The worldwide Augustana College experience

The Final Chapter

As we fly over Jamaica, I can’t help but think that while I experienced and learned so much, I did not even scratch the surface. In my last blog post, I wrote about how beautiful the landscape of the countryside is but this past week I was able to learn that the true beauty lies in the people. The 6th graders I had the pleasure of working with were balls of joy. The students instantly worked their way into my heart. When we walked up to the primary school, there was a little boy standing in a doorway of a classroom whop saw us, a group of white people, and screamed, “White people!” and that’s when all the students ran to us. I felt slightly like a caged animal or an animal in a petting zoo, there to be touched and observed. We had all been warned and informed that the students would want to touch our hair but I was not expecting to this extent.


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Daylight Come and Me No Wan’ Go Home

Kingston is gorgeous and I finally feel like I am in Jamaica, the real Jamaica.  I took a peaceful walk through Emancipation Park one late afternoon on one of the last days we were in Kingston.  I felt so much inner peace.  The places was well taken care of and the flowers and trees were beautiful.  It was one of those walks where you don’t realize that you’ve let your mind wonder, and suddenly so much time has passed. I was thinking about what it means to be happy.  Money, wealth, materialistic things can all make a person happy but I’ve realized that no matter your situation, whether good or bad, it all comes down to your attitude.  I have found myself in the past having a bad attitude and it has kept me from being happy and being true to myself. I am an introvert which means I naturally live in my head and over think most things. I love being alone with my own thoughts, but that can sometimes lead darkness. Being in Jamaica and meeting all the people I met, especially my students, I have realized that all I need is a little light and little bit of trust in myself. With those I can truly be happy with my life and what I have like the Jamaican people.

I am not an education major, although working with children is something I love to do and something I currently do in my own work, but being with the students of Alpha Primary was one of the best experiences of my life. Our class of 46 students seemed overwhelming at first, but after the first day, I fell in love with all of it. I got to know who the students were, how they grew up, and even compared cultural things like music and sports. As much as they learned from me, I learned much more from them.

Alpha Primary, Kingston, Jamaica

My last week in Jamaica was a bit different than the past week had been. There were no more excursions planned and fancy dinners on the town (Okay, maybe a few dinners) but we were heading to Kingston to work in the Alpha Schools for the next five days. Before arriving in Kingston, I was nervous! I didn’t know what to expect from a school in another country. A child is still a child no matter where they are in the world, but I was scared, excited and curious all at the same time to see how a Jamaican classroom would compare to an American one that I was so used to. I hoped that by the end of the week, I would use my new found appreciation for differences in classroom culture to better myself as a teacher, student and global citizen.

The first day was not what I expected at all. I did not realize that all of the Alpha Schools were in one large campus, including the primary school. As we walked in, I quickly realized that everybody was staring at us because of our skin color. Nobody was staring in a bad way, but we weren’t in the “norm”. To be honest, this had never happened to me before and I was uncomfortable. I had never felt like I wanted to blend in and almost embarrassed that I stood out so much. We waited in the principals office to meet our cooperating teachers, and the feeling of standing out melted away in the Jamaican sun. Our cooperating teachers were so kind and welcoming, I couldn’t wait to meet the rest of our class! Turns out that we had forty-six fourth graders in ONE classroom. The classroom was small and had open windows accompanied by five fans to keep the airflow. Each desk was long enough to seat two students so there were twenty three desks crammed into this small space. The first day, I was surprised to see how all the students crammed into the classroom and how different the classroom culture was. Students were constantly up out of their seats, talking to one another and talking over the teacher. When the teacher would turn her back, the students would run a little wild. Coming from an American classroom where there was a little too much order, I was not used to this. In the midst of the difference, I tried to keep a positive mindset. I was not here to fix anybody or the way the classroom worked. I was here to do whatever they needed me to do. In class, we talked a lot about how Americans tend to think that “our way” is the only way, which is just not the case. Although the Jamaican classroom culture was different than my own experience, it was not wrong. It was simply different than my own experience. Frankly, I was excited for a new classroom experience, as it would broaden my horizons as a teacher when I returned back to the United States.

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The Alpha Boys

I have an airplane pack of cookies and a small cup of watered down apple juice accompanying my iPad on my fold down airplane tray. As I look out the window trying to figure out how to sum up this past week, the small snowy fields below remind me that I’m not in Jamaica anymore.

I was in Jamaica for twelve days–the longest I’ve ever been away from home/college. Yet somehow, it seemed to be over in the blink of an eye.


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Daylight Come and Me No Wanna Go Home….

Last week was one of the best of my life. I am by no means a math teacher, but in the Alpha girls school I had the opportunity to become one. To be completely honest I was dreading teaching math concepts that I had been so far removed from in my own practice. However, once I was working with the girls I saw that I was teaching the girls not the math. By this I mean that it was not my job to make sure that they understand math and do the drills to strengthen skills, but that we were there to teach the girls skills. I was able to show girls a different way of looking at a math problem that they had been working with for a while. On Friday, I even made a terrible SOH CAH TOA joke. But, like I said I was working with the girls and teaching them how to think or problem solve and not just math.
I feel very luck to have been able to work with the girls of Alpha as they taught me more than I probably taught them. Even as they would giggle at my attempts to use patois, they would put in the effort to talk to me and help me understand and learn. The girls provided me with several opportunities to appreciate the kindness and hospitality of the people. Friday was very bittersweet as I did not want to leave the girls. I am heavily considering attempting to establish contact with the school so that one day I might be able to go back. The girls remind d me of why I was there and how lucky I was to work with them, teach them, and be taught by them. In all honesty, I want to be back there right now and continue teaching those girls and supporting the, as the 5th formers step closer to their CXC exams. When the daylight came, me no wanna go home. image

A Difficult Goodbye

Alpha Primary School, grades 1-6
Kingston, Jamaica

“Different” is the word of the week! I knew coming into the Jamaican school system that I would experience a little culture shock, but I was not prepared for what I was thrown into.

