Reflections on the Dominican Republic
by Olivia Brown
During my education abroad program in the Dominican Republic, I learned a rich history about the beautiful country as well as its education system. As someone interested in pursuing education administration in the United States, I truly enjoyed seeing a completely different education system and how it impacts its country. Before the program I understood how education can have an effect on society, especially in my home country. After being in the Dominican Republic, I learned that this effect is exactly the same but can show up in different ways.
Our group was taken through Hispaniola's history with lectures and guided tours, and we learned a great deal about Haitian-Dominican relations. This included the tension between the neighboring countries and how discrimination of Haitians in the Dominican Republic still exists. Despite this seemingly integral part of the Dominican Republic, we found that Haitian-Dominican relations is not extensively taught in schools. One person told us the topic is often avoided, which I personally believe can have negative outcomes. If students are not learning more about Haiti and its relationship with the Dominican Republic, how are they expected to see Haitians as neighbors instead of “others”?
Another topic of education that we did not see much of was the Dominican Republic's extensive African roots. One Dominican college student told us he had never learned much about Africa in school (which I think is similar to the United States), and we heard from others that people do not typically identify themselves as African-Dominican. There is a social norm of needing “pelo bueno” (good hair), aka straight hair. Lighter skin is viewed as desirable. Schools teach history about Spain and indigenous people but not about Africa.
On the other hand, some told us of movements beginning in the country surrounding self-love and acceptance. These include telling girls in schools how to wear their hair natural, and teaching that dark skin is beautiful. Hearing about these programs was uplifting, especially because I personally took a long time to accept my natural hair and practice overall self-love. I believe including this type of messaging in early education can have a very positive effect on students and society in any country.
Education has always been a core value of mine, and traveling to the Dominican Republic was a transformational experience for me. Seeing multiple schools and talking with students about what they are taught was amazing. I was able to make observations and connections with the United States' education system as well as see stark differences. As a student from a country with flaws in its education system, I loved being able to see a whole new country and how its people view their education.