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Tanya of the Mandala Learning Community in Punta Cana featured on Best of Punta Cana. Interview. Tanya in her center.

In BOP faces we talk to local legends: the people of Punta Cana that make this place so special. In this edition: world traveler Tanya. In her Mandala learning community center, people can learn a different language. But don’t expect the common methods. Instead, yoga and art classes are combined with teaching. BOP spoke to Tanya on her love for Punta Cana and creating a community space in town.

 The wooden door on the second floor of the building in Bavaro does not reveal what is hidden behind it. As soon as it opens the smell of incense wraps around you. The space with a high ceiling and a large mural on one of the walls is home to the Mandala Learning Community. “Welcome!” a smiling Tanya Westenberger (31) says. “This mural was designed by Luz.” She points at the drawing, which is a circle with a tree-like form in it. It is symbolic for the meaning of the word Mandala, that means circle in Sanskrit. Luz who is in charge of customer service is also present in the Mandala Learning Community.

“And Liss painted it, you also interviewed her for BOP! Life is a circle.”

Alternative learning

Tanya shows the different classrooms in the Mandala Learning Community. She wears a silver necklace with a silver elephant’s head around her neck, which stands for the Indian God Ganesh. On her finger, a silver ring with the Indian OM symbol sticks out. “I was in India for two months and got my Yoga certification. I gave a Yoga Class today.”

“First, I need to point something thing out. We are not a school. We are a learning community. It is about helping people find their inner spark. I start with finding out why someone wants to learn English and asking when someone has time for attending classes. Then we extend it into something that a person likes. Learning needs to be authentic. We are student driven. If someone wants to draw on a day it is possible. Or listen to music and learn English. It is about ownership of your learning. Own how you feel.”

Most people come here to learn English. Usually, it is for their job in hotels. We also have classes in French, German and Russian. No Spanish, I know it is so strange, people do not ask for it!”

“Of course, I use these too.” Tanya shows a schoolbook for learning English with pictures. “But we also use alternative methods.”

Teaching at the Mandala Learning Community is not something out of the ordinary for Tanya. Before arriving in Punta Cana 3 years ago, she taught at an International School in Bali for four years. Living in Bali was amazing as she describes it herself, but she still wanted to switch things up. “I need a challenge and I don’t want to feel limited.”

“I was born in New Jersey in the United States and moved to North Carolina when I was 17 and obtained my college and Masters degree in Elementary Education and Literacy Language. My thesis was based on teaching in different places all over the world. I had to live up to that. Bali was only the beginning!”

My best friend’s wedding

“When my best friend decided to get married in Punta Cana, I joked and said: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I would live in Punta Cana and help you prepare your wedding from there?’ She does not live in Punta Cana. She thought it was a great idea. So, I checked for a job and find one at the Cap Cana Heritage school in Cap Cana. Punta Cana was always on my list.”

“It was difficult in the beginning. It was so quiet living in Cap Cana and I did not speak any Spanish. After a while, I decided to rent a car to start exploring. I did not care if the costs drained my bank account, but I had to get out there. I needed to live my life! That is when I got to know Bavaro. I fell in love with a musician and spent all my weekends there.

After a year I left the school. I am a leader and I work much better for myself than under someone.”

Drawing things in

“Things started to happen magically. You see, I believe in the law of attraction and connections. I am very spiritual person. When you are on a good vibration you attract good things. People were helping me and became family. They were telling me about empty spaces and were so nice. I never experienced this anywhere else in the world. Not even in the four years that I lived in Bali.”

“I am a very spiritual person. Every morning I meditate, do affirmations and dream. I dream big. Here I also keep a gratitude journal for the center and write down all the things I am grateful for.”

Tanya opened the center together with her friend and business partner Nicolina in a small space two years ago.  Two months ago, she opened her doors in the larger space she is currently in. This place is also meant to be a creative space. “It is a place where my friends can sell their products. I will put some more shelves on the walls to display it. We are already selling Veggie burgers and my friend Ashlee’s sea glass jewelry is also here. We also have summer courses, like sewing. The main courses are always, arts, music, Reiki, and Yoga.”

“I am very proud of some of our students. After the English courses, some got another job and started their own business. The veggie burgers are from former students. Others started a foundation where I am involved in too. It is called P.A.S.T.A. para ayudar siempre temenos amor. This foundation helps a community in Macao. We help them to become self-providing by given them workshops and showing that we believe in them.”

Happy moments

“The happiest moment in Punta Cana was when my dad, mom, and sister came to visit and saw what I had created. I am a foreigner and I managed to build something here. Even when I wake up in a bad mood, you have that sometimes, and I walk out the door it changes. I get marriage proposals and kisses blown in the wind. Everybody is so loving. It makes me feel special and it is comical!” a laughing Tanya says.

Favorite spots

“My favorites spots in Punta Cana? Any beach! I also love the Congo Bar next to Coco Bongo. Wacamole on Wednesdays.  I eat at Ama Luna once a week. I also love Pranama, owner Krishna is a good friend of mine. I am a vegan.  But I also love my front yard. The sunsets from this window are beautiful too!” Tanya points at the window.


“I am okay with letting things unfold naturally. There is no rush. Today we got our printer! Oh and I just took a job to go to the Mount Everest base camp to teach Yoga for 2 weeks! That is so nice of having a business partner. She takes over when I am gone and vice versa. But Punta Cana will always be my home base.”

Want to get in touch with Tanya and the Mandala Learning community. Like them on Instagram and follow them on FaceBook.

photo: Anatoly Kireev