Students piled into the Memorial Union Building’s (MUB) Entertainment Center on Friday, March 22 to enjoy a Swiss and Dominican snack and to hear junior zoology major Ellen Gonzalez talk about the two very different places she calls home. Many students who came were from Alpha Phi Omega, the fraternity that Gonzalez is part of, as well as other international students who have given previous presentations.
As students walked in they were directed towards a snack and coffee table that had Dominican treats, such as pilones (lollipops), sweet and salty plantain chips, palitos de coco (coconut candy), Alto Dominican Coffee and Swiss treats such as Nestle hot chocolate and Lindt chocolate truffles.
Gonzalez has lived in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for her whole life. She grew up with a Dominican father and a Swiss mother, and she often summered in Switzerland to see her maternal grandparents. Growing up with two different cultures, Gonzalez can speak five languages: Spanish, English, Swiss-German, German and French.
There are two definitions of “island time.” Gonzalez went into how the Dominican Republic defines island time as relaxed and laid back.
“People don’t even wear a watch, and no one is ever on time,” she said.
While growing up in Punta Cana, Gonzalez became close to her classmates and neighbors since the island was so small. Her graduating class was 13 people, including herself, and at the end of the year, the class had a barbecue with their teachers.
“We were like a little family,” Gonzalez said as she pointed to a picture of her graduating class standing in bright blue gowns. As an only child, Gonzalez explained that her friends and her pets became like her siblings.
Gonzalez touched on poverty in the Dominican Republic, and explained that the people who live there are “optimistic and humble.” Growing up in these surroundings made Gonzalez realize she should never take anything for granted and that she is lucky to be where she is.
While Switzerland is not technically an island, Gonzalez explained that “Switzerland likes to do things on their own. They have their own currency, they are not part of the EU, they are neutral.” Instead of creating a relaxing atmosphere, like the Dominican Republic, Switzerland is a place that “cleanses and refreshes the soul.”
“If you’ve ever been to Switzerland then you know it’s the cleanest, most mountainous, most spectacular place you’ve ever seen,” Gonzalez said as she pointed to pictures she took of colorful houses near her grandparents’ home and the Matterhorn.
Unlike the Dominican Republic, Switzerland is a rich country “in every sense of the word.” The Dominican Republic gets most of its income through tourism and its beaches, whereas Switzerland gets most of its tourism through skiing and snowboarding.
“Fun fact, a lot of rich Dominicans go skiing and snowboarding in Switzerland,” Gonzalez said, “and lots of rich Swiss folks that recently retired like to spend their retirement money and re-find love in the Dominican Republic.”
Family gatherings are also very different between the two countries, according to Gonzalez. While Swiss family gatherings are relaxed but short and intimate, Dominican family gatherings can include people who aren’t blood-related and lots of games of dominos that can go late into the night.
Gonzalez went on two explain the dietary differences between the two countries, showing that in the Dominican Republic she eats lots of rice, beans, meat and fruits, including plantains and “real” avocado. In Switzerland, Gonzalez says that her diet consists more of potatoes, sausages, cheese and cream. Given this variety of diets, Gonzalez said that she has “high food standards” but will “try anything once.”
While there are many differences between the Dominican Republic and Switzerland, Gonzalez explained that some things are universal, such as grandmothers feeding you too much. Both of Gonzalez’s grandmothers “cook really well, are very stubborn and whatever they say goes.”
Gonzalez also explains the connection the two countries have with chocolate. Cacao beans are grown in the Dominican Republic and then exported to Switzerland to go into Swiss chocolates.
“When people ask me who I am, I just say I’m Swiss-Dominican,” Gonzalez said as she ended her lecture, “But we’ll figure it out; I still don’t know who I am, and you guys probably don’t either.”
“I never would have thought about these connections between the DR and Switzerland,” junior zoology major Emily Dunlop said. “I love how she talked about being in America and how that is another factor into her Swiss-Dominican identity.”
“I learned so much about the Dominican Republic and Switzerland,” said Amy Flaherty, another junior zoology major, “and I think Ellen gave an amazing presentation.”
The next Cultural Connections will be on Indian Etiquette and Hospitality with Vatsal Kheni on Friday, March 29 at 3:30 p.m. in the Entertainment Center.