I had the amazing opportunity to be one of 24 students on the Winona State University travel study to the US Virgin Island of St. Croix. This trip focused on Caribbean culture and history, and how race, class, and gender continue to play integral roles within our society. We studied past and present acts of resistance in the face of colonialism and had the privilege to learn from local professors, businesspeople, environmentalists, and social activists about current issues happening on the island.
Before going to St. Croix, we were required to do readings and a workbook revolving around Caribbean culture, history, environment and tourism. We also explored ideas like privilege, intersectionality, and service-learning. While on the island we wrote daily journals about our experiences, interviewed local people for insight on current events, met with government and educational leaders, and connected our experiences back to the readings.
In addition to classroom time and excursions, all students volunteered at one of four worksites: Queen Louise Home for Children, The Village (an addiction rehabilitation center), The Nature Conservancy, and Women’s Coalition of St. Croix. I worked at The Nature Conservancy on projects like planting native trees for habitat restoration, beach clean-ups, painting the visitor’s center and laying the foundation for a children’s garden. We worked Monday-Friday and had nights and weekends to explore the island. Some of the excursions included in this travel study were: snorkeling at Buck Island, a catamaran boat tour, sea kayaking, a baobab tree tour, a day-long jeep tour of the island, relaxing at the beach, scuba-diving, shopping, trying local cuisine, plantation tours, botanical gardens, swimming in tide pools, going on turtle watches and enjoying the nightlife of downtown Christiansted.
Overall, this trip truly changed my outlook on life. I not only learned about the culture and history of St. Croix, but learned life lessons regarding privilege, intersectionality, travel and volunteer etiquette, and the importance of creating and maintaining lasting relationships with people who want to make a difference in their community. St. Croix taught me a lot about myself and allowed me to gain knowledge I could never get from a textbook or lecture. I truly believe that traveling is the best way to learn about our diverse and changing world. I highly recommend doing a travel study/studying abroad to any student looking to get the most out of their educational experience.