Readjusting to the Mainland 101 – “Rossie Rehabilitation”

So this past weekend marked the end of seventh semester for the Ross University class the Mister and I started with back in April of 2013. Green semester has returned home to the mainland, and our friends are struggling a little with the transition back to first-world life. So, since the Mister and I have been back stateside for almost a year now, we’ve (well, I’ve) decided to help “rehabilitate” the island-dwellers with an orientation course of sorts.

So, in the spirit of what I used to call “Top Ten Thursdays,” here are ten lessons recently-returned Rossies should keep in mind during this transition period.

  1. Intersections: There are stop signs and traffic lights here, and you do actually have to stop a few times between your house and your destination. Yes, I know it’s annoying, but it’s the way things are here. Google the rules about turning arrows, right of way and right on red because you’ve probably forgotten how to handle those.
  2. Passing other drivers: There is a thing here called a “double yellow line.” There are also sometimes things called “passing lanes.” Familiarize yourself with their meanings and purposes, because they are important. Don’t do like I did and fly around somebody in the oncoming lane just because you can… because my person turned out to be the mailman, but your person might turn out to be a cop.
  3. Police: If your person that you flew around on a double yellow DOES turn out to be a police officer, don’t offer him or her money. I know that was the accepted thing on the island, but it’s sort of frowned upon here on the mainland.
  4. Money: Prices here are in U.S. dollars. All prices – not just things at fancy hotels. The U.S. dollars are the green ones; the money with all the colorful sea turtles doesn’t work here, so don’t try. At first you will mentally multiply everything by three and add import and VAT taxes to find the price in EC and then think, “This is only $20. $20! Can you believe it? We can afford 15 of them!” But don’t. Just because that shower curtain costs $3 US and not $25EC doesn’t mean you need one in every color. This will be hard, so stay strong.
  5. Technology: When you return to the States, you will likely acquire some sort of Smart Phone. Or at least a phone with speaker capabilities (unless you’re me and the Mister, who still haven’t gotten there yet). These phones are very complicated and can do things like actually call the person you want to call, deliver text messages on time and sometimes even talk to you. Do not be afraid – that voice is contained within the phone and won’t come out to strangle you in your sleep. Yet. (Also, people here expect you to carry your phone with you at all times and answer it reliably. This is a skill I have not yet remastered.)
  6. Air conditioning: There is another wonderful thing here called “air conditioning.” It’s this thing where you tell a little box on the wall how hot or cold you want it to be in your house, and cold air comes out of the walls to make you happy. It’s wonderful. Use it as much as you want. It’s not free, but there is no reason the bill should be $900 a month (and if it is, complain. This is not considered “normal” here.).
  7. “American” time: Time passes much more quickly here on the mainland than it does on the island. It is not normal for food to take an hour to reach your table, and if it does you will probably get it for free. Also, you will be expected to get to places “on time,” which means at or before the time the event is scheduled to begin. You can’t simply assume the event won’t start for another hour and show up then. That’s not how it works here.
  8. Fast food: Speaking of food not taking an hour, there is even an entire eating genre called “fast food.” You can drive next to a building, tell a little talking box what you want to eat, and you can be eating it in five minutes or less! You will probably gain some weight in these transition months, because who doesn’t want to eat something you can have in five minutes?! But try to control yourself. You’ll thank me later.
  9. Centipedes: Be sure to check your luggage, anything in your luggage and the areas around your luggage thoroughly for stowaways. It has happened. My in-laws didn’t see a single ‘pede while on the island, but managed to bring two of them home last year. (Don’t worry; they were immediately extinguished and a centipede uprising was prevented on American soil.) After the initial check, you can relax. The centipedes here do not bite, are not poisonous and will not make a home out of your pillow cases. However there will be a long period where you may freak out in front of your neighbors when that long black smudge on the wall looks like it might attack. Develop a cover story for this situation early so your new friends don’t think you’re simply crazy and afraid of moving shadows. *shudder*
  10. Seasons: They change here. You’ve spent the last two years and four months on a tropical island where the only seasons are “raining” and “not raining.” Here, it will start to get cold in about two months. Sooner for those of you resettling in the northern part of the country. I know you probably haven’t seen a sweater or a pair of thermal leggings since 2013, but you’re gonna want to find those, and soon. You’re probably shivering right now, since anything under 78 degrees feels like the arctic. You’ve also discovered the air conditioner at this point, so you’ll want to bundle up in those jeans and hoodies just for the sake of cranking that beautiful central air unit all the way down and bragging about it to your friends.
  11. BONUS! Grocery shopping: You do not have to shake all the pasta boxes to find one without bugs. You do not have to put your cereal, rice and noodles in the freezer to kill the weevils. You should never have to skim floating insects off the top of your boiling water again. You also have a significantly increased expectation that the milk and dairy products you’ve selected will still be good the next day. Or, for that matter, later that same day when you open the container and take that first sip. And if you run out of something – YOU CAN DRIVE DOWN THE STREET AND BUY SOME MORE! (Although keep #4 in mind at all times.) Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

Take notes. There will be an exam.

