Santiago is the second largest city in the DR, and it's about an hour and a half from the coast in the northern part of the country. I'll be staying with a host family within walking distance of the university, which is probably one of the things that I'm most excited about. I won't get to know anything about my host family until shortly before I arrive, but I get to write them a letter in Spanish introducing myself. I'm working on it now, but I'm taking my time to make sure I say exactly what I want to say, and I don't make any silly grammatical errors.
Attending the online orientation made the trip and the program seem so much closer and so much more real. The program director gave a short presentation about the country, the city and the program and then we were able to ask him questions via chat. He also gave a short primer on some of the differences between Dominican and American culture that we'll go over more closely during orientation. For example, although the Dominican climate is similar to Pittsburgh's during the summer, people rarely wear shorts outside their homes. Also, carrying a backpack to class is apparently uncommon and will make us stick out. I was planning on bringing my backpack, so now I have to decide if I should accept the consequences of standing out or try to bring a purse large enough to carry my school things.
Lots of people had good questions to ask during the online orientation. Most of them were practical sorts of questions about what to expect and what to pack, but it was nice to know that we all have similar questions and that everyone wants to be as prepared as possible. I've been trying to brush up on my Spanish by reading a book in Spanish (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell) and listening to some free Spanish audiobooks that I found on the Internet. I'm not sure how much it's helping my Spanish skills, but at least it's (mostly) keeping me from worrying about being totally underprepared.
To be honest, I probably am underprepared, and I probably will struggle to communicate for the first few days. I've never traveled to a Spanish-speaking country before, and I've only been studying Spanish for two years (I took Latin instead of Spanish in high school). Also, Dominican Spanish speakers (and Caribbean Spanish speakers in general) speak much faster than Spanish speakers from other parts of the world. However, I know that once I get there and I'm immersed in Spanish, I'll learn really quickly, and I'll learn much more than I could in an American classroom. After all, that's a big part of why I'm studying abroad!