Today marks over one week of my stay in Trinidad and Tobago at the University of the West Indies. The warm breeze swirling through the windows and around my room, and the chattering parrots outside make it difficult to remember home in the USA! I do, however, remember my “travel crazies”, as I call them, before leaving. I tend to remain calm to a degree of laziness, dropping the occasional object into my suitcases. Then, the few days just prior to my departure, I succumb to the heebie-jeebies of traveling. Why should I be so nervous, when I have been looking forward to this trip for months?
I can tell you what I was not nervous about. I know the cuisine would be fantastic (Trinidad and Tobago has a beautiful mix of aromas in every dish! There are some African food influences, as well as a great deal of Indian, and some Chinese. This spicy food, with some of the world’s hottest peppers, invited me right in). I knew I would love the weather, because it is warm year-round and every bit of foliage is new to me. I knew my classes would be bearable, if not interesting, because psychology is fascinating in itself and even more so in another country! I knew communication would occur with ease, because English is the official language of the country.
My greatest anxiety came from the following thought: what if I don’t make friends?Well, such is not the case in Trinidad and Tobago. Within hours of my arrival, I met a variety of phenomenal people, all of whom went out of their way to help this anxious, hungry, travel-worn gal out.
It took me less than one day to realize that people in Trinidad are incredibly nice, beyond their call of duty. I cannot speak for the whole of the United States, but in my experience around America it seems that social interactions with strangers are often grudging. Even on my own college campus- if I am walking in a hallway, on the streets, or stepping into an elevator- it is a rare and wonderful moment when a complete stranger ventures a “hello” or asks you about your day.
In Trinidad and Tobago, it is rude to stroll past someone without a greeting. Every morning I dry my mouth out with “Good Afternoon’s” and “Good Day’s” on each block as I walk to the market or work my way to class! During my first year of university in America, I developed the “campus walk”. This is an extreme power walk that I have witnessed nearly everyone utilizing on campus in order to save time.
Here, on the other hand, time is perceived differently. The first day of classes, I wandered the UWI campus in a daze of confusion. My joy at the large calabash trees and the enormous, colorful caterpillars crawling across the sidewalk was only marred by the desire to find my class on time. I was making my way like my legs were on fire compared to the students strolling calmly around me. Anyone I asked for help with directions did not brush me away with an “I’m in a hurry”, but shared a smile and much needed aid.
The kindness and calm I have experienced in the last week is undoubtedly an attitude I would like to return with to the United States! I am guilty of the pretend-to-text-to-avoid-awkward-encounters move, and would like to step beyond that and offer a Trinidadian greeting and a cheerful smile to strangers and special friends alike.
Good night for now!