Hello everyone! I wanted to write this blog post for new or interested students to SJSM because I wish I had something like this to reference on before I came to the island.
I stressed SO MUCH before I came to the island. I feel like I started stressing back in June-July, and I wasn’t leaving the US until the end of August. For the record, I came here in August 2015. I asked so many questions, bothered so many people about so many topics. Thankfully, I had a great experience and everyone I spoke with was tremendously helpful! I can’t thank them enough for taking time out of their day to talk with me and reassure me. So that is what I want to do for the new students! I hope I will cover everything in this post, but please message me or leave a comment below if you have any additional questions.
Airlines I know that is a huge concern for many people, coming to the island of St. Vincent. It is not an easy task getting here. However, it is worth it because the island is beautiful and you will only have to deal with travels when going home on break (if you plan on doing that). The airport here is INCREDIBLY small. Literally, one giant room with customs and baggage claim. Liat is the only airlines that comes to the island. [[EDIT: since the original post, the new international airport in St. Vincent has been opened. Incoming students will no longer experience the struggle that was ET Joshua Airport haha — at least you can still read about it here]]. Anyways, I heard a lot of horror stories before flying with LIAT, which added to my stress, but in the end I did not have any bad experiences. Normally, they say that you’re allowed one carry-on bag (small luggage, weekender bag, duffle bag, etc.) that weighs 15lbs or less. You are also allowed 1 personal item (bookbag, purse, etc) that is not weighed. At the check-in gate, they will weigh your “carry-on” so make sure it is 15lbs or less. I was lucky and they actually did not weigh my carry-on bag (I think because I had already paid for 2 extra luggages and the desk clerk was very friendly). However, it really just depends on which desk clerk you get, and what island you are leaving from… I went from Atlanta, GA to Barbados on a direct flight from Delta Airlines. Then I went from Barbados to SVG. I had a 4-5hour layover in between my flights, which was so ideal. I had to get off the Delta flight, go to baggage claim, collect my bags, go through Barbados customs, and then leave the “arrivals” area of the airport and walk to the “departures” area and check-in at the Liat kiosk. After that, I had to go through security again, and then finally got to my gate with 45minutes to spare. Try to get at least 3-4 hours layover if possible, just because you don’t know what you will go through at the airport. Especially with having to leave one airline, collect baggage, and check back into Liat. I decided to just pay for the extra baggage because it was very expensive to ship items to the island, and I wanted to bring a lot of things with me.
Island Life For necessities, you can buy almost anything at the grocery store. There is one right beside the school campus. They have plenty of food selections and occasionally have American snacks like Oreos and Doritos, if you like that sort of thing. I am not a picky eater, and I have been exposed to different cultures prior to moving to the island, so I do not have any issues with the food selection or the grocery stores. They have an average assortment of meats in the grocery store. Sometimes they are out of stock, so I recommend stocking up when they have a good selection and storing it in your freezer. I personally don’t eat much meat so I don’t have this issue. It can be frustrating because the stores are often out of stock of important items, and it can be a hassle to go to many stores to find 1-2 items. I definitely recommend stocking up as much as you can when products are available. There are some awesome stores downtown where you can buy home supplies (pots, pans, toiletries, etc.) There is also a fresh market in town where you can buy fish and they can prepare it for you (remove bones, filet, etc.) for a small fee. You can basically find anything you need here, with a little help from the upperclassmen. If they do not have your exact product, they will have something similar. I have had no issues. One thing that a lot of my friends had trouble finding on the island were clothes hangers and pillows – however, we have found some places to purchase those if you don’t already have them.
Housing In my first semester, I only checked out one place and sent my deposit before I arrived on the island. This was after weeks of talking to current students living there, communicating almost daily with the landlady, and having other friends who were going to be living there. I would have never done that if I wasn’t 100% confident in the area and the apartments! The only problem is that it was about 10-15minutes from campus, but the schoolbus picked us up and takes us home every day which was not an issue for me. I did not mind doing that. If you prefer walking to/from school, there are a lot of students who do that and are happy with their living situations. There are a lot of places around the school’s vicinity that are within walking distance. I know the prices of rent vary from place to place… I roughly used to pay $400USD/month but I also had a 4-bedroom unit, so all the roommates chipped in for the overall cost of the unit per month. I have since moved and pay much less than that – so there are other options affordable if you have a lower budget like myself. I know other people pay as low as $200 and as much as $700/$800 USD. It really just depends what your budget is, and where you are comfortable staying. Also depends on how much electricity you use and air conditioning. Most places do not include electricity in their rent prices because of the air conditioning. Personally, I am fine with cooling my room down for an hour with the air conditioning, and then sleeping with a small fan beside my bed. On average, my portion of the electricity bill has been between $40-$50USD/month. I have gotten used to the heat, and especially at night when it’s dark, it isn’t too bad. The campus manager has a housing list; I am sure you guys will be receiving it soon so you can start contacting landlords ahead of time. Another option is to ask upperclassmen (MD4 specifically) who are getting ready to leave the island – so you can chat with them about their housing arrangement and perhaps you could take over someone’s house/apartment when they leave.
Transportation Regarding school, there are buses that make stops to the different houses/apartment complexes that students are at. For MD1, the bus is free, but MD2-MD4 there is a charge of $50USD/month (as of now). Since my first complex was a little farther away, we normally got picked up around 7:00-7:10am, picked up other students, and arrived at school anytime between 7:30-7:50am depending on traffic. The bus leaves after classes at 5:15, and there are buses at 8:15 and 10:15pm if you decide to stay after school. For those who don’t want to take the bus or don’t want to pay for the bus in upperclassmen semesters, they have “dollar vans”. Essentially, they are 18-passenger vans that make several stops all over the island. Certain vans go to different parts of the islands. They only cost $2EC per trip. One downfall is that they try to pack as many people into the vans as they can (I think the record for us was once 22 people? Can’t remember). A lot of upperclassmen take these vans to/from school every day, walk, or rent a car. Talk with your landlord about transportation because occasionally some apartments/houses come with use of a car (not many – but there are some!). If there is no car, some complexes also arrange a private van and pick-up times for their tenants. One popular thing I have noticed this past semester is that many students are renting cars. I know with AVIS, there is a $400/month deal for medical students where you can rent a car to use. Groups of my friends split the cost of this and share a car if they live together, or close together. Another option is to buy a used car from a local, or from a current student.
Overall, I am very satisfied here. I truly think I made a great decision to choose St. Vincent; it is such a beautiful island and I have met some great people. I hope this blog post has helped! Feel free to check out my other post on frequently asked questions if you want any more general information about the school and application process.
My final advice: Be willing to arrive with an open mind and know that your time here on the island is only a small fraction of your medical career! It is hard to believe that I have been here for over a year already.