It is Thursday, April 5th. Philadelphia’s forecast tomorrow: 63 degrees Fahrenheit; Philadelphia’s forecast on Saturday: 41 degrees and SNOW. I am over this. I can already smell the Caribbean breeze carrying the island aromas of sweet mango and callaloo while I do research on the beach and listen to chunes. Okay. I recognize I’ve been listening to too much Bob Marley.
I have been mentally preparing to head to Yallahs, Jamaica next month, dreaming of 80-degree weather and sunny beaches—although May is actually the island’s rainy season. I guess the sunblock and rain boots will sit alongside each other in the suitcase. The daughter of a Jamaican-born father, I know a bit about Jamaican culture as it translates to American culture. Eating my grandmother’s authentic curry goat is a favorite. Jerk chicken from the Jamaican-owned restaurant Carl’s on Silver Lane in East Hartford has satisfied many a craving! Food for me has served as a strong cultural link to my heritage.
Of course, Jamaica is more than the food and weather. Although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to relaxing on the beach and eating traditional beef patties, I am thrilled and excited to work with the St. Thomas Parrish community and engage with the diverse dynamics of Jamaican life. In fact, the opportunity to really collaborate with a Jamaican community to grow in understanding is actually the most exciting part. While in Jamaica, I will be doing a service learning project of my choice. I plan to work in the local high school there. Honestly, I am not new to working with high school students–I actually taught high school math for seven years in Connecticut. Still, I imagine my experience teach math to U.S. students will not be completely identical to the process of collaborating with a Jamaican community to create a mentoring program. To prepare, I have been doing research on the educational culture of the country from which my ancestors hail: Is mentorship a common idea in Jamaica? Will students be receptive to it? Will adults in the Yallahs community be willing to mentor the community’s teenagers? These are all questions I have sought to answer. But, I’m beginning to realize I will gain a better understanding of how best to develop the program once immerse myself in the experience. I will be in Jamaica for just five weeks, but I hope to help create something that is both valuable and sustainable long after I leave the island.
My own personal journey leading up to this experience adds another layer. Last summer, I picked up my “stable” life as a teacher in a great district and left my cozy apartment that I shared with my best friend in a community lined with cherry blossom trees, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and gym that achieved my notoriously elusive approval rating. I left Connecticut to move to Philadelphia to attend Temple. I had visited in March and loved the professors in the Urban Education program, recognizing it was a program I knew I wanted to be a part of. I made a brave move that most people would not make. I was scared out of my mind to leave my comfort zone in Connecticut–my family, best friends, and the home I’ve known since I was a child. I cried thinking of the red, orange, and yellow New England fall foliage that I would not have the luxury of seeing, fearing I had under-appreciated it all these years.
But, the courage to achieve my dream prevailed, and I made it to the City of Brotherly Love. For this reason, studying in Jamaica for five weeks, the longest I’ve ever been outside of the United States , does not feel close to daunting. This opportunity to live and work with the vibrant community in Yallahs is privilege, and the opportunity is thrilling. And, knowing that this opportunity was made possible by my move to Temple, I’m going to appreciate it that much more.