By: Tracy Misner
Interacting with local farmers, researching technological change and feasting on fried shark at Maracas Bay are just a few aspects of a study abroad trip to Trinidad and Tobago that students experienced.
This graduate student study abroad program took place March 2-16, 2012. It provided a unique opportunity for students to immerse themselves into the local culture and conduct research with local farmers.
Trinidad and Tobago are off the coast of northeastern Venezuela, in the southern Caribbean. Trinidad is the larger and more populous of the islands and has large petroleum reserves.
The students visited different farmers and universities including the University of Trinidad-Tobago, the University of the West Indies and the East Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry.
Graduate students researched the lack of communication between farmers and university students. Because the students mainly worked on farms, it was easier to see the technological change in the country.
One of the student’s main focuses was improving agriculture in the area. Because the islands are heavily dependent on the petroleum reserves, keeping up with technological change is very important.
Jenny Jenkins, 21, is one of the students who participated. She is studying international agricultural development in the department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications.
Jenkins is also the Founder and Missions Coordinator of Imani, a 501(c) 3 non-profit based in Bryan, Texas. She said that because of this trip she learned to conduct research more efficiently, which will help in her future endeavors.
“I expanded my knowledge on cultures and customs in a different country, which directly relates to my non-profit because I am constantly surrounding myself with new customs and cultures when I travel to my partners in Kenya, Uganda and Burundi,” Jenkins said.
James Lindner, Ph.D. and Robert Strong, Ph.D. were the faculty leaders on the trip. Lindner has been a frequent visitor to Trinidad and Tobago, taking part in outreach projects and training extension agents on the islands, for more than 15 years.
Lindner’s friends in the area have nicknamed him “Trinny Jimmy” and he has been thrilled to be able to bring friends and associates from the United States to experience Trinidad and Tobago.
“It feels really natural, like taking someone to my hometown,” Lindner said.
It is a highly competitive program and only seven students from Texas A&M were chosen for the study abroad trip. Texas A&M collaborated with the University of Florida resulting in the program consisting of a total of 19 students. The students were hand selected based on their interest areas. An additional study abroad opportunity may be available next year.
Lindner and Strong stressed that the students feeling comfortable and safe were their biggest concern. Students were back at the boarding house by around 6 p.m. most days. Strong liked to follow the Trinidad and Tobago motto, “Travel by the sun.”
Once they returned, it was common for the students to type up their notes for the day, have group discussions and work on their journals.
Lindner liked to have the students get up early and stay up late while researching. He said that the students were pushed very hard because of the course material and field work.
This helped give them a “better understanding of agriculture abroad and cultural enrichment activities.” Lindner said.
One thing that was culturally different and pushed some of the students out of their comfort zones was meal times. Part of the Trinidad and Tobago culture is eating smaller portions of meals throughout the day, with lunch being the largest meal.
Access to food was not always available, so the students were forced to plan out ahead of time what or where they were going to eat said Linder. With no large shopping areas, students instead shopped at farmers markets and vendors on the side of the road.
Strong said some of the students experienced some culture shock when they arrived and primarily ate at the KFC or other American food related places. He said they encouraged the students to experience local culture, which meant eating what the locals ate.
Strong’s favorite food was potato pie. This local cuisine is similar to an apple fritter but filled with boiled potatoes and cheese or chicken. Because of the high percentage of Indians in Trinidad-Tobago, he also consumed a lot of curry.
One of Jenkins’ and Lindner’s favorite food was a fried shark dish known as “bake and shark”. This delicacy consists of fried shark enveloped in fried bread.
The students spent one morning in Maracas Bay talking to the local farmers about pest management techniques, then feast on fried shark at Richard’s Bake & Shark in Maracas Bay.
Jenkins said her time in Tobago was “more relaxed” than the structured days her and fellow students had while in Trinidad. She said she was able to go out to more restaurants, visit Maracas Bay and go snorkeling.
“It was the most fun, three days of just enjoying the culture,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins emphasized that the locals were very welcoming and easy to communicate with because they worked so closely together on the farms.
Although the trip was “mentally and physically exhausting everyday,” Jenkins emphasized that it was one of the best experiences she’s ever had.