republic – Friendship Across National Borders – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Dominican Republic – Friendship Across National Borders – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

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I met my now very dear friend Diana at the beginning of fall semester 2016. Almost instantly we became close; both of us wondered why we had not been friends until then. Not even half way through the semester, Diana suggested I go to the Dominican Republic with her to visit her family. I immediately accepted, how could I refuse such an offer! Once I had made the arrangements, she informed her family that I would be joining her on her trip for winter break. She told me that they were all happy and excited that I was coming. I knew that if they were anything like her (she stressed that they were) they would be extremely welcoming and hospitable, so I had no worries.

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My stay at the Dominican Republic was one I am not likely to ever forget. From the people to the land to the culture, everything I witnessed had a beauty that I cannot easily express in writing. I was lucky enough to experience the country not only from a tourist perspective, but also through the eyes of the local residents. Diana’s family took care of me as one of their own. Even though there was a language barrier between us (I speak almost no Spanish), I realized that if there is enough will and maybe a little help from the notoriously misleading, but undoubtedly helpful Google Translate, people from very different places and dialects can get along and even care for each other.

Other than being a much needed break from school and work, my stay at the Dominican Republic was also an informative experience. I learned a lot about the people’s culture, how laid back yet hardworking they are. I learned about the dynamics of their politics and their somewhat tense relationship with their only other neighbor on the island they share, the nation of Haiti. I learned that no matter how much I ate, Diana’s grandmother and aunt would never truly believe I was full. I enjoyed observing the similarities and differences between the Dominican Republic and my own home country Ethiopia.

Overall, by the time I had to leave I was feeling very down. I had come to truly care for her family as I believe they did for me. I know I have made friends for life and have promised myself (and them) I would come back when I could. I am very grateful I got the chance to have this experience. I encourage people to take any chance they get to travel and explore the world no matter how close or far, there might be something beautiful waiting just around the corner.

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Eleni serves as an editor for The NSR

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

39 Comments

Filed under Eleni Birhane, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

39 responses to “Dominican Republic – Friendship Across National Borders – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Avnish Miyangar

    Hi Eleni! What an amazing insight into such a beauty country. You have made me want to visit. It is crazy how you meet new people and make new relationships and you may consider them family even if they are not blood. The language barrier must have been tough but it was a brave decision for you to go. Learning about other cultures and visiting new places is very important. Her family sound very nice and like they were very generous to you!

  2. Kalahan Larson

    I loved the meaning behind the story that this article told. First, I think people are put into places at the right time so that they may meet the right people and experience the things that they are meant to- coming to school and finding completely new friends and new experiences is part of the reason I believe in that everything happens for a reason. The connections humans have with each other are amazing. We meet people and bond over things that you may never of thought you would have in common with another person. But then, like this article said, there are cultural barriers such as language. This does not usually stop people from communicating, making friends, or finding love. Human communication is not only about language and physical talking, it is about being around people and experiencing the things that different cultures have to offer.

  3. Grace Young

    This is a beautifully written article about your experience traveling to the Dominican Republic. I can only imagine how amazing this was for you to visit a country and learn the culture first hand. Not only is it especially cool that you stayed with locals and got a unique view from them, but that you were able to learn such in depth things even with the language barrier. I think that it would be a really cool and special experience for you to revisit them and see what things change with the culture over the years.

  4. Matthew Breeze

    What a cool cross national experience you have had! Coming to the U.S from Ethiopia and then traveling to the Dominican Republic with a new friend, that is a lot of travel, but it sounds like you have learned and seen many exciting things. I found it funny how the grandmother and aunt never thought you were full, this seems to be a common thread in all cultures, the matriarchs never think the kids have eaten enough. I also enjoyed how you talked about the language barrier. That although it was difficult, with a little help from Google translate, you were able to talk effectively, at least effectively enough to make new friends. I appreciate how outgoing and brave that is to travel to a country where the people speak a different language that you do not know and struggling through it anyways. Sounds like you have made some great new friends!

