From Rogers Lake to the Atlantic Ocean: Ms. Arnstein’s Life in the Virgin Islands


Edie Weinstein, Executive Editor

This past spring, when Ms. Arnstein announced her decision to move to the Virgin Islands, the class of 2021 reacted with a mixture of surprise, excitement for her, and a sense of loss as we envisioned a Vis without her presence.  However, thanks to Zoom, it’s still possible to chat with her, even if it’s not in her classroom.  This fall, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Arnstein to check in with her and ask her how her year is going so far.

When I asked Ms. Arnstein about the biggest difference she’s perceived since she moved, she immediately noted the culture around time. “Everything takes forever,” she said.  For example, her husband and she tried to open a bank account one day, arrived at the bank an hour before closing, and were turned away; the local bankers were very aware that the time needed to open a bank account would far exceed an hour, and so they asked her to come back for what ended up being a nearly two-hour appointment simply to open a checking account.  Ms. Arnstein noted that this cultural shift has been a challenge for her, but it has encouraged her to practice patience.  Aside from time, she described the need for mindful preparation when living on an island.  “You have to be mindful of everything,” she said, describing the planning needed to go shopping as the biggest stores are on a different island (St. Thomas), and the family must put their car on a car barge, plan ahead for the extra time, and make sure to buy all the necessary supplies lest they need to take another trip.

She is now teaching at a co-ed school, educating boys for the first time in her career.  She notes her students’ consternation at being assigned regular homework, but reminds them that she gives them homework because she wants them to be “well-rounded, educated, smart people.”  Ms. Arnstein is teaching in person with protective measures such as plexiglass shields that surround each student’s desk–referred to as sneeze guards, face shields, and masks, even though there are a low number of Coronavirus cases on the island.  “The biggest difference is now my work is more planning than grading,” she explained, as she now must teach to a variety of abilities because she teaches several grades, whereas she only taught one grade level and one periodic elective at Vis.  

Her transition has not been without challenges; her first impression of the island was anything but rosy.  “I thought I had made a huge mistake,” she said, describing her first trip to the island after taking the job.  “There was not a lot of beauty, and, in many places, it looked like a developing nation.”  But she quickly found that beauty was everywhere on St. John, which is mostly comprised of National Park Service land, and her new school’s mission continued to appeal to her.

A week after she and her family moved to St. John, the U.S. Virgin Islands shut down all tourism and non-essential businesses due to Covid cases, which provided another rocky introduction to their new surroundings.  However, as hard as it might have been, she now loves her new job and surroundings.  “It’s spectacularly beautiful.  The work has its challenges, but it’s so good for me,” she said.  Her new surroundings are gorgeous–she lifted up her computer to show me the view from her balcony, a stunning vista of blue ocean.  She is a mere walk from the ocean and swims often with her family, and although she misses her expansive garden from home, she has found a way to keep growing plants despite the clay soil.  In true Ms. Arnstein fashion, she has upcycled many containers to hold vegetables, herbs, and other plants.  She even showed me a Diaper Genie that she has now made into a planter!  

I also asked about her daughter, Lucy, whom the class of 2021 all had the pleasure of getting to know during the distance learning of last spring, when Lucy would often pop into our virtual classes with Ms. Arnstein.  “Lucy doesn’t love it yet,” Ms. Arnstein told me, “and she’s angry and unhappy.  But, although Lucy complains, she then swims in the ocean, snorkels, and sees sea turtles, so I’m not too worried about her having a good experience.”  Lucy still stays in touch with her friends from Minnesota, especially Señora Rosas’ daughters; they have Zoom playdates and play “Would You Rather.”  On behalf of the class of 2021, I would like to wish Lucy the best as she adjusts to the Virgin Islands.  Hopefully she can enjoy the year.

Ms. Arnstein does genuinely miss her students, coaching the Vis cross country team, and her colleagues.  Of course, we all miss her too!  Maybe Ms. Arnstein will be able to visit us at Vis someday, but until then, Zoom will have to do.