Casa Goethe – Sosua – in Photos

I attended Spanish school at Casa Goethe in Sosua for three weeks in 2012. It sure was beautiful! Here’s just a few shots of IIC Casa Goethe, the students and surroundings.

I reached Intermediate!

For all of those who are wondering how I did with my Spanish lessons, I am proud to announce that after six weeks (30 hours of school), I reached Intermediate Level.

What exactly does that mean you ask?

It means I have learned basic vocabulary and grammar, and am now able to have basic conversations in present, past and future tense. Yay me!

I remember back to my first week in Santo Domingo with my home stay mom. I really couldn’t understand anything that she said and wondered if what I was learning was really the same language she was speaking! Then I got to my second home stay and still couldn’t understand anything, so I didn’t talk a whole lot.

As of my fourth week, when I moved to Sosua, there was a stronger focus on conversation with my fabulous teacher Ana. By the end of that fourth week, I was understanding most of what she said to me and rarely saying ‘no entiendo’ (I don’t understand).

When I made the decision to stay for week five, it was mostly because of my fantastic experience with Ana and that I felt I had improved so much in just that one week! By the middle of week two I was feeling confidant enough to begin having slow conversations with the locals and although I had to say ‘no entiendo’ or ‘otra vez’ (another time) a lot, I was also picking up a lot more of what they were saying.

Between classroom grammar, conversation, classroom excursions to the market and the local area, I was able to really start to feel like things were making sense. That, along with conversations with several new friends on a regular basis made a huge difference.

I am now proud to say that when I listen to my favourite bachata and merengue songs I can pick out about 75% of the words and meaning. Before I was just enjoying the beat of the music. Now I can start to understand what the songs are about!

And, although I still speak very very slowly, most people can understand what I am trying to say. By the end of six weeks in classes, I had also begun to think in Spanish instead of trying to translate every word from English. If I can continue this, it will make a big difference in the speed that I am able to speak.

I can’t wait to continue learning Spanish. I plan to keep in touch with many of my friends that I made so that I can practice my Spanish writing skills, but I also hope to find a few people in Halifax to continue to practice with as well. I don’t want to lose all that I’ve just learned!

Two Weeks of Spanish School

I have officially been in Santo Domingo for just over two weeks and have now had 15 days of Spanish classes at Casa Goethe (or Instituto Intercultural del Caribe) They started me in a class that is kind of like beginner plus. I joined in with another student who had started from knowing nothing and was now on his third week of classes. So, I guess technically I am now on about week number six of studies even though I’ve only been here for two full weeks.

In the past two weeks I have learned A LOT. It is actually quite amazing when I sit and look at it all, but wow do I ever still find it difficult and somedays I just want to scream! It is so hard to not be able to express myself. I feel like I am always talking like a child. I know that it comes with time, but none the less it can be frustrating.

Pretty much everything in the past two weeks has been based on verb conjugations, with a lot of new vocabulary along the way. I have learned:

The difference between time and duration
The difference between para and por (to and for or sometimes for and for)
The difference between muy and mucho (used for saying very or a lot depending on the situation)
How to ask for the time (hour) and how to give the time (hour).
Desde / Hasta – From / to (I went to school from 9am until (or to) 12:30pm.
Verb conjugations for all verbs ending in er, ar and ir
Irregular verb conjugations
Tips on how to tell the difference between an object being masculine or feminine. Often if it ends in “O” it is masculine, ending in “A” is usually feminine.
How to talk about things that I like and that I do not like (verb gustar)
Vocabulary for items / furniture in a house – table / chair / sofa / bed / mirror / stove etc.
Vocabulary for – in front / behind / in / on / left / right / under / inside / outside etc.
Vocabulary for family – mom / dad / sister / brother / in laws / aunts / uncles / nephews / nieces / grandparents etc.
All numbers – for counting and for buying items – This has been one of my biggest difficulties, but mostly in the pronunciation and in hearing the difference between words that sound similar. For example, five, fifteen and fifty sound alike in Spanish, just like they kind of do in English.

We have also done a lot of chit chat, often about the differences between our own countries and the Dominican Republic. This has been interesting because we covered US, Canada and Switzerland in our class. We also had discussions about the men in Dominican who are always calling out to the women on the street and the cultural differences between the way men / women behave in Latin America verses North America and Europe (specifically Canada and Switzerland).

A lot of our homework assignments have been directly out of our workbooks. We’ve had to fill in sentences, answer questions and conjugate verbs. We’ve also had to write paragraphs describing our family, our Dominican accommodations and then talk about our dream house.

