St. Croix: What A Place

St. Croix: What A Place

This beautiful island is what you see on postcards.
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The island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a bit like a scene out of M*A*S*H. The low brown underbrush on the hillsides with its sparse patches of green shrubs makes you feel like your right in Korea with the 4077th. The whole island isn't like this, but the part of the Manhattan-sized island I was on was. The island itself is beautiful, rich in history (something very important to me) and is populated with amazing people.

The western side of St. Croix is all hills covered in thick jungle. This is the historical side of the island, with old sugar plantations preserved from the island's time as a Danish colony. Frederiksted, the second largest settlement on the island, is home to a reddish-orange fort called Fort Frederik and was used to keep pirates away. It is also a great place to go snorkeling or scuba diving. You can normally spot any number of both off the boardwalk that lines Frederiksted's edge touching the sea. Many fish swim around the boardwalk's edges and many colorful birds flap through the breeze.

The eastern side has the distinct honor of being the most eastern point in the United States. There is even a little monument to this point on a place called Point Udall. It is more flat and desert-like then its western counterpart. It also happens to be the least inhabited part of the island. It was while walking near the dried up bed of an old salt lake that I came across a cactus. The rather large, many armed and spiny desert-dweller didn't even look out of place here. I took a picture of it, tangled all through what was left of a barbed wire fence, and continued on out to the dried up salt lake. The wildlife I saw in this desert made it far from a no man's land.

On St. Croix is a place called Christiansted. It is the largest settlement on the island and is also home to a fort. Fort Christiansværn is a yellow Danish fort. The fort was meant to keep pirates away but did little good when the British invaded in 1807. But it was from atop the small fort's ramparts that I saw a bunch of reenactors floating a replica Danish boat into the fort's dock. I watched as the little wooden craft careened nimbly over the waves, its reenactor Danish sailors tugging on ropes and jogging up the length of the ship.

When I went to the little island in the Caribbean, I left from my home in North Eastern Pennsylvania in February. When I left, it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. In St. Croix, as our plane landed, the stewardess announced it was a chilly day on the island. 71 degrees Fahrenheit, she chimed. I nearly spit up my in-flight apple juice. If that's chilly, I don't want to know how hot it gets. I was soon to learn how hot it gets. It stays a constant 70-90 degrees there year round. Little spurts of jungle rain pass by, and the ground and everything soaked by these passing showers dries up in a few minutes.

During the day, you can swelter to death if you are not accustomed to it. Several members of my group went down on the second day with heat exhaustion. Sunburn and blisters were rampant. But we learned quiet a bit about Crucian culture through their Agriculture Fair. They make ethnic foods, play island music and display the best of what the islands have to offer.

All over, it was a great experience. I loved it there and would love to go back. From the little camp where I stayed, the Howard M. Wall camp, I could look down on the ocean. It was a large, blue bay with a jungle covered mountain on the far end. The mountain's vegetation hung right from the slope and into the sea. Now if there was one image of St. Croix I will never forget, it is that one.


Cover Image Credit: Andrew Trotter

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​An Open Letter To The People Who Don’t Tip Their Servers

This one's for you.
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Dear Person Who Has No Idea How Much The 0 In The “Tip:" Line Matters,

I want to by asking you a simple question: Why?

Is it because you can't afford it? Is it because you are blind to the fact that the tip you leave is how the waiter/waitress serving you is making their living? Is it because you're just lazy and you “don't feel like it"?

Is it because you think that, while taking care of not only your table but at least three to five others, they took too long bringing you that side of ranch dressing? Or is it just because you're unaware that as a server these people make $2.85 an hour plus TIPS?

The average waiter/waitress is only supposed to be paid $2.13 an hour plus tips according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That then leaves the waiter/waitress with a paycheck with the numbers **$0.00** and the words “Not a real paycheck." stamped on it. Therefore these men and women completely rely on the tips they make during the week to pay their bills.

So, with that being said, I have a few words for those of you who are ignorant enough to leave without leaving a few dollars in the “tip:" line.

Imagine if you go to work, the night starts off slow, then almost like a bomb went off the entire workplace is chaotic and you can't seem to find a minute to stop and breathe, let alone think about what to do next.

Imagine that you are helping a total of six different groups of people at one time, with each group containing two to 10 people.