Happy homecoming to you all, and may the force be with you.

-The Missus

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Top Ten Thursday – 10 Things to Know Before Going Grocery Shopping in St. Kitts

1. Be prepared for the sticker shock. A package of Charmin toilet paper can be $32EC.

2. Check all expiration dates and examine food through plastic windows whenever possible. If you buy cereal, ask at the register if you can open the box and inspect the bag.

3. Be familiar with the three major grocery stores and their standard prices so you know what items are cheapest where. Rams sells many items in Bulk; Best Buy carries more name-brand things; IGA has weekly sales and is sometimes cheaper.

4. Know that the stores generally restock on Wednesdays. This means go on Thursday mornings whenever you can.

5. Get produce at the markets first, then at the grocery stores. The campus market is small and on Wednesdays; the city market is much larger and on Saturdays.

6. Do not trust the shelf stickers. Compare the sticker item numbers to the bar code numbers on the box/can before trusting that it’s the right sticker. Also, when things don’t have stickers, it’s a gamble. You can’t just estimate based on the prices of similar items on the same shelf.

7. Try not to buy things out of the freezer section if you can help it. First of all, the freezers are never cold enough to actually keep things frozen, which brings the safety of the food into question. And secondly, if it has to be frozen there’s a reason for it, and it will be thawed by the time you get home anyway so there isn’t much point.

8. Sign up for all the shoppers’ numbers and cards, since they do sometimes get you discounts. However, they only process the applications once they have a full “batch” (however many that may be), so you might go shopping for the next three weeks and not be able to benefit from the number. Also, you collect “points” when you shop with your card or use your shoppers’ number, but it’s not like at home where you can redeem them for things. Here, at certain times of the year (I’m told in December), the points will suddenly become redeemable and you can use them on certain products.

9. Put your groceries on the belt in the order you want them bagged, because the cashiers and baggers don’t care how they are sorted. A package of frozen bagels will go right into the bag with bathroom cleaner and hamburger helper if you’re not careful.

10. Call your taxi when you get into the checkout line. It will take the taxi 10 minutes to get back to the store (at least) and you’ll be in line at least that long anyway while the cashier ignores you and talks to her friends at the other register.

(10b. If you’re riding in a taxi, don’t buy more than 3-4 bags of groceries and make sure the tops can be tied. You’ll want to tie them closed and tie them together before putting them in the taxi so you know they are yours and so they won’t roll everywhere. If you’re riding in a bus – good luck with that.)

Top Ten Thursday – 10 Things to Bring With You to Ross

1. Bring basic kitchen tools with you in your luggage. I brought measuring cups and spoons, a good paring knife, a meat thermometer, a good spatula and a can opener. (We fit them into the small pockets and lining of our garment bag suitcase.) Those I would definitely recommend, as well as some food storage containers, if you can fit them, and a few basic spices. I also wish I’d brought a mixing bowl, a whisk, kitchen tongs and a vegetable peeler. Yes, the kitchens here (in the dorms especially; the off campus apartments are better) are stocked with cookware and small appliances, but it’s only basic basic items. You’ll be amazed the things you never think about that you suddenly don’t have access to and really wish you did.

2. Bring as many towels (all types) as you can fit in your luggage. You can buy them here if you want, and that’s fine, but either way be prepared to go through a large number of towels. Things in the dorms never get completely dry – or at least in our room they don’t. It’s all the humidity and the lack of a good ventilation system. I wash towels constantly because everything gets that musty, wet-dog smell after 3-4 days.

