Dominican Republic FAQ

Program Preparation Information

Program Life

Community

Community

When we refer to the community of participants and leaders in VISIONS, we mean it as best defined by M. Scott Peck in “The Different Drum”:[A] group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to . . . delight in each other, make others' conditions (their) own.

On a VISIONS program, we place a premium on building a sense of community and getting to know everyone in the group. Sometimes, community might mean “neighborhood.” On a deeper level, it can mean creating a kind of family out of strangers, and it is this sense of community that we strive to create among our groups.

Community means embracing your responsibilities within the group, respecting others, communicating clearly, and living cooperatively. To encourage growth in each of those areas, your group will meet three or four nights a week for about an hour to speak and listen to each other. We reflect on the day, including the volunteer and cultural experiences, and sometimes also use the time to hash out issues and iron out differences. This is a time to communicate openly and to listen to others’ perspectives. It can also be an occasion for us to see how others perceive us, which is a valuable gift.

Through this forum, we stand to gain insight as well as more confident and effective communication skills, which are as useful as the physical skills we learn each day. Our focus is the here and now, and the integrity of the community that is living and learning together.

It is your time, our time, to build a foundation of trust and cohesiveness in the process of becoming a strong community.

There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability;
there can be no peace — and ultimately no life — without community.
- Scott Peck

Code of Ethics

  • Travel with a spirit of humility and a genuine desire to meet and talk with local people.
  • Be aware of the feelings of others. Act respectfully and avoid offensive behavior, including when taking photographs.
  • Cultivate the habit of actively listening and observing rather than merely hearing and seeing. Avoid the temptation to “know all the answers.”
  • Realize that others may have concepts of time and attitudes that are different—not inferior—to those you inherited from your own culture.
  • Instead of looking only for the exotic, discover the richness of another culture and way of life. Learn local customs and respect them.
  • Spend time each day reflecting on your experiences in order to deepen your understanding. Is your enrichment beneficial for all involved?
  • Be aware of why you are traveling in the first place. If you truly want a “home away from home,” why travel?

Compiled by The North American Center for Responsible Tourism, San Anselmo, CA

Program Expectations & Zero Tolerance Rules

Participant Contract: “VISIONS expects that all participants understand that they will be asked to put the group’s needs ahead of their own. Participants are ambassadors for VISIONS while in our host communities, and are expected to uphold an ethic of service and goodwill. Appropriate, considerate conduct, and respect for program policies are essential. We live and work in the public eye, and appropriate behavior, language, and clothing are necessary. Participants assume responsibility for their conduct and their part in creating a productive group experience.”

VISIONS leaders create opportunities for participants to succeed, easily behave within our expectations, and have a healthy, fulfilling experience. We want families to be aware of some of the ingredients we view as fundamental to a successful experience for all involved.

Zero Tolerance “Airplane” Rules
VISIONS is a Zero Tolerance program regarding (1) consumption, possession, or attempted possession of alcohol or drugs/illegal substances; (2) sexual activity—meaning conduct deemed unacceptable in public places. These activities will result in immediate dismissal and thus are referred to as our Airplane Rules. Remember that VISIONS focuses on an inclusive group dynamic, so cliques and romances are out of sync with the goal of a powerful and life-changing experience. Please review the Enrollment Contract for the complete Terms of Participation.

The rules are in place for everyone’s safety, health and welfare, common sense, group dynamic, and with local laws in mind. If a participant is sent home early, the parent/guardian will be responsible for booking the next available flight. Purchasing a new ticket is sometimes necessary.

Sending a participant home is difficult for everyone, but it will happen if an Airplane Rule is broken. Breaking an Airplane Rule, even if on the final day of a program, results in forfeiture of the Certificate of Service and recognition of service hours. Again, the safety, health, and wellbeing of participants is at the core of our policies.

Dress Code
All participants are required to comply with the dress code as outlined on the packing list. The modest dress codes have been developed intentionally to be appropriate for the cultural and social standards in our communities. As guests, temporary residents, and collaborative partners in our host communities, insensitivity to the dress code interrupts the program and undermines important local relationships. Participants may only bring clothing that falls within dress code parameters. If dress codes are not followed, the participant may be required to immediately purchase appropriate clothing at their own expense.

Buddy System and Boundaries
In order to leave homebase during the occasional free time, you will need to find at least two others in the group to go with you and you must remain inside the pre-determined boundaries. You and your buddies check out with a leader, establishing where you will be and how long you will be gone.

