Tuesday, June 25, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

I understand why living abroad offers amazing perks to foreign hire teachers.

Because Dorothy was right...
"There's no place like home."

Possibly due to the hecticness of the last two weeks in our present moment Oz - specifically packing our apartment without yet having our next apartment - all I wanted to do was click my heels and be home. A home free of boxes and packing tape.

After packing suitcases for four people and an apartment for an impending move, after mobilizing a husband, two children under 2, and two dogs (one that probably needed a sedative since she began to bark on the plane's descent causing the pilot to turn on the cabin speaker and "Meow" to poke fun at the fools traveling with this bunch of misfits), after being peed on by 3 month old Santiago (more my fault than his), we landed in Kansas. Although in our case, Kansas is actually New Jersey. So we landed in New Jersey. Ahhh...

Our life in Dominican Republic offers perks we could never dream of here: a paid apartment, utilities stipend for our family of 4, a much more relaxed lifestyle where work is a far second to family, a full time nanny, an amazing maid, and time for me to write. I wouldn't trade what we have right now for anything. But nothing in life comes free. With that amazing life comes sacrifice.

The biggest and most obvious being our family and having to live far from them. When we arrived, we were greeted by my mom - no surprise there - and an unexpected appearance by Hermana (my nickname for her when we were younger meaning sister in Spanish) and my two nephews Leonardo and Michelangelo (actually their names are Derek and Jake but they came dressed as Ninja Turtles - so there's that.) In only the past 3 days, Rafaella and Santiago have been surrounded by cousins, my childhood best friend's family including her son, Alessandro, who was born 6 weeks before Rafa, family friends, all of their grandparents, and a great grandmother.  

These are hard people to leave.
And those are the obvious sacrifices. 

Being home has made me understand just how easy it is to settle your roots here and live here... and how difficult it is to live somewhere else. It is not for everyone. Unknown languages. Unfamiliar rules. Foreign roads. Different expectations. Sure living in a new place can be exciting and full of adventure. It can build a strong familial connection that the humdrum of everyday life in a familiar place can sometimes drown out. It is a learning experience every day whether you are hiking the mountains of Jarabacoa or going to the supermarket. But all that adaptation can be exhausting and I've noticed this more here, more this time, then ever before.

We arrived and I settled into my parents' home - my childhood home - immediately. Not only did I take my shoes off and walk in the grass or on the pavement like I haven't done since I was a kid but I took off Rafaella's as well - something I've never done in Santo Domingo. I have spent most of my awake hours in the last 96 outside enjoying the fresh air, the symphonic melody orchestrated by the dance of the leaves and breeze, and watching Rafaella play in clubhouses and drinking sprinkler whale water - another thing I'd never let her do in Santo Domingo lest I wanted to deal with a case of Amoebas. No thanks.


Leaving the house also hasn't been a monumental ordeal like it is in Santo Domingo. There leaving the house takes a lot of planning and thinking on my part. To be honest, I am not as independent there as I am here. I just don't feel I could pick up and go with the ease that I can here. After two years, my comfort level of driving around the city of Santo Domingo is still no match for the comfort that 31 years of driving any New Jersey road has... Turnpike included.

And then there's the small issue of, jeez, I don't know, say... language.
Yes I speak Spanish. Yes I speak it well and better than 100% of the other foreign hire teachers (with the exception of the other foreign hire's Spanish speaking Guatemalan wife). But make no mistake, I am an English speaker. It is my first language. My comfort food of idioma. The language I can manipulate and achieve the utmost sarcasm and the lanugage I can efficiently argue in. And isn't that really what makes you proficient in a language? Being able to tell a joke and argue in that tongue? I can't argue a price or gripe in Spanish with the same fervor I can in English and believe me - for me - that is totally frustrating.

There's the even smaller issues that we have learned in time. The issues that I realized one day made me an insider to a culture that I used to be an outsider of but that I would never have to worry about if I were still in New Jersey. The checking the gas pump to make sure the attendant started it at $ 0.00 so I know they aren't charging me more. The boys that should be at school but that are instead spraying water on my car to clean my windshield. The windshield I don't want washed but offer them 10 pesos (about a quarter) anyway because at least they're washing my windows and not robbing me at gunpoint. The beautiful apartments that don't pass security inspections because there isn't a second escape route because buildings are made of concrete so the possibility of a fire doesn't cross anyone's mind. The cool showers you take on hot days not because you want a cool shower but because you don't feel like waiting the 15 minutes for your water heater to heat up. The coconut guy that knows my address and rings my bell to see if I want fresh coconut water that day. Oh wait - that's one of the good issues! Scratch that one. (What other fun issues do you have my Dominican friends?)

Oh to live in a developing country!

It's why many places you will teach abroad in offer you the perks they do. Because if I am going to leave everything I know and everyone I love behind I need an incentive. Because it's not easy. Not always.

And to be clear, it's not that I don't love the everyday adventures that come attached to living abroad. It's a part of what makes it awesome! And it's certainly not that I don't care for Santo Domingo. Like an old boyfriend, I cared for you for many reasons but that doesn't mean we were meant for each other. Santo Domingo has given me my family. My family was born there. (Literally. Santiago has a Dominican passport) So yes, I will always love Santo Domingo for what it has given me but if I'm honest, I've never really accepted it as home. And maybe it's better that I learn now that many places in our abroad experience will never be home. Though maybe the unfamiliar places are what make me appreciate the familiar. Maybe there's always only one home.

That's why there's no place like it.

Pictures originally posted on made in spanglish blog


  1. Jen, I'm sure many of us living overseas can appreciate this post, but you really nailed it! Well done, as usual! Miss you!

    1. aw... thanks Miki! it's always nice to hear kind words from a fellow writer/blogger


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