Today marks exactly one month from when I first landed in St. Maarten. When I first arrived, I was feeling all sorts of emotions: anxiety, amazement, worry, happiness, tenseness, and wonder. Much of what I was feeling stemmed from all the questions I had about St. Maarten, AUC, my next four years, and the choices I have made. There was much I did not know…. How much is actually true on value md? Do I need a car? what is the local culture like? Will I adjust? After being here a month, many of these questions have been answered.
In terms of adjusting to St. Maarten, it has been pretty easy for me. I’ve lived away from my family’s home for the past eight years, so I was not too worried about moving off to live by myself. I’ve also had my share of traveling, going to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Guatemala, Mexico, and other countries where the culture is so much different from what I am used to. Coming to St. Maarten where the infrastructure is well-developed, where American currency is universally accepted, and where everyone understands and speaks English, it was no culture shock to me at all, which is a plus, since now I can just focus on adjusting to medical school. The fact that most of my classmates and friends here are from the states (or Canada), helps too.
In terms of adjusting to med school, it has been a challenge keeping up with the work load, definitely. But since I am taking all the classes I love (unlike undergrad, which requires you to take classes you wouldn’t necessarily like, just to fulfill requirements), I don’t mind the adjustment at all. AUC is like a family too. I take the same classes with all the same people together. I go to tutoring sessions with the same people, and I hang out with the same people. There is a lot of support coming from the upperclassmen, spouses, professors, and administrators. They make sure that everyone makes the transition smoothly.
On one of my earlier posts I talked about how I was considering getting a scooter or a car when I got here. Now, after a month of being here, I realize I don’t need either at all. Most of the time I am on campus. If I want to chill, many restaurants and some of the best beaches in town are within walking distance. Most of my friends live within walking distance too. If I want to go further, its cheap, and not hard to take a bus. For groceries, it’s very affordable to rent a car with a couple of friends once every 3-4 weeks or so to stock up on groceries and do some traveling. Yesterday, I shared a car with 2 other friends for the whole day. We went out to Marigot for lunch, climbed Pic Paradis, took a dip at Orient Beach, and bought enough grocery to last a month. The total of the car was $46, which includes $25 for the car, $12 location fee, $4 federal tax, and $5 insurance. That’s $15 per person for a day of fun and monthly errands. Not bad.
Driving here is not hard, despite what one might read on valuemd about aggressive local drivers. I haven’t had any problems during the few times I’ve driven here. I can think of more than a dozen places where driving is worse that I’ve been, including Atlanta, New York City, Mexico City, and Taipei. I would advise not to get a scooter. The roads are narrow, bumpy, hilly, curvy, and with the amount of cars on the road, St Maarten is not very scooter-friendly in my opinion.
Since I’ve mainly been on campus, it has been more difficult for me to learn about the local culture here. One thing I did realize after being here a month though is that there really is no one distinct native culture or “ethnicity” in St. Maarten. Most people immigrated from one of the neighboring islands and beyond. The most common “native” ethnicities are white, black, and brown, with European colonizers importing Africans and Indians from the Old World to the Caribbean islands as slaves. All three races have been here hundreds of years and no race is more “Caribbean” than the other. This is why there are so many Indians here yet barely any Indian restaurants or other businesses catered to Indians, though for newer immigrants like the Chinese, family-owned Chinese restaurants and grocery stores dot the island. Today, they are all part of the greater Caribbean diaspora. The culture of St. Maarten is as colorfully mixed as its drinks.
Tomorrow another month of my med school career begins. There are lots to improve on, and many more questions to be asked. Perhaps when I start living off-campus next semester, in the “real” St. Maarten, I will begin to question my first impressions and find out there’s much more to adjust to here. But those are for later. For now, I’ll just be happy I’ve made it with no problems for a month.