Thank you to everyone for their positive stories. It's nice to finally read something besides the usual stories.
My story is a little long. I'll try to trim it down as much as possible without leaving out any important details.
My first trip to the DR was in 1993 with a group from my high school on a missions trip. I enjoyed my time there emensely, and had always wanted to return there to immerse myself in Spanish. I studied Spanish for a total of 5 years between high school and college and had developed a good vocabulary and knowledge, but lacked confidence in speaking it. After graduating from college and working for a few years, I ended up quitting my job in early 2001 and going to graduate school. It so happened that I started grad school in the Winter and as a result had an entire summer available without classes or a job. I knew several Dominicans in my church and asked them if they could make some contacts so that I could spend a couple of months in the DR practicing my Spanish. It took a little while for things to get worked out, but finally everything was in place and off I went. Before I left many people in my church were teasing me that I would come home with a girlfriend. They said this because a few other men in the church had married Dominican women. I was not dating anyone at the time and quite frankly was just as happy that way. I insisted that the purpose of my trip was to improve my Spanish, which it was.
I arrived in Santo Domingo and knew absolutely no one. I met my host family for the first time that night and they treated me to sancocho and made me feel very welcome. About two weeks after I arrived, we were in one of the stores and met up with one of the other women in the church. My host mom introduced me and said that I was there to practice my Spanish. A week or so later I was invited to a dinner party for some of the singles of the church. Little did I know at the time, the woman to whom I had been introduced in the store had a niece (H) who lived with her and her aunt told her to invite me to the party. I met her when my host mom dropped me off at their place to wait for our ride to the party. Her aunt had told her that I didn't speak much Spanish, so she said to me, "I'm sorry, but I don't speak English." I said, "That's fine, I came here to improve my Spanish anyway." To shorten the story a bit here, we spent the entire evening at the party together talking. After that I kept looking for her at church, but didn't see her for about three weeks. We finally got a chance to talk, and got along very well. Shortly after that we began talking on the phone during the week on and off. This whole time I was becoming more and more interested, as was she as I later found out. Just before I left we went on a retreat with some of the other singles from the church, and spent virtually every waking hour together. While we were at the retreat I decided that I was going to sit her down and tell her how I felt. If she rejected me, fine, at least I was honest with her. I told her that I liked her and wanted to get to know her better, as friends first and then we would see where things progressed. She told me she felt the same way about me. The day before I left in August of 2001 I met with her pastor and told him about it. He gave me his blessing, as did my host family and her aunt and uncle with whom she was living at the time. When I got back to the States, my mom joked with me that I could go back to church and tell everyone that they were wrong and that I had not come back with a girlfriend. I told her that wasn't exactly true and told her all about what had happened. I kept in contact with H over the next several months and the more we talked, the closer we got. I went back to SD in March of 2002 over my spring break. When I came back from that trip, I knew that it was more than friendship. I flew down again for a weekend in June and another two weeks in July. We had been hoping that she could get a tourist visa to come up and meet my family, but we concluded that was not the best idea, so my parents went down there with me in December to meet her. My parents love her, and she loves them, even ghouth she speaks very little English and my parents speak no Spanish. I arrived in December with the ring in my pocket, and everyone but H knew that I was going to pop the question. I proposed and she accepted. Now we're waiting for the paperwork to go through and hope to marry sometime early next year, depending on how long that process takes. I went back down for a long weekend a month ago, and can't wait to go back to be with her.
While I was there during the summer of 2001 I not only improved my Spanish, I also learned alot about Dominican culture. I learned so much that whenever I am down there I feel like I am Dominican. I love the food there and every time I go down there I learn my way around the city better. I fit in so well that when I was there in December, my parents and I were walking along the street and someone stopped and asked me for directions. Unfortunately, I didn't know the street he was looking for. I did find out later, so if it happens again I'm prepared.
I think what has helped H and me have a successful relationship so far is that we have been honest with each other and have maintained good communication. She still doesn't speak much English, but she is learning. We talk primarily in Spanish, and probably always will. Also, we both have the same faith, which has helped us through some tough times. My understanding of the Dominican culture also helps, and will help me to help her make the transition to life in the US when we get married. I love her for who she is, and she loves me for who I am. I can't imagine my life without her.