Teacher – Student, Student- Teacher

This was originally posted on my private blog which is in a repository for ideas still processing. Some I cross-post after revisions, others I have not. Recently, I revisited some of these and wondered why I’ve kept them so protected. Perhaps it’s time to be more courageous and open myself to being more real. So, here goes – episode 1. 

So I recently gave my students the following options for a silhouettes thinkscause/effect writing assignment, all 17 of which are currently waiting in my inbox for feedback to enable draft 2…ugh. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a rough week as I’ve been trying to raise myself out of a type of mental and emotional quicksand and two of the three prompts seemed particularly apropos for me to attempt to write myself. I often catch myself wondering if I could do what I’m asking my students to do in my second language let alone in my first language. So, here’s a chance to attempt it in my first language, and hopefully do some of my own ‘processing’ along the way. I’ll choose prompt #3 for now. Bear with the “academic essay” tone.

1) What are some ways to improve your mood? In other words – what can you do to make yourself happy when you’re feeling sad or stressed out?

2) What effect(s) does technology, such as cell phones and TV, have on family relationships?

3) How do your values affect how you spend your money or time?  (This question has two parts – 1: What are your values, and 2: How can we see these values in your actions and spending habits?)

values quote

Roy Disney’s quote above serves as a great reminder for us to think about what we care about and where we want to go especially when we’re caught in the place of needing to make decisions. However, for someone having trouble delineating their values, it may be possible to uncover the truth of what you value by looking at how you spend your time and or money in daily living. Analyzing your time and money expenditures can be a valuable tool to help you understand what you care about and to recognize any disparities between what those things are and what you want them to be.

I have a hard time answering the question “what do you want for…(insert appropriate holiday here).”  This has become especially true the older I get. I’ve become so used to going out and getting what I want when I need it, that often I don’t have an answer to give. In the past few years however, my default answer has become “a gift card to REI” or “a Groupon for a new experience or new class like aerial dance or salsa lessons” and so on. As a Christmas gift to myself last year (only because I felt bad asking my family for it due to price) I bought a 1-year unlimited membership to a dance/martial arts workout studio that I’d been attending for the ten months prior. Even if I only make it to class twice a week, the experience more than pays for itself. I know that attending class gives me more energy, self-confidence, and endorphins to lift my mood. If I miss class for too long, I can tell that my quality of life suffers. 
Challenging the rock   Similarly, my sister and I have been taking turns buying punch cards to the local rock climbing gym near her house. Not only does it provide us with a chance to hang out and engage in a mutually enjoyable activity, but after two or three hours of solid climbing we both are left with the deep satisfaction that comes from accomplishing and surmounting an extreme physical challenge.  Looking back at these gift requests and monetary expenditures leads me to believe that one of my important values is either “healthy living” or “challenging my body.” To some degree, the two very well might be sides of the same coin. Furthermore,  the experience of watching my husband go from super-active Air Force Pilot to brain cancer victim who lost all physical capability was one of (if not THE) most painful experience in my life. Consequently, my subconscious brain has internalized the value of health and therefore seeks out any possible way to enjoy, preserve, and take advantage of the gift of health while I have it.

Street art Maria - mariposa y hummingbird

Bs As street art courtesy @mariacolussa

As a university level teacher, I am blessed with various breaks throughout the school year; additionally, my position allows for some paid personal time as well as an additional amount of professional development time.  A few years ago, I used said time off to visit South America twice! Likewise, in 2013, I used my long break between Fall and Winter Quarters to spend 3  1/2 weeks in Kenya, Africa. Clearly from these examples, I can determine that travel is an extremely important value in my life. However, travel seems more like an outward manifestation of some other value, or multiple values as opposed to the value itself. On this most recent trip which was part professional development, part new culture exploration, I found myself asking what it was that prompted me to spend so much time and money traveling – even in an extremely condensed time-frame. DSCN1453In my travels I’ve learned that at least part of what I enjoy the most is getting to see how people live in different contexts. I love a day when I can go to the market or walk through the streets shoulder to shoulder with myriad others, extranjeros or nativos, just being a part of humanity.  Similarly, I love seeing different visions of beauty. On my most recent trip, I discovered that street art is almost a national treasure, at least in the city of Buenos Aires. Therefore, I spent a good portion of my last day photographing various examples of BsAs street art. Finally, I love learning about different world perspectives, different views of history, different common understandings that make up culture. So perhaps a way of naming this value would be “building bridges” or “open-mindedness” or possibly “trans-border cosmopolitanism” although that last is a bit of a mouthful. 

