In Summer 2018, I studied abroad in South Caicos of the Turks and Caicos Islands with the School for Field Studies from June 4th-July 4th. I took a 4 credit class titled “Tropical Marine Ecosystems: Monitoring and Management”.
Imagine this: Within a matter of seconds, the world muted as I became engulfed by an infinite blue that extended into forever. The only sound is my muffled inhales and exhales through my snorkel. When I looked down, I witnessed a whole universe of complexity and marvel occuring in the coral reefs through my goggles. The ecosystem was a tropical rainbow of vibrancy and life. Schools of yellow and white fish zoomed by while pastel parrotfish nipped away at the algal layer on the coral’s surface. Groupers circled while barracuda stalked. I didn’t know that fish could be so illuminescent; I didn’t know water could be so blue or so clear. This wasn’t virtual reality, a movie, or on my phone. This was real life. To see a part of the world so untouched by cruel politics and separated from human negativity screamed to me that this was what I wanted to work with for the rest of my life.
My experience studying in Turks and Caicos is more remarkable than any combination of words I could ever phrase together. This trip was my first taste of international adventure, making it monumental in my transition into adult independence and an individual and as a science professional. In Turks and Caicos, I was struck by the awe of the natural ocean in a new and beautiful way that I will be learning from for the rest of my life. Every morning, I woke up to the island’s clear and shimmering waters, which was my invitation and motivation to explore it every single day. I saw the coral reef ecosystem that I previously romanticised in my imagination for the very first time, and I was speechless in its presence and sophisticated beauty. I lived and bonded with students from all around the United States who were just as passionate and in love with the ocean as me. They opened my eyes with their individual philosophies and stories, which grounded me emotionally throughout such a rigorous and challenging program. I witnessed a culture free from some of the pressures of my own culture. The Belongers lived simply and unbound to time. I embraced the natural island lifestyle and will carry parts of it in my daily life in the United States.
The most astounding aspect of my trip was interacting with the beautiful tropical environment that surrounded us every day. From the moment I opened my bedroom door, I was blown away by the bright blue ocean that I woke up to. Every evening, I was in awe of the radiantly gushing sunsets. In every moment in between, there was always something beautiful: schools of fish, coral, small islands, and more. As a student who is wanting to entire a marine science field, this was the most amazing study abroad program I could of ever imagine going on. The exposure to such unbelievable nature fueled the fire in me to advocate for the ocean and to learn more about Turks and Caicos and the role it plays on the aquatic ecosystems. This program changed my academic career and personal life for the better. I am truly a more worldly person, and I am able to apply my new perspectives into my environmental science courses. I am connecting to the contents of my classes more because I have personally seen and had experience with many of the topics covered in class. I believe that this SFS program has prepared me for the undergraduate research I am perusing and it has made me a competitive student in my department. I feel confident in my career path because of how SFS has allowed me to interact with the marine ecosystems found in Turks and Caicos. I am so grateful for finding this program, and I am excited for future students to have some of the same realizations and benefits that I have had.