Hello! My name is Laura and this fall I am interning with an international education organization in Kingston, Jamaica! I have never worked in the Caribbean, so I am very excited for this fantastic opportunity.
As of today, I have been in Kingston for about two weeks and it feels equally like a lifetime and no time at all. Perhaps that is because my internship placement journey was so full of surprises. Side note for current and future IEDPers: have you heard the seemingly fantastical story of the intern who received her placement only a few days before departure? Well, I am that intern, and I am here to tell you that it all works out!
Unlike many of my IEDP colleagues, I decided to complete my internship in the fall after finishing my course requirements for IEDP during the summer session. While I will not bore you with the series of unfortunate events that unfolded, let’s just say that for much of the spring I experienced the perfect storm of indecisiveness and bad luck with regards to an internship placement. Luckily, the ever-faithful Dr. GK stood by me and I eventually found the right fit at an organization in Jamaica (where my good friend and fellow IEDPer Suhina also interned—check out her blog). August recess delayed my paperwork, which meant that in the end I only had six days to purchase flights, find an apartment, stock up on essentials, pack, and say goodbye to family and friends. Fortunately, my partner, Zach, was able to take time off between law clerkships and join me in Kingston for the next few months. All’s well that ends well, right?
I arrived at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston on Sunday morning to the type of warmth that I have found to be so common among island nations: an enveloping heat from both the sun and friendly nature of the people that hugs you in every direction. Zach and I were so grateful to be met at the airport by my colleague Michael, who delighted us with insights and tales of Jamaica during the thirty-minute trip to the Airbnb where we would be staying for the first week.
Since we arrived on Sunday, there wasn’t a lot of time to get situated. I was unable to activate my phone or purchase groceries as most stores were closed. As night fell I had a memorable meal of pasta (thanks for thinking ahead, mom!) and leftover cheese from the plane, and then quickly made a note that eating pasta without oil or sauce is incredibly difficult on the throat.
I made it to work the following morning with a few minutes to spare. The organization’s office sits on the eighth floor of a building in the center of New Kingston, a bustling business district. I was warmly welcomed by the dozen or so staff members (thank you so much to all of them!) before settling in to my first Monday morning staff meeting. I spent the week reading hundreds of pages of reports, surveys, legal documents, and strategic notes to better situate myself into the context of my work here. When I received a health curriculum for grade 8 that was over 400 pages long, I felt exceptionally grateful for Penn’s heavy reading assignments.
Over the next few months I will be working with the Health and Education Specialists to write a implementation guide for an existing non-traditional service delivery program called Teen Hub. Established in 2017, Teen Hub is a safe space in the main transit center in Kingston where adolescents can get access to HIV testing, mental health counseling, life skills training, and homework help (among many other things). It has been exceptionally well-received among adolescents and has streamlined access to critical services. My main tasks are to 1) interview key personnel and partners, 2) draft a theory of change and results framework, and 3) create an implementation guide that could be used for the expansion of the program. I am so grateful to have wonderful mentors and colleagues who provide guidance and answer my endless stream of questions.
For the first week in Jamaica, I stayed in a lovely guest suite in Liguanea, an uptown district of Kingston. The Airbnb was based at the back of a couple’s home and had a little deck that faced a larger yard with trees galore. I loved opening the door each morning and taking in the growing baby palms, breadfruits, and avocados (aka pears in Jamaica!). The Sovereign Centre mall with lots of shops was close by, as was the Hope Botanical Gardens, one of the few sprawling green spaces in the city.
One of the main challenges I had to navigate during my first week was the commute to and from work. I arrived in Jamaica at the height of the second rainy season, which lasts from September to November. According to my colleagues, this has been a particularly unusual season with steady downpours that last anywhere from an hour to three hours instead of the usual thirty-minute spurt.
Every afternoon around 3 pm, the roads through New Kingston turn into roaring rivers, creating a traffic jam that rivals those I have experienced at home in New York. From my window on the 8thfloor, I watch as the dark clouds roll down the mountains, across the harbor and into town. The weather, coupled with recent incidents of violence between cab and bus drivers that led to a strike, severely impacts one’s ability to move around the city.
While my Airbnb was only about a 7-minute drive away from the office, the trip often took well over an hour as my trusty taxi driver Mr. Solomon bobbed and weaved through the impassable streets. Luckily, the office is very understanding (no one likes to get stuck in Kingston rain and traffic!) and so I was able to come in early and leave early so as to avoid the main rush. It was a learning process, but by Friday I had my routine down pat. I never thought I would need rainboots in Jamaica, but boy would they come in handy!
Despite lucking out with our first Airbnb, I really didn’t feel settled here until moving into our full-time apartment. We found a place in New Kingston, only a short 10-minute walk to work, with grocery stores, a gym, and restaurants nearby. After fighting the rain and Kingston traffic for a week, this was music to my ears. Still, my favorite part of the apartment so far is the large balcony that welcomes us with views of the Blue Mountains, the largest mountain range in Jamaica. In the evenings it is a great place to sit and watch the lightening create a speckled show on the peaks.
Many thanks for those who have made it this far! I look forward to sharing more about my time in Jamaica over the following two months.