The worldwide Augustana College experience

Kingston, Jamaica The Alpha Boys’ School

My first impressions of Kingston were similar to the impression I get from any large city. Just like Chicago, New York or San Francisco, there was a lot of traffic and a lot of cars and people biking on the side of the roads. Although this was all the same, it seemed that the drivers took a lot more risks than people in Chicago seem to take. There were people on motorcycles zipping between cars and swerving through traffic like it was no problem. I never saw anyone stop this behavior or seemed to get angry about it at all, and I especially did not see law enforcement intervene.
The experience I had at the Alpha Boys’ School is one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Many parts of my teaching experience made me sad, and many aspects of it made me somewhat angry. The first time I stepped foot on the School grounds I was a little nervous about what to expect. We were given extremely detailed descriptions about what we were to wear: No short skirts, hair tied back, and no cleavage. We were also told we could not bring our cell phones or any kind of valuable electronic device, and we instructed not to take pictures. All this intimidated me because it gave me the impression that I was going to be harasses or my cell phone was going to be stolen. As soon as I met my first group of guys my outlook changed drastically. The first class I ever taught was the guitar students, whom only 3 of about 15 boys on my list showed up. These three boys where the only ones I taught in the guitar class because they were the only ones to ever show up for school. The first thing I noticed about these three boys was how respectful they were to me. They were always polite to me and referred to me as “Miss” always. I should tell by how respectful and disciplined they were that these boys actually wanted to be at school and actually really took and honest interest in the guitar. After just my first day I already had a new outlook on these boys. I would still get things shouted at me and some of them would hiss and us when we walked by, but the majority of them were respectable boys who actually wanted to make a difference in their lives. After I thought about the way they behaved and they way 15-18 year old boys acted when I was in High School I started noticing dozen and dozen of similarities, and at the end I really could find any differences. I remember boys in my high school yelling things to particular girls or even some female teachers, and although they may have not been as vocal about it, they still did it to make their friends laugh or to get some kind of attention for a female, even if it was negative. No matter where you go in the world, boys will be boys, and that’s just how it works.
When we first had a tour of the school, I was immediately overwhelmed with sadness and even a little bit of guilt. They showed us where the boys had classes and where the band practiced. There were holes in the windows, the rooms were dusty and dirty, and almost every single door and window either had bars, huge metal and bared doors, or an enormous pad lock. I felt the padlocks not only showed my the lack of trust the administration had for the students, but also told me that maybe a majority of the students could not be trusted. Mr. Sparrow told us that they have had many incidences where people have stolen things from the School. There were two stands for the entire music department, not enough instruments for everybody, broken keyboards, trombones, trumpets, guitars, along with stands just thrown into a pile in the storage closet. They had no sheet music to write a tune, chord or rhythm down, some didn’t have pencils to use, and the tiny notebooks they had where falling apart. They didn’t have tuners to make sure all the instruments were in tune. Before this experience I took the small things I am so lucky to have for granted. I feel so lucky to have pencils and notebooks, and learn music in a room where I could have 2 stands if I really wanted. I am so lucky that I am able to buy textbooks, and be able to afford a quick run to Walgreens when I need notecards, markers, poster board and paper. After this experience I realized that a lot of people in the world aren’t able to have school supplies so accessible to them. I am so grateful because I am lucky enough to have things like that, and I will never again buy a notebook or another set of notecards until I have used as much out of the pervious one. I want to try to make a conscious effort in my life to stop being wasteful and to appreciate everything I have, even the little things.

Boston Bay/Port Antonio: The Great Huts

I thought the drive to Port Antonio was almost as cool as the city itself. We drove through all these little cities and you could clearly see their culture just though the windows of the car. There were street vendors, music playing everywhere, people hanging out on the streets, and school children walking around in their uniforms. A group of school girls saw our vans and pointed at us and starting screaming “While People! White People!” I was extremely impressed and drawn to how bring the colors of the building were. There were lime green, hot pink, purple, bright yellow and blue structures everywhere you looked, which not very common in the United States.
We stayed in a resort called “The Great Huts” which was on the edge of Boston Bay. This was by far the most beautiful place I have ever stayed in my entire life. We were all assigned to these beautiful huts, which were made to look like tree houses. We had roommates and our hut was located on the edge of a cliff and overlooked the ocean. We also had a private swimming pool that was literally built on the edge of a cliff, and there was even a bar and stools made out of stone where we could hangout. We would get up early every morning so we could see the sunrise over the ocean, which was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and is a sight that will remain in my most treasured memories for the rest of my life.
My favorite night at the Great Huts was the night we walk down the street with Dr. Egan to play dominos with the locals. As we walked down the street, we walked past all of these tiny little shacks and stands, that ended up to be tiny little restaurants and bars. We stopped at this particular bar, were there were a bunch of younger men sitting outside playing dominos. They welcomed us with open arms, and we played game after game of dominos with them until we were all too tired to keep our eyes open. This one man taught Lizzie, Kyle, Laura and I how to play a new version of Dominos, they called “French Dominos”. The other place on the same strip as the bar was this Jerked Chicken restaurant. If you saw a place like this in the United States, I don’t think a lot of people would be too drawn to the sight of it, but they had some of the best food I have ever had in my entire life. Their chicken was perfect and they also had Jamaica’s best Bambi ever.
One of the last nights we were there the employees at the great huts put on a show for us. They danced, played drums, and put on a spoken word play about their culture. I loved the way the people danced. They are able to move so much differently than people in the United States do, and rhythm seemed to be pumping through their blood stream. The great huts were my favorite place to stay, and I really hope I will have the opportunity to go back there at some point in my life.