The boundaries are explained by leaders on the first day of the program, and usually encompass our immediate neighborhood and the nearby places we know well. Our leaders need to know where everyone is for your safety and for maintaining the flow of the program. Participants will be with leaders during non-daylight hours unless there is a special case such as a dinner with a local family.

Getting Enough Sleep
VISIONS programs are demanding. We start early, work hard, and explore with passion. To keep everyone healthy and energized, we establish a set “lights out” time. Participants are welcome to use a headlamp to read after lights out, but we suspect that you will welcome sleep. There are occasional exceptions to the bedtime, including staying up for a community social event.

Appropriate Language
Participants are expected to speak to each other and leaders respectfully and avoid inappropriate language. If a participant needs repeated reminders about respectful communication, it will be grounds for a Behavior Contract and/or reduced service hours.

Work Ethic
We know that most of our participants haven’t done the amount of physical labor they will be doing while on a VISIONS program. We respect the decision to be part of an ambitious service trip and we expect that participants will uphold their commitment to the service work at hand. Not everyone will have the same capabilities or endurance, but we look forward to seeing each person push themselves at the worksites and contribute in ways that will make them proud, reflect well on VISIONS with our host communities, and get the job done.

Please feel free to review the Enrollment Contact that each primary parent/guardian signs upon registering for a VISIONS program.

Health

Since VISIONS cannot provide medical advice regarding international travel or vaccinations, we recommend consulting with your family physician or a travel doctor, keeping in mind that some vaccines require a series of shots that take place over several weeks.

We also suggest that you review the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website for the Dominican Republic. A travel doctor may wish to know the areas that will be visited while in the DR. In addition to Cotui, we go to Samana province (on the 19-day and longer programs), take a half-day excursion to San Francisco de Macoris (Duarte province), and Juan Dolio (San Pedro de Macoris province) for a day / night at the end of the program. There is a hospital in Cotui and more serious medical situations also may be treated in the capital, Santo Domingo.

To learn more about health and risk management on VISIONS programs, refer to this FAQ link.

BEING IN TOUCH

Program Updates

While VISIONS leaders do not post constant updates from the field (their primary job being to be fully present with the program and kids), we do post a few photos and short updates every week to the VISIONS Facebook and Instagram pages, which we invite you to follow. Participants and leaders also post journal entries to the VISIONS blog and families are notified when new entries are published.

Communication

Kids make a quick call home upon being met by a VISIONS leader at the program airport. (For international sites, we encourage kids and parents to download WhatsApp on your phones before the program.) After that, participants’ phones are collected for the duration of the program and families are encouraged to follow program updates through our social media and blog pages.

Parents are called if a participant is taken to a clinic or if another situation deems calling home. For urgent matters and questions during the summers, parents may of coursecall the VISIONS office. During off-hours, a 24-hour number is provided on the office message system.

Mailing Address

We don’t receive mail on the program. If you need to send something to your child, please contact the VISIONS office.

Recommended Resources

Black in Latin America: Haiti & the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

  • “In the Dominican Republic, Professor Gates explores how race has been socially constructed in a society whose people reflect centuries of inter-marriage, and how the country’s troubled history with Haiti informs notions about racial classification. In Haiti, Professor Gates tells the story of the birth of the first-ever black republic, and finds out how the slaves’s hard fight for liberation over Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Empire became a double-edged sword.”
  • This hour-long documentary is a part of a four-part series that examines the descendants of Africans in Latin countries. Partnered with PBS, Professor Gates dives into the dynamic between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, through race and class.

In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez

  • “It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leónidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas–the Butterflies. In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters–Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé–speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from secret crushes to gunrunning, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human costs of political oppression.”
  • Historical fiction that follows the real lives of the four Mirabal sisters. This is an interesting insight into the three decade long rule of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the Domincan Republic.

The Dominican Republic: A National History, by Frank Moya Pons

  • “Moya Pons latest book is based on his well-known Manual de historia dominicana (1992), now in its tenth edition and considered a basic text in Dominican historiography. But his new book is more than a simple translation of the old classic; it is a revised and expanded edition, with new sections, detailed historical maps, and a comprehensive bibliographic essay. The book follows two parallel historical tracks. On the one hand, it is divided into thematic chapters that examine the distinct political periods in the country’s history, such as the Spanish, French, Haitian, and U.S. occupations and the several periods of self-rule. On the other hand, it pursues a socioeconomic history by establishing links, when pertinent, between socioeconomic conditions and political developments. Another notable feature of the book is that it examines contemporary events up to 1990. This remains the standard Dominican history textbook, in both English and Spanish. The general reader will find in this book an agreeable, clearly written history of the Dominican Republic, while the experienced scholar will find an indispensable reference.”
  • Wonderful overall history of the country. Great way to get introduced to all large historical events.

Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians and the Struggle for Hispaniola, by Michele Wacker

  • “Like two roosters in a fighting arena, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are encircled by barriers of geography and poverty. They co-inhabit the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, but their histories are as deeply divided as their cultures: one French-speaking and black, one Spanish-speaking and mulatto. Yet, despite their antagonism, the two countries share a national symbol in the rooster–and a fundamental activity and favorite sport in the cockfight. In this book, Michele Wucker asks: “If the symbols that dominate a culture accurately express a nation’s character, what kind of a country draws so heavily on images of cockfighting and roosters, birds bred to be aggressive? What does it mean when not one but two countries that are neighbors choose these symbols? Why do the cocks fight, and why do humans watch and glorify them?”
  • For those who want to take a deeper dive into the history of the D.R. and Haiti, this book is a good read.

Packing

PACKING REQUIREMENTS

VISIONS places a high value on respect of the community members who welcome us year after year. We are not tourists. We are temporary community members, and as such strive to honor the standards of our host community. We all need to be conscious of adapting rather than imposing our usual day-to-day conduct or dress on the places we visit. The community where we live and work will want to welcome you as a friend and we do not want to alienate local contacts, who often include elders and community leaders who are accustomed to conservative apparel.

In addition to the cultural considerations, conservative dress protects you from the sun, heat and mosquito bites. Long-sleeved gauzy fabric is breathable and cool, and the body adjusts to protective clothing. You’ll be more comfortable if less of your skin is exposed. We understand that you may need to purchase some new or new-thrift items in order to adhere to the dress code, and we appreciate your understanding with this. Check out our blog about gear for suggestions, and also search for “work shorts” to find appropriate shorts for a VISIONS program.

  • Articles of clothing NOT permitted on VISIONS programs:
    • Short-shorts or short skirts. All shorts—for boys and girls—must be at least mid thigh. Students who arrive with shorts or skirts shorter will not be allowed to wear them, and will need to wear pants or go shopping on-site when time allows.
    • Crop tops (shirts need to be long enough to cover midriff)
    • Spaghetti straps
    • Low cut shirts (no deep v-necks, loose-hanging, wide cut necklines)
    • Clothing that reveals undergarments
    • See-through clothing
    • Spandex or yoga pants (under clothing such as shorts is permitted)
    • Bikinis
    • Low riding pants that show boxers

Gadgets

  • VISIONS is a cell phone / tech-free program, but [non-phone] cameras are allowed. If you choose not to bring one, leaders will be taking photos throughout the program and we will share the photos with everyone at the end of the program.
  • Cell phones, music devices, e-readers and any other gadgets will be collected on the first day and will be returned on the final day. We make every effort to safely secure electronic devices, but VISIONS is not responsible for lost or stolen items.

Spending Money
Tuition covers almost everything during the program, but participants should bring some extra money (around $30-50 per week) for personal items such as souvenirs, snacks, and baggage fees. VISIONS leaders encourage participants to turn in cash at the beginning of the program and check the money out as needed.

  • ATM/Debit Card: VISIONS strongly recommends bringing an ATM/debit card, as they can be used to withdraw local currency at ATM machines. They are also more secure than carrying excessive cash and can be held in a parent's name since ATM machines do not require identification.
  • Credit Cards: We recommend bringing a credit card for things like baggage fees and other expenses where cards are accepted. Since many small shops will not accept credit cards, however, you will still need a means for cash.
  • Cash: Do not bring more than $150 cash—VISIONS can lock up cash in a secure area, but we don't want to accept more than $150 per person. You can rely on the ATM card for additional money needs.
  • Prepaid Debit Cards: These cards often do not work well in small local shops, so do not plan on this as a primary payment option, especially if traveling outside the U.S.

Medications

  • We suggest putting prescriptions into pill boxes that have enough days to cover the entire program. Also bring the original prescription containers, clearly labeled. Customs / airport security sometimes checks medications.
  • Bring medications in your carry-on so you will have access to them if your luggage is delayed or lost.
Packing List

Please download and print the following packing list:

Link to Dominican Republic Packing List (Printable PDF)

Passport / ID / Visas

U.S. citizens must have a passport that is valid up through the date of their re-entry to the U.S. Many countries are starting to require that passports are valid for at least six months following the return date, but this is not yet the case with the D.R.

If you need a new passport, don’t delay! Processing for youth can take longer than adults, and you should pay for expedited processing if the trip date is less than two months away. U.S. citizens can hire a processing company (www.passportvisaexpress as an example), or do it yourself through the State Department (link here).

