Barbados Field Study Semester is journey of discovery

Undergraduate student Emma Bergeron Quick reflects upon her experience in McGill's Barbados Field Study Semester which she called "a transformative journey of self-discovery and growth"
“Barbados is known to have many breeding sites for turtles, so we had the chance to experience lots of sea turtle sightings, and babies hatching”Emma Bergeron Quick

Reflecting on my semester abroad in Barbados, I feel gratitude, excitement, and nostalgia already settling in. Three months of learning in this vibrant small developing island state left an unforgettable mark on my heart and mind, shaping my perspectives, and igniting a sense of exploration, discovery, and newfound desire for change.

I always longed to experience life abroad, but financial constraints dimmed the possibility. I was close to giving up on the option, so I thank McGill’s generous award donors for allowing me to have such a life-changing experience. As I approach the end of my undergraduate journey in Environment and Development with a Geographic Information Systems minor, I am grateful for having dared to immerse myself in the Barbados Field Study Semester.

From studies to snorkeling

Emma Bergeron Quick takes in the Barbadian coastline

Have you ever thought of what it’d be like living and studying on an island? A typical day started at 9 a.m. with classes until the afternoon, often followed by a swim or snorkeling adventure to witness breathtaking sunsets (with occasional sea turtle sightings).

This was our rhythm of life for three months, interspersed with hands-on experiences, guest lectures, and field trips that included hikes in forests or by the sea, the UN house, museums, animal sanctuaries, sugar cane fields, boat rides, and underwater data collection. Every weekend we experienced the island’s landscapes, and the rich Bajan culture through street karaoke, Michael Jackson impersonations, music and fish cakes by the beach, surfing, fish fry on Fridays, and more.

I’ll confess, nerves tinged my initial excitement. However, what unfolded was a transformative journey of self-discovery and growth in both a personal and career sense.

Not only did I learn new skills in networking, research, and solo travelling, but living at McGill’s Bellairs Research Institute in Barbados truly taught me the values of community living. You are staying in close quarters with other students (and a family of green monkeys), and learning with local students, who all become your family very fast.

The warmth and hospitality of the Bajan community is incredible; their generosity and kindness are boundless, and you are always welcomed with open arms. While you may be surfing and forget your lunch, or you are lost on the bus or in the city after walking for hours; locals will always be there to help, and you’ll be sharing every moment with a family you’ll never forget.

Addressing pressing environmental challenges

Learning in Barbados was unlike anything I had ever encountered. Beyond the confines of traditional classrooms, I was immersed in the rich tapestry of tropical ecology, sustainability, and biodiversity. Field trips and guest lectures taught me about the island’s vibrant personality, its people, and the ongoing environmental management projects. I learned about the behind the scenes of Barbados’ landscapes and rich marine and terrestrial life through atmospheric sciences and biology.

The final highlight was engaging in a research project with local stakeholders, collaborating closely with experts to address a pressing environmental challenge facing the island. I have always been interested in working or volunteering abroad but was worried I would be imposing myself onto an existing structure. However, working alongside a local teacher here on their research project offered a tangible opportunity to contribute to the island’s resilience and sustainability by working with their knowledge and database, and simply helping without disrupting local ways.

Facing the challenge of climate change

In hindsight, this semester fundamentally altered my perspective on islands and their vulnerability to climate change. Beyond the idyllic beaches and tourist attractions, islands are precious gems with a rich tapestry of history, culture, and resilience that demand attention and action.

As the impacts of climate change intensify, islands like Barbados face mounting challenges from coral bleaching to sea-level rise, landslides, and more, threatening livelihoods and foundational ecosystems. My heart has grown fond of this island’s strength; many locals see the incoming storm and are already preparing to find solutions to fight through it.

As I look towards the future, I carry with me the lessons learned, the memories cherished, and the connections forged. My semester in Barbados was more than just an academic pursuit; it was a journey of self-discovery, of growth, and learning hands-on what it means to study the environment and apply it to real-world scenarios. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Emma Bergeron Quick is finishing her undergraduate degree in Environment and Development with a minor in Geographic Information Systems

Another beautiful sunset in BarbadosEmma Bergeron Quick



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