Written by: Ashleigh Frialde
My first semester of medical school on the island of St. Vincent was full of new experiences. I particularly remember one day when I had to leave school early because I wasn’t feeling well and found myself waiting at the bus stop to catch a local dollar van. For those who aren’t familiar with SVG’s public transportation, dollar vans are 18-passenger vans that are crammed full of people, blasting loud music, and speeding all over the roads. They are called “dollar vans” because they only cost about 1 East Caribbean Dollar per ride. Not my first choice of transportation, but I’m a broke medical student living in a foreign country and can’t afford to spend money on taxis all the time. Once I was in the van leaving school, the driver suddenly hit the brakes after a few short minutes of driving. Used to flying at high speeds, everyone gasped as they clunked into one another.
I was sitting towards the back of the bus, so I couldn’t quite see anything, but, nosy girl that I am, I stretched up trying to get a look at what had caused our abrupt stop. Up ahead, I could see a lone cow running rampant through the traffic. People were impatiently driving and trying to get past the other onlookers, all while trying to avoid hitting the cow. The poor cow was running erratically, as fast as he could through the roads, unsure of where to go next, in a full blown panic. A few seconds later, a man appeared and ran after the cow, trying to catch up. The chase went on for about 30 seconds until the pair disappeared from sight and traffic began to flow again. I couldn’t help but laugh, realizing this was something you’d never see in the US, at least where I’m from.
Though I’ve seen many crazy things while living in SVG, this story sticks with me for a few reasons. I never thought this is how my life would be. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be studying medicine on a small island in the Caribbean with a boyfriend and our collection of stray animals, I’d probably laugh at you. And yet being here for the last 16 months, I can’t imagine my life any other way. I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve learned how to live a simple life and how to adapt outside of my comfort zones. I found love in all forms (the love of a simple life, love in my two precious dogs and little kitten, as well as with my Colombian boyfriend who I met here in school). I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever known, and I finally found a place where people understand my passion for medicine and share the same goals and dreams as me.
The cow in the story reminds me of my transition in moving to the island. I had never been to St. Vincent prior to coming to school, nor had I even known it existed. It felt unpredictable, it was pretty impulsive, and I didn’t think I’d actually go through with it, let alone stick with it. I packed my life into 4 suitcases, found housing before I got to the island, and left behind my family and friends to start a new life thousands of miles away in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I remember the first night I got here, desperately wanting to get on the next plane out and never come back. I was so overwhelmed, I was pouring sweat, and I didn’t understand why everyone was driving on the “wrong” side of the road. But sure enough, after a few days of settling in and a good night’s sleep, I finally started to adjust.
I don’t regret my decision to move abroad to study medicine for a second. I feel that it was the best decision I’ve ever made, despite how impulsive and spontaneous it was. I don’t want to be like that erratic cow, running through life, unsure of where to go, but still running full speed ahead. This time on my rock has reminded me that it’s okay to not have everything together and to keep calm and go with the flow. Sometimes the craziest and most unexpected situations in life can be some of the best decisions we can make for ourselves. You just have to live them to find out how it turns out.