  5. Francesca Do

    The Dominican Republic sounds like an amazing place to travel! I wished I had the experience to travel to a country to meet new people. I believe culture is important to everyone in the world, it describes their way of life, as well as beliefs. I love learning about new cultures, I find it interesting that people are different and unique at the same time. I, myself, was born into a different culture and had learned to adapt to my environment when I was young. I hope you have the chance to re-visit the Dominican Republic to see how the friends you made there are doing.

  6. Megan Bingham

    First of all, I give you so much credit for taking this chance to explore a new place. This sounds like the perfect traveling experience. My dream is to one day visit the DR. I hear the sand there is amazingly white. I have to admit though even with my strong drive to go there I do not think I would have taken this specific trip. I would have been much to worried about the language barrier. I am so glad you still went and enjoyed it and learn a lot!

  7. Dylan Brovick

    That is a very cool opportunity to travel to another country and stay with a friends family! The pictures look beautiful and make me wish i was in the hot sun, instead of the cold. Learning about the neighboring country of Haiti and their relationship with the Dominican Republic had to be interesting. A couple of years ago for a class we had to watch a documentary on the conflicts between the two countries. It is crazy how different economically they are even though they are so close together. Another thing i found funny was that they kept offering food no matter how full you said you were. That is something that my friends parents and my parents do to guests in our house. It is cool to find similarities among families or hosts even in different countries and cultures.

  8. Sheila Iteghete

    Thank you, Eleni, for sharing and I could only imagine the fun times you experienced with Diana’s family. I can also relate in the aspect of the feeding because in my tradition it is also a little rude for you not to accept the food made for you and, they would not want to believe that you are honestly full. That way they believe they are not starving you because weight gain is being healthy and vice versa. I would say that was the situation when I was in Nigeria, but it is becoming more Americanized where you are judged for gaining weight, but I still believe the tradition is still being incorporated amongst the elders. I can also imagine the difficulty of communication because of the language barrier, but as you mentioned they were very helpful to you, which I am glad they were to you or it would not have been as fun as you had hoped.

  9. Kathleen Reicher

    Thanks for sharing, Eleni! What an awesome experience! It was so nice of your friend to invite you to visit. Her generosity gave you an experience that you will never forget. You are so fortunate to have had that chance to travel and have people to show you around. That is my problem when it comes to traveling: I could get there, but I would not have anyone to show me where I should go or what I should see. I would have to do a lot of research on what to see and where to stay before I went. Traveling is such a relaxing and educational adventure!

  10. Amanda Sullivan

    Your experience sounds nothing but amazing! I had a similar experience however I went to Guatemala. Whenever I tell a peer that I went to Guatemala for vacation they immediately assume it was for a mission trip, but it was just the opposite. I hosted an exchange student when I was in eighth grade and we instantly connected. We become so close that saying goodbye was much more difficult than usual. As soon as she left she was already asking her parents when I could come to visit them in Guatemala. My junior year of high school I finally had the opportunity. The trip was absolutely incredible and unforgettable.

  11. Elaina Wald

    This article left a smile on my face because of the dynamics of family, friendship, and travel. You’ve had quite the cross continental experience and that is something you really cannot put a price on. I love the idea of traveling with a friend, and even more getting to know the friend through her culture and family. Families that welcome you as one of their own are a special breed, and it’s sweet that you were able to communicate through a language barrier.

  12. Michaela Campbell

    What a wonderful experience it is to meet a person in college that can become your friend so quickly, and it is even better to be able to experience what her life and family is like, and to see a whole new culture! You mentioned that you were able to experience this trip as both a tourist and as a local. I think your experience in the Dominican Republic was a very holistic one as I am sure if there were things you were curious about, or questioned, you could go right to Diana and her family and get an accurate opinion/answer of what you experienced! Did you find that there were a lot of similarities between where you are from and where she is from? Any differences? Thank you for sharing, being able to experience another culture and nation is something that is irreplaceable!