Imagine that you are working your ass off to make sure that these customers have the best experience possible. Then you cash them out, you hand them a pen and a receipt, say “Thank you so much! It was a pleasure serving you, have a great day!"

Imagine you walk away to attempt to start one of the 17 other things you need to complete, watch as the group you just thanked leaves, and maybe even wave goodbye.

Imagine you are cleaning up the mess that they have so kindly left behind, you look down at the receipt and realize there's a sad face on the tip line of a $24.83 bill.

Imagine how devastated you feel knowing that you helped these people as much as you could just to have them throw water on the fire you need to complete the night.

Now, realize that whenever you decide not to tip your waitress, this is nine out of 10 times what they go through. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to realize that this is someone's profession — whether they are a college student, a single mother working their second job of the day, a new dad who needs to pay off the loan he needed to take out to get a safer car for his child, your friend, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, you.

If you cannot afford to tip, do not come out to eat. If you cannot afford the three alcoholic drinks you gulped down, plus your food and a tip do not come out to eat.

If you cannot afford the $10 wings that become half-off on Tuesdays plus that water you asked for, do not come out to eat.

If you cannot see that the person in front of you is working their best to accommodate you, while trying to do the same for the other five tables around you, do not come out to eat. If you cannot realize that the man or woman in front of you is a real person, with their own personal lives and problems and that maybe these problems have led them to be the reason they are standing in front of you, then do not come out to eat.

As a server myself, it kills me to see the people around me being deprived of the money that they were supposed to earn. It kills me to see the three dollars you left on a $40 bill. It kills me that you cannot stand to put yourself in our shoes — as if you're better than us. I wonder if you realize that you single-handedly ruined part of our nights.

I wonder if maybe one day you will be in our shoes, and I hope to God no one treats you how you have treated us. But if they do, then maybe you'll realize how we felt when you left no tip after we gave you our time.

Cover Image Credit: Hailea Shallock

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Abroad 'Grew' Me

Change can not even begin to describe it

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"Abroad changed me."

It's the cliche, all-encompassing, slightly asshole-ish phrase that any student returning from a study abroad experience is bound to let slip at least once. As ironic and annoying as it may sound, especially when repeated 100 times, it's definitely not false. However, I believe it best gets its point across when modified slightly.

The one slight correction that can be made to this statement is the word "changed". I know for a fact that my study abroad experience opened my eyes to new cultures, new perspectives, and new possibilities. I was able to branch out and pursue areas of interest I had never imagined. However, I am still me. I did not morph into a new person or lose anything I once had before I boarded that plane. If anything the correct phrase (although not grammatically proper) should be "Abroad grew me". The path I followed in my experience, every twist, turn, and bump that hit me along the journey, helped me to become something more of myself.

My problem-solving, communication and overall interpersonal skills have become so much stronger than those which I left JFK Airport within early September. All of this combined, my confidence has grown tenfold. In terms of my self-confidence, I have never felt more validated or reassured of who I am, what my values are, and what I want out of this life. All of these things are due to the situation I was put into, but I would not call them changes. Because the word "change" insinuates I never had any of these skills or characteristics before.

Being brave, for example, is not something I typically would label myself as. But when you are lost in the streets of Morocco, frantically running in circles to find a blue building (in what is known as the "Blue City") when your bus is leaving in under 5 minutes, the act of going up to a complete stranger and getting your Spanish to somehow coincide with their Arabic is not just a show of bravery, but a necessity. It is how you survive. Although I quickly learned that after a few too many travel fiascos, I also came to realize how much better life can become when you let this bravery into other aspects of your life - not just the emergencies. The little parts like trying new foods, volunteering to make a fool of yourself and flamenco dance, stopping at the street corner to converse with the woman selling flowers, these are the small things that shaped my entire experience. And these are the biggest things that helped me to grow. This bravery was something that I always had, just never to the extent at which I tapped into during my time abroad.

Yes, coming back from studying abroad I feel like the world around me and my normal life have changed. I never could have expected it to stand still just because I was absent. However, I do not feel that I have "changed" from who I was before. A desire for a challenge is what led me to go abroad in the first place and I am extremely blessed to be able to say that my wish was fulfilled. With each new experience, I expanded my horizons, and piece by piece I watched myself morph into what I would now call a confident and well-rounded individual. This growth has brought me to where I am today, but it is only the starting point on my adventure to further explore cultures, the world, and where my place is in it all.

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