By: Sammie Trvalik

Costa Rica
Posted: December 18, 2019
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Student Post

Looking Back on SFS Turks and Caicos

Turks and Caicos Islands

As the Fall 2019 semester comes to a close, we asked some of our students to reflect on their experience abroad. Here’s what Kimmie Dyrvik and Cailyn Joseph had to say about SFS Turks and Caicos:

What’s the first story you’re going to tell your friends and family?
Our field trip through North and Middle Caicos started with an early wake-up in a community center, where all 34 of us slept on a rather cold, tile floor. Everyone, in perfect SFS fashion, could not have been bothered less by the lack of comfortable sleeping arrangements, as everyone was purely excited for the day ahead. We represented the character of our program perfectly: Chacos cinched, sunscreen sprayed, teeth brushed, and not a shower in sight. We hopped on our school bus and started our trip towards Mudjin Harbor, a spot labeled as one of the most beautiful places in the world. We got about twenty minutes in before our bus decided it would go no farther. Most people would have taken this as a chance to complain, get upset, and overall dampen the mood. However, every student in our class took the opportunity to sing songs, make jokes, and embrace the sweaty situation we were stuck in. After a few minutes of sweating, singing, and laughing, a new bus came to replace the old feller, and we were on our way to Mudjin Harbor. The reaction of our class as a whole upon arrival to this place speaks volumes, as each of us walked with our mouths wide open towards an entirely sublime view. Our backyard is a landscape of the ocean, but somehow the view of Mudjin Harbor stunned each and every one of us. The untouched beauty of this place, hidden between skyscraper cliffs, took each of our breaths away. It made every discomfort from the trip completely melt in a matter of seconds. Swimming in crystal clear waters, with views of the land as far as we could see, was an experience that none of us will ever forget.

Expectations vs reality: What were you surprised by?
We knew it was going to be serious business coming to SFS TCI. We were all mentally prepared to work hard and learn a lot, without having the familiar comforts of home. Every day posed a new challenge for us, whether it be with schoolwork or with life, but we were all surprised at how much fun we were having, even with the lack of freshwater showers and wifi. Things such as schoolwork, dishwashing, and seawater baths turned ordinary moments into memories. Outdoor shower party? Yes, please. And if one of us was having a bad day, we knew we had at least one other person that could relate to us, which was always very comforting. We were in this together! The relationships formed with not only our classmates, but our staff and professors were stronger than we could have imagined and made every obstacle, job, and adventure that much better since we had our people next to us – always. We all came here strangers and are leaving with friendships that will last a lifetime, which is the best surprise any of us could have asked for.

How has your perspective of the country changed over the course of the semester?
When we first arrived on South, we were all excited to explore the new culture that Turks and Caicos offers. We were told that the people we would encounter here are some of the nicest. During our first couple days getting to know the island, we quickly realized that this was true. While arriving to a new place can be exciting, it can also be a little scary. Because of this, we were all surprised at how quickly we felt at home. We were welcomed with big smiles and “Welcome to South Caicos” from people in town. The local children were excited to meet us, shouting “Hi School for Fields!!” as they ran to give us hugs. After the original honeymoon phase of arriving at a new place, we were able to settle down and make real connections with the local community that ended up being one of the most special parts of our time here. One thing we started to realize was that we shared a lot of the same values. Many of us came here environmentally conscious, with hopes of helping the ecosystems of Turks and Caicos. But the experiences shared with us in the South Caicos community showed us that this was much more than caring about our oceans, but also about how the oceans are a large part of the Turks and Caicos culture. This made us appreciate these beautiful ecosystems that much more, as the passion that the Turks and Caicos culture has for them makes the community that much stronger.

What unexpected challenge did you face, were you able to overcome it, and what did you learn from that experience?
Coming from a liberal arts background, I knew that I was going into a program with knowledge a bit over my head. I didn’t know, however, that I would learn an entirely new type of education. The curriculum of SFS CMRS is demanding, rewarding, and extremely detail-oriented, all at the same time. I found myself waking up each day to new topics and ways of learning that I had yet to be exposed to. This was incredibly challenging at first, as I couldn’t help but wish for the comforts of a book-oriented, discussion based college classroom. However, the professors at this center are proficient in their teaching, and the ability to ask them questions at any time of the day changed the way that I was able to learn. Statistical programs such as JMP and Rstudio, of which I didn’t know existed before the program began, now only give me slight fear. I learned that asking for help is a crucial part of education, and that there is no such thing as impossible knowledge. Science is all about learning, and the learning curve in a place like SFS CMRS shows the possibility of success as long as you are willing to learn. – Kimmie Dyrvik

