Study Abroad: Service through sports

I have been to Jamaica several times. The attraction, however, was not caused by the abundance of ganja or the legendary music of Bob Marley. I went to volunteer at a sports camp for kids from the most underprivileged communities in Kingston—Jamaica’s capital and one of the murder capitals of the world. The camp—Jamaican Advantage thru Sports for Youth Camp—changed my life and has given me lifelong friends. I fell in love with the kids and with Kingston as a whole. The laidback mindset paired with a general kindness from everyone made me come back again and again.

When I came to Geneseo in the fall of 2013, I immediately knew that I wanted to study abroad. I was elated to see that Geneseo had an exchange program with the University of the West Indies-Mona in Kingston, Jamaica. I applied to the program less than two weeks after I took my first class here.

As with any study abroad program, I did much more than go to class while I was in Jamaica. I was enrolled in just three courses, so my Thursdays and Fridays were free. I was able to work with Monsignor Richard Albert and his organization, the St. Patrick’s Foundation—the same foundation that runs JASY Camp—to teach remedial math and reading at St. Margaret’s Human Resource Center.

SMHRC is located in one of the roughest parts of Kingston. The children there were amazing. Even if they couldn’t get a problem right immediately, they kept trying and genuinely wanted to learn. Being there made me appreciate everything that teachers have to go through.

Many of the friends I made at JASY Camp weren’t Jamaicans. The United States Marines stationed at the U.S. Embassy volunteered to play sports with us. One of the Marines, Sgt. Sarah Perkins, was in Kingston when I arrived for my semester. She asked me if I wanted to come play basketball at the Embassy and I immediately said yes.

So every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would take a cab––costing about $0.90 each way––to the Embassy to do “boot camp” with the Marines, play basketball and play sand volleyball with Embassy workers and Jamaican police officers. I went to movies, bars and parties with many of the Marines. It was great to have a place with other Americans abroad just down the street from me.

I had a lot of fun on weekends. During Carnival season—from Ash Wednesday until Easter—my friends and I went to a huge party every Friday called “Bacchanal” at the National Stadium in Kingston. This party was much wilder than anything I’ve ever experienced in America; people were dancing like crazy and drinking like college students with nothing to lose.

My favorite place to go, however, was Dub Club. Dub Club is a Rastafarian club atop a hill less than a mile from UWI. It was a place to go on Sunday nights to relax and listen to reggae music, played by a Rastafarian DJ with five-foot long dreadlocks. The real charm of the club, however, came from its view over the city of Kingston and Port Royal. The glistening lights of street lamps and porch lights lit up the ground in the most perfect way imaginable.

I would not trade my experience in Jamaica for anything. I made some great friends and had the best semester of my life. If you’re thinking about studying abroad, consider going somewhere off the beaten path to explore what lies beyond the first world.