Most Fridays, my day includes meetings with colleagues and appointments with students. Last Friday, my day included ziplining with students through YS Falls in Jamaica. Needless to say, last week was quite different from most other weeks of my fellowship, and it gave me the opportunity to grow as a professional and grow closer to some incredible Elon University students.
So, what in the world was I doing in Jamaica during a workweek? Last week was spring break for students here at Elon, and I was given the opportunity to work as a staff co-advisor alongside Brad Polen for 11 students on an alternative spring break trip (#Elonaltbreak) through the Kernodle Center. Our trip focused on rural education in Treasure Beach, Jamaica.
We had two main service projects during the week. First, we served as volunteers at a local school. We mainly worked individually with children who were struggling academically in the classroom for various reasons. We also played with the children during recreation, and I learned that almost all the children could outrun me. Second, we started farming a small plot of land next to where we resided during the week. The vegetables grown will be donated to the local community. I now have a deeper appreciation for farming, especially after working with students to sow the dry land.
Besides our service projects, we also immersed ourselves in Jamaican culture in other ways. For example, we had an arts and crafts night in which a local resident, Charlie, demonstrated how to carve beautiful pictures on organic material. We also had a dance lesson to learn how to move to reggae. I use the term “learn” loosely for myself because I have no coordination. Yaya worked as our cook for the week, serving us delicious breakfasts with foods such as pineapples and journeycakes, and delicious dinners, including jerk chicken on our first night. Ava was our volunteer coordinator for the week. When I think of strong women I know in my life, she’s now one of the first people to come to mind. She dedicated her small amount of free time (she also works full-time as a high school teacher) to ensuring that we had everything we needed for the week.
My favorite part of the trip was working alongside Elon students. The students collaborated so that all the tasks were accomplished. Our student leader for the week, Consuelo Mendoza, did an excellent job with planning and execution. Most evenings, we reflected upon what we were learning and experiencing, and, most importantly, how we could use what we learned during the week once we got back to campus. I’m looking forward what’s in store these students because they deeply care for others and want to better their communities.
As a career development professional, I’ve learned that oftentimes, the best way to serve students is to get out of my office. Thinking about a career can be intimidating, but through working alongside these students last week, I was able to explain to them what I do and tell them about resources we provide. Students are much more likely to come to appointments when they already know the person with whom they’ll be meeting, and I’m so thankful to know all of these students within the context of our Jamaican alternative break.