Passport Notes:

  • In addition to taking your passport to the program, please take a photocopy of the 2-page spread that includes your picture. Our leaders collect passports and photocopies for safekeeping during the program.
  • We also recommend that you leave a photocopy or digital image of your passport at home.
  • Participants who are not U.S. citizens must consult with the appropriate embassy or consulate regarding entry requirements. Please contact the VISIONS office if you need a letter confirming program participation.

Travel

Booking Flights
  • The VISIONS designated travel agent is Aileen Setiawan at Discover Travel, 215.925.6174 or aileen@discovertravelinc.com
  • VISIONS strongly recommends that flights are booked with Aileen since she has the arrival and departure parameters as well as an overview of all participants’ itineraries in order to facilitate travel days. It is not guaranteed that there will be more than one participant on every flight, but participants booking flights through Aileen will be placed on the same travel itineraries whenever possible.
  • If families choose not to book with Aileen, the itinerary must be submitted to VISIONS for approval prior to booking. Neither VISIONS nor our travel agent will be able to assist with travel issues associated with flights booked through an alternative option.
  • In cases of flight delays or changed flight dates, Aileen is a resource, but there will also be instances when parents may need to call an airline to assist.
  • Unaccompanied Minor (UM) Service is required by some airlines for minors who are not traveling with an adult. Aileen will inform you of the requirements, and please also check the regulations of your carrier. UM assistance is arranged directly with the airline, but you will need to share the details with VISIONS so we can pass it along to program leaders. If you are not booking with Aileen and are booking directly with the airline using miles, the airline might not advise you of the UM requirement, which can cause last minute issues at the airport. It is each family’s responsibility to take care of UM requirements well in advance of travel day.
Trip Insurance
If you wish to purchase Trip Cancellation Insurance, please read more here.
Travel Days
  1. PRINT THIS PAGE
  2. REVIEW IT BEFORE THE TRIP
  3. PARTICIPANT CARRIES A PHYSICAL COPY WHILE TRAVELING (& CAN SAVE TO PHONE)

Pre-departure Checklist

  • Keep your passport or other ID safe & accessible
  • Have your money / debit card safe & accessible
  • Carry your cell phone and charger in your carry-on (rather than packing in checked bags)
  • Download WhatsApp (participants & parents)
  • Put your home address (not program address) on your luggage tags
  • Wear your VISIONS t-shirt on flight day if you can
  • Carry an optional Parental Consent to Travel form (not mandatory)
  • VISIONS does not put kids in touch with each other who have the same connecting flights en route to the program. Please just go directly to your connecting gate—there may be other teens wearing VISIONS t-shirts!

Airport Arrival / Customs Instructions

  1. If you have a connection, go directly to the gate of the next flight, even if it’s a long connection. Check the flight screens for the gate number; ask for help from airport personnel as needed.
  2. Once in Santo Domingo, you will walk with everyone else from your flight through Immigration, where you will have your passport stamped and may be asked some questions.
  3. Provide the following info on your Customs form:
    • Primary purpose of the trip is “tourism,” since this is not for a job
    • The address you’ll be staying at is:
      • Province – Sanchez Ramirez
      • Municipality – Select Option: Cotui
      • Section – El Club
      • Street and Number – Calle 8 Casa 91
  4. Next you will collect your luggage and go through Customs.
  5. You will then exit the secure area where your VISIONS leaders will be waiting for you. Do not leave the airport until you’re with your leaders.
    • Note: there are often a lot of people meeting friends and family here, so it’s important that you actively look for your leaders.
  6. Leaders will be holding obvious orange umbrellas and wearing VISIONS t-shirts!
  7. Once with leaders, participants make a quick “arrival call home.” Note: This call may occur upwards of 2 hrs after the flight lands due to the time it takes to get through Customs, and we sometimes collect bags before making the calls. Kids do not make another call once they reach our homebase since they are now with leaders.

Airport Issues Help

The VISIONS office is available 24/7 while participants are traveling at +1 (406) 551-4423.

  1. If there are any flight delays that will affect a participant’s arrival time (to the program), participants should contact the VISIONS office immediately.
  2. If bags are lost, leaders will do their best to handle it on the spot and will be in touch with parents if assistance is needed.
  3. If you cannot find leaders in the airport:
    • Remain inside the airport
    • Do not leave the secure pickup area
    • Actively look for leaders holding an orange umbrella and/or wearing VISIONS shirts
    • If after 10 minutes you have not found a leader, call the VISIONS office from a Customer Service desk or your own cell phone (service providers allow temporary phone service activation if needed.