  13. Alexa Lee

    I think it is great that you got the opportunity to stay in a wonderful place different from what you are used to for an extended period of time. I especially enjoyed the little tidbit you had about your friend’s grandmother and aunt constantly making sure you were full enough. I think this shows a great similarity to my own life because that is something my mom always (seriously, ALWAYS) did whenever I had friends over. It truly makes you feel warm, special, and welcome. I enjoy when I notice similarities between cultures that are so different in other ways. It goes to show that we can always find something that is the same. I think it’s especially great that you got to spend more than just a week there, too, because that way you can actually get a feel for the culture, rather than rushing to do everything in a short amount of time, and not wanting to miss out. Thank you for sharing!

  14. Nouqouja Yang

    When I was reading the first couple of paragraphs in your article, it immediately made me think of a friend I made my freshman year of college. We also immediately connected and became super close. She graduated and is now back at her home country. I’m very envious you got the opportunity to travel and meet your good friend’s family. One day I would also like to go meet my best friend again and also meet her family. Your article was very heart warming and it makes me excited to go abroad one day too. Being able to see a new culture from different perspectives is a great way to get to know more about the people and their land. Not only seeing from a tourist’s point of view, but seeing from a local’s point of view like you did is super awesome! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful experience.

  15. Mariah Koenig

    I loved reading your story! It reminded me of my two week stay in Costa Rica when I was a junior in high school. Any students in Spanish IV could go on the trip, though only about 11 of us did. For the first week, we traveled around the country and did touristy stuff, and for the second week, each of us stayed with our own host family (who knew NO english). It was really intimidating at first, but everything went great. Countries in Central America are so beautiful and the people are so great, so I can relate to that. Like you, I really enjoyed learning about their culture. It’s really cool that since you are such good friends, you could go back and visit many more times. I hope you have more great experiences in the Dominican Republic in the future and share them as well!

  16. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you for sharing your story, Eleni! It is so wonderful that we are able to meet people from around the world at a place like college. It is a time where we can be mindful of other cultures and how they live. Even though you were not able to speak much Spanish, you made it work because her family are human beings and share similarities to you that you would have never imagined. A short or long trip to some place different can always be a chance to make new friends, see new places, learn new things, and go out of your comfort zone. Your story is so power in speaking about the care your friend and her family had for you. There were no barriers to your cultures, language, or age. I too will hopefully get the chance you did to experience such a loving trip that it will be one to remember.

  17. Thank you for sharing! What a fun adventure. I giggled when you mentioned the way Diana’s grandma and aunt fed you, what a classic move. I am currently reading a book about a young man growing up in the DR and I am eager to travel there from his experiences and now from yours as well. I think that it’s fun that you saw it from the point of a civilian rather that the resort side of the island. Cheers!

  18. I am glad you had such a wonderful and beautiful experience! Isn’t it amazing that one can establish connections and “second families” in many places around the world that give them a sense of home in places one might never consider that they would feel at home? Did you observe from Diana’s grandmother and aunt that feeding guests or loved-ones is a sign of affection and compassion? What was different about their foods and meal times? Did you find that you did more learning over break/vacation than you thought you would being away from school/academics? I can’t wait to hear more about your thoughts and experiences. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Andrew Bailey

    Eleni, thank you for sharing some of the experiences of your travels. I have yet to travel overseas myself, but I am starting to consider traveling abroad to study or just spend time overseas. Something that you mentioned that I immediately picked up on is that although there was a language barrier between you and Diana’s family, you were still able to connect with them-because at our core we are all human. No matter what language, ethnicity, or culture we speak/belong to, this connection is possible. Therefore, I think language barriers can sometimes be a blessing because we get to know someone in a way that transcends the spoken word. This may be very hard to do, but to be in a relationship at that level I think is very meaningful.

  20. Caroline Grube

    This was an incredible article to read! I love the story of friendship and adventure here! I couldn’t imagine being fortunate enough to visit another country and see it through both the eyes of a tourist and the eyes of a local. It is one of my biggest dreams to travel at least some of the world and experience different cultures. However, I know I will never be able to know what it is like to actually be a part of them. I hope one day that I will have the privilege of doing something like that.

