By: Mitch Howard, Global Correspondent, Jamaica Service Learning Winter Break 2016
Wagwan everybody? My name is Mitch Howard and I participated in the Jamaica Service Learning Program in December 2016. In addition to learning a little Jamaican Patois (wagwan = what’s going on), participating in the Jamaica Program allowed me to immerse myself in a whole host of exciting and unforgettable experiences. The experience has definitely been the highlight of my time at Ohio University thus far, and traveling abroad has sparked a sense of urgency in me to go out and seek opportunities to learn about and appreciate other people and their ways of life.
The Office of Global Opportunities has many resources available to help any student that is interested in participating in a global experience. I had some concerns when I first decided that I wanted to participate in the Jamaica program. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to be able to afford the trip, so I went to the Office of Global Opportunities (OGO) to discuss different ways to fund my trip. The OGO employees were so helpful and informed me of all the different scholarships and grants that are available for students that want to study abroad. For example, during my first visit, I learned how you can apply your existing financial aid to OHIO programs. This was really helpful for me, because I was able to use my existing scholarships, grants, and loans to cover the entire cost of the Jamaica Program! You can look at all of the funding options provided by OGO and other Ohio University affiliates on their website: https://www.ohio.edu/global/goglobal/
If you are considering participating in a global experience, don’t let the misconceptions you may have keep you from going. I think that the most helpful thing for me was to go to the OGO office and just have conversations with the advisors. They let me know over and over again that I could come to them with any questions; and they also just expressed how excited they were for me, which made me feel valued. I had wanted to go abroad for quite some time. I attended high school in Meigs County, one of the poorest counties in Ohio. Meigs County is a rural, Appalachian community, where many families face adversity due to low socioeconomic statuses. Growing up in an Appalachian community, I was sometimes told that I was not supposed to have experiences that other people have, like traveling to another country. I think that it almost became expected of me to just settle for what I could get after I graduated high school, that pursuing higher education, let alone education abroad would be out of reach for me. However, that just isn’t the case. Regardless of circumstances, the choice to pursue opportunity belongs to the individual.
I have a lot of admiration for my hometown, friends, and family, but they really played no role in my decision to participate in the Jamaica program. At a certain point, I realized that I had started to doubt myself only because of the exposure to the negative thoughts of other people. Thankfully, I eventually realized that this was ludicrous and that I am the only person who should be calling the shots in my life. I really just decided that this experience would be beneficial for me, so I set out to find the resources to make it happen. I found myself confused and a little lost in the planning process of the trip, but the OGO really helped me work through the details and they were my best ally throughout the entire process.
I don’t want to make my experience growing up in Meigs County sound like some sad story, because it wasn’t. I had the privilege of having supportive family and my experiences growing up were very different from some of my peers’ experiences. While growing up in an area like that did pose some disadvantages, I also feel like I gained a unique insight to the realities that so many people face. What is important to realize is that despite what you think might hold you back from studying abroad, there are resources available and people you can talk with to make your global experience happen. Choosing to take advantage of resources and pursuing opportunities is something that everyone can do, regardless of where they come from, or other people’s ideas regarding what they should do.
If you ever have even the slightest interest in participating in a global experience, you should definitely pay a visit to the OGO office. I started my planning process by attending the walk-in advising hours that happen quite frequently. I am so grateful that I was able to have my experience in Jamaica. From exploring and learning about new communities, volunteering at schools, learning about sustainable tourism and its significance to Jamaican culture, caving, trying new food, taking in the breathtaking views and so much more, the experience will definitely be something I will never forget. Getting that first stamp on my passport only increased my desire to add more to my collection, and I am already planning my next study abroad in Barcelona this summer! Studying abroad was something that I used to think was only a cool idea, but I’m so thankful that my interactions with the Office of Global Opportunities helped turn that idea into a reality.