Kendrick Singleton had never set foot on an airplane prior to a recent University-sponsored trip. But that all changed in May 2023.
Singleton was one of 10 students and three staff members from Clemson University who traveled to Dominica — the “nature island of the Caribbean” — for a trip rooted in both service and adventure.
“Being from a small town in the lowcountry of South Carolina, there’s a lot I haven’t experienced,” admitted Singleton, a junior psychology major from Estill, South Carolina.
Singleton is a member of the Emerging Scholars program, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary at Clemson. He also works with the Office of College Preparation and Outreach, where he learned of the opportunity. In addition to his first flight, he experienced other firsts during the visit to Dominica, including the sight of three volcanoes in the area near the village of Cochrane — his home for the 10-day excursion.
Abby Bonker is a trip leader and equipment specialist with Clemson Outdoor Recreation and Education and environmental and natural resources major. She took an obvious interest in the local landscape. Dominica covers just 290 square miles and Bonker described the island as rugged and all-terrain.
“We all joked there’s something in these hills, both in Clemson and Dominica,” said Bonker, a senior. “It was very hilly with lush and green vegetation everywhere.”
Years ago, the Dominica trip was held each spring as an alternative break for Clemson students. In 2020, the trip was canceled due to the onset of a global pandemic.
Three members of the Campus Recreation staff — Robert Taylor, Kelly Bardusk and Taylor Williams — led the group’s exploits. They worked with several island partners to ensure a successful experience for students, including Discover Dominica Authority, Mountain Caapi Cottage Retreats and Soufriere Outdoor Center.
“We started running this trip in 2016,” Taylor said. “It’s a great cultural experience for students and introduces them to a different way of life. We encourage them to disconnect and live in the moment. Where we stay, you feel like you’re in the rain forest or jungle. You’re perched on the edge of a cliff looking out over the Caribbean. We ate entirely local cuisine, which included farm to table fruits and vegetables, baked cod fish for breakfast and mangos you can pick right off the tree.”
The group took part in service days in Cochrane and Soufriere. Some helped local farmers pick Irish potatoes and plant pineapples. Several helped paint the local community center. Others filled in potholes. And when the time called for it, the group made time for island adventures, such as hiking, kayaking and snorkeling.
“We often say the phrase, ‘It takes a village,’ and we really got to see that for its true meaning in Dominica,” Bonker said. “I hope to use those takeaways for community building and caring for one another and apply it to life here in Clemson.”
Singleton agreed and said it really hit home seeing some of the everyday struggles on the island.
“I imagined having to work all day climbing up and down mountains, and poor road conditions for cars,” he said. “It made me more appreciative of what we have by way of technology and resources here in America. The trip also showed me the value of teamwork. A little bit of help can go a long way.”