Travel to Places You've Never Heard Of

I recently had the chance to travel abroad to Martinique for a week as part of Agnes Scott’s first-year Journeys program, which was the opportunity of a lifetime. If you know where Martinique is, I applaud you. If not, you’re in the same boat I was in before this trip. For those who don’t know, Martinique is an island in the Caribbean, more specifically in the French West Indies. It’s not a country but a Department of France, along with Martinique’s sister island, Guadeloupe.

Photo by Sydni Perry 

When sharing the exciting news of my study abroad with friends and family, I noticed the two different reactions I got. If I said “I’m going to Martinique,” I’d get mostly vague congratulations because they didn’t know what I was talking about. To make it easier, I starting saying “I’m going to the Caribbean,” which prompted a different reaction. When people think of the Caribbean, they generally think of sun, beaches, and rum. The kind of place families take cruises to. But over the course of my class and my trip, I learned that Martinique is so much more than that. I discovered that this little place I had never heard of is a whole world of its own.

Walkway at La Museé de la Banane / Photo by Melody Simmons

Over the course of my trip, I learned things I never could’ve learned in a book or in a class. I saw firsthand the complex culture of the island. Throughout the week, our group visited former plantations, museums, and the Université des Antilles. We learned about the history of colonization and slavery on the island and how their local language of Créole developed. Along with the historical tours, we also walked through a rainforest, swam through a river gorge, and learned the traditional Bélé dance with local dancers. Through each of these activities, I learned a lot. But the real cultural immersion happened through the little things. Talking to locals in town when getting ice cream and hearing about their lives, listening to stories from our amazing guide Julie, and singing a Créole alphabet song with an elderly woman so sweet we all wanted to adopt her as our grandma. These little moments are what taught me the most about what kind of people live in Martinique and what their culture stands for.

Art depicting Bélé dancing / Photo by Melody Simmons

One of my favorite moments happened on our last night in Martinique. All twenty five of us got together for a final dinner in Trois-Ilets, the town our hotel was in. After listening to the restaurant play Ed Sheeran and The Eagles for about twenty minutes, a local band set up right in front of us. The band, consisting of a singer, keyboard player, and guitarist, played a couple songs in French before singing a song about Martinique. Listening to that song on our last night encapsulated my whole trip. I may not have known what all the words meant, but I understood. Martinique is an island of a mix of people and cultures, full of beauty and history.

In the middle of the song, a couple students in our group got up to dance. “Let’s do the Bélé moves we learned earlier!” one of them shouted. They took off their shoes to dance barefoot, as tradition dictates your feet have to touch the same ground the slaves danced on. Everyone watched as American college students tried in vain to get the traditional moves right, with our professor, our guide, and her fiancé joining in. The band was grateful for our enthusiasm and others in the restaurant enjoyed the show. Then a woman from a nearby table jumped out of her seat and joined us, showing us the right way to do the dance moves. With our whole group laughing, dancing, or filming, we all enjoyed this truly immersive moment. Travelers and locals side by side, sharing a culture they don’t have to share, but choose to. Martinique invited us into their little world, and I’m so grateful they did.

Scotties on a ferry to Fort-de-France

My main takeaway from this amazing trip is this: travel to places you’ve never heard of. Immerse yourself in a culture you didn’t know existed. Learn from people you didn’t expect to meet. Because when you do, you’ll discover worlds other than your own. You’ll learn that the beauty of the world doesn’t just exist in Paris, London, and New York, but also in the places you’ve never heard of, like the little island of Martinique. And if you ever get the chance to visit the island, drink some guava juice for me, and be thankful for the little world you get to see.