The two Fridays that I have been here we have had excursions. The first week, our entire school (about 30 students) were split up between five instructors to head out in the area for a scavenger hunt. We had to find 10 or 12 different businesses and at each one, ask them two questions. We then had to write the answers down and hand the paper back in. Unfortunately I didn’t feel that this particular activity was much fun or a lot of use to me as I was with students who spoke a higher level of Spanish than me and it was incredibly hot for walking around for two hours!

The second Friday however, we had a great excursion to the artisan market. As our homework, we had to write about our excursion. It was the first time I was really inspired to take photos. Just for fun, I will also post my Spanish home work that I wrote about the market.

Overall, the most difficult thing for me has been understanding what my professor (and the locals) are saying. Spanish in general is spoken very quickly. I’m not kidding when I say often people’s lips don’t even move! I still don’t understand my professor a lot of the time, but she’s pretty good at slowing down when I get completely lost and sometimes, if necessary will explain a concept for grammar in English and then give examples in Spanish.

Some days I feel like I will never understand what the locals are saying, but the more I venture out on my own, the more I realize I can understand. I’m still scared to death to call a taxi on my own or to try and figure out how to get somewhere new via public transportation, however I can now order and pay for my own food … buy something at a store or market and ask for directions and understand the answer (if they are not too complicated)!

My teacher is encouraging me to begin writing on my blog in Spanish, but I don’t feel I’m ready yet as my level of writing is still incredibly basic. However, I hope that soon enough I will be able to so that I can interest some Spanish speaking people in following along!

Day 1 at Spanish school

My first day of class (July 16th) I traveled to the school with my two roommates from Zona Colonial to Zona Universidad by public car and arrived at 8:45am. Shortly after 9am we were greeted as a group and assigned to our classrooms.

I joined my instructor Katherine and a student named Eric from Georgia. This class was a review for Eric, but was new to me. He had started three weeks prior with zero Spanish knowledge and I was joining in at his current level.

Our first task was to cover some of the most important questions or phrases needed for class, such as:

Como se dice …? (How do you say …?)
Que significa …? (What is the significance / meaning of … ?)
Repite por favor. (Repeat please)
Necesito ayudar. (I need help)
Tengo una pregunta. (I have a question)

Our next section was about opposites. We covered things like:
calor / trio – hot / cold,
suave / euro – soft / hard,
llueve / sol – rain / sun,
bonito(a) / feo – pretty / ugly,
grande / pequeno – big / small,
barato/economico / caro – cheap / expensive,
simpatico / antipatico – friendly / unfriendly,
largo / corto – long / short,
antes / despise – before / after

That day we also covered parts of the body, pieces of clothing and my first verb conjugation lesson – the difference between ser and estar (to be and I am).

When I look back at my notes from that first day, I sure learned a lot, but I am glad the instructor wrote everything on the board because that day I didn’t understand anything she said!

Go! And tell someone you trust!

How to Make a Decision – Part 3

When faced with difficult, overwhelming decisions, the only way I know how to tackle them is one step at a time. It doesn’t matter if you have created the situation yourself or been forced in to it … if you want to move forward, you have to do it one step at a time.

So, I decided to start telling people of my plans to study Spanish. As we all know, saying it out loud keeps us accountable. I started with telling my closest friends and my sister. I guess I was testing it out to see what kind of reaction I would get. For the most part, I got excitement … oh yes, and concern … but mostly excitement. I listened carefully to all of their questions so that I would know what I had to ask myself and come up with answers for!

Next up I began telling a few business contacts … again, treading lightly, before putting all of my weight forward. I’m not sure what I expected people to say … maybe I thought people would tell me I was crazy or that it was a stupid idea. Maybe I was waiting for people to convince me that I shouldn’t go …. regardless of what I was scared of, I was met by an outpouring of encouragement, excitement and ‘you can do it’ responses.

I think the decision was really solidified in my own mind when I told my counsellor. Yes folks, I am admitting on the big ol’ internet that I see a counsellor. GASP! She helps me put my head on straight when it gets twisted around backwards and I can’t wiggle it back around on my own. She’s unbiased, helpful, caring and doesn’t judge! You’d be surprised at how many people you know who see counsellors and life coaches, but its still such a taboo thing to talk about.

I remember going into her office and actually being excited, instead of discouraged and overwhelmed. I told her that I had made a decision to go learn Spanish and she simply said ‘And how do you feel about it now that you’ve decided?’

My response was something along the lines of ‘I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’ve been struggling with being unhappy and overwhelmed and now I feel like a have a place to move forward to.’

That realization was huge for me.

