As a teacher, when I think “field trip” I think of a highly organized outing where you take your students somewhere that has educational value. I’m in my third year of teaching, the past two years of which were in the US. When you take children on a field trip in the United States, it usually entails weeks of preparation, with both teacher and parents filling out stacks of papers for each student, most with the exact same contact information we already filled out for the last field trip just a few months prior. Truly, it is a bit ridiculous how much extra work has to happen when you’re only taking them down the road to look at some fish in a tank. Last year, I had to spend two months teaching a particular curriculum simply because the place we were going required me to do so! As a result, we were only able to go on three field trips per year.
These days, I’m teaching at a prep school in the Caribbean on an American medical school’s campus. All of the students I teach are children of either the faculty or the students attending the medical school. It makes for small class sizes – I only have 13 total! Teaching in Dominica is such a joy, and I’m so glad I landed a job here. I can teach content with greater depths than ever before, and classroom management has never been easier. It is very relaxed at times too, giving me more freedom than what I was used to in the states, particularly when it comes to things like field trips. The most recent one, in fact, was decided upon just days before we went, and ended up being nothing like what I had come to know as a “field trip” back home.
I decided to take my thirteen science students (ages nine to thirteen) on a field trip to a hydroelectric plant and to Screw’s Spa, which happens to be several natural sulfur pools of various temperatures (much more appropriate than the name sounds!).
As we twisted and turned through the mountainous roads on the way down to the power plant, one student was already sick in the back of the bus while I sat up front holding on for dear life. I had anticipated a grand hydroelectric power plant with a huge reservoir and dam attached, but I obviously should have lowered my expectations, as with everything else in island living. When we arrived in the middle of nowhere, I hopped out and approached the rickety gate; the students stayed behind with the two local teachers, both of whom were dressed in jeans and long sleeve shirts because apparently 80ºF is cold.
The “security guard” emerged from a small concrete box and asked what we were doing there. I informed him, he wrote my name on his hand, and disappeared to confirm with his supervisor, leaving me standing behind the locked gate.
On his return, he said he would be able to open the gate for us in a few minutes. As I walked away, he called after me, suddenly wanting to know more about the school and the students. I began to explain how they are the medical school students’ children when he interrupted and asked, “Is there some kind of separation between the church and state in the United States?” Clearly, this guy is no history buff. I give him the scoop and he follows up with, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ Our Savior?” Oh, here we go. Quite a question for a science teacher, and just the conversation I was hoping to get into while my students are waiting anxiously to go into this power plant!
Hoping to avoid anymore discussion on the topic, I concede, telling him His existence is possible. Unfortunately though, this doesn’t satisfy him. I am then treated to the full blown story of how “He’s in all of us”, especially this guy. Since there seems to be no way out of this conversation, I play along, asking if he is Jesus himself. He gives me a bewildered look, and I’m relieved to see the supervisor coming out to open the gate and save us from his answer.
As we’re led into the facility, it feels like I’m walking into the hatch from Lost and suddenly have the urge to start pushing a button. It’s the last thing from state of the art technology, though they have upgraded two things into touch screens – impressive. The man discusses how everything works while we stand around, trying to actually listen in the small, confined, 85ºF humid room.
Thirty minutes later, we head out, all of us drenched and looking like we just got out of a Bikram yoga session. Spontaneously, we decide to head to a waterfall next because it’s the source of water that’s used at the plant.
As we exit, I’m embedded in a group of children and my security guard friend yells out my name, telling me to take his number in case I want to learn more about Jesus Christ. I say, “Yeah, thanks, I’ll just call here if I need to talk.” But he insists, saying it’s easier and better for me to call his house or cell to talk, and hands me a paper with his information on it. On the front, there appears to have been some confusion over how to spell his name, and on the back is some sort of handwritten prayer.
We head up to the waterfall, a very easy ten minute hike. We don’t call the school or parents to tell them what we’re up to, we just do it. I’m surprised to learn that one teacher that’s lived in Dominica her whole life has never been here before and doubts she can make “the climb”, which consists of walking down a gradual decline of maybe fifty steps. After we reach the falls, the other teacher begins to entertain us with a story about a time when she was dating some guy, and they went to a secluded rock, and her top came off as she plunged into the water, or, you know, the perfect story to tell your coworkers in the presence of children.
We head back to the bus to go to Screw’s Spa next. On the way there, a student yells the sign when she sees it, “SCREW!!”. As we approach the gate, the less than friendly attendant mumbles the amount we owe her. I ask for a receipt so that we can get reimbursed since it’s a field trip. She laughs at me, and tells me that they don’t do receipts. I begin to explain why we need one, and she repeats herself in a stern tone. I try another option, asking then if she can simply write my name, how much I paid, and sign off on it. She declines, and laughs again at my apparent ridiculousness. I laugh back, with a different perspective on the ridiculousness.
The students and I try out the various hot baths along with the cold one; the local teachers hang back and don’t go in the water, as usual. It seems like a shame to miss out on – I love this place because it feels fantastic on your body. After a bite – the most delicious grilled cheese, three types of cheese on garlic bread! – we head out. On the way back, something starts to smell cheesy and I momentarily get excited, thinking there might be leftovers. Instead, I turn to find a student throwing up all over himself. We pull over into someone’s front yard, and I try not to get sick myself. The taxi driver we don’t know kindly changes the boy’s shirt, while I retch in the bushes, trying to contain myself.
Soon enough, we’re all back in the bus and back to school. Another adventurous day of teaching in Dominica has come to a close, and I think it’s safe to say that – thankfully! – my definition of “field trip” will never be the same again.