During the 2019-2020 Winterim at UW-Eau Claire, students were offered an opportunity to participate in an immersion trip to Jamaica led by Dr. Cathy Rex and Dr. Joel Pace. Dr. Rex has led the Jamaica Immersion multiple times, focusing on Jamaica’s colonial history and ethical tourism. Additionally, the group learned about the history of Jamaica’s culture through the scope of music and Rastafarianism during their time abroad. Dr. Pace, with his passion for music and Reggae helped teach students about the musical culture of Jamaica and its impacts. While Jamaica is known to many for its tourism, this immersion trip challenged students to learn about the country’s culture and look critically at the impact of tourism on that culture.
Cassandra Hampshire, an undergraduate student at the university, was one student who participated in the trip. “I was first suggested to look into this immersion program by my AARC adviser, and then my English adviser, and finally thought, ‘why not’?” said Hampshire. “[It was] so amazing and interesting to learn about the culture that people so often take for granted, I believe, because it’s a well-known tourist destination—people forget that the people there have struggles, have hardships to face, and are trying to figure their lives out.”
Students interacted with the group TransWave “an organization completely led by members of the transgender community... committed to working with stakeholders to make our society safe and inclusive for all transgender and gender non-conforming individuals” in Jamaica. UW-Eau Claire student Vincent Segovia describes meeting with them at their office: “It was one of those buzz-ins…we go into this dark hallway where there are cameras everywhere… It showed how underground they are,” said Segovia. Yet there were still “a lot of people in the community who were really comfortable… It was really beautiful” said Segovia.
When asked if there is something people should know about Jamaica, student Anecia Larsen said “People often mistake the Rasta and the Jamaican flag.” The Jamaican flag colors are black, green, and gold. “The Rasta colors red, green, and black come from the Ethiopian flag” said Segovia. The students spent some time in a Rastafarian village where “They played their own music,” said Segovia. “[They] still look at Bob Marley as an influential figure, but a lot of their music is similar to Afro-beats because they want to keep their connection with Ethiopia.”
Students came home with a new critical approach to the world around them: “Bring an open mind,” said Larsen. “Be open to different experiences.” Not only is this attitude important to experience with international cultures, but to local culture and experiences in our community. “It shows [people] a new perspective that can vary quite widely from the one they’ve grown accustomed to in their city or country” said Hampshire.
If you’re interested in looking into participating in a cultural immersion, visit the UW-Eau Claire website: https://www.uwec.edu/academics/college-arts-sciences/departments-programs/english/explore-opportunities/cultural-immersion/