Thursday, September 15, 2005

“Mini Peace Corps” in Jamaica is an Amazing Experience

By Melanie Cain

This summer Professor Jan Droegkamp led several UIS students to Jamaica for a three-week program that allowed them to interact with the local community, tour the country, and learn about its culture. It was an experience that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

“I designed this trip as a service-learning course, a ‘min Peace Corps’ experience,” explained Jan. “Students work side-by-side with Jamaicans in community organizations and schools. Most of the students lived with families and spent their free time with Jamaican peers or family members. Every day the students worked in their assignments and served the organizational needs, whether that was hurricane relief, teaching, craft demonstrations or computer instruction.”

The students attended seminars twice a week to discuss concepts of culture, politics, religion, and their personal experiences and also took field trips to view some of the natural Jamaican surroundings. “The area where we lived was off the beaten path, and it allowed the students to experience the real Jamaican hospitality and community development,” said Jan.

Jan explained how she got the idea for the course: “I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica in 1972 and have traveled there on vacation in the past four years. Once I was on the beach talking to a Jamaican woman, and she asked me why I didn’t bring students.” Jan took her first student group in 2004 and plans to take another in 2006 as part of the UIS Global Experience Program.

One of the students on this year’s trip was Kevin Parker, an undergraduate Political Studies major and recipient of the first Global Experience Scholarship. Kevin described the trip as “a program designed to promote a better understanding of Jamaican society through various community service opportunities.”

Kevin said, for him, the best part of the trip was his host family. “I loved living with the Holmes Family in Malvern. From the moment I met them, we clicked. They were a very affectionate family who made sure I was comfortable. My experience with them truly enhanced my time in Jamaica and was certainly the most enjoyable part of the trip.”

He added, “I strongly suggest to anyone who visits Jamaica – don’t spend your time strictly at the resorts on the beach. The country and citizenry extend well beyond the beach communities most people visit. I had a great time studying in Jamaica, and I encourage all students to consider taking this course.”

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