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Life in the U.S. vs The Caribbean: What are the differences?

November 19, 2018
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  The Caribbean is an exceptional area to live and study, and Anguilla and St. Vincent – homes to our two campuses – are two of the most beautiful and welcoming islands. Coming from the States, you’ll find some things similar to your stateside life – and many that are very different…in wonderful ways:  


Anguilla is around 16 miles from head to tail and three miles at its widest. The main island of St. Vincent is 18 miles long and 11 miles wide – each less than half the area of Chicago. But the islands aren’t crowded, and under the vast blue sky – unblocked by tall buildings – and blessed with wide swaths of tropical green – they both feel remarkably spacious. And the wonderfully relaxed lifestyle and extraordinary natural beauty (Anguilla is home to seven marine parks) are world-class. Combine that with the U.S. being just a plane-ride away, you have the very best of both worlds.  


Both Anguilla and St. Vincent share a British colonial heritage, and the rules-of-the-road is part of that. Just as in Britain, steering wheels are on the right side, and you drive on the left side of the road. It takes a little getting used to.  


Taxis are the primary mode of public transportation on the islands, but unlike in the States, there are no meters, and you negotiate the price with the driver before you begin your trip. On St. Vincent, you can also take flamboyantly painted buses, as well as minibuses that stop anywhere that someone needs to get off or on. Both of St. James campus’s run a student bus service that picks up and drops off students. Some St. James students own cars and sell them to new students when they graduate. Ferries and planes are the “railroads” that tie the islands of the Caribbean together.  


With their proximity to the Equator, the climates of Anguilla and St. Vincent are tropical and fairly consistent, with a year-round average temperature of 80-86°F. Steady trade winds make for great windsurfing and sailing. Sub-tropical Florida, the southernmost part of the U.S., is nearly twice as far from the equator – and it can sometimes freeze in the winter. Not on our islands.  


In the U.S. there are beaches. But on these two islands, there are BEACHES. And boating. And snorkeling and swimming in tranquil waters ranging from aquamarine to cobalt blue. There are few places in the U.S. mainland that can match this kind of seaside beauty. The Travel Channel ranks Anguilla’s collection of 33 pristine beaches #1 in the Caribbean. And St. Vincent is famed for its spectacular black sand beaches.  


The Caribbean and the Sun go together like peanut butter and jelly. Sunsets are spectacular on the islands, but, unlike the States, you’ll notice there’s very little twilight. That’s because Anguilla and St. Vincent are much closer to the Equator, and the sun sets quickly. The difference really is like night and day.  


Name your sport and there’s a good chance you’ll find it in Anguilla and St. Vincent. But the true ‘national’ sport of the Caribbean is cricket, and both Anguilla and St. Vincent sport national teams. You’ll find people playing this baseball-like game on any flat piece of ground or beach. So if you want to be a true ‘islander,’ you might want to learn terms like “wicket” and “golden duck.”  


English is the official language of Anguilla and St. Vincent. But most of the native Anguillans and Vincentians also speak dialects of Creole – a mixture of English, French, Spanish and African languages. So, if a minibus driver on St. Vincent shouts “Ooye, small up yoself,” you should make room for other passengers.  


People you pass will smile and say “Hi.” Walk along a road, and someone may offer you a lift. Life is slower paced than much of the States, and there’s a buoyancy that’s inimically Caribbean. But an almost formal politeness also reigns. Here’s some island etiquette:
  • Don’t sit until invited to do so when visiting a local’s home.
  • People typically address each other as Mrs., Mr., Dr., etc. unless they know each other very well.
  • People buy rounds when out drinking, rather than individual drinks.
  • Don’t behave like a tourist and wear your beachwear anywhere around town, particularly in shops and restaurants. It is prohibited.


Most goods you can buy Stateside you can also find in Anguilla and St. Vincent, but some may be priced higher than in the States. No surprise here: businesses are typically smaller and there’s the cost of shipping.  


When it comes to dining, go local and enjoy the distinctive flavors of Caribbean foods: pigeon peas, coconut, sweet potatoes, plantain, yellow corn, breadfruit, mangoes, limes, tamarind, bananas, taro, fresh fish, abundant crayfish and spiny rock lobsters. And, how many places are there in the U.S. where can you help yourself to a mango tree growing at the side of a road?  


Einstein showed that time is relative. Anyone who’s visited the Caribbean knows that “Island Time” is real, and things tend to move with their own natural rhythms. Of course, being in med school, making the most efficient use of your time is of the essence. But step outside into the sun and salt air, and the easy pace of island life will wash over you. And speaking of time, in Anguilla and St. Vincent it’s Atlantic Standard Time (Eastern Standard Time plus one hour).  


The official currency of both Anguilla and St. Vincent is the East Caribbean Dollar. You can use U.S. cash, but you’ll usually receive change in the local currency. Major credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted.   The Caribbean and the U.S. are different in many ways. But one thing you’ll find is exactly the same is a world-class medical education at St. James School of Medicine.  
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