New experiences can be challenging and overwhelming. Going to a new place with no one that you know can be hard and nerve-racking. Traveling overseas for the first time completely by yourself can be tense and stressful. At least for me it was. My first time abroad was this past winter from 2021-2022 for a study abroad program through School for Field Studies (SFS). I was scared and nervous. What if I don’t make friends? What if I get lost? What if I get on the wrong flight? All of these questions were going through my head, but how could I pass up the opportunity? The opportunity to meet new people, study something I love, and see a beautiful country. I didn’t pass up the opportunity, instead I did everything possible to make sure everything was in order and that it was nearly impossible for things to go wrong. I anticipated for all these things to happen, but not for what I would gain from the program.
I overcame my fears and got on a flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. Once I landed all the fears and overwhelming “what ifs” left immediately. I was welcomed with open arms by the staff and the other new students of the program. The SFS program took place on South Caicos Island, which only has 8.2 square miles of land. The island of South Caicos was unreal. The program was three weeks long or eighteen days exactly. Here I was in the middle of the ocean on a small island learning about marine ecology. The people of Turks and Caicos refer to South Caicos as the “Big South”, which made me feel like home being from Tennessee. There were twenty-seven students on the trip. We all immediately got close. Close as in getting to know each other, talking about our lives at home, and creating life-long friendships. The locals, or as they call themselves “belongers” were even more welcoming of the new students.
This specific program first stood out to me because of the overall course: Foundations of Tropical Marine Ecosystems. I am an Environmental Science major and I love everything about the ocean, so I thought this would be a great experience and to further my career. I also love everything about the water and beach. I thought that this program would open my eyes to what I want to do career wise. I also figured that a three-week program might be better than a whole semester just in case I did not love it. I was wrong; I should have done the semester program because I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.
On the island the SFS center, which is where we stayed, was located right on the Cockburn Harbor overlooking Long Key Island and the ocean. The program involved snorkeling and if you were certified and brought the equipment you could also dive. The three weeks flew by in the blink of an eye. Probably because of how much fun and excitement all of the twenty-seven students and the staff were having. We were in the water almost every day doing assessment of marine life and the reefs. If we were not in a lecture or in the water doing class, then you could explore the island safely and get to know each other. There was not a whole lot to do among the island, but the belongers were more than kind. They would hang out with us and tell us all about the island and themselves. A few of us got close with one woman who owned a little shop. She actually ended up throwing us a going away party before we left. The people of the island showed me compassion, empathy, and true kindness. The people of the program, staff and students, opened my eyes to so many new views and opportunities. The program had such a meaningful impact on me that I could have never imagined. The beauty of the island and the everyone I encountered during the program is what stood out to me. It gave me life-long friendships, connections, and experiences I will never forget.
The advice I can give anyone who is thinking about studying abroad through any program is to do it. Forget the “what ifs” and just do it. Get everything in order of course, but the experience of a new country, culture, and people will be amazing. For me it was life changing and I am beyond grateful that I got to experience it. It can be scary, overwhelming, and/or nerve racking, but once you get there it all goes away. It is an experience that you won’t ever want to end. The Big South and the people will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Michaela Hyde (BS Environmental Science) spent Winter 2021 studying abroad in Turks & Caicos with The School for Field Studies. Michaela had the following to say about studying abroad, “Study abroad is an amazing opportunity in so many ways. It is a life changing experiences. It gave me life-long friendships along with much more.”
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