3. Which reminds me, bring laundry detergent. I brought a gallon-sized ziplock bag of those little Tide detergent pods. They’re wonderful! No bottle to pack and worry about leaking; no bottle to lug around; I just toss one in from my little baggie and we’re done! If you do laundry on campus they are card-operated machines and the washers and dryers are BOTH $8EC a load (so $16EC total). HOWEVER, you can save $8EC by splitting the dry cycle. The dryers automatically give you about 75 minutes of drying time, and there is no way to decrease that. No load of laundry really needs 75 minutes in the dryer; our clothes are always done in 30. So always try to wash two loads one right after the other, since the washers take 30 minutes, so then you can use one dry cycle for two wash cycles. That $8EC adds up over time!

4. Bring supplies for whatever craft/hobby you have (if you’re a VIP). I finally found a few balls of yarn to buy off a professor who’s moving, and I was so happy to finally have something to do with my hands during the long hours of watching television or waiting for dinner to cook. (Thankfully I was smart enough to have brought my crochet hooks.)

5. Bring extra toiletries of all types. Pack as many bottles of soap, tubes of toothpaste, bottles of contact solution, cans of bug spray, etc. as you can fit in your luggage. You’ll be glad you did.

6. Bring sunscreen in various SPF numbers. I personally really like the spray-on kind because it’s quick, easy and not greasy at all (we have the CVS brand), but it does run out pretty quickly. The lotion is fine too if you prefer that. Something is different about the atmospheric protection here, and even people who’ve never burned in their lives wake up like lobsters the morning after the beach.

7. Bring sheets and pillows. The dorms have full-sized beds, but US full-size sheets will not fit them properly. If you can, try to shrink them some before you come, and if you have room, bring more than one set. The dorms also come with pillows, but they are the super flat, super tiny almost travel-type pillows that are 30 years old. The Mister and I fit three of them into one of our pillow cases before we finally found a store here (TDC Hardware – $60EC each) that sells better pillows. I know it’s hard to pack pillows, but use them as your comfort carry-on or put them in vacuum-seal bags. You’ll miss them if you don’t.

8. Bring decorative items (with command hooks and strips). You’re so far from home, even just a few familiar items will make your place feel more comfortable.

9. If you have space, absolutely bring non-perishable food items – especially things you eat all the time. Have a favorite brand or flavor of coffee? A favorite gum or not-melty candy? A favorite type of soup? Bring them. Even bringing basic things like peanut butter, popcorn, crackers and noodles will save you money at the grocery store.

10. Bring movies or TV shows on DVD. VIPs will want these distractions and students have to take breaks every now and then. Netflix and/or Hulu subscriptions are great, get them if you can, but be warned that they don’t work the same way outside the US. We can get many of the things we would have watched at home, but they come with Spanish subtitles, and some movies/shows aren’t available here at all. It has to do with where your IP address is coming from (in our case, Puerto Rico – aka, Spanish movies).

**I’m adding #11 after the fact because I just glanced around our room and thought of it – bring surge protectors. We currently have two and that seems to be a good number for us – but they are both almost full. You are not allowed to have octopus or other multi-outlets. Only surge protectors with switches. Also, bring a wireless router, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Students don’t need this so much, but VIPs, who only have ethernet access to the internet (oh yeah, bring an ethernet cord too), will appreciate it.

*DISCLAIMER: I know this is all overwhelming. Before we moved, I would read the school’s “official list of things to bring” and then read blog posts of students saying things to bring and then read the baggage weight limits for our airline and think, “HOW IN THE WORLD AM I SUPPOSED TO PACK ALL THOSE THINGS???” Trust me, we know. A good rule of thumb is: if you use it on a daily basis or use it for class, if it makes you feel comfortable in your own home, or if it helps you keep your sanity, bring a supply. Paying the costs for an extra bag or an overweight bag will be worth it in the long run if it lets you take those things that will keep you from crying every day or murdering a rude cashier who doesn’t know if the island stocks SweetTarts. (FYI – I don’t think it does.)

Top Ten Thursday – 10 Basic Things to Know Before Moving to Ross

*My Top 10 lists are not necessarily in order of importance.
**Some of these things are for couples in particular, since that has been our experience, but single students can learn from them as well.

1. When applying for housing, it’s easy to look at the housing rates and decide “We’re married. We can live in the same room together for four months to save the extra money on a bigger dorm apartment.” I strongly caution you about this. Yes, it’s cheaper, but there is literally nowhere to move around. Everywhere you go you’re in the same place and there is no room to get away from each other when you are both home. Living on campus is not such a bad idea the first semester, since you won’t have a car for a while and it helps you meet people, but don’t go with an efficiency (studio) apartment. Splurge for a two-bedroom or opt to go off-campus right away. (Efficiencies are fine for single students.)