Let me begin by saying that the students are absolutely phenomenal. When we first showed up on Monday morning, all of the students went NUTS. One boy actually screamed, then yelled “white people”. I thought this was a little funny, but it also makes sense because some of these students may not have seen a white person before. The girls instantly rushed up to the 7 of us and began touching our hair and hugging us. Of course, we let them explore our strange locks and returned their hugs. The moment the whirlwind began, the children nestled their way into my heart.

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Kingston- The Land of Opportunities

Preface: The journey to Kingston was long and terrifying as we drove  through the mountains, only stopping once at Strawberry Hill for the most fantastic brunch I have ever witnessed. The essence of Chris Blackwell welcomed us with opened arms as we stuffed our faces and explored the grounds. We were in awe of the amount of musical history that resided in that estate. Spectacular. photo (1)

Where to begin. My time in Kingston seems so long and yet so short. The hotel was wonderful, wifi in the rooms, pool, bar, and air conditioning, everything you could ask for. Immediately I acquired a runny nose and was annoyed by the abundance of emails and notifications that were emanating from my phone. I had enjoyed simplicity for too long, back to the real world. Every part of Kingston made me believe that it was like any other concrete jungle, but just as I had experience in the country, Kingston had some of the same energy, the same magic that the rest of the Island had.

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Could this be for me?

What was not to like about the Alpha Girl’s school? ABSOLUTELY nothing at all. It was by far the best part of the trip. The girls were just simply amazing in every single fashion. They were funny, bright, intelligent, and most of all determined in what they needed to do. Education is very different to everyone there compared to here in the States. To most people in the states education is more of a right than a privilege. To Jamaicans it a privilege to get an education. Not everyone will have the chance to go to school or even come out of it. SO when you get that chance as a child/teenager you take full advantage of it and work your ass off. Nothing is more important than school to many people in Jamaica. I was not able to hear the conversation that Joey and Michael had with Rodger, but what they did tell me was that Rodger felt so proud everyday when he walked his girls to school and walked them home from school. Knowing that your child in school is the best feeling ever, Rodger said. Education means so much to Jamaicans and I wish that many Americans had the same feeling… Yet they do not. The girls even felt that way and I could feel it while in the school with them. The girls genuinely wanted to be there. They wanted to learn, they wanted to put in that extra effort, they wanted to start something new for themselves and they knew that education was the start of that. The only time I struggled to get a girl to participate is when they felt sick, and even then I would ask them to do one problem for me and they would without question. They would do that one problem and get it correct without saying but why? Can I go to the nurse? They did not question, they just did it and did it correctly. This proved to me that the girls were there for all the right reasons and not just because they had to be or their parents made them do it like in America.

The part of school that got me the most was the girls participating all together. On the final day of teaching I would ask a girl to read a problem out loud, then the next thing I heard was the entire class saying the problem in unison. This amazed me. If I asked a student to read aloud in the States it would be like pulling teeth from them. When I asked for a response, the entire class would yell out at once the answer. Did everyone yell it out? No, I could see that some girls were not getting it so I would make sure that they got it before I moved on. It was easy for girls to hide behind their peers if they did not get the problem since everyone else yelled the answer out. That was the only struggle that I had with some of the girls. Getting EVERY single one to respond was easy but difficult since some could hide. Though walking around and checking their work proved to me that they understood that problem and I could move on. But sometimes they did not get it and I had to walk them through one until they got it. Plus, most of the girls, if not all asked questions when they did not know the answer. They had the confidence to ask questions to clarify when they did not understand. Something that I noticed many students in my clinicals here in the states did not do. Every day being there made me fall in love more and more with the school.

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“Mom look! White People!”

The roads here are more chaotic than the streets of downtown Chicago. Today we departed from Jewel Runaway Bay on our way for the Great Huts of Port Antonio. Twisting and turning through the mountainside, cars rushed past us and served around corners as we did the same. Had I have had my PT Cruiser, it might have been less terrifying. But in our 12 seater van, unfortunately it led to a lot of swerving and stalling.

What good is a road trip without one memorable stop along the way? The Seville Plantation House was this stop for us. We ha a brief tour and reviewed Jamaican history (much like I had already hear in class). Though I was still caught off guard when our tour guide said, “ In Jamaica our culture is basically gone. We are more American than anything else”. Once again, the dominance of tourism was evident.

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Jamaica Smile

Day two in paradise. We ventured to the Green Grotto Caves today. The caves once stored rum, provided solitude for runaway slaves, was once a night club, and is now a popular tourist attraction. The most interesting part of this tourism was the effort our tour guide put into accommodating to our culture. Pointing out shadows of Scooby Doo and Bat Man, I felt like a silly tourist expecting the culture of Jamaica to mirror the culture of America, which in a way it did through its tourism.

We spend the majority of the remainder of the day at our resort. Laying out enjoying the sun and sipping on dirty bananas and piña coladas, the call came out for participants of minute to win it games. Of course, the Augie students were all about the games (especially the Camp Kesem counselors on the trip, having plenty of experience). We had to race each other and pop balloons by sitting on them. Naturally my team, Jamaica Smile, won.

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