The interesting thing about studying abroad is that, as a student, you never know what to expect. Before departing from Connecticut to the Turks & Caicos Islands, I was anxious and nervous about my first “real” time away from home. There were internal high hopes for my education and field experience and external pressures from others to make the most of my opportunity given.
Upon arrival, we were immediately immersed in field work with wonderful staff from all different walks of life. Our first excursion was to Moxy Bush, a five minute boat ride from the Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) to the mangroves. While there we had our first interaction with an environment significantly more diverse than where any one of the 26 of us is from. Following this snorkel, we spent just over a week learning 78 scientific field IDs for local marine organisms, while having various snorkel outings to witness the organisms in nature. Let me tell you, there are few more incredible moments than learning about a fish in the classroom and seeing the same fish in its natural habitat and yelling through your snorkel, “Lutjanus apodus!”
Following the study-induced stress of the ID quizzes, we were able to travel around the Marine Protected Area (MPA) surrounding South Caicos and complete a conch assessment in small groups. This entailed snorkeling around a particular site within and just outside of the MPA, counting the amount of conch (Strombus gigas) in the site. We were taught how to properly conduct an experiment laying transects, working in a team of individuals to determine the type of habitat we were studying, and count conch within three 3-meter wide, 25-meter long areas of seafloor. These exercises truly helped to prepare me for my future in marine sciences.
22 days, 16 snorkels, 3 dives, abundant time studying, and countless laughs later: I feel like a successful student, seasoned snorkeler, almost certified Open Water diver, good friend to my 26 new friends, and committed member to my SFS experience. The program isn’t finished yet and we still have many fun things planned for our last 8 days!