I chose Fulbright because it is a prestigious program! It sounds a little shallow but I knew that if I got a Fulbright it would look really go on my resume and help me discover myself. The program has made such a name for itself that I also felt that if I got one it would be one of the best experiences of my life. Maybe not the easiest journey I will take, but definitely one of the most memorable, the most testing, the most intriguing.
I brought _____ with me . . . Candy! I wasn’t sure what would be available to me in Trinidad food-wise until I got there and actually went into a store, so I brought with me some candy from home that I knew would ease my transition a little. I got the idea from someone I know who visited Sri Lanka for a few months and it really appealed to me (for obvious reasons!). Even though I can get Twizzlers and caramel chews here in Trinidad it was definitely a comfort to have them stockpiled in my room! That is, until I ate them all! #sorrynotsorry
The trip to get here was exhausting! I flew out of Portland, Maine and left my family behind in the airport, stayed at a hotel in Philly, flew out to Miami the next morning, and then finished my last leg to Trinidad that afternoon. Depending on how well you travel it can be very stressful, and not just because of the long flights and the absurdly annoying layovers. Leaving everything you know behind you on that tarmac can be more that you’ve anticipated. Let yourself breathe. Let yourself take it in.
Something I have never done before is spent so much time away from home. Smith was just a 5 hour drive from home for me, so I was able to visit home every couple of months. Just thinking about being away from home, away from my friends and family, away from the familiar for so long was really intimidating. So far I have been okay! Make sure to connect with your loved ones, especially in the beginning. It can be very lonely to just be dropped off at your new home and be expected to just start anew, so let them help you.
I was surprised by how resilient I am. I was unsure of how I would adjust here in Trinidad. I was always someone that thrived off adversity and stress but I was worried I might crumble under the pressure of being abroad by myself in a new country without a day-to-day support system that was familiar to me. The key was creating that support system again, tailoring it to my needs here. I didn’t get to leave all of my problems at the airport and start with a clean slate, but I was at least able to consolidate what was important and set it to the side to make room for my new life in Trinidad.
I love my new friendships here. I was worried I might not make many friends or very few, and though I don’t have bushels and bushels they are enough. They listen to my troubles, console me, make me laugh, take me dancing when I need a break, and would be there in a split second if I needed them.
When I am doing my research I feel empowered. My research is really about empowering the fishing communities of Trinidad, but when I talk to them and hear their stories it always leaves me feeling fulfilled and ready for the next day.
At the end of each day I give myself some “me time”. Becoming immersed in your new country’s culture is really important, but giving yourself some time every day to do something that makes you feel at home is just as essential. It grounds me, keeps me focused on my goals, and constantly gives me a chance to actively think about why I’m here, what I’m doing with my life here, and what I want to make of my adventure.
When I tell others about my Fulbright experience so far is the reality of its hardship. When I talk to my friends at home I find myself mostly talking about how much I miss them, when I am coming back home, and some of the more extreme experiences I have had here in Trinidad. But I think it’s the newness of it all. I have been here for almost 3 months so far and I am still allowing it all to sink in. Now that my adjustment period is over and Trinidad feels more normal, more like home, I find myself telling them less of the everyday annoyances and more of the simple pleasures I enjoy: My walks to work in the morning, my late night talking with friends, the silly gossip in my office, my goofy friends. Having my loved ones there to listen to my initial troubles has made it easier to deal with them myself, and for that I am grateful.
I want to tell a Smithie thinking about applying for a Fulbright It’s hard. Like, really hard. But for all of the hard work, blood, sweat, tears, and brutal swearing that went into my application, it was worth it. Getting my acceptance email late in the afternoon one day in January I had a moment of complete bliss. I had done it, I had slain the beast. And then it hit me, I actually had to do it now. I actually had to make the plans, buy my tickets, go to my orientation (which made me even more terrified!), get on the plane, and begin my journey. Talking about my research on paper in my application was one thing, but going out and doing it is something completely different. You can’t just “talk the talk” or even “walk the walk”. You have to strut. But don’t let that deter you from apply. This experience has helped me to find myself, to confirm my abilities, to perfect my strut.