Posts Tagged ‘perception’

The life, the taste, the colours, the smells, the sights, the emotions: what you can’t learn in a classroom

November 12, 2015 | Melissa, Trinidad and Tobago, MAC, The Women’s Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program Support Officer

Looking back on the period leading up to my departure and the two months that have passed since I arrived, I realize that there are two very different perceptions of Trinidad and Tobago. Most of friends, family, colleagues, and peers seemed to be under the impression that I was going to the Caribbean to relax on the beach for three months. T&T is a small twin-island nation and it is somewhat understandable that there are a large number of people who know little about this place, so many people base their perceptions on the stereotypical Caribbean all-inclusive vacation experience. One the other hand Trini’s who’ve I’ve spoken to while in Canada and those that I have met here, hold a completely different perception. I have been consistently warned about the danger and corruption present in T&T and am instructed to be incredibly careful and always on guard. This is all good advice when travelling, but what I find interesting is how completely different these two views are.

Neither perception adequately represents this beautiful country. Yes, there are some beaches but there’s so much more to see, and yes, it is common to hear gunshots at night but every person on the street will say “good evening”. My experience here has been wonderful. Port of Spain is somehow chaotic but calm; the general pace of things is hectic, but the attitude relaxed. Hailing a maxi-taxi around the Queen’s Park Savannah is a rushed activity as cars weave in and out of a seemingly never-ending flow of traffic. But after work it’s time to “lime” and people are relaxing and laughing with friends and loved ones. I fear not being able to adequately capture how incredibly “cool” Trinidad is.

I have come to love this place, it’s all a matter of managing things. Learning to deal with the traffic, navigate around the island, eat “doubles” without dumping them all over yourself, and how to dodge cars on streets barely wide enough for a single car, it’s all bean a really incredible experience. I think what has been the most fulfilling experience has been learning how to get around by myself. Most everyone has to get around by taxi but they operate more like buses – traveling established routes in a cramped car with unfamiliar faces. The island isn’t very big but getting around can be very difficult if you do not have someone to instruct you on where to catch a taxi heading towards your destination.

The nuanced cultural relations in this diverse nation have a distinct effect on daily life in T&T that is best experienced first hand. Trinidad is a place where you can see beautiful beaches, mangrove swamps, and the world’s only natural asphalt lake but it is also a place where there are many underserviced or “squatter” communities such as Sea Lots, a great deal of economic disparity, and where violent crime is a daily factor in many people’s lives. Trinidad is diverse, beautiful, and also a place where caution must be exercised, but where the people are friendly and helpful.

Discussing theory in the classroom is vastly different from experiencing a new country firsthand. Nuances of culture are an integral part of the learning experience. Context is everything. Doing the work, understanding the theory, going through the motions is one thing, but actually trying to understand the why is so much more complicated than it sounds. We sit in classrooms that stress investigation but from all that I have read about Trinidad, nothing could have prepared me for the real thing.

Now that I’ve been here for two months and have had a chance reflect on these various perceptions, I have developed a better understanding of the importance of context and experience. Most of my research here has been into the specific circumstances of various communities, while the majority of my UOttawa classes have been largely theoretical. This opportunity has really taught me a great deal about the importance of culture and context. There is no way that this could be duplicated in the classroom, and I’m thankful to be lucky enough to learn these lessons all while enjoying a wonderful part of the world.