Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Dominican Republic
Mail delivery between the United States and the Dominican Republic is generally dependable but can be unreliable. Letters and packages sent by airmail take from 10 days to two weeks to arrive. Surface mail can take months.
Your address for regular mail service in the Dominican
Republic while you are a Peace Corps trainee (PCT) will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
Cuerpo de Paz
Av Bolivar 451, Gazcue
Apartado Postal 1412
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Please Note: Do not send money, airline tickets, or other valuable items through the mail.
Should you need to have a package sent to the Dominican Republic, we recommend that the contents be limited to items that fit into padded envelopes. These are less likely to be lost, opened, or taxed than are other types of packages.
Packages may also be shipped via a parcel delivery service. Federal Express and DHL have offices in Santo Domingo. If you want them to deliver a package to the Peace Corps office, you will have to provide the office street address (instead of the post office box address listed above) and phone number:
Your address for expedited mail service in the Dominican Republic while you are a Peace Corps trainee or Volunteer will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
Cuerpo de Paz
451 Avenida Bolivar
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Please Note: Federal Express and DHL will not deliver items larger than an envelope to the Peace Corps office, so you may have to pay significant customs duties to retrieve larger items from customs, and picking up the items may mean an entire day’s travel to the capital. In addition, packages sometimes disappear in transit.
Additionally, there is a tax levied on every package received by a trainee or Volunteer. Peace Corps does not cover these costs. All packages received in-country are charged RD$100 (currently USD$3.07) for retrieval and then an additional RD$100 per pound. So, for example, a 10-pound package would cost the Volunteer RD$1,100 (USD$34.00), which is a significant amount considering Volunteer living allowance.
Private courier services, such as Mail Boxes Etc., provide mail-forwarding service from Miami; however, these companies are limited to major cities and receiving rates vary according to weight. While mail-forwarding services can be considered more reliable than standard surface or airmail, it can be quite costly.
During training, Peace Corps staff will deliver mail to you at least twice a week while you are in Santo Domingo; less often when you are outside of Santo Domingo. Once you move to your site, you will be responsible for sending your new mailing address to friends and family. Some Volunteers find it more convenient to continue using the Santo Domingo address. In that case, mail received at the Peace Corps office will be put in your locker in the Volunteer lounge, and you will have to collect it periodically.
We encourage you to write to your family regularly, as family members may become worried when they do not hear from you.
The Peace Corps office in the Dominican Republic can be reached by direct dialing from the United States. The number is 1.809.685.4102. The phone number for the after-hours duty officer is 1.809.723.9944. The fax number is 1.809.689.9330.
Long-distance telephone service is available in the Dominican Republic and is not expensive. However, you may or may not have access to a land-line or cellular phone signal at your site. Therefore, new Volunteers are issued cellular phones by Peace Corps/Dominican Republic. This enables staff to maintain contact with Volunteers and to send messages in an emergency. There is no charge for receiving calls or text messages on cellular phones, but all personal calls outside the Peace Corps network are at the Volunteers’ expense. Phone card rates for calling internationally to the U.S., Canada, or Puerto Rico are typically the same as making a local call. Prepaid calling cards bought in the United States usually don’t work. Volunteers may use call centers of the major telephone companies, Verizon or Tricom, which have branches throughout the country.
The major cell phone companies are Claro, Orange, and Tricom.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
If your sponsoring agency or project partner owns a computer, you may be able to arrange access for work-related or personal use. The resource center and computer room at the Peace Corps office in Santo Domingo has a limited number of computers with Internet access for Volunteer use. However, if you want to receive personal e-mail, you will need to set up an account with a service such as Yahoo!, Gmail, or Hotmail. Internet access is also available at Internet cafes throughout the country. Peace Corps staff computers are not available for Volunteer use.
Housing and Site Location
During pre-service training (PST), you will live with a Dominican host family near the Peace Corps training center on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. The families are selected by training staff. Houses typically have electricity and running water (when these systems are operating). Your host family will provide you with a private room, and you will eat your meals with the family.
You will also live with a host family during the first three months of your Volunteer service. These host families are identified by the community and/or the host country agency and are approved by Peace Corps staff prior to your arrival. Living with a Dominican family allows faster integration into the community, provides a safe environment while you are settling in, and gives you time to look for independent housing should you choose to do so. During service, you are expected to live in the same type of housing commonly found in your community. Housing varies widely, depending on whether you live in a city, a large or small town, or a campo (rural) village.