To  be sure, I spend money on other things too. I don’t spend a lot of money buying stuff, but sometimes I will. For example, I spend money on taking classes or textbooks. I spend money on leisure books or e-books.  Reading, writing, encountering new perspectives, and engaging mentally/thinking critically are definitely values of mine. When I first moved, I spent time and money on my adorable little condo. I like to have a welcoming and cozy-simple home. True, I ought to share it more and wish I did, so I’m not the only one appreciating it, but I’m happy to entertain sporadically. Similarly, I often spend time and money going to lunch or meeting up with friends – time and money that I wouldn’t want back for anything! These areas of expenditure demonstrate that I value “always learning” and “making connections.”  Perhaps these values deserve even more time and attention. After all, without connection, and without broadening our outlook – what’s the meaning of living?

Ultimately, it is up to each of us individually to determine what  is worthy of our time and attention, let alone our financial resources. If something is important to you, if something brightens life and makes it more “colorful” as my students are fond of saying, then by all means, the expenditures are well deserved. However, if you’re finding that Rich - values image quote  most of your time and money is going to endeavors that weaken your spirit, hinder connection, or drag you down, then perhaps those would be expenditures to cut out. Either way, spending a few moments taking stock has the potential to free us to be the truest and most satisfied versions of our selves. It’s worth the sacrifice of time.


Surface – Bayahibe

Dumb thing to do, that. Tapping wouldn’t change anything. She tapped again. 900 psi. When had that happened? Just a minute ago she swore she’d been just under half a tank. Taryn recognized the beginnings of concern, but checked them. 

In two, three. 
Out two, three, four, five. 
In two, three. 
Out two, three, four five. 
Better, it was holding steady around 900. 

Where was Jered?  She finned her way out of the larger of the three rooms they’d determined were safe for exploration. At the far side of the medium room there was a stairwell clear enough to allow descent into the wreck’s lower hold. Her kicks guided her toward it. Maybe he was down there. Their dive plan had called for meeting up at the top of the wreck when they hit 1000. She checked her gauge again – 850. 

Diving part way into the stairwell she glimpsed the yellow of his fins below and to the left. Perfect. Conscious of her breath rate she descended the stairwell and reached back to tap her tank with one of the metal D-rings attaching her compass to the BCD.  The fin didn’t move. She’d have to go farther in. As she made her way below the stairs to the far side of the room she tapped her tank at intervals. Still no response.  Something was wrong. 

Coming alongside him, She noticed his eyes were closed and he was drifting at an odd angle against the ship’s wall. Somehow his regulator was still in place. She grabbed his gauge, her breathing accelerating without heed. 1200.  Transferring her hand to his arm, she tugged gently. No response.  

She looked down at her gauge – 800.  Okay. Time to get up and out. She didn’t see any blood floating in the water near his head, but he was definitely non-responsive. She pulled alongside him and began maneuvering his body ahead of her up the stairs. At least the water made his 200 pound bulk less of a factor.  Once she had him aligned with the stairwell’s entrance, she inflated his BCD slightly and pushed him up, following immediately. Safely in the middle room it was a straight swim through to the larger salon and out the front where large window frames offered the least hazardous exit. Safely out, but keeping one hand firmly on Jered’s BCD she realized she’d need to tie him off to her so she had both hands free to manage the ascent and keep them along the dive line. They didn’t have rope, but Jered had some longer device attachment strings and she had extra carabiners. 

750. She checked his gauge again – 1100. Enough to buddy breathe off his tank during the safety stop. Up now. She inflated his BCD slightly again and began their controlled ascent keeping one hand on the guide line and the other on her dive computer. The needle of her gauge dipped into the red reserve area – definitely below 700. 
In two, three. 
Out, two, three, four, five. 
In two, three. 