  21. Hanna McLevish

    It’s really amazing what you got to experience. I wish I could go! It seemed like Diana’s family made you feel welcome and that’s really important when you’re traveling to unknown places like that. This makes me want to travel!

  22. Trevor Schwartz

    Wow what an interesting story, thanks for sharing! How awesome to meet someone from another country and for them to invite you there over break. That’s great that not only was it a break from school, but also a learning experience. I’m planning to travel somewhere next year for vacation and I’m looking forward to learning a new culture.

  23. What an amazing experience! I have always wanted to go to a foreign country and experience the culture first hand. You are very adventurous to travel so far and stay with a family that speaks a completely different language. I am sure many of the new things you learned will affect you and your future in a very positive way. All people should take the chance to travel internationally someday. We must not get sucked into our own culture and forget about all the beautiful differences that may be found in the rest of the world.

  24. McKenna Holman

    Eleni, how exciting it was for you to experience a different country and culture as a tourist but as somewhat of a local as well! When an opportunity falls into your lap, how can you pass that up? I’m incredibly jealous! You know what they say, the only trip you’ll ever regret is the one you never take! There are some pretty tense politics on the island right now, so it is interesting that you’ve gotten to hear about it from locals, rather than just reading something on the news. I hope you get to visit soon, as it seems like you had a wonderful time!

  25. Joel Scheuerlein

    This article is incredible an a great blast in the past for me. When I was in High School, my roommates dad was a missionary in the Dominican Republic, so that is where my roommate grew up and spent his entire life. My senior year of High School I was asked to go home with him and visit his hometown. It was an experience I will never forget, because upon arrival, the people of this nation took me in and treated me with respect and love. I know a little Spanish and they were incredibly nice in helping me with my Spanish. They never laughed at my Spanish, even though it was terrible, they were just so happy that I was try. The Dominican people are a loving and caring people, and I cannot wait to return.

  26. Skyler Long

    It’s crazy how we meet life long friends unplanned like this. It is also sweet of you to share your story with us, I enjoyed the happy ending and how they had such great hospitality. If I had the choice I would love to go on a trip like you did and have the same thing happen. What interests me how different cultures greet others and how welcoming they are. Them showing that much respect and welcoming only shows positive stuff about that country that you will be telling others for the rest of your life. This turns to history with all the story telling that will be told for many years to come which I find very interesting and hope I can have a similiar story to tell about.

  27. Emily Bugni

    My boyfriend of a year and a half recently asked me to come to Gibraltar, Spain to visit his family next year in the summer. There is no reason I could ever turn that down. I have never traveled to another continent before and I feel like it would be an amazing experience. To meet his family from Spain would be such an honor as he has only seen them twice in 20 years. I have talked with them on Facebook and they seem like such awesome people, I hope they think the same of me when I meet them. Hopefully they can teach me some of their traditions and culture. I love to travel and I am so happy I got offered this one-in-a-lifetime chance.

  28. William Brennhofer

    I love that the idea of friends can open so many thought closed doors. I would love for the chance to be able to visit another country and actually learn from a family that is from there. The values and traditions that they share i feel like are so different then the ones we hold dear in Minnesota. I wonder how much more you could have experienced if you had been able to spend more then just break over there? I love all the stories of people going over seas and telling us their experience, cause it makes me feel more global experienced even with me not going there.

  29. Thomas Landgren

    Eleni thank you for sharing this wonderful story! What a wonderful friend Diana is to invite you to visit her family in the Dominican Republic. Who could turn that offer down! It sounds like Diana’s family was very inviting and fun to be with which in time led to many wonderful memories that you will have to look back on. I thought that the idea of using google translate was hilarious. I remember in high school using it for Spanish class and some of the translations were way off. Did that ever happen to you? or did Diana help you most of the time? I personally feel like the language barrier is one of my biggest fears of traveling abroad. Great Article!

