As part of our class here, we were required to write five reflections a week on how we felt about what we were experiencing. Part of our final grade is a longer reflection covering the trip as a whole. The following post is a revised version of my final reflection:
It is hard for me to believe that I have just sat down to write the final reflection for this entire experience. On one hand, it seems like I just sat down to write my very first reflection, and had no idea how to comprehend this “what, so what, now what” rubric we were to follow. On the other hand, I feel like I have always been living in the villa, working at Yallahs Basic School, and collaborating with all my fellow Temple students and new friends. At first, I found these reflections to be tedious and repetitive. Now I realize they not only helped me develop and solidify my opinions and feelings, but I now also have an accurate record of my time here complete with how I dealt with difficult situations and how they made me feel.
I have frequently pondered how I am going to explain this whole experience to people back home. It’s going to be tough because there is so much that you just have to be here to understand. However, I have a friend who really wants to participate in this program next summer. After seeing what a life-changing time I had here, I’m sure you will be meeting her in the coming year. I will approach my explanations to her a little differently, because I want her to be at least a little prepared for what to expect here. So I will use this reflection to show her what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. So, my friend, here are the top five things I have learned, and why I find them so important and empowering.
1. Keep an open mind. I went into this experience expecting to work at the women’s center. I wanted to help the girls there develop a healthy lifestyle plan, including diet and exercise. Needless to say, that is not where I ended up. At first I was a little bitter about it, because that’s what I was telling everyone I would be doing, and that’s what I had been daydreaming about since I had been accepted to the program. However, although I certainly had some low points at the basic school, I am glad for them, and how they made me grow. Seeing such a different way of managing a classroom was hard for me. I wanted to tell the teacher everything she was doing wrong because back in America, we do it differently. After spending more time at the basic school, sticking with some ideas I had from America, and combining them with practices I have learned in Jamaica, I felt like I found a very successful way of managing the classroom. By the last week, my teacher put me in charge of the class every day I was there, and by the end, I was really enjoying my role as their teacher.
John Dewey wrote that, “Open-mindedness is not ‘empty-mindedness’; it calls for intelligent critique rather than blind acceptance.” I really like the phrase “intelligent critique.” I think that by learning to use intelligent critiquing skills, I was able to analyze different teaching practices I arrived to Jamaica knowing, as well as the ones I witnessed throughout my time here. In the greater picture, I was able to intelligently critique lots of things about the American culture. Since I developed an open mind towards the Jamaican culture and tried to immerse myself in it, I have realized that this “third world country” has a lot to teach America. In my opinion, their greatest virtue is their dependence on one another, and how content they are simply sitting and socializing, or sitting and thinking. I would love to see more Americans spending time outside with their thoughts. I think it would make for a lot less stress, violence, and arguments. When I get home, I will make a point to spend time with myself in a place where I am comfortable. When I am in the mood, I will invite a companion, turn my phone off, and enjoy what they have to say.
2. Listen to everyone you meet. When I began meeting such a variety of Jamaicans, I quickly realized that I was being exposed to some of the most intelligent and insightful people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. People like Pauletta Chevannes and Michael Witter left me wanting to hear more about their lives and their work, and inspired me to become even just a fraction of how well-versed they were when I am their age. After looking at my prior reflections about both of them, I said things like “Why doesn’t everyone think like this?!” or, “If only these ideas were more widely spread, so many problems could begin to get solved.” It is not everyday that you come across people that leave such impressions, so it is important to listen to everything they say, and really take it to heart.
I will use this opportunity to tip my hat to all of my classmates as well. I have created friendships here that I am absolutely sure will carry over when we get home. The best part is, I would not originally see myself being friends with a lot of these people. However, when we went through this roller coaster of an experience together and when I had my doubts, they were the first people I turned to. In a reflection toward the beginning of the trip “I expressed that, I became comfortable enough to voice concerns such as ‘What will I even do there?’ and ‘Do they even want me here?’ I found that I was certainly not alone. Simply sharing our concerns was a method of comforting each other in a way, which I don’t think would have been possible if we didn’t share a very close bond.” I am kind of glad I am one of the youngest people in the group because everyone else has had more schooling, and more experiences than I. I was comfortable enough to ask for everyone’s advice, and listen closely to form new ideas and plans, whether it is for my site project, or what to pack for a weekend trip!
3. Don’t pity, empathize. I touched on this earlier, but I think it is important to reiterate to not come to Jamaica thinking that you have superiority over the people here, even if it is subconscious. I also mentioned earlier that most Jamaicans seem happy with their life. Sure, they probably wish they had more money or cooler weather, but they have learned not to dwell on it, so you shouldn’t either. I am proud to say that I have now developed a solid sense of empathy, or understanding and respect for this other culture. Our Service Learning book acknowledges that empathizing, or understanding and respecting one another’s roles “will be the glue that effectively binds our knowledge and skills into a source for community growth.” If I ever enter an unfamiliar community again, I will immediately think back to my trip to Jamaica, and remember to not underestimate anyone or anything. I can think of how amazed I was when I saw the reading and writing abilities in a kindergarten-aged classroom that I thought was a mere combination of chaos, fighting, and tears. Just because something is different from what you are used to, it is important to not pity them because it is not your more familiar or “American” way. Instead, work to understand and adapt to these new ways, because in the grand scheme of things, the knowledge will almost certainly benefit you.
4. Don’t forget to have fun! Jamaica is hands down the most beautiful place I have ever been. 5 weeks in and I am not sick of looking one way and seeing the blue Caribbean Sea, and looking the other way to see a lush, green mountain. It is easy to get caught up in grades and schoolwork here, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when I found myself getting so worked up over grades, I forced myself to take a step back. While I am certainly here with hopes of a good grade, I am also here to disconnect from my hectic life in America, and start experiencing the rest of the world. For most Americans, a trip to Jamaica means staying at a resort and indulging in “sun, sand, sea, sex, and sin” (thank you Dr. Elizabeth Ward for that one). As tempting as that sounds, I wanted something more substantial, which I think I achieved. I bonded with Jamaican people young and old. I had a big enough influence on one of my students at the basic school for her dad to come in and personally thank me for working with his daughter, and then to took our picture together. I have formed relationships with the hilarious cooks and cleaning staff at the house, and even have been given a bottle of homemade jerk sauce to take home. Before this experience, I didn’t even know what jerk was! (For those of you in the same boat—it’s a delicious yet SPICY sauce used on grilled meats and fish). I have learned all about the Peace Corps from our new friends who are a part of it. They exposed me to a whole new possibility for my future that I had never considered before. I could not be more thankful for all the knowledge I have gained, and all the memories I have made, and the wonderful people I have met. They will certainly follow me as I return to the US, and inspire me to create more when I travel elsewhere throughout my life.
5. Bring more than one bottle of insect repellant!! Okay, this one isn’t quite as serious, but definitely necessary. I was out of bug spray after week two, and the bugs did a number on my legs. And if Mother Nature (bugs, sunburn, anything else) does decide to work against you, try to look past the smell of the aloe plants in the back yard because they work wonders!
So there you have it, my top five tips for making the most of this service-learning experience. Of course there is so much more I haven’t even touched on, but another thing that I have realized is that something like this is vastly different for each person. Something that I would file under the “keep an open mind” category could be in a totally different metaphorical filing cabinet for someone else. The one thing we all have in common is that we have watched ourselves grow in a way we were not expecting. I am very proud of my growth, and plan to never lose sight of the things I have learned here. I also plan to use these five tips to stimulate even more growth and knowledge for when I return home on Sunday.