March 23, 2009
After the frenzy of fall final exams, Rollins students flocked to the sunny paradise of Abaco Island in the Bahamas. However, this was no vacation. But rather a capstone international experience in the study of environmental political activism.
This spring, 16 first-year students and three peer mentors worked with environmental activist organization Friends of the Environment on Abaco Island in a tidal creek restoration project. During their week-long stay on the island, students had the opportunity to connect with the Bahamian community and learned about the politics of environmental issues through hands-on experience.
Led by Rollins College Associate Professor of Political Science Michael Gunter, the group of students were challenged to make connections between the issues on Abaco Island, ranging from invasive plant species to tourism and urban development, and the environmental issues facing them at home in the United States.
“That connection is important,” said Gunter. “to better understand the United States, sometimes we need to see what is going on around the world too.”
Students found the experience tremendously rewarding. Peer mentor Omar Rachid (Class of 2010) described his experience in his online R-Journal as a trip unlike any other he had been on before, providing him with a lifetime of memories to share.
“This trip made me understand that environmental concerns are no longer issues of class and those who can afford to worry about such issues, but rather it affects all,” noted Rachid. “Knowing that we were not going to the touristy part of the Bahamas but rather a residential island with people with real worries about their environment was even more appealing.”
Spending an evening at Dundas Town Church and Community Center’s Youth Night, Rachid and other students made a presentation to local citizens about Rollins College, their environmental studies class and the work they were conducting on Abaco Island. Afterward, the students enjoyed a fun evening playing basketball and volleyball with the locals.
“Even though the night had to end early because we needed to head back to the camp, that was one of the best activities and most memorable moments of our trip,” recalled Rachid.
For Gunter, the memories are valuable in the classroom. “Students come back from trips like this with not only a renewed appreciation for how fortunate they are but also a greater hunger for understanding what they are studying here on campus,” he said. “They are more informed, of course, but also more curious and more driven.”