How have aspects of your identity influenced your experience studying with SFS? Did any of those surprise you? Has your experience with SFS influenced your identity?
I came to this program with a passion for the environment, and though I didn’t have a huge amount of education within environmental science I knew that I wanted to experience a program with those who cared about our planet as much as I did. The environment has always taken up a significant part of my identity, which matched very well with the kinds of people in this program and the way the curriculum was organized. However, one of my identities that I was very surprised came into play was my love for children, and how I am generally very people-oriented. Outreach was a huge part of my overall SFS CMRS experience, and I could never have expected to be leaving this island with the amount of connections that I do between children and adults of the island. Participating in arts and crafts each Wednesday quickly became a tradition, and I realized that my background in elementary education and overall service with young children helped me connect with many of the kids here. I was an elementary education major before coming to this program, and I could never have expected to be so involved with the children and the school as I was. It goes to show that no matter how far from the ‘classic science’ major, as long as you have a passion for the environment and a drive to learn you will be able to succeed. SFS has made me a much more confident individual, and when I leave this program I am going to take this confidence and hopefully be able to use my experiences in more environmental advocacy programs. Additionally, I think SFS has made me more introspective, and has allowed me to take time to really think about what I care about and how I want to spend my future. Thinking about these broad topics is scary, and I’m lucky to have an incredible group of people here with me that are willing to have serious conversations about topics like the future. Overall, I think that SFS has allowed me to strengthen my belief in myself, as well as helped me to grow my passion for the environment

What are you most excited about doing when you get back home, and what will you miss about SFS?
The structure of this program, between classes, homework, group work, field excursions, and meetings creates very little free time throughout the semester. Home offers a chance to sit back and decompress from the constant engagement of the coursework at CMRS. However, this structure doesn’t come without its benefits, as it keeps everyone learning, communicating, and experiencing in a way that a more free-flowing program would not have. The constant opportunity for camaraderie and continuous excitement of living in a place such as CMRS cannot be matched anywhere else. The late night movie nights, friendship bracelet exchanges, spontaneous dance parties, and general passion of the community here has bonded us together in a very special way. Having your 26 best friends only a walk away creates friendships of a new level of connection, and I couldn’t have imagined how close I would become to each student and faculty here. As much as the couch in my living room beckons for me, I wouldn’t trade the workload here for the world.

What piece of advice would you share with a future SFS student coming to your program?
We thought it was best to list out some of the wise words of our fellow classmates, on their reflections of the time spent living on the island.

1. Allow yourself to be wrong. The classwork, as well as the people you live with, challenge you in a way that you most likely haven’t been challenged before. Being out of your comfort zone means that you won’t have all the answers, which can be pretty scary to know coming in. Keep yourself calm with the knowledge that everyone is in the same situation, and there is a reason for everything you experience. Mistakes are bound to happen, and it is how you move forward from these mistakes that builds internal character.

2. Find something in each person to connect with. The group of classmates that you live with will be your closest friends, and it will make the experience a million times more worthy if you are able to create relationships with each individual. Every person who chooses to come on an SFS program does it for similar reasons, which creates an immediate similarity between you and each person on your program. Take the time to get to know each person, as they can offer a completely new perspective on life that you may not have thought about before.

3. Be present. This is probably the most relevant lesson we’ve learned, and it is a lesson we are reminded of every single day as we watch the sun set. Being able to live each day just as a day, and not count down the days to the end of the program or wish that we were back at the beginning, is one of the hardest but most worthy lessons learned.

4. Be more pirate. Our professor Fran lives and breathes this saying, and in more ways than one has taught all of us to, indeed, be more pirate. Whether it means taking charge of a situation, or making sure that you are living a life you are proud of, she has taught us to take life by the horns and experience it to the fullest. Taking initiatives for your life is easy to say, and hard to do, and it is the little choices we make every day that help to structure our future success.

5. Start the conversation. Being in a situation with no familiar faces can be scary, but a simple conversation starter can lead to unexpected and memorable connections. You might be surprised where it can take you!

What three adjectives best describe how you are feeling right now?
Accomplished, nostalgic, appreciative

→ Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands

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