  30. Siji Gonzalez

    This sounds like a really cool experience and sounds like you had a lot of fun. Its always good too experience new cultures and get out in the world to learn new things about it. there are many thing still to learn that its always good to go out and share the information with other. its not the same when going as a tourist. I feel that we need to go out and experience actually life from the cultures point of view.

  31. Ellen Hansen

    What a wonderful story! It is always wonderful getting to know people from other areas, because it helps to shine light on the humanity of people who may not live a throwing distance away. What is especially interesting about these experiences is the uniqueness of the friendships they foster: When you make a friend from another country, you will never forget them, because they tend to give your world an entire new perspective, and they can come to challenge the image you have of your own place of birth, just as you can do the same to them.

    Going to the Dominican Republic must have been especially interesting, given the more residential path you took. The true culture embedded in areas like these is often muted/dulled to visitors by the tourism industry, and there is something very sincere about simply making your way to see a friend.

  32. Isabella Restrepo-Toro

    I bet this was an amazing experience! I would love to travel there sometime and I can imagine how incredibly welcoming her family was if they are anything like Diana. Most people don’t realize that traveling to other places is a possibility even when you don’t speak the native language, as if you have the will to get yourself understood and you are resourceful to the point of using google translate, one can be all over the world and still have an amazing adventure. “People from very different places and dialects can get along and even care for each other” yet most of us are afraid to make a connection if we don’t share the same language or culture as those around us. I believe that people should look for those similarities between cultures, such as people always offering food to their guests in order to be welcoming, instead of looking to those aspects that make us all different in such big ways that connections with other cultures may be difficult. I hope that you get to visit Dominican Republic again and make even more amazing memories.

  33. Having the opportunity to travel abroad with a friend is always exciting to hear! You are able to experience a new culture and new traditions together. You can experience the good, the bad and the ugly of traveling! I liked how you discussed cultural barriers and how this does not stop people from being friends or sharing anything in common. Even though I’m from the UK and most of my friends are Minnesota, we find a common ground on most things and we can appreciate each others cultures and traditions.

  34. Paige Perreira

    The Dominican Republic seems like a beautiful place to go! It sounds like you had a great time, and it helped that you had a really good friend to help you along the way. I can totally understand how having a language barrier would be difficult when trying to communicate with people who don’t understand, especially when you are staying with those people. I’ve never been to another place where people didn’t speak English, so I can’t imagine what it’s like. I took a couple years of Spanish in high school, but I don’t know if I’d be able to navigate my way around without help. Thanks for sharing this story!

  35. Hattie Meyer

    Thank you Eleni for sharing your trip! It must have been amazing to be able to travel to such a beautiful country to see it from a tourist side and from a locals point of view. To make a friendship so strong that you travel to another country with them must be life changing! This also points out how much trust you had to have with Diana, to put yourself in a different culture, language, etc. to trust her to help you, thats a friendship. I enjoyed how you not only shared the differences between your culture and hers but the fun side such as her grandmother making sure that you were full. I feel thats a grandma thing. When you brought up google translate it reminded me of when I “tried” to learn Spanish, did its response ever come up completely wrong? Thanks again for sharing I loved the article.

  36. Sarah Plankers

    What a wonderful experience, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I, too, have stayed with an international friend in her home country and it was an experience I will never forget. Cross-cultural connections are some of the most fulfilling and educational times I have had in my life. I think travel provides both a new view of the world and a refreshing glimpse at the self, especially when a language barrier is involved! Learning by doing is an excellent perk of being a human being, and I think that experiences in other cultures are a great way to form close relationships as well as profound life moments.

  37. This sounds like an amazing experience. Friendship is such an important bond, and some friendships feel like so much more- family bonds. I enjoy visiting with my friend’s families, but a trip to Dominican Republic sounds like an extra special trip! I’m glad you and Diana were able to go together. It is even better that you could feel at home- the similarities between DR and Ethiopia must have been really interesting to see! Thank you for sharing your experience!

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