Dr. Wendy Turner, associate professor of social work, has been taking students to Jamaica for the last 14 years and still finds new avenues for teaching through a service-learning course that exposes student’s to a wide variety of experiences. Her goal is that students learn that the world is much bigger that what they see back home; realize the impact their work can have on the rest of the world; and recognize the many privileges they have.
Turner’s longstanding connections have led to a collaboration with Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Mandeville, Jamaica. Through the program, USI and NCU students are able to discuss social issues, social justice and the differences and similarities of problems each country faces.
Some of the similarities include problems with violence and drugs. While the United States sees more issues of drug use, addictions and overdoses, Jamaica deals more with trafficking through its ports and gang violence, shootings and deaths.
In Jamaica, the USI students are forced out of their comfort zones and learn to work with individuals of a variety of ages, from performing developmental assessments on children 0-6 years old, to visiting group homes and conducting interviews with men with schizophrenia. For some students this is the first time they are exposed to anyone with a severe mental illness. Additionally, they have to learn to communicate through language barriers. Students find that the interviews help them break down barriers and misconceptions about mental illness and remove the stigma often associated with it.
Even with the problems Jamaica faces, students get to see how resilient, upbeat and positive the people are and it forces them to reflect on how much we take for granted. It is a humbling lesson for college age students to understand how big the world is and how small their problems are.
Turner says hardly a day goes by where she doesn’t hear from past students about how much the Jamaica trips have positively impacted their personal or professional lives. She has albums full of letters and photos from her students.
In Turner’s eyes, the future is bright for the USI partnership with NCU and a continued mutually beneficial relationship. And, she’s exploring new opportunities such as a student exchange program, internships and also serving as a guest lecturer at NCU.
Written by University Communications intern, Alexis Tenbarge
Photo Credit: Provided by Wendy Turner