Becoming family in Dominican Republic

by Dylan van Duyne

One of the most humbling parts of the Cornell University Global Health Program in Santo Domingo was having my host mother, Doña Carmen, accept me with open arms immediately upon my arrival in Simón Bolívar.  From the first day, Doña Carmen, Don Ciprian, Thania, and Ángel treated me like a member of their family, and this formed a deep feeling of belonging in a community that would be my home for the next eight weeks. I was referred to as mi hijo, “my son” or mi hermano, “my brother.”

Even more than our research projects, a class on qualitative research methods and clinical observation at local hospitals, the most meaningful components of this program for me were the homestay and the Spanish immersion.

   Each night, I ate dinner with mi hermana, Thania, who would talk about anything and everything with me, from the day’s events to politics to the secrets shared between siblings that would make Doña Carmen incredibly curious.  Talking for hours with my Spanish “teacher” (an appropriate phrase she chose for herself) was crucial to my Spanish development over the course of eight weeks, and this was also our chance to share stories and experiences.  From these conversations, we formed a very close friendship that has certainly continued well beyond the summer.

I went on a wide variety of adventures with my host family, from playing basketball at Centro Olímpico to going to the beaches of Boca Chica enjoying the 27 charcos with Ángel.  One of my favorite memories from the summer was Doña Carmen’s birthday, and I still distinctly remember her saying that the best gift she could have ever received was “having her four kids together with her on that day.” This was very significant to me, because she was counting me as one of her four kids. As much as your host mom will tell you that you are the greatest gift to her, she is truly the greatest gift you could ask for, and I will be forever grateful for all the learning that occurred under Doña Carmen’s roof.

I have continued to stay in very close contact with my host family, and I am beyond excited to return to them in December as I visit them over winter break.

Dylan van Duyne is a pre-med student at Cornell University majoring in Spanish.


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