It has been extremely difficult for me to begin to write about my experience in Jamaica. Namely because it was a tremendously rich experience filled with wonder, introspection, and questions. Even as I sit here prepared to divulge all that was this course, I am unsure where to begin because I am not exactly sure where the change began, only that it happened and I am a different person having had this experience. Multicultural counseling like all counseling is supposed to teach you about how to work with clients but you always end up doing a heck of a lot of self-work in the process.
First, I will go on record in saying that CASA (John Loggins) and Dr. Rafik Mohammad have done a wonderful job building a great network with the community of Falmouth. Because of the previously existing relationship between USD and Falmouth/Duncans, going to Jamaica felt so warm inviting and welcoming. Beyond that of a host having a guest, this felt like we were being welcomed into the homes and lives of our extended family. I say that with a level of certainty as our day trips to Ocho Rios and Negril places that were more “touristy”, while fun, left me wanting to return home to the peaceful beaches of Silver Sands. It would be my most sincere wish that every global study course establish a relationship with the community they are staying in.
The things I learned while in Jamaica I will carry with me for the rest of my life. The way that I look at myself, the way that I look at others, even the way that I vacation will all be dramatically different as a result of my time spent here. I broadened my definition of what it means to be Black. It was not at all my expectation to feel Black while abroad. I thought that my skin color would allow me to maneuver through the world relatively undetected and yet that was not the case. It is an interesting thing to be in a place and feel something you do not normally feel…but are. Certainly I know I am an American, and have listlessly sang songs proclaiming my pride in being so, but I do not believe I have ever felt so American as I did in Jamaica. I revealed to my class and have still marinated on what it means to be American. The traits, characteristics, and attributes that we manifest internally at mention of being “American” sometimes do not fit who I am, and I am still making sense of it; asking myself how I fit into this word, this ideal and if I do not fit there then where is it that I do? I am a woman…Black…an American…middle class…highly (formally) educated, I am all those things but the way that I look at them, the narrowness with which I thought of many of those things has expanded because of my travel.
“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.”~Frank Clark
This has always been one of my favorite quotes, and in leadership I expanded it a bit and came to the conclusion that development takes place through dissonance. We grow in discomfort, we mature, we develop, we change. I mark my challenge as a professor to maintain a class in what Vygotsky would call the zone of proximal development–the space between where you actually are and where you have the potential to be. While this zone is typically used on an individual level, I think it also applies systemically. Honestly, I think Jamaica was this zone, and my time there pushed me and seemingly many other participants of the program to a place beyond where we were when we left San Diego. And yet, I know I have not “arrived” at some new place, instead I am more present than ever to my state of becoming.
One of the most prominent days was when the girls from the Place of Safety –a group-home of sorts for young girls who are in transition, have experienced trauma or abuse, or have runaway from home–came to Silver Sands to the beach with us. Many of these girls had ill-fitting bathing suits, if they had one at all, they did not know how to swim and some had never even been to the beach before. Can you imagine living on an island and never seeing the beach? Never having set foot in the ocean because they are privately owned and reserved for tourists? Taking the thought home, I contemplated those in my own family who have never left the south or even the state! Never seen the bright lights of New York City, the mountains of the Mile-High city, or the endless beaches of California. I have. It made me keenly aware of my own privileges in this life. I think of the sacrifices my parents made so that I could have the best education, well-rounded friends and experiences, their push to make me well-read and open-minded. In Jamaica on the beach with those girls, I felt like the dream of my parents, and my grandparents, and their grandparents. I truly truly came as one but stood as ten thousand. Before I left I wrote a letter to one of the girls, a self-proclaimed writer, and I told her to never stop writing and to believe in the power her words had. I pushed myself to write it ignoring the thought that my letter was a feeble attempt at assuaging my own discomfort in leaving after having been given so much from these girls. I pushed myself hoping that my small act of courage and kindness, from one writer to another, might elicit a big one in her and that perhaps she would dare to listen.
In the quiet cracks between vacation and work and play, I have learned so much about myself. I can put a flag up in Jamaica. Not because I claim any ownership over it, but because it was there that I laid claim and took ownership of myself. It showed me pieces of me that I had not previously acknowledged it showed me other sides of pieces I see all the time. This beautiful land of perfectly turquoise water and white sand beaches, ackee and breadfruit, jerk chicken and bammy, sugar cane and the sweetest rum cream you’ve never tasted held up a mirror to my face and demanded an answer to the question, “Who are you?” I will be eternally grateful for the experience. My heart now and perhaps forevermore dwells in this place.