Getting Started

Palabra del dia: Un chin
Translation: A little
Explanation: In Spain, people say “un poco” or “un poquito”, but Dominicans are always asking for “un chin de café” (just a little bit of coffee). If you want less than un chin, say “chin chin,” and if you want less than that, say “chil-i-lin.”

Comida del día: I recently took a cooking lesson with my neighbor, who has also quickly become my Dominican grandmother. Check out her recipe for arroz con pollo here

Foto del día: Here are some students learning percussion in the backyard of the Bachata School:

students learn percussion

And here are two of my piano students practicing in the music room at the DREAM Center:

students learn piano

Musica del día: A few weeks ago I went to a food festival in a neighboring town called Sosua. At the festival, I was lucky to catch a concert by a locally popular and very fun merengue accordionist named El Prodigio. Check out this video:


When I applied for the Fulbright-mtvU fellowship, I wrote about music’s power to bring people together. Through music, people bridge language barriers, form relationships, spread knowledge, and unite around a shared feeling or cause. Throughout my life, music has served as a way for me to connect to people from diverse cultural backgrounds, and I have been fortunate enough to experience music in this way in a variety of settings across the world, whether by playing in the Semana Santa religious processions while studying abroad in Spain or by volunteering with Orchestrating Diversity in St. Louis, whose youth orchestra brings together high school students, college students and community members from diverse neighborhoods of the city.

Even in the short amount of time that I’ve lived in the Dominican Republic, I’ve continued to connect with people from different backgrounds through music, whether by playing, teaching, listening, or discussing. Though this week is oficially the first week of my Fulbright-mtvU project, I’ve been here since mid-July, working with the DREAM Project’s music education program.1 The DREAM Project runs a wide variety of education programs for youth from impoverished communities in and around Cabarete. These programs range from a Montessori pre-school to youth training workshops that prepare young adults for the workplace or university. The DREAM Project’s music program involves a bachata school as well as a contemporary and popular music program, so that students can choose to study local and/or international forms of music.

My first month was a whirlwind as I attempted to adapt to a culture that is drastically different from anything I have experienced before.2 Cabarete is an interesting place and very much a divided city. If you go to the beach, you will find all-inclusive air-conditioned wifi-equipped resorts and kite-surfers from across the world. If you cross the street, you will find the DREAM Center, my house, and a community of friendly and helpful Dominicans, many of whom lack necessities as basic as clothing for their children or the ability to read. I have been fortunate to meet all sorts of interesting people here, whether through the DREAM Project, in my neighborhood, or while hanging out on this beautiful beach.


I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of music opportunities I’ve been able to find in a short amount of time, including teaching piano lessons at the DREAM Project, playing my french horn at weekly Friday night gigs at a bar on the beach, and taking guitar lessons from the DREAM Bachata teachers.3

Friday night gig at Mohito bar

Spending a month in Cabarete before starting my Fulbright-mtvU project also gave me a chance to think and plan my work for the next three months, and I’ve organized my project into three parts:

1. Teaching piano and musicianship classes in the DREAM Project’s music education program

2. Helping the DREAM Project to develop a sustainable and replicable music curriculum that combines local and international influences

3. Researching combinations of jazz and Dominican music, which I will document through video interviews of relevant musicians and other people involved in the local music scene

At least, that’s the plan for now. I’m guessing, given the laid back lifestyle here and the flexible nature of my project, that things will change throughout the year, and that I will frequently need to apply my knowledge of jazz to the real world and improvise.

You may have noticed that I started my blog with four features: word of the day, food of the day, photo of the day, and music of the day. I plan to include these features on each post, with the hope that they will describe my Fulbright project and illustrate aspects of daily life in Cabarete. Other than that, I encourage you to read every single post, comment frequently, and contact me with any questions (sarah.plovnick at If I don’t respond right away, don’t worry – it probably just means that I have temporarily abandoned my laptop to enjoy some vitamin D and some tropical fruit.

1During this time I took a week and a half off to attend the Fulbright-mtvU orientation in New York, at which point my culture shock inspired me to compile this list of cultural differences.

2Check out this post about the various challenges (and numerous bugs) I faced while adapting to life in Cabarete.

3Read about how I moved to Cabarete and inadvertently became a “professional” musician.

5 thoughts on “Getting Started

  1. Sarah, thanks for sharing all the facets of your experience. Your comment about applying your knowledge of jazz improvisation to the real world leads me to observe that in the D.R., your world and your music appear to have become synonymous.


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