Spring break for 10 Shepherd students included a little bit of sun and sand and a whole lot of work. Four teacher education and six nursing students spent March 9-20 traveling to Jamaica where they had the opportunity to participate in teaching and clinical experiences in schools and hospitals and to visit various other educational and cultural settings.
Shepherd offers the Jamaica study abroad trip to nursing and teacher education students every other year. Dr. Virginia Hicks, dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies, said this is the fifth trip Shepherd has offered. She and Dr. Mary Coyle, assistant professor of nursing, accompanied the students on the trip.
“They worked hard during the week,” Hicks said. “The education students were in various schools preparing lesson plans and actually teaching. They were in some large schools with 45 or 50 in a class, and they were in some small rural schools. Nursing students were going into three different hospitals, some that were a little bit better off than others.”
Hicks said most of the education majors taught in elementary schools, but one Shepherd student had the opportunity to teach in an early education school. In the evenings the students attended lectures about various professions and the country’s culture. They had to read an approved book about Jamaica and keep a journal during the trip reflecting on their experiences. The students also donated much-needed supplies for the schools and hospitals. Prior to the trip, Hicks and Coyle provided educational seminars to help the students prepare.
The home base during the trip was Mandeville, Jamaica, a city of about 50,000 in the middle of the island. From there, students traveled to other towns where they worked in schools and health care settings. They also visited several colleges, including G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, where some Olympians, including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, have trained.
“It was a great experience for our students to spend most of their time in Mandeville and other towns where the focus is not for tourists,” Hicks said. “This gave them the chance to experience the every day life in an area in Jamaica where tourism is not the norm.”
Hicks said even though the students worked hard in the schools and hospitals and attended lectures and discussions in the evening, there was still time for fun. During the first weekend they traveled to Dunn’s River Falls and on the last weekend they visited the beach resort town of Negril.
Whether they are future nurses or future educators, the students say they came back with ideas and a better understanding of what working in their chosen career field is like in a country that’s so different from the United States.
“They don’t have as many resources as we do so they find ways to improvise,” said nursing major Cara Doupnik of Easton, Maryland. “They have to take time out of their care to figure out how they’re going to provide care for a patient without contaminating that patient. They can still provide accurate care, but they just do it a different way than we do here.”
Doupnik said there are more patients in the Jamaican hospitals because there’s not a limit on how long they can stay.
“It opens your eyes to other interventions where you don’t have to have the bells and whistles like we do in the United States,” said nursing major Keri Leach of York, Pennsylvania. “Care is delivered, the end product is the same with the patient becoming better. The work is just more hands on. Here we use more machines.”
Amanda Shields, a nursing major from Charles Town, found the trip to be especially interesting because her goal is to become a travel nurse and work abroad.
“I’ve been to other countries before but this is the first time I’ve gone to go into the hospitals and see potential places I could be working in for a couple of months,” Shields said.
Like the nursing students, the education majors found Jamaican schools sorely lacking in resources and technology. Madeline Witte of Hurricane said seeing the Jamaican teachers in action gives her ideas about how to plan lessons without the benefit of the technology that is so prevalent in U.S. classrooms.
“I went in not knowing fully what to expect but I got a really good experience,” Witte said. “It was interesting to see that people work with so little and to come back here and have so much to work with.”
“Going to Jamaica was an amazing experience,” said education major Heather Giles of Gore, Virginia. “Teachers here complain so often about having nothing where in Jamaica they were literally reusing paper. To see teachers able to teach in that type of environment gives you inspiration that you can really reach any student and that you can really change lives because they were doing it there with nothing.”
Jordyn Marion, an elementary education major from Myersville, Maryland, noticed that children in Jamaica did not receive much praise when they did well. When she praised a boy for correctly answering some math problems, the other children in the class were eager to show her their work.
“It just made me realize how important it is to praise the kids,” Marion said.