Ashley Wilson ’08 writes about her semester studying in Trinidad and Tobago
Ashley Wilson ’08 (New York, N.Y.) is a Posse Scholar and is majoring in psychology. She serves as a head resident and will be completing an honors thesis this fall under the guidance of Andrew Vinchur, associate professor and head of psychology. She spent her spring semester studying abroad in Trinidad and Tobago. The following is a first-person account of her experiences.
We arrived in Trinidad on Jan. 3, and on Jan. 5, our group of 16 was sent to different neighborhoods for home stays. I stayed in Lange Park, Chaguanas, with a married couple. Although my home stay was only for three days, I learned so much. Having it so early in the program really allowed me to submerge myself into the culture right away.
I remember going to church on Sunday with my home stay family with the mindset that I would be just another visitor in the congregation. But that wasn’t the case. Instead I sang with the choir. That example simply describes my whole experience� always being an active participant.
On Jan. 8, we flew to Charlottesville, Tobago, where we stayed at Man O’ War Bay cottages for a week. While we were there, we surveyed local people about various topics, such as literacy, education, health, popular culture, and work life. We also had time to visit the Tobago Main Ridge Rainforest reserve, the Little Tobago Nature and Bird Sanctuary, the Buccoo Reef, and cocoa estates during our stay. For the duration of the program, we resided in the Caribbean Lodge along with students from Trinidad, St. Lucia, and Dominica.
Trinidad is a very festive island, one full of celebrations. Though life is not always perfect and the people may face hardships, Trinidadians always find a reason to celebrate the positive. I believe this is a great way to deal with life, just find the good in all things and make the best of every situation.
Trinidad is also the epitome of diversity. The influence of two colonizations and multiple influxes of migrants are evident in everyday life. Fusions between Africans, East Indians, Spanish, French, English, Chinese, and Lebanese can be seen in varying aspects of their culture, from music to cuisine. I was once told, “When a seed falls on different soil, it gets a different taste.” Being in Trinidad helped me to see why this statement is so true. Trinidad has provided a platform for its diverse population to express their cultural heritage. Over the years, descendents from other countries have planted seeds of their culture in Trinidad. But although these seeds have been cultivated under a different sun, the essence of their heritage remains the same; only the flavor has changed.
The Trinidadians I encountered were well informed about international issues. But above all, they were very cordial. Anywhere I went I was greeted. They always made me feel welcome and tried their best to make sure that I was comfortable.
To me, Trinidadians are some of the most ingenious people. They know how to best use the resources they have to make whatever they need. Their crafts were amazing. They could make purses out of calabash, clocks out of shells and leaves, and earrings out of fish bones. I was always eager to support their creative expressions.
During the month of January, I took Mathematical Modeling of Culture and Society, a course led by a Pacific Lutheran University faculty member. In this course we examined Trinidad’s culture using mathematical processes and made predications for future occurrences.
From February through mid-May I took a core course, “Caribbean Culture and Society.” This course consisted of lectures from government officials, musicians, performers, and renowned authors, such as Earl Lovelace who wrote The Dragon Can’t Dance. In addition to these lectures, we went on trips to historical monuments, religious places of worship, concerts, dance performances, mas camps and pan yards. As a final project for the course, we were required to write a final paper and do a dramatic presentation on something we learned. I did my project on East Indian Food Culture.
I also took two courses at the University of the West Indies. One was an art course, Mas: History, Meaning and Development, which explored the history and development of the Trinidad Carnival. The second was a psychology course, Motivation and Emotions.
The program’s structure incorporated a service-learning experience. For my service learning, I volunteered at Aranguez Government Secondary School in the home economics department. I spent most of my time working with students to prepare murals and displays for the administrative office as well as working with the teachers to prepare traditional Trinidadian meals. Nevertheless, I was a mentor to the students who were 13 to16 years old.
Growing up in New York City, I was used to a considerately fast-paced lifestyle, but the pace in Trinidad was much slower. Everyone appeared to be more relaxed and I noticed that they seemed to be less anxious. From this experience, I learned to be more patient.
After graduation, I plan to pursue a career in Human Resources Management and later continue my studies in industrial organizational psychology. However, this experience has excited my interest in international affairs so I may pursue projects abroad if the opportunity presents itself.
Studying abroad in Trinidad for a semester was the best experience of my life, but the highlight, I must say, was being able to experience and participate in the Carnival season. Overall, the island was beautiful and rich in culture. It was definitely a Caribbean paradise. During my experience, I seldom felt like there was nothing to do. Living on an island about the size of Rhode Island, I didn’t expect after four months there would still be places I hadn’t visited or activities I wanted to get involved with, but there definitely were.