Cam King

Contributing Writer


Waking on the extremely chilly morning of Jan. 3 at the Chase Wyndham Hotel in Chelsea, Mass. was just the first exciting glimpse into the adventure that awaited our group of 18 Keene State College students. Nonetheless the 2012 International Service Trip to Jamaica was full of exciting moments and adventures such as jumping the cliffs at the infamous Rick’s Café and teaching in rural communities.

[singlepic id=715 w=320 h=240 float=right]

For the past 11 years Keene State College has extended the opportunity for students and faculty to partake in a service learning trip to different countries. Previous trips have included traveling to Mexico and El Salvador. Last year, the International Service Trip to Guatemala had students working closely with Habitat for Humanity to build two houses for local communities. The 2012 International Service Trip to Jamaica was led in part by the company Amizade, a Global Service-learning provider for students and the Coordinator of Greek Life and Student Leadership, Alex Brown.  Student leaders Kristin Powers and Ryan Robtoy were elected to lead this year’s trip as well as selecting the other 14 Keene State College students that would be traveling to Jamaica. Americorps vista volunteer and Keene State College employee Alyssa Day also was selected to go.

The applicant phase of selecting students for the International Service Trip is always tough competition. With over 50 students applying for just 14 spots on the 2012 Jamaica Service trip, student leader Kristin Powers said, “We definitely had our hands full and it was so hard, we wish we could have taken everybody.”

Our group of 18 members on the 2012 IST trip to Jamaica worked vigorously to fundraise for our trip. From selling grilled cheese in freshmen residence halls all over campus, to writing over 100 letters in total to friends and family, including New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, fundraising became more than a hope, it was a mission.

“It was simple, we had to make money to make our trip happen and all of us were going to make it happen,” senior Chase Caldwell said.

The 2012 IST to Jamaica kicked off on Jan. 2. Before getting up at 3 a.m. to head to Logan International Airport, Alex Brown said, “I was feeling very confident about everything. We had planned and prepped as best we could for every situation.”

Although some students were concerned with their preconceived notions of what rural Jamaica would be like, most of them were wondering if they would be taking their last hot shower for the next 11 days.

That answer would be quickly become a profound “yes” after the first day in Jamaica.

We were told beforehand through weekly meetings that despite the stereotypes of the Jamaican lifestyle, we would be in for a surprise once we landed. Senior at KSC, Annie Pagnotta said,

“My expectations were completely different from before the trip and during the trip. Beforehand we had learned a little about the culture in our weekly meetings, but no amount of knowledge beforehand can compare to actually experiencing living there.“

For trip leader Kristin Powers, it was a mystery until she got there.

“I really didn’t know exactly how Jamaica would be. That being said, everything I encountered once we got there was more than a pleasant surprise because not only were we providing service to the country of Jamaica and its people, but we were actually able to become ‘Jamaicans’ for 10 days.”

Looking a bit stunned, and initially culture-shocked, we tossed their bags into the back of a pickup truck and boarded a much slimmer version of a school bus. While the initial reactions of a humid tropical climate were stifling to say the least, it was the Jamaican-styled English that caused much confusion.

“I know they speak English, but it’s still way different than any English I’d heard before, and it definitely required some getting used to at first,” trip leader Ryan Robtoy said.

Our arrival was marked with a celebratory feast at the Association of Clubs in Petersfield, Westmoreland. It was at that specific feast that all of the members of the 2012 IST would be designated to their new “moms” and home-stay parents. With partners already previously assigned, the our group was split in half. Some people would be staying in Petersfield, while others would be designated to the neighboring town of Galloway, Westmoreland.

“Living in home-stays allowed different unique opportunities to every member of the group,” senior Dan Gannon said.

Alyssa Day, who had three other roommates as her host mom, Miss Fenton’s house said, “Living with families provided our group with a unique cultural experience because it gave us the opportunity to become part of the community, rather than just a bystander traveling through.”

After a lengthy day of traveling, we headed home with their newly designated parents and settled in to their temporary homes in Petersfield and Galloway.

Over the course of the next two days we woke up early, enjoyed wide ranges of traditional Jamaican food, and surprisingly enjoyed it.

Bonnie Chalmers said, “Typically I can be a picky eater, but our host mom was actually a caterer and made some of the best foreign food I’ve ever had.”

Brooke Wheeler admitted that the food was surprising, “It wasn’t what I expected either but it was still crazy exotic. I mean who eats chicken foot soup anyway?”

The first full two days quickly embedded the idea of “service learning” into the group.

Being the largest group ever that Petersfield Jamaica had seen, an enormous amount of work lay ahead over the course of Wednesday and Thursday.

A full cement floor was to be put in with our help.

This cement floor would allow the displacement of overcrowded classrooms to help fulfill the need for more room for educators in the schools.

Senior Katherine Woodman said, “We worked really hard, through the heat and lack of water, to get that floor done in the school. I feel they really appreciated our hard work because they let us go to the beach at the end of the day.”

