By: Kasey Andrade
Over the summer, junior Honors student Emily Wiegand participated in a study tour that traveled to four different areas of Jamaica. Check out Emily’s interview below to learn about how her adventure abroad connects to her research here at BSU!
Major, Year, & Fun Fact?
Emily Wiegand, Junior, English Major with a Secondary Education and Latin American and Caribbean Studies Minor
Fun Fact: I learned how to drive a car on a fifteen passenger van.
Where did you study abroad? How long? Were you able to explore different areas of the country you studied in?
This past summer, I studied abroad in Jamaican for 15 days. I was lucky enough to travel to four, very distinct, places during our tour. The study tour was divided into four sections; our initial travel stop was to the capital of Kingston, followed by the interior region of the Blue Mountains, to the southwest coast of Bluefields, finally residing in the tourist hot stop of Negril. All four places allowed us to see Jamaica from multiple perspectives, living conditions, and communities.
What interested you in this study abroad program?
My initial interest came from one of the professors leading the tour, Dr. Allyson Ferrante. I had been looking for a study tour to go on because I really wanted to get started with my travelling career at Bridgewater, and after speaking with her about winter intercession options, she told me about the summer trip to Jamaica and asked me to join her on it.
Even though I would have not picked a trip to Jamaica on my own, after reading through all the activities we would be doing, people we would get to meet, and cultures we would get to experience, I became completely invested in the tour and its mission of understanding cultural heritage tourism.
How did this study abroad experience relate to research you are conducting at BSU?
My research in the ATP summer program actually grew from applying and being accepted to the study tour to Jamaica. I knew that I needed to apply for scholarships and grants to afford this adventure and so from this I generated an ATP project that would combine my experiential learning in Jamaica with my passion for student learning, specifically through literature. Through looking at the required texts of the tour, I based my research off of the Jamaican anthology of short stories and conducted a project on the representation of women in Jamaican literature and how those representations are reflected onto the social culture of Jamaica; specifically the effect it had on young boys and girls in their school systems.
This study of Jamaican literature, and the British and American literature that is taught in the schools, has now set the groundwork for my honors thesis and the notion that culturally custom designed English curriculums are essential for beneficial learning in American school districts.
How did this study tour explore cultural heritage and tourism?
Cultural heritage tourism is a widely growing kind of tourism that works to preserve the nation’s environment, benefit the local communities, and show the authentic culture of the toured nation. This tourism movement is not only happening in Jamaica, but it is the topic that we focused on most heavily. Specifically, we were brought to four different tourist areas and asked to analyze what we observed, what we were shown by the locals, and how we were treated in that environment. Three out of the four points were places that advocated themselves to be cultural heritage tourist sites: The University of the West Indies: Mona, Prince Valley Guest House, and Luna Sea Inn. In all of these places we were able to truly be a part of the local community and learn about the culture of the nation. Our last stop, however, was a tourist hot spot, Negril. In this environment we were treated much more like resort guests than we were family; we were unable to break down the barrier of the locals and truly get to know them. This offered a great contrast that emphasized the importance of cultural heritage tourism when it comes to understanding a culture.
What opportunities did you have to take part in service projects while in Jamaica?
Throughout the entirety of the trip we had opportunities to give back to the communities we were staying in (one of the main reasons I was so excited to go on this trip). The tour did, however, offer a full three days of service opportunities for us while we were in Luna Sea Inn. The tour group was split up into three groups and each day we would complete a new service project. The groups were rotated through working on finishing the Luna Sea inn (a cultural heritage tourist site), a local fishery that needed plumbing to be installed, and a local school that needed us to set up a water filtration system so that the students and teachers could have clean water to drink during the day. The service opportunities were set up in this way so that each one received three full days of work from us. With this, we were able to accomplish the bulk of the service projects, helping the community of Bluefields to reach its full potential.
What was it like working in a school and having an opportunity to teach and interact with students?
Wanting to be a middle school teacher, I was ecstatic to hear that we would be spending a whole day at the Cascade Primary School in the Blue Mountains. It was amazing to see children ages 3 to 12 so dedicated to their academics and the excitement they had to meet us. While we were there, we split the students up into groups and asked them questions about: what they wanted to be when they were older, what their favorite books are, what they loved most about Jamaica, etc. They then taught us games they play throughout the day and we watched and danced with them during a traditional dance performance they put on for us and other visitors to the school. My favorite part, though, was when we got to read to them and they read to us. It was just amazing to be in a completely different country, speaking the same language, and knowing the same childhood stories they were so excited to show to us.
