I was sitting at my computer, trying to think of how to turn the past six salty weeks into a decently readable blog post, looking out past low stone walls to the flat and sparkling turquoise Caribbean Sea… and I realized that my time here is halfway over. Which is kind of a sad way to start my first blog post, so I’ll go back to the beginning of this adventure and start there.
I began looking into study abroad programs last fall and, me being me, didn’t want to do any of the obvious things and go to London or Rome or Paris. At first, thanks to Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, I wanted to go to Australia (I already go to school on the other side of the country from home, why not study abroad on the other side of the world?). And then I found a better way to be obnoxiously atypical: I was going to do an intensive field research program, spending three months at a remote field station in a foreign country – as an English major. Several visits with Puget Sound’s helpful International Affairs Office staff, seven months, and lots of expenses later, I found myself getting off a delayed flight in the Charlotte airport with four minutes to change terminals and make my connecting international flight to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), British West Indies, Caribbean.
And now here I am on South Caicos, taking part in the School for Field Studies (SFS) Marine Resource Management program. In the months leading up to my departure, my dad would tell people that when Columbus came across the Atlantic he saw the Turks and Caicos Islands, said “Nah, that doesn’t count as land,” and continued on to Hispaniola. South Caicos, sometimes called The Big South, is a whopping eight square miles with about 1,200 residents. The small airport’s runway is half of the island’s width. There is one doctor here (which is one doctor more than some other islands have), an elementary school and high school, fourteen churches, a store called Tasha’s Ice Cream and Toiletries that sells ice cream for a dollar a scoop, and one functioning hotel that must survive off of SFS students going there for drinks and conch fritters because South is not exactly a tourist destination.
And what have I done with my time in this luxurious tropical paradise? I’ve memorized the scientific names of one hundred and twenty-four marine organisms, gotten Advanced Open Water SCUBA certified, sniffed the glorious fragrance of the Salinas (as well as the magnificent perfume of the fish plants, which overtook the salt industry in 1960), helped local third-graders in their composition class, caught two sharks and zero turtles (in the name of science!), been stung by fire coral, seen the spectacular wall of coral at the nearby seven thousand foot drop-off from lagoon to open ocean, tried conch fritters, been chased by local “potcake” dogs, and taken a grand total of two freshwater showers.
Tomorrow, the SFS students and some faculty will leave South and travel to North Caicos, where we will be camping for two nights – let the record show that bug spray here is $9.25 a bottle and life is hard – before heading to Providenciales, or Provo, and splitting up for our mid-semester break. I’ve been looking forward to this for months. Not because of the break from classes or the new dining opportunities or the tourist attractions. Not for the change of scenery. Not because I set up a home-stay and get to volunteer at a church there – although I am excited about that. Not even for the existence of showers and washing machines. I’ve been looking forward to going to Provo so that I can post it on Facebook, elicit a reply from various friends and acquaintances in Provo, Utah, and then leave them with the triumphant response: “I’M IN THE CARIBBEAN – WRONG PROVO, SUCKERS!”