By Purnell Cropper
The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” rings from the trebly speakers in the off-white minibus, the first in a two-truck caravan winding down the island road. Modified to handle tough terrain, the beastly vehicle roars through darkness and pounding rain, a dozen Arcadia students aboard.
The aspiring biologists and business owners inside finally arrive at the Caribbean’s best-kept secret, Dominica. Having spent seven weeks on Arcadia’s campus exploring the island’s history and precarious economic development with Professors Thomas Brinker Jr. and Wayne Morra, the students will spend the next nine days trying to reconcile what they learned in the classroom with their findings on the ground.
“They say that if Columbus came back to life, Dominica would be the only island that he would say looks just as it did back in his era,” says International Studies major Julia Sandrock ’11, who made the January journey. Located between Guadalupe and Martinique, Dominica “is virtually untouched in comparison with the other Caribbean islands. Even bus rides showcase its unadulterated nature.” But traveling also reveals the not-so-romantic side of Dominica’s unspoiled beauty. The lack of development and infrastructure that gives Dominica its distinct character also might be holding it back.
The hour-long ride from humble Melville Hall Airport in Marigot to Springfield Plantation on the outskirts of the capital, Roseau, where the group will stay during the first part of the trip, is nerve-wracking for those unaccustomed to the country’s roller coaster-like roads—narrow cuts in the mountainside with few lights or safety rails to put travelers at ease. Newcomers chatter anxiously, staring wide-eyed out of bus windows, while students making their second trip to Dominica remark on signs of change—newly paved stretches of road, the runway lights installed only recently at the 76-year-old airport.
"The course offered so much and had students going non-stop to see all the wonders of the incredible land."
“People think the roads were bad this time. They were pristine compared with the last trip,” says Mike Marciante ’13, a Business major with a minor in Economics making his second journey to the island. “Last year, one of the buses stalled on the way to Middleham Falls, and the driver had to go down part of the mountain in reverse—like, rolling backward. He acted like it was no big deal, like it happened every single day. He said, ‘No problem, guys. Don’t worry. I’ll have us down in no time.’” And he did.
“Driving at night,” says a guide, “actually gives a false sense of security. You don’t see the true danger in front of you.” However, evening also cloaks Dominica’s many virtues, which the students begin to see the next morning, as the volcanic island’s colorful, undulating landscape comes into full view from the plantation’s terrace.
The uncommercialized Dominica has plenty to offer—lush forests, mountains, hundreds of rivers and streams, a dozen major waterfalls, hiking trails with stunning views, amazing snorkeling, rich cultural traditions, good Caribbean cuisine, and friendly people. It also is home to the second-largest hot spring in the world, the Boiling Lake, which sits atop Morne Trois Pitons.
Standing before hibiscus plants, a guide describes Dominica's flora.
The first full day of activity begins with a scenic drive north to Portsmouth, Dominica’s second city. Dr. Lennox Honychurch, who wrote one of the course’s central texts, The Dominica Story: A History of the Island, greets the group at historic Fort Shirley in the Cabrits, an 18th-century military post on Prince Rupert’s Bay built by the English to defend their regional interests from other colonial powers, namely the French. A native of Dominica, Honychurch is a passionate storyteller and the island’s preeminent historian. He gives a tour of the site and provides an overview of the island’s history, covering everything from tectonics to cultural issues.
“I’ll admit the classes at Arcadia before the trip were a bit hard for me to understand because I don’t have a business or economics background. But when we were on the island, the lectures became something bigger,” says Staci Faye ’12, an English major and budding screenwriter. “Meeting Dr. Honychurch and asking him questions in person was much more rewarding than just reviewing slideshows of his main points.”
Dominica, says Honychurch, never has been a big moneymaker like its sugar-producing peers, largely due to its topography. But it gradually is building a new global identity as an adventure tourism destination—the Caribbean’s Nature Island—with more distant hopes of becoming a regional player on the energy market, exporting geothermal power. This follows centuries of colonial tug-of-war between the French and English; the uneasy rule of slave-holding planters; the destruction of crops, infrastructure and human life by Hurricane David in 1979, within a year of the country’s independence from Great Britain; and the decline of the country’s banana exports after the World Trade Organization ended subsidies to Dominican farmers.
