Erasmus+ KA227 Teachers' training in Sint Maarten

The second meeting of ERASMUS+ KA227_2021–2023 “United colors of young European businessmen” took place in Sint Maaten, a tiny island the size of Tallinn, from January 17th to 21st. This time though it was a teachers’ training focusing on how to teach entrepreneurship and acquire a savvy business mindset. To fully grasp the size and mentality of the small island, I must begin telling the story weeks before the actual trip. Before leaving for the Caribbean, we were told of a hurricane season which lasts from June through November, about the touristic season which starts from January/February and of course the undying anticipation of the local hosts. Personally, I have never travelled outside of Europe, except for Israel and Morocco. Even the thought of an 11 hour flight from Helsinki to Miami or the huge amount of paperwork needed for travelling via the States (and the Covid situation of course) sent a wave of anxiety throughout my body. I didn’t know what to pack, what NOT to pack, is it really that warm there? Is my 30 SPF sunscreen enough or will my pale northern skin turn ruby red even with 50 SPF? After all, how bad can the sun really be? Yet somehow when the plane touched down on the magnificent small island, all our worries were swept away as if the carefree vibe of the entire Caribbean people entered our souls. The warm sea breeze, the setting sun, the Jurassic-Park-looking mountains, and the smell of barbequed shrimps filled the air. We were finally here after almost 24 hours of travelling. And it truly was the perfect beginning to a teachers’ training. At first sight it did seem like a paradise – a word frequently used at the end of the training. I got the familiar feeling of Monkey Island and Jurassic Park mixed all together. The food was simply amazing, of course, mainly being jerk chicken and rice but also fresh seafood, coconut water, a local beer “Carib” (referring the original peoples who lived here before Europeans came for a “visit”) and endless rum cocktails. The white beaches and almost mesmerizing light blue ocean, the turtles and iguanas, the warmth of the locals were all too good to be true and made me want to shake the locals who seemed a bit down and ask them if they even know that where I’m from, we do not have tiny dinosaurs lounging on the docks or huge palm trees giving shade from the tropical sun. That it was precisely minus 20 degrees of Celsius back in Estonia, people wear four layers of clothing, and the sun comes out for some 3–4 hours a day. Yet slowly, day by day, we came to realize that this paradise is a façade and the locals do have problems, even bigger problems than a freezing cold January or the lack of sunlight. So what could POSSIBLY be so horrible about this paradise island? Well hurricanes for one. Every year they live with the horrid fact that a hurricane could strike the island again. Seeing the abandoned and destroyed buildings (there weren’t that many) for the first time was quite a shock. Sure, I’ve seen documentaries about hurricane Irma or Katrina but I have never witnessed any catastrophe with my own eyes. But the people are headstrong, they will not leave their homes, they will continue living, build their houses up again, help clean the streets, and maybe do some looting (but who wouldn’t steal a few bottles of rum when your entire life is turned upside down?). Secondly, due to its miniature size there’s not much of local anything. The food is from a variety of different cultures and even all the ingredients of the famous Guavaberry rum (which supposedly only grew on Sint Maartin) is being imported from Miami just because there is not enough land to grow or produce anything. A rum museum was owned by an American, the Star Wars Museum (created by “The Yoda Guy” Nick Maley) – owned by a Brit. The various small businesses – mostly Chinese. Our hosts who also owned an import business – Turkish. All which is not bad at all, quite the opposite, all of this taught us that even in the toughest of times, business can still bloom. People come together and help each other, they are very welcoming of tourists – mostly because that’s where the money is, and they are just a lovely community. And what is that if not a perfect example of entrepreneurship? And even though the program was well-written, and it was wholesome to see the friendly faces of all the teachers we met back in Salobreña, the most teaching moments of the entire training appeared out of nowhere by just exploring the island and (almost) getting scammed, which in itself is another long and funny story which I will not talk about but is just another perfect example of how to do business. And to finish my lovely memoir, I will tell you the story of Nick Maley. Back when he went to school the choices they were given were simple. You either worked in a factory or in an office. But his teacher told him he was too dumb to do either of those jobs. So, in spite of everything, he started doing his own thing and led an amazing life contributing to many of our most beloved movies to date. I salute you, Nick, and it was a true pleasure to meet and talk with you. May the force be with you, always.

Written by Berit

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