The old saying “charity begins at home” can be broadened to include hospitality as well. Whether you are staying at a hotel, temporary accommodation or your new home, take the time to get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourself, tell them you are new and ask for their opinions about places to see or other information. Dominicans pride themselves on their hospitality, and almost everyone loves to be consulted.
If you do not speak Spanish, don’t let that stop you. Many people speak English here. Perhaps that could be your first question: Do you know anyone around here who speaks English? (Even just repeating “English, English,"will probably bring someone running to your aid!)
Take the initiative to invite others to your home, even if you haven’t completely unpacked. Your guests will understand your circumstances and the informal setting may serve to “break the ice”.
If you are a parent, your children will provide you with many opportunities to meet others, particularly the parents of their playmates. There may be a parents’ association at your child’s school where you can become involved.
Where are other places to meet people?
Pursue any of your interests, and you will find kindred spirits. Santo Domingo is a great place to take up a new sport or improve your existing skills. Instruction can be inexpensive, and there are many casual groups which will applaud even the most feeble efforts. At the other end of the scale, there are competitive matches, such as the frequent tennis and golf tournaments. Take part and meet fellow athletes.
There are numerous private clubs in Santo Domingo. In addition, some employers, such as Codetel, have their own clubs. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet your colleague’s families, as well as employees from other departments you may not see regularly at work.
International organizations such as the Masons, the Rotary Club and the Lions Club have branches in Santo Domingo. There are also organizations focusing on many different topics, from ecology to psychology to gardening to cooking. Ask everyone you meet, and check the local newspapers for information.
Contact your embassy or consulate since there are often activities planned of interest to people of your nationality. Some may have sports groups or social events which are open to the public. Attending a church or synagogue will put you in contact with others who share your religious convictions.
Are there places where I could do volunteer work?
The Helen Kellogg Library, located at Av. Independencia 253, behind the Ephiphany Church, is an English-language library which always welcomes volunteers. Just going there to check out books will put you in contact with other members.
There are many national and international organizations which could use your assistance, working with women’s issues, street children, medical care, poor neighborhoods in the city and so on. However, you will have to be persistent to find an opening which corresponds to your skills and interests. Tell all of your acquaintances that you are interested, check the telephone directory and scan the local newspapers for news items, which will let you know of the existence of a relevant group. Telephone or go in person to express your interest and make an appointment with the right person.
At this stage, a number of surprising things could happen. At your appointment, the director might ask you what you are prepared to offer. If you have very definite skills (“I’m a sanitary engineer and can help you install drainage ditches.”) this will present no problem. However, if you just had the vague notion of “helping out”, or are quite reasonably not even sure what the organization does, you may be at a loss to explain.
Even more disconcerting to the new resident, your offers to help may go unheeded. Your phone calls may not be returned. People may suggest a project to you and never contact you again. You may need to actively pursue opportunities. It may take a great deal of effort, but once you have begun working at one project, more and more possibilities will come your way, as you make contacts in the area of your interest.
Are there any courses I could take?
There are classes in almost anything you could imagine in Santo Domingo. The challenge is finding them. The local newspapers are your best bet. Gardening, cooking and sewing courses constantly appear in the daily newspapers. There are well-publicized formal courses through all of the educational institutes. Study to become a chef at Unibe, for instance.
The Carol Morgan School, located at the corner of Sarasota and Núñez de Cáceres, sometimes offers courses in English, such as the Emergency Treatment course or the teacher certification course through the University of Farmingham in Massachusetts.
Are there any organized activities in English?
The Santo Domingo Little Theater is an amateur theater group which performs plays in English. Even if you have no previous theater experience or suffer from stage fright, people are needed for everything from making costumes to selling tickets. The group provides the opportunity to meet creative, fun-loving people.
The Ladies Guild of Santo Domingo is one of the oldest organizations for foreigners in the D.R. It organizes fund-raisers such as auctions and fashion shows and donates the proceeds to non-profit organizations that apply for assistance. The membership is international. There is a small annual membership fee, and meetings are usually held on the first Thursday of each month.
Make an effort and the resulting friendships will soon be your favorite part of life in the Dominican Republic.