At 60 feet she stopped their ascent for one minute. It was hard enough keeping herself stationary, managing Jered’s still unresponsive bulk was not helping. 500. 

Finally, the minute was over. 60 feet and five minutes left. Here’s hoping.  At 15 feet her gauge was dangerously close to empty. Jered still had 800. Not a lot, but enough. Keeping one hand on the rope, she reached for his secondary regulator. She’d never buddy breathed off someone without them knowing. Oh well, no choice. Two minutes left. Taking one more deep drag from her own regulator, she transferred her grip on the rope to the crook of her elbow and used her right hand to take it out while simultaneously pulling Jered’s backup toward her.   

Please work, please work, please work. 

She inhaled carefully – air! One minute left. 30 seconds. Time. She released the pressure of her elbow and followed the bubbles to the surface. Gratefully, she exchanged the regulator for the freedom of fresh air. She wasn’t sure she should or could remove Jered’s. Fortunately the captain of their boat was at the stern ready to help them out. 

“He’s unconscious. I can’t lift him myself.”  She called out. With a splash, Rafa hit the water and grabbed Jered by the BCD/Tank connection.

 “I’ve got him. Take out the regulator if you can.” 

“We’re attached, give me a sec.”  She unclipped the carabiner she’d used to get him up with her and then pried the regulator out of his mouth. How he’d managed to keep the tension to keep it in even while unconscious was beyond her.   Rafa swam his burden to the ladder and Taryn followed. 

“Can you undo the weight belt?” Rafa grunted.

She did so. “Got it.” She handed it up to Rafa’s second, José, and then the mask. “Fins next.”  These were harder, but after a moment she fumbled them off. 

“I’m going to swim him over to the stern and see if we can get him up by the engine where it’s a bit closer to the water level. I may need you to push too.” Rafa directed.

Taryn nodded and complied. José returned from stowing the other equipment and passed a rope to Taryn. 

“Tie it under Jered’s arms once we get the BCD and tank unstrapped. Rafa will work him out of it one side at a time.” This done and the BCD stowed, José returned to the stern and between the three of them they finally heaved Jered onto the deck of the boat. As soon as Taryn and Rafa were out of the water, José freed the mooring line and turned the boat toward shore. 


While the above short story is a creation of my imagination alone, it was jointly inspired by WordPress’ Postaday prompt for today and my own experiences SCUBA diving in the DR after my teaching job ended. Following the recommendation of a visiting professor and RPCV whom I met shortly after I returned to Santiago for my second semester, I took five days and traveled to Bayahibe on the southeastern side of the island to complete a dive course. I’ve had my Open Water Diver certification since before I got out of the military (thanks to Todd!), but I hadn’t logged any dives since before we knew he was sick. Because of this, I decided that completing another course with an instructor would probably be the best way to travel and dive by myself, something I’ve never done before. 

Five days later, I completed the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course and now have a new certification and seven more dives added to my dive experience. Four were wreck dives – one of which was at night and two of which were deep dives at 100+ feet, and the others were underwater navigation (somewhat easy for a former Nav), fish-ID, and gorgeous reef dives. I also discovered that doing a dive trip is one of the best ways to travel solo! Since boat dives generally require at least 2 or more interested divers, it’s an outstanding way to meet like minded people also out for adventure.  Dive towns are fun places to hang out too.

On my second deep wreck dive, I actually nearly did run out of air and had to buddy-breathe off our guide for a bit at the final safety stop. As a result, one of my dive companions gave me some much-needed and extremely helpful breathing instruction so that my final dive was much more successful as far as air management went. The last dive also revealed some amazing sea life such as dozens of sea stars, a glimpse of a black and yellow polka-dot moray eel, little coral jack-in-the-box fish that hide when you pass a hand close to them and then pop back out, romantic butterfly fish who always travel in pairs, retiring flounders, minuscule jellies that don’t sting, and myriad other beautiful sea creatures and corals.

