As the Spring 2019 SFS students begin to settle into their new homes around the world, we asked them to share their impressions of the experience so far. Lina Berón Echavarría had this to say about SFS Turks & Caicos:
Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
As a liberal arts student pursuing an Environmental Studies major and two minors of a completely different nature, I enjoy the privilege of using a diversity of disciplines, scopes, and case studies during my learning process, acquiring a bird’s-eye view of the world, its issues, and processes. I chose to study abroad with SFS because I wanted a holistic approach to learning while narrowing down the scale at which I study our environment. I want to look at environmental issues and problem-solving from a localized perspective, diving into a single academic field and geographic region by learning, living, and interacting closely with a small community. I wanted to distance from the bird’s-eye view and examine the world within the boundaries of a Queen Conch.
This past week and a half, I’ve been able to delve into the study of the deep wide blue ocean through personal field-work experiences in its shallow banks, I have tested and improved leadership and communication skills, and I have learned about the Caribbean Sea, its marine life, and various stakeholders.
What are your first impressions of the country?
Before arriving to the Turks and Caicos Islands, I thought the archipelago would be completely overwhelmed by big resorts and frenzied tourists, something that inadvertently bugged me. However, as the belly of my plane started descending towards Providenciales Airport, and I could see a million shades of blue and yellow flashing and twirling within the frame of my tiny window, it became clear to me why anyone would want to set foot in such a prepossessing painting. My first impression of the TCI coincides with that of many other tourists: the archipelago’s natural world – land, sea, and their convergence – is strikingly beautiful.
When I first arrived to the island of South Caicos, I felt despondent. Driving from the airport to the Center of Marine Resource Studies (CMRS), we could see many shattered houses and buildings, all vestiges of Irma and Maria – the two hurricanes that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean in 2017. It was the middle of the day; Cockburn felt desolate. This feeling carried on until later in the day when we went out for a tour of the town. Residents started popping out from their doors and windows with welcoming smiles, and kids swarm from all directions ready for games and introductions. The energy of the town changed completely, and I could see vigor and resilience everywhere. I was able to cement and ground these feelings into place when the District Commissioner of South Caicos came to speak to us. She was asked about the delays in the town’s re-construction. She lifted her sight courageously and replied: “Take it as personal damage: what if you were to suffer injuries in 99% of your body? How would you respond?” I don’t think I would have been able to respond, but the people of South Caicos did and do. They seem to approach their everyday with contagious vivacity, fervent optimism, and a level of amiability that would drive any potential tourist to their sandy shores.
What are your first impressions of the field station?
My first impression of the Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) was: “Oh my, the sea!” The dorms, the dining room, the common area, the salt-water showers, and the pool: they all face the ocean and enjoy the best sunsets in town. CMRS is a lively venue where one can learn, convene, rest, and share multiple experiences, talents, and personalities. Once the main dock for South Caicos’ salt industry and later the island’s first hotel, CMRS bears little secrets and fragments of TCI’s complex history. The Center’s painted murals, colorful flags, and plentiful books and games are evidence the building has served as a transformative home for innumerable people. The property, which was struck hard by the two big hurricanes of 2017, now emanates a strength of character similar to that of its staff, who all care for it fondly, ensuring we live in a safe and sustainable manner.
Photo courtesy of John DeBuysser
What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester, both academically and culturally?
My biggest academic challenge this semester will be remaining fully mindful of the fact that any of the theories and approaches I have learned and will learn over the course of the semester will have to be examined and applied in the particular context of South Caicos. Additionally, being used to the daily routine of jumping from classes in the departments of natural and social sciences, as well as Chinese, and Studio Art, it will take some time for me to get used to an intensive schedule comprised of three main courses that play together in a rather symphonic manner.
SFS students and staff cover almost 10% of South Caicos’ total population. I want to explore the place and be an active community member, but I do not want to infringe on the space and comfort of the local community. My biggest cultural challenge this semester will be finding a positive balance between being a tourist and attempting to belong. By no means would I like to embrace the defective view from the veranda.
What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
I am thrilled to learn about a specific topic or marine creature in the class setting and then attempt to spot or grasp the matter in the deep blue. I am excited to encounter unknown critters, marine cycles, or processes on a dive or snorkel and then take my questions to our classroom. I am excited to participate in directed research, learning from a network of qualified scientists and scholars, and ensuring our time in the field, methods, and findings are not only practical but also sustainable. Finally, I am excited to stay in South Caicos and learn extensively about this particular locality before bursting the bubble and traveling to East, Middle, and North Caicos, enriching my knowledge and understanding of Turks and Caicos.
Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Stimulated, Engaged, Receptive
Photo courtesy of Marc Todd