Visiting Honychurch at the Cabrits sets the stage for meetings with executives and managers who will talk in-depth about different sectors of the Dominican economy, and for fun outdoor excursions and cultural encounters. “The course offered so much and had students going non-stop to see all the wonders of the incredible land,” says Cliff Klett ’11, an Accounting major.
To find out more about the direction of Dominica’s tourism economy, the students meet with Colin Piper, Elizabeth Wayland and Lolita Raffoul of the Discover Dominica Authority, the organization that leads the international marketing effort to raise awareness about the island and draw more stay-over visitors from the United States, Canada and Europe. The group talks about economic and environmental sustainability, and Dominica’s positioning as an adventure island with potential to thrive as a health and wellness destination. (Listen to Piper talk about the value of social media and peer-to-peer marketing.)
A cruise ship departs from the dock at Roseau, the capital of Dominica.
Dominica is many things. But it is not very amenable to the typical cruise-goer looking to be pampered for a day. There are no all-inclusive resorts, as most hotels are family owned. There are relatively few sandy beaches, as most of the Dominican shoreline is rocky. And there are even fewer places to shop for expensive gifts or designer clothing.
However, these are just the qualities that endear the country to many visitors.
Following the meeting with the Discover Dominica Authority, students get an inside look at the cruise industry. They climb aboard the Caribbean Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, and see what it takes to maintain a floating village, touring the ship’s crew-only areas, including the control center and waste management stations.
Later in the week, the Arcadia contingent visits Scotts Head in Saint Mark Parish, a popular scuba diving site, where they reconvene with Raffoul, who specializes in environmental issues. They clean up the beach area as a gift of service to the island. (Video: Brinker and Raffoul speak about the joint effort to maintain Dominica's natural beauty.)
Dominica imports all of its oil products, so energy independence is a constant topic of conversation. During a tour of Trafalgar Falls Hydroelectric Power Station, engineers explain how the station works and discuss the country’s electrical grid. While at Rosalie Bay Resort, marketed as an eco-friendly getaway on the island’s southeast coast, students actually step inside the wind turbine that helps to power the property. During the outing Drew Hurchick ’13, a Political Science major, has a chance to quiz the Maintenance and Construction Supervisor about the oceanside resort’s commercial viability. (Listen to the interview.)
Dr. Steve O. Michael shows a student proper basket-weaving technique in Kalinago (Carib.) Territory.
The students are joined for three days by Dr. Steve O. Michael, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, whose observations of the class include a day trip to Kalinago (Carib) reserve, home of the only remaining indigenous people in the Caribbean.
The Kalinago repelled European invaders for nearly two centuries before being driven into the deep forest, where their descendants live mostly as subsistence farmers, the poorest of the island’s inhabitants. While visiting the Kalinago, students learn basketweaving techniques and enjoy a small meal—coconut, bananas, cassava bread—at a farmer’s mountainside home.
The group also meets with executives and managers at Clear Harbor, a multinational customer care and business process outsourcing provider that is one of Dominica’s best-paying employers; Dominica Coconut Products, the island’s largest manufacturer, owned by Colgate-Palmolive; and the Kubuli factory, where the company produces, bottles and packages its beverages.
“It felt pretty good to talk to people that high up in the social pipeline. I felt like something—like we were something. For instance, Yvor Nassief, former Minister of Tourism, was actually curious to talk to us and find out what we thought about Dominica,” says Marciante.
Nassief predicts that when Dominica achieves a sustainable tourist economy, the balance it strikes will be due to natural limits imposed by its stubborn geography, not by policy.
To inquire about the course, contact Professor Brinker at email@example.com.
THE ARCADIA PROMISE
Arcadia provides a distinctively global, integrative and personal learning experience that prepares students to contribute and prosper in a diverse and dynamic world. Interdepartmental (ID) Courses encourage students to experience other cultures in addition to reading about them.