The worldwide Augustana College experience

Diamonds In The Rough

Going into our first day of teaching at the Alpha Girls School I was a little bit nervous. I have never actually taught any class. The most that I have done is help out and observe during a clinical. I knew that I was in for much more. At the beginning of the day, before we began teaching, we told one of the teachers in the math department that we were going to be teaching and she replied with a joking “good luck”. It was a friendly “good luck”, but it also seemed to imply that the girls were going to be misbehaved and hard to handle. However, after the first five minutes of being in our 5th form pull out session any doubts or nerves that I had about the week were completely gone. The girls were smiling from ear to ear almost the entire lesson. They were incredibly well behaved, respectful, genuine, and interested in what we had to say to them. It was as if they were excited to be learning algebra! They were interested in what we had to say, but I cannot imagine them being more interested in us than we were in them. Here were young girls that have had rough upbringings and are living in poverty that are extremely respectful and truly care about their education and I was captivated by it. It was incredible to see the way that they were determined to learn the material. Perhaps part of it was that they had the CXC exams coming up so they knew a specific reason that they needed to know the material, but they also really cared about their education.

While in our cooperating teacher, Ms. Rose’s 6th form class, the girls were getting a little rowdy. Ms. Rose told the girls to quiet down or she was going to leave. I immediately thought that this was a horrible strategy to get students to quiet down, but I had underestimated the students. That silenced them like you wouldn’t believe. The thought of their teacher leaving and them not learning anything that period was enough to bring them to their best behavior. I feel as if a teacher tried this technique in america the students would only get louder. They would not care if the teacher left. If anything, they would prefer it if the teacher left. The way in which the students at Alpha Girls School view education is so different than the way the students in america view education. I know, because they definitely have a more positive view towards it than I did. At Alpha the girls were not just trying to get by and get through school. They were trying to get as much out of it as they could. They realize that the education that they are getting is not free, it is costing their family a great deal of money, their family does not have much money in the first place, and that education is the way out of poverty in Kingston.

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The Great Huts were that GREAT

Driving to the great huts was an adventure to say the least. The road went from a nicely paved highway to practically a single lane road with as many pot holes as the roads in Rock Island. Yet, Dr. Egan got us to the Great Huts in one piece. My first walk through of my hut left me speechless. It was absolutely amazing! The view was gorgeous, the space we had in our place was awesome, and the fact that everything was just in the outdoors was spectacular. Our shower has to be the best part of our hut. It is in the shape of a boat, with no curtains, and looks straight out into the sea! Yes, when I take a shower I can see the waves crashing into the rocks just down below is where our beach is located. Yes, if someone was on the rocks diving off into the water, they could see me in my shower. But no, no one has seen any of us yet. We also had a outdoor bar connected to our hut, but no drinks… We had two chairs made out of stone looking out over the ocean, which I am currently on writing this blog. Our hut was connected to some of the other huts the girls were staying in as well as a mini pool that looked out over the edge as well. The views from all of the huts were amazing and just left me speechless most of the stay.

Yet, the huts were not the only thing that we did while staying in Boston Bay. We played dominoes with the locals at night, went to the Blue Lagoon (it was the bluest water you’ll ever see in your life), went to Reach Falls and had a great lunch, and went to some local dancing and parties at night. It was unbelievable everything that we did. The Blue Lagoon and the villa we stayed in was absolutely amazing. Chef Joseph that cooked us food was the man! His food was amazing to the last bite! Everything he made got eaten by all of us. There wasn’t a drop left after dinner from what he made. The lunch after Reach falls was just as good as chef Joseph’s! The food in general has been amazing for every single meal. There had not been a meal yet where I went hungry or was like I don’t like this. It all has been so good it has been unreal. I am looking forward to the Boston jerk tonight for our last night in the Great Huts. I’ll let you all know about it at the end of this post. But first let me talk a little more about playing dominoes and the Reach Falls which have been my favorite things so far for the Great Huts stay.

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How can words give Justice to the importance of this experience?

Wow what an amazing school! Alpha is a incredible atmosphere, the girls are so friendly, funny, but most of all they are dedicated!

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What you can’t Get at a Resort: The Most Important Things

We have left the resort and are now in the middle of our stay in the great huts. There is a complete transformation in our experiences to go along with it. We made our way driving along the coasts on the narrow roads dodging people and traffic. Now that we are out of the resort we have started to get a glimpse into Jamaican culture outside of the “resort culture”.

