1. Q: How does the housing situation work? Will I be alone or with another volunteer?
A: Una Vida staff will arrange housing based on the size and preference of each group. You may or may not be presented with the choice of going solo or with another volunteer, but if you are, here’s the scoop: historically, volunteers that go solo—with or without Spanish language skills—get a lot more out of their host-family experience.
2. Q: Are the host families supportive of Una Vida’s policies?
A: On the whole, yes. Some volunteers have, however, been offered alcohol (a small amount with dinner, typically) by their host families. Culturally, this is the normal and hospitable thing to do. In this scenario, of course, it is your job to politely decline.
3. Q: Is there anything disrespectful, any cultural blunder that I should be aware of?
A: Generally speaking Dominicans are very laid back and easy going. At the dinner table, it’s a good idea to eat heartily, even if you’re not thrilled with the dish. If for some reason you just cannot eat what’s served, use the phrase “me hace daño” (pronounced: me ah say danyo), meaning it hurts my stomach, with lots of empathy and good humor. Regarding coffee, Dominicans drink small amounts in part because it’s expensive, so be careful not to serve yourself a venti.
4. Q: Will I eat all my meals with my host family?
A: You will typically eat three meals a day with your family. In the case of a day-long excursion into Haiti or elsewhere, be sure to let your family know you won’t be home for lunch.
5. Q: Should I help my host family with things like dishes and laundry?
A: It’s these small and humble acts that show the most respect to and appreciation for our host families.
8. Q: Do I need to get any vaccinations or medications?
A: In a word: talk to your doctor. Opinions do vary, particularly regarding preventitive malaria medications. Again, talk to your doctor. Also, Una Vida is here to help. Acidophilus, a beneficial bacteria supplement, helps prevent digestive problems associated with a foreign diet.
7. Q: What kind of accommodations should I expect in terms of shower, bathroom, etc.?
A: Accommodations vary from host to host but be prepared for cold watered bucket baths. It is what it sounds like, except more enjoyable. Most houses have basic plumbing. Note, however, that used toilet paper and feminine hygiene products always go in the trash can next to the toilet.
6. Q: What if I don’t speak Spanish?
A: You’re not the first. Facial expressions and primitive sign language are your allies. Learning basic words and phrases—showing due diligence with a pen and notebook—is a good way to bond with your hosts. Spanish-English dictionaries definitely help too!
9. Q: Should I bring a journal?
A: Yes! You really should.
10. Q: Should I bring my own snacks?
A: It’s a good idea to have a few bars in your backpack just in case. Gobs of peanut butter out of the jar have also been a popular snack/treat.
11. Q: Should I bring make-up?
A: No. But, if you insist, know that it will be appropriate only when going out at night.