Senior Class President, Colin Daly said working hard is “one of my favorite things to do.”

“Despite the fact that I had crazy blisters and couldn’t stop sweating after mixing all that concrete, giving back to the community was what we were there for,” he said.

Matthias Brown, who became the figurehead and main organizer, praised the Keene State group for getting the floor finished in a matter of days.

Brown said, “With your numbers and hard work, you have accomplished in three days, what would have taken us three weeks.”

The motto for our group and other community members quickly became, “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

Over the course of the next few days, business was mixed in with pleasure. An early morning bus ride to see the Ancient Tribe of Maroons in the Accompong Mountains showcased the annual festival of the Maroons, held every Jan. 6 in Jamaica.

We molded to the vibe of the festival by dancing at the foot of a stage at a huge outdoor concert and also venturing out to try new foods such as jerked chicken and pork.

Ryan Robtoy admitted to “maybe eating three times as much as everyone else.”

Sophomore Kelsey Bumsted thought, “Accompong was gorgeous. Being that high in the mountains and learning about the ancient tribes of Jamaica was just incredible. The Jamaican history is wild.”

Meeting people from all around the world, we truly thrust ourselves into mixing and interacting with all walks of life, high up in the ancient mountains of Accompong.

Kristin Powers added, “The only unfortunate thing about that festival is that we weren’t allowed to visit the tribal leaders grave, because of the fact that we were white.”

With a few more days of adventure, including an infamous “Reggae Night” that no one will be forgetting anytime soon, our group was settling into the vibe nicely. “‘Island time,’ they called it,” said Molly Vaux.

With each member experiencing their own set of adventures in their down time, everyone had finally succumbed to “Island Time.”

Not knowing or necessarily caring what time it was quickly became the calm feelings that everyone was soon to experience. Another major highlight of the trip was when we and a few other members of the Galloway/Petersfield communities ventured over to the tourist hot spot of Negril, Jamaica.

A day that offered a few tourist attractions such as Margaritaville and the world famous Rick’s Café, which boasts a 45-foot vertical drop into the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Nephtalie Dujour admitted to now truly having an “adventure story worth bragging about.  Ricks Café was the ultimate highlight. I’m getting chills just thinking about jumping off that cliff.”

While many jumped over and over again, some stepped away with rather large bruises, such as Kelsey Bumsted and Chase Caldwell, who were sporting blue and brown bruises for days.

Even Bonnie Chalmers, who was a bit fearful of heights, even took the lifetime opportunity to jump at Rick’s Café, despite being “terrified.” While the majority of the group leaped off the 45-foot sheer drop into the blue ethos that the Caribbean Sea provided, Chase Caldwell admitted, “Although Ricks Cafe was amazing, the most fun I had was when we were blending in with the locals and not the tourists.”

Other days were filled with as tours of a Sugar Factory, ventures down long shopping alleys in Savanna La-Mar, attending church, while some days were simply spent at the pool and learning Jamaican customs at night.

For many it would be the three days of teaching in the school districts of Petersfield and Jamaica we would remember the most.

Molly Vaux said, “Working in the school was probably my most eye opening experience. It made me realize the great opportunities and resources we have going to school here, yet it also brought up many emotions on the lack of resources many schools around developing nations have.”

Kathrine Woodman told her experience, “While most of the children could write paragraphs, some couldn’t decipher between a capital and lower case letters. I wanted to help them all, but I knew that wasn’t possible given the circumstances. For three days I sat with this boy Adrion who I could tell really wanted my help. I taught him the alphabet and how to sound out words.”

We worked ferociously to complete the tasks laid ahead of them.

Being the true definition of a team, and following the motto, “work hard, play hard” our group of diplomats far exceeded their expectations not only as students and workers, but as humanitarians and ambassadors as well.

Ryan Robtoy also said on the impact of the group that, “Sometimes we take things for granted in our daily lives, such as hot showers, meals we are familiar with, cell phones, and internet access.

For some students, this was the first time that all of these luxuries may not have been readily available and I think the group as a whole did an excellent job adapting and overcoming this challenge.”

Alex Brown topped it off by saying, “I think this trip really gave our students a true glimpse of life in Jamaica. It isn’t one big resort, it isn’t just Cool Runnings and Bob Marley. It is a real place, with real people, and real challenges. Most people will never see the real Jamaica. I’m thankful that our students had that opportunity, and that I had the privilege in sharing in that with them.”

Alyssa Day thought that the hard work resulted in the great relationships that we enjoyed by saying, “It allowed our students to develop stronger relationships with the people of the community we worked in, which in turn gave them a deeper understanding in how Jamaican’s live their lives day in and day out.”

“We all came to Keene from different places, and I think the important thing to remember is that this doesn’t stop here. We’ve got to continue serving in ways that will help change the world,” Gannon said.


Cam King can be contacted at



Share and Enjoy !


Leave a Reply