My name is Eliza Alys Young, an American originally from NYC. I have my own graphic design business and write regularly for my blog.
On Feb. 22, 2003 I moved to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where I lived for 8 years. I moved there after teaching summer courses in web design at Altos de Chavon in La Romana. The course I taught was well attended by professionals and I was encouraged to extend my stay and visit Santo Domingo. At the time, the web design industry was brand new in the Dominican Republic and my skills were in demand. In addition, I had always dreamed of living in another country so I saw this as my opportunity.
When I moved I really didn’t speak Spanish which made things very challenging. I had friends who said they were going to help me but they were too busy once I moved to do much.How did you find somewhere to live?
I visited Santo Domingo 3 more times before I moved and stayed with friends. I found a neighborhood I liked, Gazcue, so I just looked for places there. The process was very confusing because what they advertised was not actually the place, so it took a long time. Plus in the Dominican Republic you need a guarantor in order to rent an apartment and a lawyer draws up the lease – all very different.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Gazcue, where I moved to, was frequented by many expats because the US Embassy was located in Gazue and it was near the most popular expat area, the Zona Colonial (Colonial Zone).
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I have always been friendly but cautious with the locals because as a foreigner, you are a target. They assume you have money even if you do not. As a woman you have to be careful not to be too friendly because men are always offering help.
What do you like about life where you are?
The things I dislike are common in all third-world countries: corruption, crazy traffic, blackouts, trash and water problems.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
It is hard to be always seen as the rich elite even when you are struggling.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The hardest part for me was remembering to be careful with my things in my home if I let anyone in to do work. In the US you don’t have to really worry about a maintenance person taking your cell phone or money if you are home, but in the Dominican Republic you had to consider the inside of your house like you were on the street and anything goes if someone came in.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Shopping is very different. If you are buying an electronic item, they always take it out of the box and test it before you buy it. This is because to return it is near impossible a process. Other shopping oddities are how things are bundled in the Dominican Republic. They love getting things for free even if it makes no sense so you will see a package of disposable diapers bundled with a free men’s deodorant or a jug of cooking oil with a CD case.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
I love the fruit carts that will cut up a fruit salad for you on the street or the abundance of avocados. Tostones, fried plantains, are a common staple and very tasty. The cuisine in general, however, is on the bland side for me. Nothing spicy, not even pepper.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
The Dominican Republic is a great way to learn how to appreciate the small things and see the positive side. Dominicans are almost always happy even though their life is hard. Just make sure you have friends there and some support network. Be cautious and don’t accept help from people you don’t know very well because Dominicans are opportunists.
What are your plans for the future?
Although I’m a resident of the Dominican Republic, I spend most of my time in Florida. My life is comfortable and predictable. I miss the chaos and vibrance of living in the Dominican Republic. I expect that within a few years I’ll be an expat once again.