United States Virgin Islands Project

Haylee Brenek

Artistic and Creative Endeavors


From July 16 to July 24, 2018, I went to the United States Virgin Islands to learn artistically and academically.  I took the time to learn about the differences of mainland life and island life by talking with locals.  I studied the aftermaths of hurricane Irma and Maria along with how the government aiding the islands during and after the crisis. I also learned about the culture and the history of the island.  Lastly, I stepped out of my comfort zone and snorkeled for the first time and hiked in the mountains of the island while capturing my entire trip through note taking, photography, and videography. (Videos at: https://youtu.be/3BE3ymUwEi4) (Additional blog posts at: https://hayleebrenek.com/category/travels/)

During my project, I began to realize the horrors of the two hurricanes that hit the Virgin Islands in September of 2017.  Almost 10 months after, the island still shows the effects of the hurricanes.  Trees are bare, boats are overturned, and many business and homes are not yet rebuilt. While there, I went on an island tour of St. John.  My tour guide informed me a lot about the aftermaths of the two hurricanes.  The power was out for about 125 days on average and still can go out at random.  On top of that, many rooftops were destroyed and have yet to be rebuilt because of the lack of insurance being given back and only a percentage of help coming from the government group FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).  It has affected 100% of the population of St. John and even began concerns for when school will start back up.  One of the two schools on St. John is closed due to damages of the hurricane.  There are constantly construction workers at the sight working hard to get schools ready for September again, but the locals still fear that the schools won’t be opened back up in time resulting in students being sent to family members in the States or the fear of losing an education.

I also took the time to learn how different mainland life and island life.  Life is extremely laid back.  College degrees are not very common on the islands, most jobs are involved in the tourist-based economy.  The cost of living is above the United States average and most of the goods on the island are imported resulting in a higher cost of living.  If you plan on driving on the islands, don’t forget to drive on the left side of the road even though it’s apart of the United States.  On top of that, the USVI is represented in congress by the United States, but they do not have the right to vote.  Hitch hiking is another common thing on the islands.  There is a lack of cars and most of the locals are headed the same direction on one of the four roads on St. John.  The last big difference I noticed on the islands is the wildlife.  Don’t be surprised if you see wild donkeys, goats, cows, pigs, or chickens.

Because I experienced these things, it gave me a new perspective.  I gained so much knowledge of how the hurricanes really affected the islands and still is nearly a year after the catastrophe.  I became aware of the differences in lifestyles in the United States, but also the world while I was there.  It has pushed me to want to know more about the places I travel to and even the places I am living in.  I learned to not be afraid to speak out to the locals when I wanted to know more.  This project, in a sense, made me more worldly and gave me an understanding natural disasters and different lifestyles.

I think because I traveled not for leisure, but for a purpose, I want to take that into my next travels.  I want to learn more about the culture and the history of a place.  It was interesting to know what makes the USVI so unique.  I want to take that into drive to learn into learning about Ohio State, Columbus, different current events, and my passions for fashion, business, and film.  I got to advance myself in those aspects by giving me practice towards research in a place, learning a new skill in film photography, videography, and lead me towards new interests of government and diversity in life.

This is significant because it has changed me as a person.  This project made me learn more about a place that was so unknown to me.  In a world where no one is the same, this can apply to my everyday life.  I am going into Communications which pertains to everyone in the world.  The takeaway I took from this trip has driven me to learn about the differences in the world rather than just understanding people and things are different.  I have created a drive in myself that I was unaware about with my new interests in government and life.  I hope to always continue to be this way and always know that my artistic and creative endeavors project with STEP at Ohio State was just the start.

One thought on “United States Virgin Islands Project

  1. Haylee,

    It sounds like you learned a lot on your trip. I’m glad you see the value in finding local life while on vacation, outside of the tourist destinations. Having a global perspective is important-how do you want to continue learning about others? How can you put this knowledge into action? I hope you learn some great stuff about Columbus and choose to get involved in the community. Best of luck this semester!


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