As I get off the plane and head into the Flamingo Airport at Bonaire, I came to the realization that my adventure was just beginning. Never had I traveled abroad and anticipation, fear, and excitement rushed through my body. Knowing that we would be snorkeling almost every day, conducting a research project, and giving back to Bonaire by volunteering for nonprofits in Bonaire that focus on sustainability efforts was quite overwhelming. Arriving to the residence hall, the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) Bonaire warmly welcomed us, and we were free to explore the island the rest of the day. Being able to explore the beautiful island made me realize the importance of volunteering for environmental nonprofits here. The diverse and untouched beauty of the place was worth protecting for our current generation and generations to come, and this was why my professor, Chip, established a SPEA Study Abroad program here.
SPEA Abroad in the Caribbean was a fun and rewarding experience for me as an IU sustainability student. There was always something to learn at every excursion. Whether it was volunteering or applying our knowledge while we snorkeled, we used what we learned and applied it to wherever we went in Bonaire. I will admit, it was a challenging two weeks in Bonaire, but the hard work was worth it because we were able to help conservation groups and leaders on current projects, explore all of Bonaire, and learn about the marine life.
Pulling mangrove tree roots in knee-deep water and digging holes in Bonaire’s rock-hard soil were challenging moments I faced in Bonaire, but all this was to serve and protect the island and its beautiful environment. In addition, meeting several conservation groups focusing on protecting and rehabilitating Bonaire was very memorable in itself. Learning about why these conservation leaders were here and seeing how passionate they were to protect the island made me more excited to be in the environmental field. All this showed me how there were people everywhere to serve for the greater good! The work to help these groups was physically draining, but I looked very fondly at these experiences at the same time. Through volunteering, I was also able to contribute to protecting Bonaire, and it was a very rewarding feeling. These hands-on experiences showed me the fieldwork aspect of conservation management, which through this sturdy abroad trip, I learned was just as important as the policy aspect of conservation management.
OVPDEMA Overseas Study and Scholarship Program made this trip possible for me and attending this study abroad program will advance my career in the environmental sector, and most importantly, this trip has taught me to push my limits and go beyond my comfort zone. Because I was able to challenge myself by trying activities I’ve never done before, I had a memorable time in Bonaire!