For the last couple of years that I have been seeing a counsellor, her main message to me is to practice mindfulness and to be kind to yourself. She has gently been nudging me toward taking care of myself more and making sure that I make decisions that are best for me, my health and my sanity. Encouraging me to find, and leap a balance and fulfilled life!

Wow, I think the message finally made it through my stubborn armour and it’s pointy arrow made a clean slice right into my heart. Right where I needed it most.

I’ll never forget when my counsellor asked me ‘So, what’s next?’

Then the tears came … Damn it! I thought I was excited. I’m excited aren’t I? I thought I was doing good not crying! What’s up with this?

And once again, I was back into overwhelmed mode. I had made the decision to learn Spanish. I was strong and confidant about wanting to do it, but geeze, what does come next?

The counsellor helped me decide what steps I needed to take to move forward and off I went to think about the where, when and how to make it all happen!

In 10 years, will this matter?

How to Make a Decision – Part 1

When making a decision, you have several options …

1. Don’t think, just do it (completely an impulse decision)
2. Follow your heart (do what you love, but not necessarily what is most practical)
3. Do what you think is expected of you.
4. Follow your head (do what you know is most practical, not necessarily what makes you happy)

Honestly, some people do the same thing every time they make a decision … others have a variety of decision making differences depending on the situation.

Me, well, I’m almost never a #1 or #2. I usually follow my head, except in love (this will be particularly funny to those who know me well!). I’ve just discovered recently that even more so than following my own head, I often do things because I think that is what other people expect me to do. (I’ll have an entire blog post on expectations coming soon!)

Since 2009 I have wanted to go away to learn Spanish. Originally I thought I would go for 1 or 2 weeks. As the years passed, my interest in learning Spanish has stayed strong, but the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘you can’t do thats’ over powered everything else. Over the years I researched Spanish schools in all kinds of different countries, tried to think about when the best time to go away would be … continued to travel for other reasons, but hadn’t taken any real steps to make a decision on learning Spanish.

In the fall of 2011 I decided to purchase a Spanish Learning program for my computer (Berlitz Spanish Premier – I got my copy at Costco in Halifax). I wanted to learn Spanish, in hopes of leading a group of photo enthusiasts on an adventure called Peru Through the Lens. I wanted to be able to communicate in Spanish a little on my own. Unfortunately, I really didn’t study enough to be able to put sentences together, but I did learn a lot of vocabulary. I was the Queen of the one-word sentence or question! I had the Spanish speaking level of a two year old. Yay me!

In December 2011, the trip to Peru was confirmed and I decided this meant that I also needed to travel to the Galapagos Islands. I mean, really, it was part of the neighbouring country of Ecuador and I might never get back there again, so I should do it now, right?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

It took me a good two to three weeks to finally decide to take the leap and go for the trip to the Galapagos. I had been thinking about the possibility since the summer of 2011 when we started planning for the Peru Through the Lens photo tour, but I didn’t put anything in place until I knew for sure that the tour was taking place. I did a lot of research. I asked my travel agent (Rose, at The Adventure Travel Company) a million questions about packages and pricing. I debated over land vs boat accommodations. Land won out fairly quickly due to my previous well known adventures in sea sickness!

What I am getting at here is that I did not take the decision lightly. I thought about it long and hard, but knew that I had to make a decision somewhat quickly (after confirming the Peru trip was going forward) in order to book my flights and tie them in to the beginning of the Peru Through the Lens trip.

I often get stuck when I am trying to make a big decision and I have come to realize many good and bad things about myself.
1. I always do research and a lot of thinking before making decisions. I’ve always been this way!
2. I like to think I have equal parts of head and heart participation in most of my decisions.
3. I am very influenced (or have been in the past) by what close friends and family members ‘expect’ me to do and how they will react to decisions that I make.
4. Sometimes I get so flustered and stuck in my own head that it stresses me out and I can’t make a decision at all. It is at this point that some people give up, drop the idea and run away. For me, it is at this point that I have a little chat with myself …

I ask myself – “Shari. What are you doing? You obviously want to do this (trip to Galapagos) … what is stopping you? If you want to do it so badly, you shouldn’t be stressed about it!”

I answer myself – “I’m scared that I don’t have the money. I’m scared that my business clients will find someone new to do their photography. I’m scared that my parents won’t understand. I’m scared that I’m going to love it and not want to come back. I’m scared that if I don’t go, I’ll regret it. I’m scared that I’ll never have another chance to see The Galapagos Islands.” Geeze! I’m a big ol’ scardey cat!