Volunteers typically live in houses with tin or thatch roofs, walls of wood or cement block, and cement floors. Although some communities have electricity, a great many do not. Power outages are very common. The water supply is subject to the same inconsistencies. Many communities do not have water piped into houses. Rural families, for example, often have to walk to the nearest river or other water source for household water. Even if you live in a house with faucets, there is no guarantee that there will be water; it is common for water not to appear for days at a time. Volunteers placed in towns and more urbanised areas will also face some of these same challenges.
Living Allowance and Money Management
As a Volunteer, you will receive a monthly living allowance in the local currency (Dominican pesos; abbreviated as RD). The living allowance is meant to cover housing, utilities, household supplies, normal clothing replacement, food, transportation, moderate entertainment expenses, reading material, and incidentals. It will enable you to live modestly, at the same level as your neighbors and colleagues. Peace Corps/Dominican Republic will open a bank account for you and provide you with an ATM card. You will need to budget appropriately to make the living allowance last a month.
Additionally, you will receive a monthly vacation allowance equivalent to $24, paid in local currency at the same time as the living allowance. You will also receive a one-time settling-in allowance to purchase needed household furniture and equipment (e.g., a bed, a stove, kitchen items, and locks) and pay several months of advance rent if required.
Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in the Dominican Republic with these allowances, so we strongly discourage you from supplementing the living allowance with money from home. Still, many Volunteers bring money from home for out-of-country travel. Credit cards can be used in many establishments in major cities, and traveler’s checks can be cashed for a small fee.
Food and Diet
The Dominican diet consists primarily of rice, beans, yuca (cassava), plantains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and other vegetables, along with eggs, chicken, pork, beef, and some fish. The national dish is sancocho, a rich vegetable-andmeat stew served on special occasions. A typical Dominican meal, called la bandera, is a mix of rice, red beans, and meat. Yuca may be boiled, prepared as fritters, or baked into rounds of crisp cracker bread called casabe. Most dishes are not spicy. Locally grown, seasonal fruits include bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, guavas, and avocados. Dominicans generally eat small quantities of meat at meals. Bacalau (dried fish; usually cod) can be found in several areas, but fresh fish is generally available only along the coast. Habichuelas con dulce, a sweetened dish made from beans, is popular at Easter.
Vegetarians will be able to maintain their diet at home, but they will be offered—and expected to accept—traditional foods, including meat, when visiting Dominican families. You will have to be open and flexible about sharing in the Dominican diet when necessary.
During training, your host family will provide your meals. Once you are at your site, you can choose to eat with Dominicans or cook on your own. To supplement their diet, some Volunteers plant gardens at home.
Transportation is relatively easy in the Dominican Republic. Most urban travel is by bus and van, although carro públicos (a sort of shared taxi), are available as well. Intercity travel is by bus; rural travel runs the gamut from air-conditioned minibuses to crowded carro públicos to lots of walking. Although inexpensive, carro públicos are where most Volunteers experience pickpocketing and robberies. Do not travel in them at night.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to drive vehicles or motorcycles in the Dominican Republic. Violation of this policy will result in termination of your Peace Corps service.
Most Volunteers rely on public transportation to get around. But Volunteers can request assistance from the Peace Corps in arranging alternative means of local transportation. Volunteers can apply for and recieve limited funds to purchase a bicycle in the Dominican Republic. The Peace Corps will also provide you with a helmet, which you must wear at all times while riding a bicycle. Failure to abide by this policy will also result in termination of your Peace Corps serddd
With an average temperature range of 65 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, this Caribbean country is probably not as hot as you might think. It is difficult to define a rainy season, since showers can occur at any time during the year, depending on the area. However, the period of heaviest rainfall for most of the island is late April to early October, months that can be relatively hot and humid. The cooler season—from November to February—is pleasant but still warm, with temperatures from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need both lightweight clothing suitable for hot weather and at least one heavier garment for traveling to cooler, mountainous areas such as the 10,417 -foot Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean.
Social activities in the Dominican Republic vary depending on where you are located. They include taking part in festivities such as Carnival, parties, and dances. Some Volunteers visit other Volunteers nearby on weekends for work-related or social occasions and will make an occasional trip to the capital. We encourage Volunteers to remain at their sites as much as possible to help accomplish the Peace Corps’ goal of cultural exchange. Most regional capitals have cafés and restaurants, movie theaters, and other forms of entertainment.
