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Anthropology students explore diverse island cultures in West Indies

September 23, 2009

In West Indian People and Culture, students spend three weeks immersed in the cultures of Trinidad and Barbados, two very distinct island nations. Special attention is given to Carnival – steel drums, calypsos, and masquerade — and also to folklore, pluralism and religion.

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During the course students keep intellectual journals in which they relate their observations to readings, lectures, and videos. They also give oral and/or written reports on topics of their choice. Topics have included male-female relations, youth culture, ethnic relations, the role of religion, environmental issues, and tourism.

Student Reflections

“A highlight for me was shopping excursions to Bridgetown, Barbados, where we as students were able to venture out on our own into the markets and get a good taste of the local goings-on. In Bridgetown we were able to see how tourism has created many changes in the environment, the culture, and the general attitude of the island.

ANT 206 also takes us to Trinidad, and one of the definite highlights was splitting up into homestays for a few days. My host-father drove me around the island, explaining important geographical spots, while simultaneously getting into political discussions with his friend. He also introduced me to the best food on Earth: roti.

What I got most out of this class was simply the really great opportunity to explore a culture other than my own.  I was able to meet interesting people, try new things, and learn a lot about the traits that make us all unique as well as similar.”

– Paul Appel

“One of the major course highlights was the time I spent doing a family stay. I lived with Mr. and Mrs. Logan, and with them I had the opportunity to participate in everyday life in Trinidad.  Their three grown sons took around to eat local food, including “doubles” a dish made with flatbread and mashed chickpeas and roti, which is sort of like a Trinidadian burrito. The family stay gave me insight into the culture from an insider’s perspective, rather than the view projected to tourists.

The insight I gained from the trip was a greater awareness of race.  I grew up in rural Iowa, surrounded by people whose skin was the same color as mine. In both Barbados and Trinidad I had the experience of being a racial minority for the first time, and of having people make judgments about my beliefs and behaviors without ever speaking to me. While I can never experience what is like to be black in the U.S., I do have a greater awareness of racial concerns.”

– Allyn Glen Burns

“We read the book The Dragon Can’t Dance, and being able to make connections between the book, the activities, and the people we interacted with each day really made the whole trip worthwhile because I was able to make great comparisons to my own life and to the lives that I was interacting with daily during this trip. It was only after I read this book that I understood the importance of Carnival to the West Indian culture that I was studying. I definitely do not think that I would have gotten as much out of this book or the course in general if it would have been taught in a classroom in Iowa during January.

I really enjoy traveling and experiencing the different ways people around the world live. This trip gave me a better understanding of a culture that was built on the combination of many different cultural backgrounds. Once I graduate from Cornell I would like to be able to travel and take the knowledge I have gained in my many Cornell journeys and be able put it to good use helping others in some way or another.”

– Deanna Bryant

“A highlight for me was shopping excursions to Bridgetown, Barbados, where we as students were able to venture out on our own into the markets and get a good taste of the local goings-on. In Bridgetown we were able to see how tourism has created many changes in the environment, the culture, and the general attitude of the island.

ANT 206 also takes us to Trinidad, and one of the definite highlights was splitting up into homestays for a few days. My host-father drove me around the island, explaining important geographical spots, while simultaneously getting into political discussions with his friend. He also introduced me to the best food on Earth: roti.

= What I got most out of this class was simply the really great opportunity to explore a culture other than my own.  I was able to meet interesting people, try new things, and learn a lot about the traits that make us all unique as well as similar.”

– Paul Appel


“One of the major course highlights was the time I spent doing a family stay. I lived with Mr. and Mrs. Logan, and with them I had the opportunity to participate in everyday life in Trinidad.  Their three grown sons took around to eat local food, including “doubles” a dish made with flatbread and mashed chickpeas and roti, which is sort of like a Trinidadian burrito. The family stay gave me insight into the culture from an insider’s perspective, rather than the view projected to tourists.

The insight I gained from the trip was a greater awareness of race.  I grew up in rural Iowa, surrounded by people whose skin was the same color as mine. In both Barbados and Trinidad I had the experience of being a racial minority for the first time, and of having people make judgments about my beliefs and behaviors without ever speaking to me. While I can never experience what is like to be black in the U.S., I do have a greater awareness of racial concerns.”

– Allyn Glen Burns


“We read the book The Dragon Can’t Dance, and being able to make connections between the book, the activities, and the people we interacted with each day really made the whole trip worthwhile because I was able to make great comparisons to my own life and to the lives that I was interacting with daily during this trip. It was only after I read this book that I understood the importance of Carnival to the West Indian culture that I was studying. I definitely do not think that I would have gotten as much out of this book or the course in general if it would have been taught in a classroom in Iowa during January.

I really enjoy traveling and experiencing the different ways people around the world live. This trip gave me a better understanding of a culture that was built on the combination of many different cultural backgrounds. Once I graduate from Cornell I would like to be able to travel and take the knowledge I have gained in my many Cornell journeys and be able put it to good use helping others in some way or another.”

– Deanna Bryant

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