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Feeling Jamaica

This last week in Jamaica has got me to feel more and more what Jamaica is about. Through its people, through experiences, but even more importantly, through it education system. While the schools are modeled after the British system of education, it was different because the students had different goals, but they were still learning the same material, and had similar challenges.
One day while working after school, I had the chance to talk with a 6th grade student regarding her geography book and class with Joey. While this was interesting to see what they were learning in school, some of the stuff that she shared with us regarding the island and the state of racism shocked me. She was discussing how the whites had power in society but that he and he family since they were black did not have this power. She not only shared how there was racism in Jamaica but she expressed a very strong opinion regarding it and its presence when people would try and tell her it did not exist. I grew up like a normal white child and did not experience much racism, so for me, this was a very educated student in regards to race issues within society, but is that because I did not deal with these issues growing up and they are present in our society I am just not aware of them, or is this knowledge lacking in our society. I am leaning towards the former, and it has helped me to see a little more into a part of our society in the United States from this one encounter with a student. While I am not educated about this regards to the united states, when this is coming from a 6th grade student on an island that is mostly her race, and she is seeing the oppression by whites, this shows me that this is probably true about our society as well. While we were in a school, this racial undertone was part of Jamaica; I was feeling and experiencing Jamaica.
The second day we were at the school was peace day. The high school did not celebrate it, but the elementary school did. During their morning devotions they had a phrase they repeated; it was “A better Jamaica piece by piece.” They then sang a song of peace. During this song I cried. During this moment I felt Jamaica to my core, these students were coming from Kingston, a city of violence, a history of slavery, and society impacted by imperialism and tourism, one where racism is felt, and they were singing about wanting peace. Children form 1st through 6th grade were singing about wanting peace, and from studying the culture and seeing these students singing about peace in their country and culture really had an impact on my. I was feeling Jamaica.
The second and third day of being at the school, a girl, Jae, came in for help in our after school hours. I was working with her. She is a 4th former, meaning she still has a year till the exam, but she might have been trying to take it early. She was coming in to get help with vectors, a college level topic in the United States, which was being taught in high school. While we were there to help the 5th formers, not many came in, but she was determined to get the help since she needed it and wanted to succeed. You could tell that Jae did not come from money since she had only one side of her glasses, but was determined to succeed. She was interested in college in America and how to apply and stuff. She was truly interested in succeeding in college and really finding a place that she liked. She wanted to create an opportunity to have the life she wants, and to get that, she knew she needed education. I felt her desire to be educated, a feeling that seems to be lacking in the United States education system sometimes, since it seems that our students expect a education, but in Jamaica they work hard to achieve their education because it helps them get to where they want to go. And I felt this in Jae.
Overall my experience in Kingston helped to provide me a better sense of the feeling of Jamaica, to really try and understand what the students I was working with were going through as well as all of the people I met. While I can never feel what they feel, I believe that I was able to understand them better through this experience with them then even through understand the culture through the different lenses we looked at through our class.

Step Three: Gates and Education

The thing that surprised me the most about Kingston was simply how many gates there were everywhere. It seemed every building from the alpha girl school to the hotel to the grocery store everything had a gate. The reason I was shocked was not because the gates were strange to me, but how could a culture that is so welcoming be so gated off. Even when it came to the ATM you had to enter a room and lock it in order to withdraw money. I never did find what the gates were for besides a sense of security, but I think this plays into one of the overall messages from the trip. The idea that possessions does not define a human. I remember my first day at Alpha Girl School following Ms. Rose to her first class and I appreciated the architecture of the buildings but I also saw how rundown they all were. In the first classroom there was a window Payne missing in one of the windows and another window was partially smashed. The desks were absolutely beat to crap and the floors were grimy. But when we sat down we start to watch class and I did not see what was around me but I saw the students learning. You see while if a school was of that condition in the United States it would be considered a school for students of low SES and I do not think you could find great teachers that want to teach there. This is so different from what I expected, especially since Mike had given us all the run down about how amazing the students and teachers are.

After seeing this I have found that throughout this trip that I continue to question what value I see in possessions. I had always thought I was rather good at ignoring possessions and always looking for less worldly things, but what judgements have I made my whole life about the quality of life of another based on the environment around them and the possessions they carry. Learning does not need to happen with technology or with new desks or even white boards, learning can happen with a passion to succeed and an appreciation for knowledge. Applying this past my Jamaica trip I can see now what my teaching can mean to someone. I can teach someone who does not have a lot, someone that most Americans may forget about, because their school does not have the same supplies, or the fancy technology. Someone that most people may have counted out. I think with my teaching, maybe I can give them an opportunity to succeed, they are students too and they have a bright future ahead of them as long as someone lights the fire.

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Kingston: A City Overshadowed

We arrived in Kingston on Sunday night and began the second portion of our trip. From Monday onwards, I have been teaching math to the students at the Alpha Girls’ School, an academy in inner-city Kingston, and, during this time, it has become obvious that Kingston is a city overshadowed, both literally and figuratively.

