Well, I’ve been in the Dominican Republic for five days and things are off to a great start. The vibrant city of Santo Domingo is full of music, colour and history. The people have been welcoming, and getting things set up has been a fairly smooth process. I’m posting some advice in hopes that future interns will be able to learn from my experiences (including my mistakes) in establishing myself here and elsewhere.
What to bring:
In most countries, it should be easy to find basic things for around the house, like hand soap and dish towels. Be careful if you’re attached to specific products or brands though. If you really need one kind of shampoo or face wash, I’d suggest you bring a good supply with you. Some things, like bug spray and sunscreen, are often cheaper in Canada. If you have space in your bag, you could take some along.
Read up on the weather to see what kind of clothes you need to bring. Also remember that standards of formality and modesty vary widely from country to country. Don’t be shy when it comes to asking your organization about their dress code or typical attire. Even if the dress code is relaxed, it’s good to bring some formal wear just in case. I brought a suit here; we will see if it pays off.
Making withdrawals overseas can be expensive. Typically the local bank and your bank at home will charge about $5CAD each per withdrawal, meaning that you could lose $10 every time you take out cash. One way around this is to find a bank in Canada that has branches or partners in your destination country. I set up an account with Scotiabank as I can withdraw from their banks in the Dominican Republic without transaction fees. Here is a list of countries where you can make free withdrawals with Scotiabank and their partners.
For certain types of accounts, many banks waive transaction fees and even refund fees charged by foreign ATMs. Here is one from TD for example. Be sure to talk with your bank about ways to avoid extra costs.
We were extremely fortunate in that a member of our host organization helped us to arrange accommodations before we landed. We have opted to stay there for our first month while considering other places. If your organization can help you get an apartment or homestay set up for you, you’ve got a good head start.
If you’re getting things set up on your own, it’s worth making calls and looking around online before you arrive, but I wouldn’t suggest finalizing anything until you see the place. Pictures can be misleading, and there are a lot of things you will probably have to see for yourself.
For temporary accommodations, I have found Airbnb to be reliable and cost-effective in many countries, especially if you are traveling as a group. Sometimes hosts offer discounts for longer stays, so if you think you will need a week or two, ask the host before booking. In other countries, staying at hotels or hostels can also be economical.
Look around as early as possible for flights. I made the mistake of waiting too long and paid more than would otherwise be necessary.
If your travel dates are flexible, most sites have options to see a calendar of fares, or search for a few dates at a time. This can save you a surprising amount of money.
Don’t be afraid of long transfers! My fellow interns and I had a twelve hour layover in Mexico City and used it to go out and explore the historic center. If you try this, be sure that you’re aware of any visa requirements in the stopover country.
Here are some of my favourite travel sites to check out:
If you are going to a country where you don’t speak the language well, it would be a good idea to get practicing before you go. There are plenty of free apps like duolingo that can help you.
We are lucky enough that some funds have been made available for language lessons here in the Dominican Republic, and those will be put to use very shortly.
Do a bit of research before you leave. Like with clothing, there may be some dos and don’ts of which you should be aware. Is it considered rude to give someone a “thumbs up?” Is it OK to eat with your left hand? Will you be on a first name basis with your future boss? Read up and ask around.
I hope these tips will be of some use to future interns. In my next update I’ll have more to say about my work and experiences here in the Dominican Republic.