Unfortunately, I did not have an underwater camera with me (something I definitely need to rectify sooner rather than later), so most of the memories are in my mind alone. However, the first and last set of pics are representative of what I saw and the shoreline is actually Bayahibe. Can’t wait to go back!

Zona Colonial – Santo Domingo

mapa del ciudad colonial

Paseo El Conde is the Zona Colonial Walking Street. This gives a mini-map of the historic district.

The Zona Colonial is Santo Domingo’s historic heart and cultural center. It’s also quite touristy, and therefore relatively safe. I took a “guagua” down by myself to meet up with the group as I had what turned out to be a “not-so-mandatory” meeting the morning they left. That afternoon we toured the Biblioteca Infantil y Juvenil (I’ll add more info in a later post), Casa CIEE Santo Domingo, then enjoyed a cena (dinner) with Carolina Contreras – owner of Miss Rizos Salon and her roommate. Later, a few of us explored a bit of SD’s more chill nightlife at spots such as Parque Duarte and Falafel. On Saturday we had an enlightening walking tour of the Zona Colonial – expertly guided by Rudi, then lunch and tiempo libre until the guaguas returned us to Santiago. This was just a glimpse of all that SD has to offer, so I’ll include mostly pictures here.  Hopefully, I’ll return to Santo Domingo later during my stay and therefore will have more to offer. Enjoy the “gallery”! 



Inspiring DR: Miss Rizos Salon

One of the things I was most excited about experiencing here in the DR was seeing what opportunities would arise. Throughout my trip, I hope to share stories of people I encounter whose stories inspire me. My weekend trip to Santo Domingo introduced me to a couple people I want to do mini-profiles of because of the lovely things they are doing and because of the surprising nature of how they “fell into” their callings by recognizing a space for opportunity. Below is the story of one.

arco de jardin

Buscando tesoro de oportunidades

People doing lovely things: Santo Domingo

“¡Hazlo con miedo!” Do it with fear!

Carolina Contreras moved to the D.R. to reconnect with her roots, but without being entirely sure what else would come out of it. Since then, her Miss Rizos Salon for natural hair in the heart of Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial has exploded onto the Dominican beauty scene. There’s a troubling tension here in the DR along the lines of color, race, and ethnicity. One way this is shown is through the ubiquitous “salons de belleza.” Part of my pre-departure orientation explained that long, straight hair and lighter skin is preferred. This is hard for me to understand as I’ve always found the variety of different colors and ethnicities one of the most beautiful parts of human life.

natural hair pic

Natural Hair

To me, the mezcla – blend or mix – of cultural and ethnic backgrounds is the epitome of gorgeous. Nonetheless, here lighter – really whiter – is better. Some of the African-American students I’ve talked with who are here from the states have complained of discrimination or of being on the receiving end of assumptions that they are Haitian. Such actions are partly why many Dominican women of African heritage have been opposed to natural hair or pajóns (puffy hair, afros). Carolina has been changing this stereotype by first blogging in Spanish about how to care for curly hair, and now by opening her salon. By showing women that natural is beautiful and that there are ways to care for natural hair that go beyond straightening, she’s inspiring many to own their own identity, to dream big, and to go after their dreams.

I got to meet Carolina briefly during our group dinner in Santo Domingo. Her words to the students with us were inspiring and humbling. She told a couple of us afterward that she and her roommate have a saying between them:  “Hazlo con miedo” which means do it with fear. In this way they counteract the idea of “no fear” or of waiting until you’re sure of success. She told us that although she didn’t move to the DR with the intention of DSCN1833.JPGcreating a salon, doing so has been amazing.  It’s been the hardest thing she’s ever done, but it’s also been extremely rewarding and completely worth the pain. Taking a step to turn a problem into an opportunity also continues to surprise her by how ready others are to help and promote her work. Talking with her reminded me of one of my favorite Paolo Coehlo books, the Alchemist. Carolina would agree that truly when you are doing the hard work of following your path, the universe comes alongside to help you.

Below I’ll include a link to a New York Times article about Miss Rizos salon as well as a link to her blog. I don’t have a good picture right now, but hope to go back and get one during my time here. Crossing paths with Carolina, however briefly, was encouraging and hope-giving. Who knows what can happen!

