Ogando Family My Dominican Family

Above left: RUSM students Antonia Nwankwo (left) and Samantha Boustani (right) with Maritza and Jesus Ogando 
 (host family in middle)
Above right: Samantha with her host family’s granddaughter Zoe


i’ve heard people frequently ask why American children leave the house and move away so quickly. I’ve really been reflecting on this lately as I consider a location for residency and decide where I want to spend the next three to five years. I was once one of the “typical” American kids that rushed to be on my own at eighteen. I’m grateful for the independence I’ve gained, but my perspective on the support of family has changed. I now deeply value it. My Dominican family has been amazing. In the house is Mami Marissa, Papi Jesus, and Wellington. Nearby in the next building is our sister Esmeralda, her husband Dandy, and the family’s first grandchild, their daughter Zoe. I see Esme and Zoe every day. Mami looks after Princess Zoe before and after school until Esme gets off work. The system they have built works very well. 

Like any other three-year-old, Zoe definitely wants everything her way. She’s rather entertaining. I play with her often, watching her dolls die and come back to life after a fall from the mountain that is the dining room table. She’s quick to correct my Spanish and bribe me to play with her. Wellington is like any other brother: we see him when it’s time to eat. Jesus works as a school gym teacher and makes sure we have plenty of activities to engage in. He’s taken me on tours, introduced us to his friends, and sat down to carve out some “father-daughter” time with a beer. Just like any other parent, he worries when we are out and stays up until we arrive home, even though he attempts to act like he doesn’t. 

Mami doesn’t speak much English but we have conversations through body language and the bit of Spanish I have picked up along the way. She takes pride in cooking our meals, arranging them just as she would in the restaurant she used to run. Marissa is a fantastic woman who treats me just like her own child. The love she shows every day is so genuine. I love that the house is filled with noise, as it makes me think of memories I’ve shared with my own family. I deeply appreciate the dynamic they share. No matter what everyone is doing, they all come home for lunch and dinner. 

I think we often get so caught up in living that we don’t take the time to enjoy the people we are living with. Our host family took us in like their own. We celebrated Esme’s pregnancy with a gender reveal party attended by friends and family. I was traveling that weekend but I made sure to be there because she is my sister. We have different personalities but it works so well. Our birthdays are even on the same exact day! I wasn’t expecting to be so emotional about leaving. The bond we have built is solid, and the foundation set in stone. This family shows their love for each other in multiple ways and has gone the extra mile to make sure we feel this in every way. The experience with this family has grounded me and reiterated why being together is the center of a strong family. 

Antonia Nwankwo, BS, COA
MS4 Ross University School of Medicine
Class of 2019

© WCHN and UVMLCOM Global Health Program 2019. Editor; Mitra Sadigh, Creative Director; Amanda Wallace