2. Make finding a car your first big financial priority. Yes, there’s a public transportation system that can take you virtually anywhere you want to go, but trust me, it gets old fast. Cars down here are not like cars in the states; they all have weird problems and would never be given a second glance off the island. But here, it’s all you’ve got, so bring your standards down and get used to it. The average vehicle around here in between 5-7,000 US dollars, when you wouldn’t pay 2,000 back home. But take heart, you can probably sell it to an incoming student when you leave and make most of your money back. (Single students will want to keep this in mind as well, although it’s much easier for a single student to use the public transportation or bum rides off other students for the first semester and buy a car once you move off-campus.)

3. Bring plenty of cash with you in your luggage. The Mister and I only brought enough cash to pay our Visa fees, which we thought they would take at the airport, and brought the rest in traveler’s checks. You don’t pay your Visa fees at the airport, and you don’t deposit traveler’s checks until 5-6 days after you arrive, so thankfully we were able to use that cash for spending money or we would have been in a lot of trouble. You’ll eat out A LOT during orientation week, so be sure you have enough cash with you for a week of expenses. And remember, it’s a tourist economy so things are expensive here.

4. Wean yourself (or your husband, in my case) off milk and soda. Ram’s is the only grocery store that sells large packs of soda bottles (or cans, for that matter), and a 24-pack pallet is around $60EC ($1US = $2.7EC. You do the math. Still not good.). Milk is about $11EC a quart, so we only use it for cooking now and the Mister has just had to learn to live without his three gallons a week. Milk is also very unpredictable, since it’s not processed in all the same ways as in the states. Regardless of the printed expiration date, it’s a toss-up. I’ve bought milk and had it last in our fridge beyond the printed date, and then I’ve bought the same brand from the same store and had it be semi-solid in 3 days (long before the printed date). So you never really know.

5. Also wean yourself off chicken, if that’s a personal favorite, and prepare to eat a lot of fish. Ground beef isn’t such a problem to find and usually turns out well, but chicken is another story. You can find it, but I wouldn’t always eat it; let’s put it that way.

6. The VIP (very important partner – aka, the non-student) needs some sort of creative/productive hobby. Lots of VIPs have online jobs from the States, which is awesome if you can find one, but otherwise, you need a hobby. Whether you paint, sew, crochet (like me), read, write, do complex mathematical formulas, it doesn’t matter. You just need something to occupy your free time, because trust me, you’ll have a lot of it.

7. Be comfortable being apart. Clingy couples will not make it here. Neither will over-protective/jealous couples. You won’t spend a ton of time together during the week because the student will be in the lab or studying with other students, so the VIP has to be comfortable on his/her own. If you’re not good at making friends without your significant other around, practice before you come. If you don’t like your significant other having a lot of friends of the opposite sex, get over it. Most students are female and most VIPs are male, so if you’re a male student and a female VIP, that’s going to happen a lot.

8. iPads are something I think all students should consider here. It’s an investment that will really be beneficial in the long run. The Mister has apps to track his constantly-changing class schedule, to organize and search through his notes, to view class powerpoint presentations and to create flashcards with images of the various bones, muscles, etc. iPads are also much easier to carry around campus and to use at other places on the island (beaches, pools, restaurants, etc.) if you want to study on the go. You can also hide them down in your bag easier than a large laptop, which is important to not getting it stolen.

9. Don’t order your textbooks from the campus website. Just don’t. Find them on amazon.com or through another online retailer, or see if upperclassmen are selling them on the various Ross students facebook pages (that’s probably where you’ll get the best deal). If you HAVE TO order them from the school page for whatever reason, only do it if you have several months in advance of when classes start, and don’t bother paying for more than standard shipping. They won’t get here when they are supposed to. Period. It never happens, so just don’t even waste the money or the brain cells worrying about it.

10. Bring a camera, one for each person if you can afford it. It doesn’t need to be a big fancy camera, just something to keep in your pocket for those off-guard moments when you glance across the sea on the way to class or the market and see Nevis haloed in mist and rainbows. Trust me; you’ll want to snap that. Also, if it takes underwater pictures, be prepared to share because everyone will want to borrow it. It is gorgeous here, despite the discomforts, and you’ll definitely want to have those pictures to look back on and remind yourself that the experience wasn’t a loss after all. (And to post on Facebook and make your friends and family jealous. :-))