A strange thing has happened in the beginning stages of my third month studying abroad: I have begin to think of Barbados as my home. The first two months of my study abroad experience were often a constant, ever-progressing comparison to how my life normally would be back home. Yet now that all these irregularities, cultural differences, and lifestyle changes have been successfully synthesized into daily norms, something finally clicked. I no longer wake up surprised to hear the boisterous beeps and buzzes of constant traffic directly outside my window, nor do I freak out if a scheduled event or bus is half an hour late…or an hour late, for that matter. I’ve begun to compile a master playlist of island Soca, Dancehall, and Pop songs that I’ve heard enough times to sing in my sleep. I’ve even caught myself looking at large groups of sunburnt tourists, fresh off the cruise ship, thinking “Here come the Americans…”
So after weeks of making everyone green with jealousy over tales of cross-island adventures and a weekend trip to St. Lucia, it is only fair that I also give everyone a taste of what it’s like 80% of my time in Barbados, on campus. Put bluntly, University of Richmond’s (Virginia, United States) campus seems like Yellowstone National Park in comparison to Cave Hill. UWI, Cave Hill has prime real estate at the top of a long hill overlooking the Caribbean, and no space is left wasted; One of the dorms connects to the cafeteria, which connects to the student guild, which connects to the health office, which connects to the bookstore. While Americans like to number their classrooms in numerical order, classrooms at UWI have fun distinctions such as LT1, LR1, LH1 (lecture theater 1, etc). After the first week of mistakenly stumbling into every room possible, I actually think i’ve probably been in more rooms than not on campus. Students, for the most part, come to class on time and NEVER pack up before the professor is finished, even if class time is over. I was amazed at this phenomenon, because American students are almost always packed up and ready to go at least five minutes before class is over.
Some things I love about school here? My professors. They are engaging, personable, and brilliant people whose work can be found in academic journals throughout the Caribbean. Also, the cafeteria food. Save for Oistins Fish Fry, one of the best fish steaks I’ve had all semester long came from none other than Cave Hill Campus Cafeteria. It probably cost me less than US$5.
Some things I don’t love about school here? The library. After getting used to one of the nation’s chillest, most comfortable libraries — Boatwright Memorial Library at UR — the Cave Hill Campus Library just has a hard time stacking up. While Boatwright not only lets you bring a day’s worth of food into the library for a studying marathon, it also lets you bring in your entire bag, making it easier to study for multiple subjects in one sitting. Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the Cave Hill Library, but it’s more of a no-nonsense establishment. Wanna take your entire bag in? Nope. You turn in your bag for a card at the front entrance and then proceed to clumsily drop your 4 books, computer, calculator, and glasses as you’re somehow supposed to open the entrance door. Wanna bring food and water in so your mind is properly fueled? Nope. You can chug your water bottle outside and then throw it away before entering. Would you like to borrow a book for an hour and then return it to the shelf? Nope. First, please fill out every single detail possible about the book before handing the slip to a library employee who will take twice as long as you would to find the book. Then, wait patiently as they scan your card and stamp your info slip and give you back a copy. It’s good to have physical memoirs to remind yourself that you did, indeed, study, in case you ever forget.
Sorry about the library rant, but it was a long time coming. To tip the scales back in UWI’s favor, however, are the students. I have the incredible opportunity to go to school with and talk to people from Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, the Bahamas, Guyana, Belize, Trinidad, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Canada. Most Caribbean students I’ve met have displayed a cheerful, laid-back attitude and, like most other university students, are constantly laughing and looking to have fun. It’s truly rare to find a loud, in your face, attention-craving student from the Caribbean, and most are very down to earth people. I advise learning some Caribbean expressions and honing one’s listening skills, however, because understanding the different dialects has been one of my biggest challenges while abroad. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered “Where are you from?” with “My name’s Ryan” or just “…yes…”. I’m getting better at understanding the nuances of the Bajan dialect though, and may or may not have tried it out on a couple of occasions.
There’s probably another 1,000 words I could say about life on campus at The University of West Indies, but there’s no point in continuing to talk about the library. Jokes aside, I moved up to join the Advanced Team in tennis last week, so I guess I can now say I’ve played tennis on the collegiate level? Cross that one off the bucket list. I’ll be taking some pics and giving you the lowdown on that next week, though, so stay tuned.