It is hard to believe that it has been over a month since I said goodbye to the Dominican Republic (DR). Although I felt ready to leave, two weeks after I got home I booked it to Cuba for three adventurous and musical weeks. So while 10 months in the DR left me a bit worn out, I still haven’t managed to get rid of my travel bug, despite all of the bugs who tried to defeat me (think ant infestations and dengue).
A few weeks and a trip to Cuba later, I’ve had time to reflect on my 10 months as a Fulbright-mtvU scholar, to realize what I miss about the DR, to realize what I don’t miss, to feel proud of my accomplishments and the things I’ve learned, and to consider how to continue what I started.
What I Miss
- Friends and families: My last night in the DR, I had a last minute goodbye dinner with nine of my closest friends. Despite living in the DR for less than a year, I feel like I developed friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. I’ve realized that without fail the hardest part about leaving a place is leaving the people. In the DR, I had the chance to get to know so many interesting people from all walks of life: colleagues and students at the DREAM project, friends to play music with, neighbors, Fulbright friends, and at least three families that I was quickly adopted into. I learned something new from each and every person that I met, and more than anything else, these people are what motivate me to return to the DR, and sooner rather than later.
- The welcoming music community: I would describe the jazz scene in the DR as small and friendly, and this environment was a perfect way for me to get some initial experience with music research. Musicians were always excited to talk to me and oftentimes went out of their way to help me with my project. Though I only spent three weeks in Cuba, my initial sense was that the top musicians get more international attention, and that music scene is more competitive and harder to break into. This was a contrast from the small and welcoming community I quickly became a part of in the DR. At the same time, the DR was a good starting point and a chance for me to develop skills and strategies for researching music, and I am sure I will use these skills for future research in the DR and elsewhere.
- Pineapples, mangos, and giant green avocados, and eating these things on gorgeous beaches!
What I Don’t Miss
I’ve already mentioned my struggles with bugs, so let’s leave it at that.
What I Accomplished and What I Learned
- I taught music for eight months and became a better teacher.
- I spoke Spanish for 10 months and became a better Spanish speaker (Especially Dominican words like jevi, bacano, nitido, pana, vaina, and como tu ‘ta.)
- I played gigs regularly and gained confidence playing professionally.
- I strayed from my original project proposal and learned to be flexible.
- I moved to a foreign country where I didn’t know anyone and became more independent.
- I immersed myself in a culture where people are always willing to lend a hand and learned not to hesitate to ask for help.
- I opened my mind to different lifestyles and values, and I learned what questions to ask when exploring a new place or meeting new people.
- I left certain comforts at home and realized some things that I take for granted in the US, such as enforced traffic laws, noise control, and street cleaning.
- I tried out music research and music teaching and became certain about my decision to pursue ethnomusicology.
- I organized a conference to share my research with the local community, and successfully spoke in Spanish in front of a large and enthusiastic audience.
How to Continue What I Started
- Get involved in the Latin American community in the US.
- Present my research in other places.
- Apply to PhD programs for ethnomusicology.
- Read lots of books and listen to lots of music.
- Document everything I do through videos, photos, recordings, and blog posts.
- Return to the DR to visit friends. Then return to the DR to research the unique traditional music there that has not been thoroughly documented.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting. Thanks for watching my videos. Thanks to my family, who without fail have been my most devoted followers. Thanks to Fulbright and to mtvU for giving me this opportunity. And gracias to all of my new friends, families, and colleagues for supporting me and my project. Though if I were to tell them gracias, I’m sure they would say, “No hay de que.”