 

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Great Huts, Boston Bay, Jamaica

After our first few, spoiled days in the resort, we moved to the Great Huts in Boston Bay. I was so excited to arrive at the Great Huts! They are all without windows or real doors so you are basically sleeping with nature. I can’t lie, I was really nervous about sleeping with bugs and other creatures, but it has been fantastic! When we arrived, the entire place was gated with a bamboo fence which I was not expecting. Myself and five other girls stayed in the hut called The Queen of Sheba. It was huge! It had a large open window shaped as a star and all of the walls were made of beautiful stone. The door was heavy, which reminded me of the old Nickelodeon show Legends of the Hidden Temple. We all claimed our beds and were off the explore the huts! Every hut and even the lobby was beautifully crafted from stone and bamboo. I thought the most interesting aspect was that the huts were truly built around nature. So if there were a few trees blocking a path where they wanted to build a hut, the tree would just sit in the middle of the hut! They didn’t knock down hardly anything to build the huts which made me feel right in the middle of our own paradise. We ate dinner and breakfast the next morning at the huts, both of which were delicious.

The second day, we headed to Reach Falls where everybody (except myself) went on a tour of the underwater caves! I was too scared so instead, I enjoyed swimming around the falls for about an hour and then was able to watch everybody jump off the cliff at the end. Every night we stayed at the huts, I joined a group who went into town and played dominoes with the locals. We learned how to play in class and I was excited to play with the professionals! I played with a few people from class and a few locals over the three nights we went. Roger was my favorite local and we kicked some serious butt when we played! We played Dr. Egan and Kelsey where the game lasted two hours because our teams were so evenly matched and the game kept breaking! Hanging out with the locals was an extremely unique experience that I am ecstatic to have had.They talked to us about their lives: family and friends and troubles in their lives. They talked to us about the importance of education and why what we were doing mattered. They even told us random stories that we could relate to and made all of us realize that we may have had more in common with these locals than we may have originally thought.

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A Beautiful Island

It is ironic that the views from the resort would be far less breath taking than the views from many of the spots out in the real Jamaica. I was astounded by how beautiful everything is. upon arrival to Boston Bay we are all a little tired and get shown to our huts. After seeing where I would be living for the next 5 days and 4 nights, I was not the least bit tired. The view from the great huts was indescribable. The hut is on a bluff overlooking the ocean and another bluff. If you were to look strait out of the shower the first thing that you would see is a soccer field on top of another bluff. Kids would play soccer on this field all the time. The view from our hut with the sun setting as the Jamaican kids were playing soccer on the bluff was unbelievable. Pictures did not do it justice in the least bit. This is the first time that I really realized how beautiful the island was. As I was looking through music videos of Jamaican artists I found a song called no lipstick by Proteje. The huts are such a beautiful place that Proteje chose them to be the setting for this music video. It is really cool knowing that we have been somewhere that was thought of as beautiful by such an influential current Jamaican artist.

The time that we were at the great huts we went on a few excursions. The ones that really stick out are Frenchman’s cove, Dun’s River Falls, and the blue Lagoon. One thing that all of these places have in common is how amazing the water is. I have never seen water as clear and as blue as the water in these three places. At Dun’s River Falls the water was so clear that you could see the fish swimming around as clear as day. I made it my goal to catch one of the fish with my hand because I don’t know where I would ever be able to see fish through the water like that again. Sadly I did not ever catch one, but being able to chase the fish around and being able to see them swimming away from me together the way that they did was very entertaining and very cool looking. After I failed catching the fish we began to climb the waterfall. The waterfall was formed from all of the water in the mountains coming down. The water that we were seeing had been filtered through the mountains and was just about to go to the ocean. The water was so clean looking that I wanted to drink it. In fact, I’m sure that I could have drank it and I would have been just fine.

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Jewel Runaway Bay Resort

Hello from the wonderful and sunny island of Jamaica!

Our early morning flight (6:00 AM) on Monday was totally worth coming here! We connected in Atlanta and arrived on the island around 2:00 PM. As we flew over the ocean, all I could think was that I had never seen water so blue before in my life! It was turquoise and so clear I felt like I could see all the way to the bottom! Once we landed and got through the airport (with everybody’s luggage successfully with them, might I add) we arrived at our resort. The drive was beautiful, full of green trees and mountainous views from the road. The resort was even more beautiful! There was a water fountain in the middle of the entrance and there were no doors leading outside in the entire facility. Everything was open to the warm breeze and Jamaican air. As we walked into the resort, we were greeted with a cool towel and a refreshing beverage. I could get used to this! We went upstairs to settle into our rooms quickly before heading to the infinity pool and the ocean. We all ran into the ocean, happy to be out of the cold mid western air. Dinner was around 6:00 and it was our first taste of the delicious Jamaican cuisine on the island. As we were all exhausted from traveling, we headed to bed.

The next day we woke up early to explore the Green Grotto Caves which were above ground caves about a fifteen minute drive from our resort. The tour was about an hour and our tour guide was awesome! He told us about the caves and the history behind them such as how the slaves had used these caves as escape routes from the abusive king back in the day. We also got to “experience” how the slaves felt as the tour guide brought us down fourty feet  underground near an underground wishing well where he turned off ALL of the lights and told us that this is how dark it was when the slaves had to travel through the caves. After our morning exploration, we went back to the resort to relax by the pool and tan for the rest of the day. Some of the group had a volleyball game with our professors which was entertaining! We also played some minute-to-win-it games which were fun as well.

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