International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987


Culture Corner

Dominican Culture

While the Dominican Republic now shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the island has a long and interesting history worth studying for anyone interested in visiting this wonderful country. The island of Hispaniola was first inhabited by the Pre-Columbian group known as the Taínos around 650AD. The Tainos were surprised when a fleet of ships from Spain arrived in 1492. The Spanish rapidly colonized the island of Hispaniola and created Santo Domingo as the island's first settlement. The French arrived on the island in 1697 and soon after, the Spanish ceded the western area of the island to France (present day Haiti). While the Dominican Republic declared independence from Spain in 1821, the Dominican Republic and Haiti experienced a brutal history where the Dominican Republic lost control to Haiti and then regained independence from Haiti in 1844. The Dominican Republic is a very distinct island culture and has been steadily growing since the mid 20th Century.

The vast majority of Dominicans declare themselves as Catholics. That being said, there is a visible community of Evangelicals and other Christian denominations throughout the Dominican Republic. As one would hope, traditional indigenous religions still exist and are definitely present within the modern day Dominican society.

The Dominican staple diet is meat, rice and beans. The most typical Dominican meal is "la bandera dominicana", which it consists of white rice, red beans, meat, salad, and fried plantains (tostones). A popular snack that you will see sold on many street corners and restaurants is the "pastelito", a fried pastry filled with beef, onions, olives, tomatoes and a variety of seasonings. You should try everything to experience the unique spices (many from African influences) and tasty foods. You will also find many varieties of tropical fruits and nuts, including many types that might be new for you!

Most recognize the Dominican Republic based on two main forms of music and dance that originated on the island. Meregue has a lively, fast-paced rhythm and consists of a tempo of about 120 to 160 beats per minute. Common instruments found in meringue are drums, brass, chorded instruments, accordions, as well as the tambora and güira. Bachata is another style of music/dance that originated outside of the city centers in the rural regions of the Dominican Republic.

Monuments & Must-Sees

Monumento a Los Héroes de la Restauración
Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the city, the Monumento a Los Héroes de la Restauración (Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration) towers over the entry to the city at an altitude of 60 meters. Inside you can find murals by the painter Vela Zanetti. The monument is a meeting place for younger and older people alike when it gets hot. It is also a public area for the celebration of artistic and other types of activities. From this spot, you have a beautiful view of the city.

Gran Teatro del Cibao
Across from the Monumento is the Gran Teatro del Cibao, which presents performances by artists of national and international standing. It is composed of two main halls: La Restauración and the Julio Alberto Hernández hall.

Catedral Santiago Apóstol

The Catedral Santiago Apóstol was constructed from 1868 to 1895. Its towers demonstrate a mixture of the Gothic and Neoclassical styles. Inside, among other interesting features, the beautiful altar carved from mahogany stands out.

Cigar Factory
Visiting the Fábrica de Cigarros of the Grupo León Jiménes, you can observe the process of making cigars by hand. The city of Santiago is well-known for its cigars and tobacco.

The Mercado Modelo on the Calle del Sol
This is a commercial center composed of artisan shops and handmade items native to the region. More local color, though of a slightly different type, can be found just down the road at the Centro de la Cultura de Santiago, on the corner of Calle Benito Monción. This is the place for cultural events and activities related to the fine arts. There are usually showings of paintings, sculpture, plays, ballet, concerts, and jazz, among others.

Museo Folclórico Tomás Morel
At the Museo Folclórico Tomás Morel, on Calle Restauración, you can admire objects related to the city's celebration of Carnaval, folklore, and aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants of Santiago from the colonial era through to 30 or 40 years ago.

Cultural Activity Suggestions

Santiago has endless activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultural activities to do while in Santiago. You can do many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Santiago, different sponsored cultural activities will be announced throughout your program abroad.

Explore the City
Meet Dominican university students and learn about the city of Santiago: the transportation routes, visit the main plaza and church, and become familiarized with the city blocks, while making new Dominican friends.

Monumento a Los Héroes de la Restauración
Marvel at the grandeur of the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration, and visit the León Cultural Center which features a modern art gallery, anthropology exhibit, and hosts film festivals and music performances.

Cigar Factory
Tour the cigar factory and learn about the art of cigar making, which can take anywhere from 2 to 3 years, from planting the tobacco to rolling the cigar.

Baseball Game
Experience the thrill of the game at the local baseball stadium (during baseball season), and enjoy one of the Domincan Republic's favorite sporting events.

Hermanas Mirabal Museum

Immerse yourself in Dominican culture at the Hermanas Mirabal Museum and learn about the Mirabal sisters, the three most famous revolutionary women who fought against the reign of Trujillo.

Cultural Immersion

Language Exchanges/Intercambios
Students will be given the opportunity to meet local and international students wishing to share their knowledge of Spanish and learn English in exchange. This activity, based on student interest, is a great way to get to know other students of Santiago, and share your culture and language with others while learning more about your surroundings and Dominican student counterparts.

Volunteering Opportunities
Any student truly interested in volunteering while in Santiago can work with the ISA Santiago staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and the Santiago staff can help you figure out how to get involved.

ISA Service-Learning
ISA Service-Learning takes students beyond the classroom by providing them with a unique opportunity to work at local non-profit organizations, municipal offices, schools, or clinics abroad. Students may choose to add service-learning to their Semester or Summer ISA academic program. Please see the ISA Service-Learning website for specific placement options offered in Santiago.

ISA Student Blog
Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home on the ISA Student Blog, one of WordPress' top 23 recommended travel blogs! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features current ISA students as bloggers, photo bloggers, and video bloggers who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students, advisers, and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through writing, photos, videos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger, Photo Blogger, or Video Blogger. The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for all ISA Featured Blogger programs. Please contact the ISA Blog Team at if you have any questions.

Cultural Blogs:
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Santiago, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

Helpful Phrases
¿Dímelo? – How are you?
a su orden – think nothing of it; if you say you like something, the Dominicans might use this phrase to mean you can borrow it whenever you like.
bandera dominicana – Dominican meal: rice, beans, and meat
una rumba – a lot
cofradía – Dominicans who believe in African deities with Catholic origins, it's also used to say that a person has negative intentions towards another person
¡Huepa! – An expression used to say Wow! or to respond to someone when they call your name (DR)
jonrón – homerun
¡Que chévere! ¡Que chulo! – Cool!
¿Tú ves? - You know what I mean?

On-Line Dictionary Resource

Verb Conjugation
We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to verb conjugations in Spanish.

Listening and Speaking
Check out some different Spanish podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills.

Beware of translation websites…much can be LOST in translation!