Social life in the Dominican Republic often revolves around the family porch, where people talk while playing dominoes, a national pastime. Outdoor tables in front of homes, bars, and colmados (neighborhood markets) are surrounded by men who play for hours, especially on Sundays. Outdoor players are almost exclusively men, but everyone plays at home. Even young children become adept at the game. Baseball is the country’s most popular sport. The competition is keen, and rarely does a day go by when children, youth, and even adults are not playing baseball with anything they can find to use as a bat and ball. Cockfighting is another national pastime, and the gambling stakes can be high.
Dominicans also love music and dancing. Merengue is the national dance, and many people, including small children, know the steps. The fast-paced, rhythmic music of merengue is traditionally performed with three instruments: a tambora (a small drum), a melodeon (similar to an accordion), and a guira (a scraping percussion instrument). Bachata is a another popular folk dance that is overtaking merengue in popularity. Salsa and other styles of Latin American music are popular, as are North American pop and jazz. Discos exist even in rural communities.
What has kept merengue alive over the years is its place in the Dominican Republic’s Carnival celebrations. All of the major cities celebrate Carnival with zeal, incorporating music and dance into the street parades and other festivities. In Santo Domingo, Carnival occurs twice a year. The first occurs during the traditional pre-Lenten holiday. The second one, much smaller but just as festive, starts the day before August 16, which is the anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s declaration of war against Spain in 1863.
Each July, Santo Domingo hosts a merengue festival along its main seaside strip, El Malecón. The street is closed off to make way for some of the country’s most popular bands. Celebrations also take place at clubs, hotels, and even nighttime beach parties. Smaller merengue festivals take place in other towns.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
Dominicans take pride in their personal appearance. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of rural, urban, and government-level workers, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself professionally. Standards of dress for foreign aid workers tend to be conservative and modest. Women are expected to wear casual pants or mid-length skirts for professional activities (excluding physical labor); men are expected to wear pants for professional activities other than sports and physical labor. Simply stated: first impressions will be informed by the way you dress. Establishing yourself as a professional technical resource in your community is a part of the overall challenge of adjusting to a new language and culture. Dressing as a professional will ease this process for you. Inappropriate dress may send unintended messages or invitations to co-workers and/or others in your community.
Out of respect for Dominican culture, Volunteers are not allowed to display body piercings. This includes nose rings, tongue bolts, and navel rings. Men are not allowed to wear earrings or have long hair or ponytails. If you do not remove your body rings and cut your hair before you arrive in the Dominican Republic, you will be asked to do so before you move in with a host family during training. Adherence to this policy is an important test of your motivation and commitment to adapt to the new environment. If you have reservations about this policy and the degree of sacrifice and flexibility required to be a successful Volunteer, you should reevaluate your decision to accept the invitation to Peace Corps/Dominican Republic.
The Peace Corps expects you to comport yourself in a way that will foster respect in your community and reflect well on the Peace Corps and on citizens of the United States. Drinking and smoking in public is strongly discouraged as Volunteers are seen as role models, especially among local youth. You will receive an orientation on appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts. Behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission in the Dominican Republic or your personal safety could lead to an administrative separation—a termination of your Peace Corps service. The Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook has more information on the grounds for administrative separation.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help Volunteers reduce their risks and enhance their safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in the Dominican Republic. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being. This means being proactive in avoiding dangerous situations and reporting immediately to Peace Corps/Dominican Republic when there is an incident or emergency.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in the Dominican Republic is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work, perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your co-workers with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. The Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave the Dominican Republic feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
Volunteers usually are readily accepted by their host community and make lasting friendships. However, for many Volunteers, constantly being asked personal questions, the lack of privacy, being considered a rich foreigner, and the need to be aware of different social mores can be trying. As in most Latin American countries, women in the Dominican Republic do not have the freedoms to which North American women are accustomed. A female Volunteer’s inability to adapt to this reality can make her less effective and possibly even affect her safety.
The Peace Corps is not for everyone. Creativity, initiative, flexibility, patience, and a high tolerance for ambiguity are necessary attributes in confronting the challenges associated with facilitating change in a cultural setting different from the United States. Your dedication, however, can have real and lasting results. When your service is over, you will have the deep satisfaction of having played a role in a grassroots development process that helped give Dominicans greater control of their future.