Welcome to Beautiful Jamaica!

Flying into Jamaica was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. I could not believe how blue the water looked from the plane. I was amazed to find that airport security was a lot more laid back than in the United States, and we got through customs no problem. We rented 2 big white vans that held 10 people each, which were with us all the way to Kingston. Driving on the left side of the road was extremely confusing at first, but we all eventually got used to it. I felt like I was on a different planet because of all the trees and vegetation I had never in my life seen before. The first place we stayed at was a very large and beautiful resort right on the ocean, that many newlyweds would probably kill to spend their honeymoon at. Everyday, there was an unlimited buffet, an open bar, and countless different activities such as karaoke, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, and of course, sun bathing. On top of the ocean, there were two different pools on the resort, where many of us spent time reading and relaxing by. The second day we were there we went to these caves, which were discovered hundreds of years ago and were used as escape routes for many. They now provide tours, so we had someone walk us through the darkness of the caves. The rest of our time at the resort was spent working on lessons plans for Kingston, eating good food, relaxing, and soaking in what the resort had to offer. Little did we know our surroundings were about to drastically change.

Redemption Song

Journal #3: Alpha Boys School
The last week of our trip, we had the wonderful experience of working with the Alpha schools teachers and students. Thinking back on the entire trip, I have uncovered so many of my own assumptions and have definitely changed my ideas on what it means to teach and why I think music is important. I had the honor of working with the music program at the Alpha Boys School. I got the chance to teach music, conduct the band, instruct a piano class, and assist the trombones. Before arriving at the school, I was very nervous and unsure of how the week would turn out. I was unsure about how helpful I would be as my primary instrument is the violin and I do not have much experience with band. I was nervous because I did not know what to think of the boys who I would be teaching and working with. I was nervous because I was unsure what to expect in terms of behaviors and also what skills and playing levels I would be working with the students on.

It is crazy to think about all the things I was nervous about before going to the Alpha boys school. From the very first day we stepped foot in the music class, I immediately thought of my student teaching experience at Bettendorf High School with the orchestra. There are several significant distinctions between the boys from Bettendorf and the boys from Kingston. These might include race, instrument, skills in music literacy, aurul skills, background, etc. My greatest realization about these students is that the boys at the Alpha school in Jamaica were just like the boys from the Bettendorf orchestra. They all were high school boys, teenagers who liked to tell jokes, hang out with friends, listen to popular music, play instruments, achieve their goals, etc. After working with the Alpha boys, it seems so foolish that I would expect anything differently. It is to the point that I feel incredibly guilty over my assumptions. Of course people are people, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, no matter what strengths or weaknesses you have.

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One Love

Journal #2: the Great Huts
As soon as we began our journey to the Great Huts, I was taken aback by the beauty of Jamaica. We drove through the mountains and the trees, ocean, rocks, etc. were incredible. At the Great Huts, we really got to embrace the beauty of the nature, the ocean, sunrises, sunsets, etc. The huts we stayed in were pretty incredible, with wonderful views and they were like pieces of art. While at the great huts, we had some incredible experiences. We got the chance to take part in some amazing excursions like the markets at Port Antonio, the Blue Lagoon, the Reach Falls, and Long Bay.

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Smile Jamaica

Journal #1: jewel Runaway Bay: Staying at the resort was wonderful. From the minute we arrived, we were given everything we desired. It was like living in royalty. The beach was beautiful, the trees were great, the rooms were wonderful, the pools and hot tubs were nice too. We heard music from the top 40 U.S. Songs, and had these glorious meals. Most of the people we encountered were white guests who were also staying at the resort. The crazy part about the resort was thinking about how glamorous our stay felt. I couldn’t help but feel guilty for getting to stay in such a nice resort. After all of the readings, songs, and stories all about the nature, beauty, people, etc. it seemed that the resort was like the glamorous, almost fake side of Jamaica. We had wonderful food! We went to the restaurant at the hotel and the food came in festive plates/trays. I got the chicken and my food came in a mini chicken coop! The dishes were like pieces of art, it was pretty exciting to see everybody’s food. We went to the caves and learned a little bit about the geography and natural structures of the rock. It really put the readings about the runaway slaves and the maroons into perspective. I really liked our tour guide. He was so happy and wanted to make everybody laugh. You could tell he genuinely enjoyed teaching about the grotto/caves .

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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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