I looked down at the water below me. I looked over at the students waiting around me, some anxiously, some excitedly. I looked at the guide, who had already told me in French that I needed to jump. I thought about all the ways in which my excessively clumsy self could get hurt jumping off of this outcropping of rocks. Then I mentally reviewed in my head all of the reasons I had made it to this point.
When I was asked to co-lead the first-year Global Journeys trip to Martinique, I immediately said yes. I have been telling people about the amazing trips and experiences that our students have been having for the past four years. I knew the extreme growth that I went through on my personal study abroad experiences in college. I knew French (or at least, at one point I did take French classes). I honestly missed being part of a classroom experience. I was ready to help students grow as they went on this life-changing experience.
I was not prepared, however, for how much I would grow.
I was not prepared for the elated feeling of watching the faces of the students who had never been on a plane before as the plane began to ascend. I was not prepared for the anxiety I felt when our group was in a huge crowd as we celebrated the last day of Carnival and the burning of the Carnival King (a beautiful celebration, but one that had me desperately counting repeatedly to make sure no one got lost). I was not prepared for the heart-stopping fear I felt when one of our students was stopped, however briefly, in customs. I was not prepared for the feeling of holding my breath looking out over clear water to a tropical rainforest.
Despite the in-depth conversations our Journeys class had before departure, I did not fully understand the true uniqueness of Martinique—still a department of France, a unique blend of France and the Caribbean in all aspects. Our conversations did not fully prepare me for the emotion of staring at a post-slavery era village or for the depth of experience of a country whose post-colonial experience was so different from that of the U.S.
I was not prepared for the challenge of making chocolate from pure cacao beans. Neither my calves nor I were prepared for climbing up what felt like hundreds of steep stairs in the tropical rainforest. And I was certainly not prepared for the hike/swim to a waterfall that had ended with me getting ready to jump off a rock facing back down into the water.
I watched every student on this trip grow and change. I watched them be challenged and push through that challenge. I watched students with no French skills figure out how to make their way around the city and use their basic language understanding to navigate. A student who rarely spoke in class started telling us their stories and talking more and more as the trip progressed. Students took care of each other; everyone was constantly checking in about people drinking enough water and applying sunscreen. When students stumbled in our journey to the waterfall, other students helped them up and walked beside them the rest of the way.
I don’t think anyone walked away from our Journey without being profoundly changed for the better; we grew, we learned, and we truly learned the meaning of #leadingeverywhere.
(I eventually did jump. We all conquered some personal fears.)
If you are interested in learning more about SUMMIT Journeys, check out all of the posts on Instagram using the hashtags #JourneysBulgaria19, #JourneysChile19, #JourneysCostaRica19, #JourneysDC19, #JourneysFrance19, #JourneysGhana19, #JourneysGuatemala19, #JourneysIceland19, #JourneysJamaica19, #JourneysManchester19, #JourneysMartinique19, #JourneysMorocco19, #JourneysNavajoNation19, #JourneysNorthernIreland19, #JourneysPanama19, #JourneysPeru19.
Rachel West is the Associate Director of Admission at Agnes Scott College and has been a Scottie since 2014. She is a lover of comic books, a tea connoisseur, and someone who does not enjoy climbing or swimming (but did both of them for this trip).