Dominican Republic #3: Cultural Differences

Ryan Amundson ’24 and Ella Hynds ’23, reflect on a culturally engaging first day.


This morning, my roommate Blix and I were woken up at 6:15 by Mrs. Koyama knocking on our door. We got dressed and met the fellow students outside in our breakfast area. We had some local fruit, sausage and eggs. We were then met by a bus, and took a 20 minute drive to the work site. The first thing that caught my attention was the amount of material that had to be moved, and we quickly got to work. At first it was very much me working with the fellow students, and the others working separately. After the grueling task of moving concrete blocks into the foundation of the house is when we started to work, and talk more with the locals. In my opinion, this was a sort of turning point in the day. The first conversation I had was with “Pollo”. Xavier and I were moving blocks with him and this was the first time I truly saw the language barrier. I know some Spanish, but speaking and understanding in a real conversation is completely different.

Throughout the day, I continued to work multiple jobs from masonry, to mixing concrete and got to know and work out conversations with different people. One thing I found cool was when I was mixing concrete, I was talking to Pollo, and the language barrier was very apparent for both of us. I attempted to speak broken Spanish, while he tried to speak broken English. Eventually we got into a groove and worked out how to understand each other. I think this was my first full conversation I had in Spanish so far on this trip and I am happy I stepped out of my comfort zone and worked through the difficulties of communicating. Another thing I found really cool was the amount of people in the community that came over throughout the day and watched us work. One thing I have noticed so far is that the people here who I have talked to are very friendly and love to joke around. We ended our day with showers and a walk to ice cream, and now are going to get dinner with Josè. I think everyone is physically and mentally drained and excited for tomorrow.


This evening, Dr. Otterson asked the group what we are grateful for. Upon reflection, the main thing that I am grateful for is my strength. My ability to lift cinder blocks to where they need to be, mezcla up to the top level of the house in order to fill in the holes, and the buckets full of rocks to create the bathroom floor. My strength has allowed me to build a home for an incredible family and with the incredible community.

Victor is a sweet, curious boy who can’t wait to play baseball with Xavier and Davey. The mother is patient as I try to ask her about her schooling in my Spanish. José, the man that has founded Cambiando Vidas, has a twinkle that dances across his eyes whenever he is up to no good. I am grateful for the people who are patient and kind as I learn to navigate their world. Besides learning how to build a house, speaking Spanish, and making new friends, I have also tried new foods. At the site this morning there was delicious juice made from Palm Fruit. It was the color of a pink and orange sunset and tasted just as good. Those who know me, know that I am not a fruit person, but this juice was magical. It was the perfect refresher after a morning of lining up cinder blocks.

Yesterday, whilst we ate our lunch looking into the mystical Caribbean I also tried plantains. They looked so much like bananas that I expected them to be slightly sweet, however, they tasted like potatoes. The perfect blend of light fluffy potatoes encrusted in a golden fried shell made the perfect side dish to our fish. Already, the DR has been an incredible experience and I have learned so much. I would be content if I had to leave for home today, but I am so fortunate to be able to spend more time learning about the Dominican Culture and getting to know the people that I am with. Even the people on the side of the streets are interesting. There are moments where cows gather in fields and you think you are in Deerfield. However, a horse will roam on the side of the street or José will yell out from the bus at a friend. The long bus rides as I look at the window reveal the stories of the everyday people and the inner heart of the country. Deerfield’s rolling fields turn into a plethora of people going about their days waiting for us to ask about their stories and wait for us to put together sentences in broken Spanish.