Miss Rizos Salon NYT




La Vida Dominicana Begins

Beginning a new adventure in the middle of the night due to flight delays does not make for the most coherent of transitions. Arising early the next day and joining a “guagua” full of students from the U.S. for a trip up to Jarabacoa in the “Dominican Alps” followed by a week of orientation activities was lovely, but also a bit surreal. The CIEE staff and students, my department colleagues, and my wonderful mamá afitriona (host mother) Maria have helped immensely. However,  despite the fact that I’ve been in country for more than a week, I’m only now beginning to find my footing. Nevertheless, I wanted to capture a few first impressions of life in Santiago de Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.


Santiago as seen from Camp David Ranch – Dominican Style


First of all, the people are incredibly beautiful. Walking through the streets of town, looking around a classroom or a club, there are so many different shades and tones. Of skin color, eye color, even hair color. And, as we learned during our first excursion to the center of town, the people here call things like they see them. “Rubia” (blondie), “Morena” (brown), “Negra” (black), and even “gordita” (literally, fatty, but here without the negative connotation) are “piropos” that are thrown your way as you pass by.  On our first excursion, a few of us almost started counting how many we received. The amount can definitely be disconcerting, but if I look at them through the lens of culture instead of as simply catcalls, it’s not as hard for me to accept – at least right now. So far, no one’s been overly obnoxious.

Duarte on guard

Duarte presiding over campus

The naturaleza here is also beautiful, especially Jarabacoa and the university campus. The land is dressed completely in green, such that everywhere you turn are lush and growing things. Fruit trees, gorgeous pink and coral flowers, evergreens that are softer and curvier than those in the States. Most days the sky is the truest of blues, all have been kissed by the sun. Considering I left lots of snow in Colorado, walking around in a curtain of warmth has been pleasant except for the hours closest to the midday heat, or when traveling Calle del Sol, the busiest shopping street in Santiago.

Vibrant, but loud

Music often blares from cars, conchos, and houses here. Some of the most animated conversations among the students from the US and the DR have been about music and places to go out.  I myself have been trying to catch up on my knowledge of Reggaeton which seems to be quite popular. Two artists I’ve recently discovered are Amara la Negra, and J. Balvin. And, of course, there’s still a lot of merengue, salsa, bachata, and jazz, all of which I already love. During my first evening out, the DJ let me watch him in action for a bit which was fascinating! Clubs here in Santiago love to crank up the volume, so if you want a place for conversation, perhaps a neighborhood bar would be better.

Somewhat challenging

Admittedly, a few things have taken a bit of getting used to. The sheer volume of food per


My rooftop view of Autopista Duarte

meal, which – although very good- is often more than I’m used to eating in an entire day, is rough. And, the traffic is crazy! My host home is right next to Autopista Duarte and my room fronts on the highway. On weekend nights, one of the favored pastimes is to have illegal car or motorcycle races a la Fast and Furious flying along the highway. The last lap apparently happens between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings. Sleeping, therefore, is sometimes difficult.

Finally, I’m still struggling to balance other peoples’ version of caution with my own. My host mother, the CIEE staff, and many of my colleagues have warned me about theft and about walking alone, even for the less than five minutes it takes to reach the university gates from my home. For someone who’s lived alone in multiple other countries, and who leans toward a belief that if people are living in a “dangerous” area, or doing certain daily activities safely, there must be a way of my doing the same; this overly protective stance can be frustrating. One of the other students and I had a conversation about deciding to believe the best in people until proven otherwise, while still taking common-sense precautions to mitigate the risk. Hopefully, I’ll grow more confident venturing out on my own, or better yet, find “criollas” to help me navigate more independently. Don’t worry, I’ll still be careful!

Okay, I know this first post got a bit long. I’ll try to keep future ones shorter, or at least vary the length. But, there’s so much to share and experience, even from a still slightly displaced observer’s standpoint that I wanted to include as much as possible. Hopefully, this at least gives  a snapshot. Stay tuned for future adventures!