The Turks and Caicos islands are located south of the Bahamas in the North Atlantic Ocean. On these islands, Heidi Hertler is a Resident Director with the School for Field Studies (SFS). After spending nearly 20 years in the Caribbean, her passion for the ocean, science and students has flourished. In this entry, we get a sneak peak into studying abroad and living in paradise.
What brought you to be a Center Director?
I am a School for Field Studies (SFS) alumna. As an undergraduate, this program changed my life and has since greatly influenced all my career choices. I have made the Caribbean my home for nearly 20 years. In this time, I have lived by the SFS philosophy – teach environmental problem solving by working on real problems defined by the communities where you are located. Four years ago, I accepted the position of Center Director at the SFS Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands. As Center Director, I strive to provide students with a clear understanding of the value and management of environmental resources in a local context. I am extremely excited to live and work in the TCI and in an environment where I can have such an effect on the local community and future scientists.
What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
There are over 40 islands and cays that make up the Turks and Caicos Islands and each has many unique aspects – small fishing communities (South Caicos), large cruise ship terminal (Grant Turk), high end development (Providenciales). The SFS Center for Marine Resources is located on South Caicos. South Caicos is a beautiful island rich in natural resources (fishing capital of TCI) and local history (salt industry) with relatively little development (one small hotel). The climate is dry and almost desert like. At the Center’s door step are shallow and deep reefs, extensive seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, and white sand beaches. The local community is a confluence of many different cultures – TCI Islanders, Haitians, Dominicans, and West Indians – this diversity is a great opportunity to learn about Caribbean life.
What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
We all live and work together – research, site clean-up, kitchen crew, card games, outreach, sunset viewing. By the end of the semester, there is not much they don’t know about me or any of our staff.
What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Center Director?
Working side by side with students and community members to collect data that will directly impact local decisions and environmental policies.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
Every day there is a new challenge, where do I start…Managing logistics of a large center on a small, remote island would be the “challenge of the week”.
What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
South Caicos is a physically demanding environment. The amenities (fresh water, shopping, food variety, etc.) are limited relative to a student’s home environment. On top of that, our program is 6 days a week. Most adapt and leave with a great sense of connection to the island. Many of our students apply to return as Interns at our Center or another SFS program.
What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Embrace the experience. Take every opportunity to explore the country and meet with the people. Disconnect from the internet – learn to play dominoes. Stop and watch the sunset. Take a swim in the ocean every day. Always remember we are all guests in the country.
What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
1. Mask, fins and snorkel – you will use them more often than anything else. 2. Sunscreen and bug spray– second in use to mask, fins and snorkel. 3. A desire to be in the field learning.
What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
You are living in a community that is different then you are accustomed to – things are better and worse. Study abroad challenges any preconceived ideas that you might have.
To find out more about attending Heidi’s program, follow this link!