I chose to study abroad on the island of San Salvador, Bahamas. It was a truly amazing experience for a number of reasons. I gained experience doing environmental research — data collection and analysis — which was a big part of my motivation for going. As an Environmental Science major, this was good because it confirmed for me that field work is something I’d be happy doing during/after school.
The island of San Salvador, only twelve miles long, is home to just over a thousand residents. They have a few hundred children and a couple hundred elderly folk, both of whom are excluded from the working populace; of the working people, there is an average employment rate of around 200% — most people have at least two jobs. San Salvador has no mechanic, no plumber, and no way around fixing/maintaining your own property. There was a very high level of independence, but there was also a lot of interdependence, and a lot of community. Everyone I talked to was friendly and I could tell that we mutually wished only the best for each other, and for everyone else on the island. It was really refreshing to be in such a community-oriented society, and one isolated, largely, from the evils that plague our world.
San Salvador has one murder in its history (excluding Columbus’s conquest), and it was committed by a man from another island. There is no murder, and even less rape. There is no talk of carrying guns around in public. Their government is working to protect the native species and natural beauty of the Bahamas. In a lot of ways, it was hard to come back to America, and that’s one of the main reasons I’d recommend studying abroad. I was exposed to a society different in many ways from ours — the Bahamas are an explicitly religious nation, and San Salvador is smaller, and more connected, than my high school. I was in an entirely new environment with a class I barely knew, and left not quite feeling like I was heading “home.”
I became friends with a lot of the islanders, and I hope to return in the next few years. As a result of a phone call I made to Jerry (one of these friends), San Salvador has started sorting tires and certain glass bottles from their dump to be used in building sustainable houses and erosion-mitigation walls. This is the first time San Salvador has done any amount of trash-sorting; their dump is just a pile of their trash (including recyclables). I hope to return to teach them techniques for sustainable building — to continue to make a positive impact on a place I care about — but I’m satisfied with the experience I had and the contributions I made regardless of whether I return in the future.
Greyson Dukes is double majoring in Philosophy and Religion and Environmental Science She participated in a faculty led trip to the Bahamas during Spring Break, 2018.