Soaking up Cayman culture

The Public Beach jumped to life Wednesday afternoon, when 670 students from Florida’s Lynn University got a real taste of the sun, sand, sea, food, beach games and music Grand Cayman has to offer.

Public Beach

Erica Ebanks, second from left, surrounded by friends from Lynn University at the Public Beach.

The students, from the university in Boca Raton, were here on a special Academic Adventure, to discover the Grand Cayman they had studied last year. They disembarked the Carnival Triumph cruise ship in George Town Wednesday morning, before enjoying an excursion to Stingray City sandbar, followed by some snorkelling. Afterwards, the students and their group of 100 university faculty and administrative staff, sunk their toes into the sand of Seven Mile Beach and kicked back for a couple of hours.

A tasty Caribbean buffet laid on by catering group Mise en Place, including barbecued burgers, chicken, and a wide selection of salads and fruits, was consumed with enthusiasm by the hungry visitors. Tortuga Rum Cakes were also distributed to all students and the day was rounded off with some swimming, playing of sports, or simply chilling out to the smooth Caribbean sounds of band Mainstream.

Their week-long academic journey is designed to promote the understanding of other histories and cultures.

Throughout the previous fall semester (Sept-Dec 2005), students completed an online course focusing on the cultures and histories of Cozumel, Mexico, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, the three tour destinations of the cruise.

Another key aspect of the trip is the contests and games that take place on board the ship, which are designed to test the students on their knowledge of the places they are about to reach.

However, for one student, the trip was actually a visit home. Erica Ebanks, from Newlands, is a first year psychology student at Lynn University. Her mother Sheree welcomed the opportunity to see her daughter once more, having waved goodbye to her the previous Friday. Commenting on the academic adventure in general, the mother of the former Cayman Prep and High School student said, ‘I think it’s a fabulous opportunity to learn about the Cayman Islands and for us to host such a diverse group of potential tourists.

‘Lynn University is big on international studies, and this is part of a programme of opening the world up to students,’ she said.

In fact, so important is this opening up the world of cultures to students that a very small percentage of year-end credits go towards the Academic Adventure.

One student who had previously been here was Amanda Bitonti, who had visited four years ago on a cruise. ‘It’s the same as I remembered it. I found learning about it very interesting and the stingrays were great,’ she enthused.

It was Jessica Waller’s first time here and she hadn’t noticed any evidence of damage from Hurricane Ivan.

Faculty mentor, Professor Winston Aarons explained that the ship had set sail from Miami on Saturday and the first stop on the trip had been Cozumel, followed by Grand Cayman.

The students had learned about many different facets of the Cayman Islands, including its discovery and history, Government, the main economic leverages, including tourism and finance, and music.

‘One of the things the students have really loved about our visit is Stingray City and the snorkelling that followed,’ he explained.

While it is the students first time visiting, some of the university’s staff had been here over the previous two years with other first year students. Some noticed a lot of change and recovery since Hurricane Ivan, said Professor Aarons.

‘Some of the staff commented that they had seen a lot of development from last year, with places now rebuilt that had been damaged, and the dead vegetation that has been taken away.’

Another advantage to this year’s trip is that the weather was favourable, when last year bad weather caused the cancellation of the snorkel trip.

‘We love the Cayman Islands. It reminds a lot of the students of Key West in Florida, as it has a general look of the landscape there,’ he said.

Director of Marketing for Lynn University Carol Mandel said it was refreshing to find so many wonderful friendly people here. It was the first time the vast majority of the students had been given the opportunity to swim with stingrays and there was much screaming and laughing and overcoming their fears, she said.

Local entrepreneurs were on the beach vending their wares, which were being shown keen interest from the students. Luigi Moxam had his ‘One tree four five’ label of T-shirts, which he has recently launched.

‘It’s a celebration of Caymanian culture,’ he explained. ‘Three (spelled phonetically as ‘tree’) four five represents the area code, and one is the coming together of people,’ he said.

Other mottos on his T-shirts include ‘Love Culture’ and ‘Made in Cayman’, and the T-shirts, which cost about $20 to $25, come in vintage, funky or more conservative styles.

‘I think it’s a great opportunity to promote the Caymanian culture in a positive way,’ he said.

Carol Zawistowski of Island Glass Blowing was also on hand with a beautiful range of glass ware, from $8 up.