The worldwide Augustana College experience

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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The Dirty Banana

The Dirty Banana:  The name of the van we will be spending some quality time in throughout the next two weeks & my newly favorite Jamaican drink. 

While preparing to leave for paradise, the one phrase every Augie student cried was, “I can’t feel my fingers!” Landing in Montego Bay several hours later, that phrase quickly turned to, “I wore too many layers!” Arriving in Montego Bay was surreal. Being my first experience outside of the United States, I had no idea what to expect. In all honesty, I was disappointed to find the dominance of Western culture in this Jamaican airport (though I can’t complain about the Coke machines everywhere). Walking through the airport, it was no secret that tourism is the largest economic source for the island. The airport was filled with more American tourists than Jamaicans. (For the record, the Hawaiian shirt count is at 16).

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Day 4-7- Port Antonio, Great Huts and More

           Today we took a ride into Port Antonio where I went from having $125 to having $1465.25… Not a bad conversion rate. As we transitioned from being to tourists to students of the culture, we explored the maze of markets, picking up various souveniors and produce along the way. I was persuaded by a elderly market member to purchase a green fruit the size of a softball, it had a white, fleshly inside, absolutely amazing for not even knowing the name of it. This was the first time I really understood the community that the people of this country embody. It was always a group effort, some of these women selling produce have been in the same spot for the last 30 years, these people around them were not their competition, but their family. Helping to make change, telling stories, and keeping genuine company. They were so willing to answer our questions and learn from us as well. I couldn’t have thanked them more. I learned so much.

We next went to the Blue Lagoon. My descriptions will not do it justice, thus I will try to in pictures (which still do not capture the beauty). Beautiful people, beautiful food, and a beautiful view.

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This is Why I Came to Jamaica

As I sit here on the plane heading back to the United States, I can’t help but think about how privileged I really am. After spending a week at the Alpha Institute (formerly known as the Alpha Boys School) in Kingston, JA, and after spending 13 days in JA, I can say that I am coming back to the United States learning so much more than I ever thought I would.

To preface the rest of my blog, the boys school recently underwent a pretty drastic change in operation. As some of you may know, the Alpha Boys School used to be a residential school. Many of the boys who attended this school were sadly orphans, or they had very bad home situations, and Alpha served as a “last chance” sort of school for many, who came from all areas of the island. Also, the boys at the school had a wider variance in age. If I’m correct, the ages used to range from about 8 to 15 or 16 (but I believe they could stay until 18) roughly. Lastly, since these boys could stay at the school until they aged out, the music program was able to have the older boys help teach the younger boys how to play their instrument, as well as teaching them the songs they played. The program was able to produce some very notable musicians as well (Don Drummond, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, Yellowman, and the list could go on).

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The Great Huts

We had to say goodbye to the all-inclusive resort on Wednesday of the first week, and although it was a wonderful 2 days, I was ready to see what else Jamaica had to offer. Our first stop after the resort was to visit the Seville Great House. We went on a tour that taught us more about how the Jamaicans came to be, and also about the property itself. It was very cool to see how the property was laid out, and to learn about the agriculture of that time period as well.
After we left the Seville Great House, we had to drive about another 3 hours to get to Boston Bay. It was so interesting to drive through the small villages and see the houses and small stores. All of the buildings have vibrant colors, and most look very small in size. Most of these smaller buildings I think were stores that community members owned. I believe that their houses must have been tucked away in the hills away from the main road. As we would drive through larger towns we would see the streets crawling with people and in my opinion, some crazy driving! Also, the majority of the drive was along the coast, which was absolutely breathtaking, and definitely not something you can see in Illinois. There was also a very noticeable economic difference going from the resort to the Great Huts. Around the resorts I noticed much nicer road conditions, as well as shops, while approaching the Great Huts the roads were less than ideal in some spots (although, they weren’t terrible) and the shops were more so just little shacks right off of the road. Overall though, the drive to the Great Huts was amazingly beautiful.
Once we arrived to the Great Huts, we were all blown away with just how amazing these huts/tree house-like places really were. I lived in the hut named “Queen Sheba.” I would like to say I lived in the nicest hut, however, I think any of them would be awesome to stay in for a few nights.
Almost every night in Boston Bay was spent playing dominoes with the locals down the road. This was probably one of my favorite things to do while in Jamaica. For those of you who have never played dominoes, you should learn, because it is a great game! Anyways, the first night we played I was just playing against other Augie students, while some locals were trying to give us tips for winning; so this wasn’t as competitive of a game since we all had roughly the same amount of skill. However, there was another night where Kelly and I played against Kyle and a local. For the first few rounds it went back and forth on who would win, but after that, Kelly and I went on to win 11 rounds in a row! This is a pretty huge accomplishment for dominoes I’d say. So that meant we won 1 game, and we were one win away from winning a second game. So not only did we win 11 in a row, but it was also against a local who seemed to be very competitive, so I was happy to see I could hold my own against the “experts.”
Aside from dominoes, while we were in Boston Bay we went on quite a few excursions. We went into the market in Port Antonio, the Blue Lagoon, Frenchman’s Cove, and Reach Falls. The market was definitely a different experience than anything I’ve ever done in the US. When you want to buy something in Jamaica, you are expected to barter. As most of you can guess, this is not something that comes natural to most American college students; but soon enough I got the hang of it and was able to save a few dollars on each purchase. Blue Lagoon and Frenchman’s Cove were both absolutely beautiful. The water at the Blue Lagoon looked like someone just poured blue food coloring into some clear water – it was incredible. While there we were able to kayak, hang out and play dominoes, swim, or just lay out at a nearby villa where we ended up having a delicious lunch and dinner. Frenchman’s Cove was amazing because the waves were absolutely insane, but also because there was a river connected to the side that was so calm and tranquil. Lastly, Reach Falls was a blast! I got to climb my way up and stream; go underground only to find myself in an underground cave; swim through the cave (we literally were swimming with earth above and below us, so we had to hold our breathes while we did this) so we could get back out to the stream; and lastly, we all jumped off the 25ft waterfall at the end! Like I said, it was a blast.
What I am able to take away from these 4 days at the Huts is that the people I encountered were some of the nicest people you’ll meet. Another thing I learned was that when presented with the opportunity, I was able to get outside of my comfort zone to really allow myself to experience Jamaica. Also, one big thing I learned is that most of the Jamaicans that I met all understand how to live life to the fullest. They understand that life isn’t about the money you do or do not have; instead, life is making the most of everyday and being thankful for what you do have. It was just very inspiring to see people who many Americans would consider impoverished living perfectly happy lives. Lastly, I learned that Jamaican’s know how to cook up some pretty delicious meals; and when you order fish, you get a fish – head and all.