How Studying Abroad Affected My Identity

Danya Firestone is a student at the College of Charleston and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

I believe that identity is community. That’s why a part of my identity now, after living in the Dominican Republic for four months, is that of a Spanish speaker. A community of rapid tongue-flipping, expressive, emotional Spanish speakers has welcomed me for the last four months with kisses on one cheek, always encouraging and praising me in my Spanish-speaking efforts.

This community finds identity in the praise and security of their savior, and in the holy space of the Catholic church. They find identity and community in the traditional Dominican rice, beans, and meat that sit low in their proud bellies. This recipe, passed down for generations and through periods of oppression and turmoil, finds its way to a homeless children’s dining hall, city food carts, all-inclusive resort buffets, and my host mother’s dining room table. Dominicans find identity in their love for baseball, where players can be seen throwing out an arrow-shooting motion upon their success, nodding prideful tribute to their Taino ancestors’ method of defense, the bow and arrow, deemed savage by conquistadors. Dominicans, who thank God constantly for their well-being, even in times of strife, find identity in each other.

During my experience abroad and living with a Dominican host family, I’ve been adopted into this loving community, and granted allowance to identify as a Spanish speaker, though no Latin blood runs through my veins. They say that you find yourself when you travel. But when you study abroad, it’s more than that. Being abroad has allowed my identity to blossom, and more importantly, expand. I was less myself before studying abroad than I am now, and it took my experience in the Dominican Republic to find that out.

The world awaits…discover it.

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