You've seen the pictures, blog, and the ILP website ... but what is living there really like?
If you're like me, you cannot stop talking about your experience in your ILP country. One thing I still get asked all of the time was what living there was like — did I like it? What did I do every day? How did I get to travel so much? What was teaching like?
I was so glad I had friends who volunteered with International Language Programs before me to help me figure out what a typical day would be like ... and am more than happy to share some insider info from volunteers in the Dominican Republic to help you get an idea of what life is like in this tropical country. For this post, I talked to my friends who volunteered there (I have several), but also took some pictures and info from the ILP takeover account, which has tons of insider info to check out. Just click through to the highlight bubbles to find the Dominican Republic.
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First off, know that everyone in my group had a different experience even though we were all on the same program. And that'll be the case no matter where you go with ILP! Of course, people in your group will come with different expectations, backgrounds, and budgets, but even the schedule could be different within the same group — maybe your group will be teaching at different schools which would totally add a new level to your experience.
So even if you end up going to the same exact location as your friend did and do the same exact things on the weekends, it's going to be so different. Also, some things change around from semester to semester (like your school schedule or group size).
Keeping that all in mind, here's a peek at what a typical day looks like for a volunteer in the Dominican Republic:
In The Morning
Free time and breakfast with your ILP group! Most groups have different teaching schedules but don't start their day of teaching until 10:00 AM, if you happen to teach in the morning. Each group has a Head Teacher who does the shopping for breakfast groceries. You get a little input, but know that your group has to agree on the groceries and they have to fit within the stipend. Today, breakfast is muffins and yogurt, but you also love the days when you get Pop-Tarts and a banana — there's typically a big fruit truck outside, but you guys can get bananas from the banana guy who just cuts down the fruit from right outside of your house. You'll see bananas growing all over the place.
The mornings are pretty casual, and everyone does something different. Some people wake up early and run to the beach for sunrise or head to the nearby gym (there isn't A/C at home or at the gym, so it makes for a hot and sweaty workout, even in the morning!). You can also take a walk around the neighborhood and probably find an impromptu game of baseball or soccer happening outside. The kids love when you join. It's a juggle to schedule shower times for everyone in your group (you'll be sharing a bathroom with several other people) so you take advantage of people being out of the house and take a quick shower. Water is a limited resource here, so you make sure to turn the shower off while you're rubbing in your shampoo and turn it on just to rinse.
Others in your group are planning lessons, heading to the nearby market for a soda or popsicle (try the chinola or coconut flavor, it's a favorite snack to try), or are getting ready to leave to go teach. You don't teach until after lunch, so the morning is yours. You have a lot of free time, so alumni recommend bringing things to do: journals, colored pencils, paint, beads for bracelets, etc.
Lunch / Afternoon
Your group all comes together for lunch, but you guys wait until the morning teachers get back so everyone gets a fair share of what your cook made today. Your group has a sweet cook who makes lunch and dinner for you guys ... you finished lesson planning earlier than usual and felt like helping out, so you and some other group members peeled all the boiled eggs before they went into the fryer. Yep, deep-fried eggs served with rice, some cucumber, and a little chicken is lunch today! There's typically always juice (which is something you'll definitely miss when you get home).
Time For Teaching
As an ILP volunteer, you’ll spend about a half day volunteering (up to 4 hours of direct interaction with the kids, plus preparation time, transportation, and clean up). You'll be volunteering Monday to Friday, with schedules that sometimes vary between semesters (or even between volunteers in the same semester). Your teaching schedule is from 2:00 - 6:00 PM, so you leave now while the morning teachers hang out for a bit. Since they already taught, they don't teach again until 4:00.
It's about a 20-minute walk to school and you're so glad you packed up a little backpack that could hold your school supplies and a water bottle. And that you have comfy walking shoes. You do a lot of walking and it's very hot and humid.
A Bit About Teaching
You'll hear this from pretty much everyone, but teaching is tough ... but so rewarding! There were days when everything went wrong and I had no idea how to make it through the next three hours of teaching. (One time, making bird feeders for a lesson ended up with buckets of birdseed all over the floor, and the kids were covered in glue ... this was my first lesson of the day, so not a great start). But the kids are what I miss the most about my semester.
You're definitely exhausted at the end of most lessons, but it's worth it. You can get a little more info on what teaching is like here, but you'll also get a closer look at what teaching is like at your school right before departure, in a Local Training.
You're teaching an Arts and Crafts lesson today. Your classroom is pretty small and you already share it with 2 other teachers, so it gets loud. The kids didn't exactly follow instructions but everyone ended up making something and talking about it, so count it as a success.
Dinner / Evening
After teaching, it's time for dinner. You make the walk back to your house with the other teachers and decide to have a meeting during dinner about your upcoming weekend — you get every weekend off, and the DR has so many day trips and weekend trips, so it's easy to pick one. A few of you are going to Santo Domingo, and a few want to check out Sosua, but you're excited about tackling 27 waterfalls. It can be hard to coordinate details with different schedules, budgets, and personalities, but you're glad you found at least 2 people willing to head to the waterfalls with you this coming weekend.
Dinner today is rice and curry, a fan favorite. There are also fresh mangoes for dinner tonight, but you all make sure everyone gets a plate before you go back for seconds. Your little vacation groups have all the details planned when some people head to the beach for an after dinner swim. You're living close enough to walk (about 30 minutes or a shorter taxi ride) and it's fun to splurge every once in a while and get dessert on the beach at one of the restaurants. You taxi there and back to take a swim and be back before curfew.
After playing some card games with your group it's time to go to bed. You are so glad packed your own fan to help you sleep — there isn't A/C and most rooms have a ceiling fan or standing fan that oscillates, but it's easier to fall asleep when you have your own little fan pointed directly on your face. You're also glad you're underneath your bug net — when someone goes to turn off the light you hear a scream ... it's either a giant beetle, huge cockroach, or one of those impossibly big spiders. Someone's brave enough to grab a shoe to handle the problem (while several people take a video, with plenty of laughing and screaming).
Before you fall asleep, check your list of things to do before tomorrow (and your bucket list of things to do before going home!) and send out a group text to see who wants to come to the thrift market before class tomorrow. The internet is out, but hopefully it'll work in the morning. You remember to jot down the notes from today to journal tomorrow and get ready for another day in the Dominican Republic.
Get your DR questions answered.
Did you know about the @ilptakeovers account? Every semester, a volunteer from each of the ILP countries takes over this Instagram account to show you around their city for a few days. You'll see where they are living, what lunch was that day, pictures of the kids they are teaching, show you what treats you can buy at the local store, etc. It gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what volunteering with ILP is like from their point of view!