Thursday, March 08, 2012

Expat Experiences: Melanie Fitzsimmons de Alcequiez, Santiago - Dominican Republic

I'm Melanie, an American living in Santiago, the second largest city in the DR. It's been a journey, but I'm still alive.

I was young when I moved, I didn't really speak Spanish and I had had absolutely no idea what the Dominican Republic was until about six months before I moved. I know, I know. That's horrible. Blame it on bad geography education, but my knowledge of the Caribbean was Jamaica and Haiti - and only Haiti because there were some handsome Haitian soccer players on our high school team. The doors, however, of employment opened up and I would be given housing. The pay was minimal, but I wasn't looking to make money.

I first moved to the Dominican Republic in 2004 - just out of college and not really ready to work in the "real world." "I'll travel," I said, "and do some good work before I decide what to do next." The plan was to work for a year, maybe two, and then head back to corporate America. Little did I imagine I'd be here seven years later, married with two children, a fish, a brother-in-law and a sometimes live-in niece.

I spent my first three months mute. I had lived in Mexico during college and returned a few times to visit; I had Central American friends and I used Spanish a lot in Chicago. I wasn't prepared for Dominican Spanish. I didn't understand a word. I spoke in mime and mostly spent time with the kids I was teaching. Children are the most patient teachers.

I met my now-husband when I first arrived, we worked together in an elementary school and he helped me adapt to the new system. We started dating five months later, and when my contract was up, I had to decide what to do. The school I worked in was dysfunctional (as well as the religious organisation that ran it) and I couldn't continue there. I had no real job prospects at home, but I wasn't keen on jumping the gun into marriage. So, I travelled around the island a bit, and then headed to the States for a few months before I would make the conscious decision to move back to Santiago permanently.

Read more about Melanie's life in the Dominican Republic

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