This part of the trip was also very eye- opening to me too, though. Jamaica, as a whole, is a very impoverished nation and this was very evident in the school we were lucky enough to visit. The building was run down, supplies outdated, and conditions very poor, not to mention that many students had to walk hours to get to school on time. To help in their cause to improve their schooling, though, we brought books from home and held a fundraiser (once back home) to help them fund their school since the government does not. The students’ passion to learn, though, was inspiring, even to a college student, because of their determination to succeed despite the adversity against them.
What is your favorite memory from your trip abroad?
My favorite memory of my time in Jamaica would have to be interacting with the children at the art movement in Kingston. It was unplanned and unexpected and made it that much more worthwhile. We got to talk to them about what they thought of art and their school and were inspired by their enthusiasm to learn. This was also the place where I taught some of the children how to use my camera; I still have their pictures today. This experience was amazing ad fit right in with my passion to work with children throughout the world.
How did taking part in this study tour change your perspective on how you think about Jamaica?
Prior to going to Jamaica, I viewed it like many Americans would view it, like a paradise resort island that did not offer much more globally. I was horribly and shamefully wrong. Jamaica is so much more than Sandal’s resorts, Bob Marley and beautiful beaches; it is a complex and loving country that works as a community to improve upon itself for the better of its citizens. This tour gave me a new appreciation for the often misunderstood and misrecognized country of Jamaica and all that it has to offer to the world. By analyzing it through the lens of cultural heritage tourism, I was able to fully immerse myself in the Jamaican culture and come to love it as if it were my own. Jamaica is a reality for me now, instead of a dream like fantasy it is often defined as.
What did you learn from being able to spend time with the locals?
My time with locals revolved around having a good time, getting to personally know them, and engage with their culture directly. I definitely learned the most about their culture, the native language they speak, and their way of life as a whole when I was with the members of the local communities; it’s the best way to learn about any country. Most of the locals were genuinely invested in both teaching us about their own nation and culture as well as learn more about the American culture. Like in any culture, by being in it for two weeks straight I was able to observe and become a part of the Jamaican way of life for a short time.
Were you able to visit any museums or see any art movements?
While in Kingston we did visit the National Gallery of Jamaica which, although small, exhibited both past and present artists. One of the most striking exhibits we looked at was the feminist gallery; a collection of Jamaican women artists that attempted to capture the Jamaican female experience through the art. Being beautiful, inspiring, realistic, and sickening, this exhibit was engaging and exciting to see.
Even more exciting, though was our visit to the art movement happening in the impoverished areas of Kingston. The movement Paint Jamaica: Bringing Art into Kingston’s Inner Cities works to empower inner city youth by making masterpieces out of giant abandoned warehouses on Fleet Street. This art was even more amazing than that in the gallery because of its raw talent from local muralists, the vibrant color that stood out among the debris, stances on the importance of education, and voice it gives to the children of Kingston. It was remarkable beautiful and a site everyone should see if they have the privilege of travelling to Kingston, Jamaica.
What was it like visiting a coffee farm? Was this experience different than what you expected?
Coffee is a part of my daily life, and getting to see and hike through a coffee field that produced some of the most expensive and delicious coffee in the world was so exciting. The Twyman Coffee Estate is located within the Blue Mountains and not only were we able to hike through the farms and waterfall areas, speak with the owner, and stay for lunch, but we were also able to try as much coffee as we wanted and buy it at a discounted rate since we were his visitors. It was an amazing experience.
What advice would you give to others who are thinking of studying abroad?
Just do it! People will always tell you it’s the best thing you could do in your college degree and although repetitive, it’s completely true. It does not matter who you are, studying abroad is for everyone. Everyone’s biggest argument against it is that it costs too much money. This can be true but there are two things I know: one, it is cheaper to go now than it is to go after college, and two, there are so many untapped scholarships that will get you to go for free. If you can take the time to look into it, it will be worth your while and save you a ton of money.
Also, it’s not unusual to be afraid. Nothing interesting is easy; adventure should put you out of your comfort zone. So take advantage of any place you can possibly step foot in, it will be so worth it in the end.
Do you plan on traveling abroad again during your time at BSU? Where else would you like to travel to?
Of course I plan on travelling abroad again! This coming May I will be presenting the research I conducted in Jamaica at an the Caribbean Studies Association annual international conference in Haiti. My next move would then be to travel to Cambodia on the English study tour in the winter and finally end my Bridgewater career student teaching in a foreign country. I can’t wait!
The views expressed in this piece are my own and are not representative of the BSU Honors Program community as a whole.