I ask myself “In 10 years, will this matter? Will you be in debt from it? Will you regret having traveled, learned, experienced new cultures? Will you regret it if you don’t go? Will you learn anything from it? Can you do this 10 years from now instead?”

I answer myself “Don’t be ridiculous … it is a couple thousand dollars, not millions! I can pay that off. The debt won’t be around 10 years from now. Of course I won’t regret the experience. Travel = education of a whole different realm than what most people learn in life. Will I learn from it? How could I not? Sure, I could do this in 10 years, but if I wait until then I might be married with kids and then I won’t have the money or time to do a trip like this … then I’ll regret not having done it while I had the time!”

Decision made.

Just after Christmas, I contacted Rose at the Adventure Travel Company and put all of the details in place for my five day adventure to The Galapagos Islands. Off I would venture, on my own, with the Spanish of a two year old, Vamos! (Let’s Go!).

My summer 2012 Adventure begins!

Let me go way back to 2009 when I took a vacation trip with one of my best friends (Stephanie) to Costa Rica. We stayed at a lovely resort, but I wanted to be more adventurous, so we did several excursions and day trips. One of which was to Nicaragua. I am quite honest in saying that before I went to Costa Rica, I had no idea where Nicaragua was. If you had asked me, I would have guessed it was somewhere in Africa. Surprise! It is in Central America.

Map of Central America
Map of Central America

Stephanie and I left our hotel very early one morning and took a comfortable tourist bus for several hours to the Nicargua border. (This part deserves it’s own blog post, so I will skip the details here and save it for another post!)

Once we were in Nicaragua we had breakfast, visited an active volcano, shopped in local markets, saw beautiful scenery and took a boat tour of many different islands. More so than the beauty of Costa Rica, I fell in love with the raw beauty of Nicaragua and the fact that it wasn’t invaded by tourists. It was still very in tune with it’s own culture.

Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua
Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua
Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua
Shari & Stephanie at Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua

When I returned from my week long vacation, I started talking about returning to Nicaragua to learn Spanish. At that time it was just a lot of talk though … something I would like to do … someday … when the time was right … when I had the money …

Oh yeah … and if I didn’t fall in love or have children … and if my mind didn’t change.

See where I’m going with this? Likely the same place many of your minds go. Oh, I sure would love to travel, but I have to do this first and then this, and then this always gets in the way! Sound familiar?

Over the past four years I have done my fair share of traveling. Many of my friends and family think that I always seem to be on vacation. It is not true! Besides the fact that I work very hard at my own business, so, so what if I am on vacation?! Don’t I deserve it just the same as the next hard working person? (my little rant)

I have traveled for vacation (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Bermuda, St. Pierre & Miquelon) and for work and/or volunteer purposes to Poland, Germany, Peru, Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Cuba. Pretty amazing when I stop and look at the list!

For the past four years, in the back of my mind, has always been a dream of going away to learn Spanish. I researched schools in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and lots of other Latin American areas. I even found a couple of schools that I thought would be perfect for me (La Mariposa Spanish School or San Juan Del Sur Spanish School), but I wasn’t ready to enrol because I still had too many ‘what ifs’ and ‘have to dos’, first. I still wasn’t ready to just go for it.

I’ve been on a journey of self discovery for the past 5 or 6 years and finally I have decided to do something for me … just for me … not for anyone else. For my health, for my sanity, for my pure enjoyment. Imagine what that feels like. Do you know what that feels like? Not many of us have ever done it! My heart is exploding with excitement!

(Insert happy dance to the tune of lovely merengue music!)

I am now very excited to announce that I am doing something for me! I am going away to study Spanish for 4-8 weeks!

Now that I’ve finally told everyone in my family, I am ready to start telling the world! I will be blogging regularly (at least twice a week) from now until September as I prepare, arrive, study and get to know the culture in beautiful Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic!

Map of Dominican Republic
Map of Dominican Republic

I hope that you’ll join me on my journey of self discovery and laugh your ass off at my adventures, misfortunes and life lessons!

This has taken me a long time to get the courage to do … there are two things I ask of you if you are reading and following along …

1. Please send me your support! Let me know that you are reading this, that you identify with what I am saying or that you had a good laugh with (or at) me. I won’t be offended! I’m sharing because I can and I want to! I do some pretty ridiculous things and share way more detail than most people expect, so fasten your virtual seat belt and hold on to live vicariously through the eyes of a 33 year old single blonde girl traveling to find herself!

2. If you know a woman who is on a journey of self discovery right now, or someone who wants to travel but is limited by her own ‘what ifs’, please pass my blog along and encourage her to read it. It is anonymous to read and I hope it will inspire someone along the way!

Let the fun begin!