Virgin Islands National Park

In the weeks leading up to this Partners in the Parks trip, I didn’t really know what to expect. Aside from a brief itinerary and a list of participants, I was going into it blind. I was just excited to be able to spend a week in the Virgin Islands National Park located on the island of St. John. But this trip far exceeded any expectations I ever could have had.

On the ride into Logan airport before departing for St. John, I kept on thinking about all of the activities and sites that I would see. But my dad kept asking me, “What do you think the people are going to be like?” This took me aback because I hadn’t stopped to think about that, but in the end, it was the amazingly diverse group of people that made this trip what it was. There were students from all over the United States, all the way from Iowa and Wisconsin down to Florida, and each person brought something different to the group. I have a lot of engineering friends back at Northeastern but this group of fifteen students had ranging majors from Women’s Studies to Environmental Science. It was cool to learn about all of their different interests and how we were all twenty-something year olds on this trip, but we were each at very different points in our lives and going in fifteen different directions.

Our activities throughout the week kept us active and engaged. We snorkeled a different bay every day. Some days, we hiked to the bay. Others, we were dropped off by our always enthusiastic taxi driver Hamilton. But when I say taxi, I’m not talking about your ordinary taxi. This was a converted truck with benches and open sides that made you just a little bit nervous when Hamilton took the turns on the windy, mountainous roads. One day, we even took a boat tour and snorkeled five different spots including Booby Rock. This was probably one of my favorite snorkels because it was a deep water snorkel, fifty feet or so. But it’s hard to say that because every snorkel was breathtaking. It seemed like I always saw a new species no matter where we went. Over the course of the week I saw sea turtles, sting rays, star fish, octopus, hundreds of species of fish, and my personal favorite: a school of 18 squid!

One experience resonates with me the most as I look back on the entire trip. On the last morning, those who wanted woke up at 4am and went back to hike one of the trails that we had done earlier in the week to see the sunrise. A group of maybe eight of us set out under a full moon and did the Ram’s Head Hike in a total, silent reflection. We reached the top a little bit early and each of us found our own spot and sat under the stars reflecting on the entire trip. I remember thinking about how much I like the simplicity of this trip; no smart phones, no social media, no worries. We watched the sunrise as a group and hiked back to what was the most delicious and satisfying breakfasts of the trip.

I wasn’t sure what this trip would mean to me or what I would be able to take away from it when I signed up, but I am so happy and thankful for the experience and the memories. I’m coming away from this PITP trip with a new perspective. I have rekindled the appreciation for nature that was always there but overshadowed as of late by the increasing influence of technology in my life. I promptly came back and changed my major from Industrial Engineering to Civil Engineering to have more of a focus on Environmental Engineering. And lastly, I have a greater focus on doing what makes me happy based off of the testimonies of those on the trip, the staff at VIERS where we stayed, and all of the time I had for reflection. Rereading the journal I kept on the trip I came across this passage that sums up my change in perspective:

“Being here has made me question my path at Northeastern and Industrial Engineering. Maybe this is paradise, but being here makes me happy. Learning about wildlife and being outdoors makes me happy. Living simply makes me happy. People always say, ‘get paid to do what makes you happy’. So what am I doing?”

And going into my sophomore year I don’t have a concrete answer for this just yet, but I’m starting to figure it out step by step and this trip was one step in the right direction.

Holbrook Phelan, Civil Engineering