The America mind transformed by the Jamaican way

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Prior to coming to Jamaica, I had some idea of what I would experience and what it would be like to live here since I had spent many summers in Jamaica growing up.

For the first week, my priority was to become more familiar and comfortable as a local, trying to get my feet settled, and learning how to interact with the new people around me in the most normal way possible. I’ve had to try to establish an “everyday” in a place I am foreign to. This caused a lot of the experiences in which I had to be more observant and less interactive. I was self-focused in the sense that I wanted to gain an understanding of where I was and how I could find a way to fit in. I had to make many adjustments in my mentality and unlearn assumptions I had about life as I knew it in the US. One of the hardest assumptions to let go of was the idea of punctuality. This is an idea that is embedded into American society. The saying, “If your not 15 minutes early, you’re late” shows that even being on time or punctual isn’t enough, you must be 15 minutes early instead. In Jamaica this is untrue, if you arrive 15 minutes early you will be waiting for 30 minutes. It was one of my first critical moments at the RADA office when I had the epiphany of why the motto “Jamaica no problem” is so popular here. The atmosphere here is slower than in the US and a lot more easy going. If something doesn’t go as planned or if you’re late, “No problem,” no worries, its alright. This was a challenge to get used to because it went against everything I had ever learned in my professional life. In turn I had to work with this kind of mentality being here.
Another area in which I struggled to adjust was the actual work/projects I’d be doing while here. My idea of the capacity to do work within the community was close to none. Coming here we had no real direction of the work that we’d be doing, which made me feel uncomfortable. I have always been a person who needs guidelines or something to check off to keep track of my progress. This is something that I had to learn how to operate without. Because of their easy going way of living, there is a different sense of pressure to get things done. Listening to the graduate students here, they say the way the work here is similar to that in graduate school. It is difficult because it is on your time to get it done and to figure out what needs to be done. At first, this lack of direction made me feel lost, but after getting more comfortable with the people I’d be working with and the work that needed to be done, I took it into my own hands to do the work I saw needed to be completed. One of the most vivid classroom “high and low” moments–where we share what was the best part of our day along with the worst– for me was after my first day at Princess Margret Hospital when I first met Tavia. I recall saying that I felt capable; as if I were able to do whatever I wanted working here and being able to make a difference. The first day I met with Ms. Robinson the way she interacted with me was empowering. It made me feel as if I were a colleague of hers and not a useless observer—a feeling I was all too familiar with working in the US. Working as a volunteer at various clinics back at home, I had never been able to work so closely with a patient. Immediately after meeting Ms. Robinson, she showed an interest in my opinion of patient’s condition and respected my expertise enough to give me my own patient.  That first day at the hospital was such an eye opening experience for me as a future therapist.
The entire experience of this day fed a flame inside of me that has not been touched in so long. Being in school and having to go through the prerequisite courses for my major has made me feel more distant from my goal. In the small amount of time that I was able to spend with the patient walking her through the exercises, I felt useful and like a therapist. Then, once I was able to see the immediate progression from when the first evaluation of her hand to the end result, I felt the gratification of being a therapist. I had always been told that being a physical therapist is rewarding in the sense that you get to see the drastic results of your work, which is something I had never experienced until that day. It is that “capable” feeling that has made me look forward to waking up early every Tuesday morning.
​As the weeks progressed, my experience had shifted gears from observing the Jamaican way to beginning to live it. I found myself letting go of my habits and developing new ones. A turning point for me was when I had consciously made the decision to look at every situation as a gain and not a loss—a lesson I had to learn from experiencing great frustration when thinking otherwise. Working with the public health office we had to deal with a lot of run around before finally establishing a set schedule we’d work with. We spent many days there with Mr. Deneton talking about miscellaneous topics and getting nowhere with the process of finding places to work. It was in that experience that I realized the importance of being more mindful and conscious of many things. The source of frustration for a certain time was the thought that we were wasting days here in Jamaica with trying to figure out where we can go and what we can do, when really the only time that was being wasted was on being upset. From that day on, I made it a priority to think of moments where things don’t go as planned as a new plan and not an unaccomplished one instead.
​Forming this mindset has drastically impacted my experience here. It reinforced the importance of not only living here as the people do but having a sense of cultural humility as well. When I am thinking of the culture consciously, I am more sensitive to the differences. However, when things happen and I am not thinking about being somewhere else with a different way of perceiving the situation, it is easy to resort back to the way of living I am used to; a way that is not wrong, but that is just not right for Jamaica. Being present in the moment has made every day here an experience even if it wasn’t meant to be one. One day that I carry with me and reflect on often was when it had been raining in the morning and caused RADA to be cancelled. Before class I was playing keep up by myself, and I remember Novella came up to me asking if I felt the day had been a waste of time. Without hesitation I said no, there’s no waste of time because I always experience some part of Jamaica. It wasn’t RADA that day, but it was the school bus which if I had gone to RADA, I wouldn’t have had that exposure. When I resumed playing, I realized what I had said and how much my mentality had changed. I had been able to look at situations as even though my time was not spent how I expected, I was able to enjoy and appreciate the times I spent doing something else.
Coming to Jamaica I had some ideas of what I would experience and how I may grow as an individual, but never would I have anticipated how being here would’ve impacted me. Looking back on who I was coming into Jamaica and comparing it to who I am now 5 weeks later, I can honestly say coming here has changed my life in all areas. Every aspect of this trip has impacted me in some positive way. I’ve been able to see the ways in which everything connects here. The day-to-day experiences I have had acts as the catalyst in understanding and applying topics we read about in the course readings.  I’ve been able to reflect deeply on how experiences have affected my understanding of Jamaican culture through things discussed and presented in the classroom discussions. One author in the “Learning through serving” book explained early on the importance of reflection. It states that you learn through reflections by cognitively/affectively developing thoughts and feelings. A majority of my reflection took place while we were in class. By talking about the “high & low” of my day, I was able to think deeply and reflect on situations that I’d normally over look with a greater appreciation. Leaving Jamaica, this is something that I hope to continue to practice. I feel that reflecting has played an important role in the gains I have made being here. To think so critically of situations allows you to find out things about yourself. I am now more conscious with the present, which has caused me to become more patient and understanding when it comes to life.
In my time being here in Jamaica, I have had the opportunity to do many great things. I have had the opportunity to look into the future and get a glimpse of what it will be like when I become a therapist; reinforcing my love for the career path I have chosen for myself. I have also learned about the past and how it plays an active role in making Jamaica what it is today; building the love and respect I have for the culture here. While both of these have made this trip enriched the piece of my heritage that I carry with me, the lesson I am most grateful of that Jamaica taught me is how to appreciate the present…even if its not what you asked for.
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