Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Back Home

After 16 hours of traveling and a night back in my own bed, it feels good to be home. But that doesn’t change the fact that I already miss Trinidad and Tobago. This past week was an unforgettable experience. When I heard about this opportunity, I immediately jumped on it, as I had been itching to travel again. I think it only further ignited that itch, though!

Even though I have traveled internationally in the past, performed service work, and explored new cultures, this trip is unlike any I’ve ever taken. We squeezed a lot in one week: recreation and relaxation in Tobago; cultural exploration in Chaguanas, an Indian area of Port of Spain in Trinidad; service work at a non-profit organization with Trinidadians (also known as Trinis); and professional development experience speaking at the symposium on civic engagement. I felt like I was in a constant state of exhaustion, but I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Some of the UofL students with our symposium co-presenters from UWI!

This is from the day we spent exploring Chaguanas (the Indian neighborhood). It is a beautifully painted ceiling at a Hindu temple

 Although I definitely enjoyed relaxing by the infinity pools at both the Blue Waters Inn in Tobago and the Hyatt in Trinidad and snorkeling and swimming, some of my favorite experiences from the trip involve interacting with the people we met while there. On Wednesday, we painted and cleaned up a warehouse where a local non-profit organization recycles. Here we had the opportunity to work alongside students and staff from the University of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the staff of the organization. It was amazing to see the transformation after we all put our hands to work. Painting a wall next to Ricardo, one of the students I met, made me realize how similar we actually were to the students in Trinidad and Tobago. Then during the last session at the symposium, students, faculty, and staff from three different universities were sharing their ideas on civic engagement. Even though these universities are in two different countries with two different cultures, our thoughts on this topic were the same.

On the other hand, there were several differences I noticed in Trinidad and Tobago. I loved learning about these and absorbing their culture. The students from the universities there told us about dance moves, soca music, and the sport of cricket. I also discovered that they call crosswalks “zebra crossings” due to the diagonal stripes. We even got to see some students at the secondary school where we volunteered play the steel drums. Also called pan, the steel drums are known for being the only acoustic instrument invented in the 20th century. Because it originated in Trinidad and Tobago, pan is a cultural icon in their country. The students we watched perform have won the Junior Steel Pan National Championship three years in a row! The video below is them playing “Grenade” by Bruno Mars and is one of my favorite memories from the trip.

What I loved most about Trinidad and Tobago’s culture, though, is the laid-back attitude they embrace. Our tour guide told us by Thursday afternoon, it is already the weekend and the locals are ready to lyme (their word for relaxing and hanging out). I think I was able to adopt this attitude while there because I went with the flow, which for those of you that know me is very hard for me to do. I don’t remember the last time I was so stress-free! As soon as school and work pick back up again, I will be dreaming of going back I’m sure. In the end, this experience taught me so much: from learning about their culture, to meeting new people, to giving back to the community, it was a trip in which I not only gained but also gave.

Jennifer Plymate
-University of Louisville International Service Learning Program

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