SUNY Oswego senior communication and social interaction major Isabella Falcigno studied abroad this summer with the Jamaica Field Service Project, teaching students but also learning by seeing their perspectives.

I have always been interested in going abroad for academic purposes, but this project really stood out to me because it’s a service abroad trip and not a study abroad trip,” Falcigno explained. “I was learning something new every day from different excursions, but mainly from teaching/working with local children. It is really amazing to have such an immersive learning experience especially when you’re the one teaching.”

Her main placement in this competitive program was as a literacy therapist at Pondside Primary School, a public school in a rural community of St. Elizabeth. In this role, she offered a variety of lessons including phonetics, differences in climates (introducing them to the topic of snow), reading comprehension and letter-writing activities.

The students persevered despite limited supplies, even things as simple as drawing utensils.

I have this one memory of a little boy asking me what colors I had for him to draw with,” Falcigno said. “I had about seven or eight broken colored pencils, two or three crayons, and maybe one marker. He asked me ‘Where’s the green?’ And I didn’t have a single green-colored instrument. I remember feeling really bad I couldn’t give him something that was so easily disposable to me when I was in elementary school. I gave him a blue crayon and said this was the closest thing, and he was just so excited to be able to draw that it didn’t appear that he even cared that much.”

For 10 days, Falcigno immersed herself in the traditions, music and culture of Jamaica alongside other SUNY students. She said the children she met in turn taught her about their worlds, as she learned “that students’ values are continuously being shaped and that students need role models in order to be stretched out creatively,” she said.

“People attending this program are given the opportunity to show students in a developing country how capable they are of achieving anything they set their minds to,” Falcigno said. “Working in a developing country has given me the chance to go beyond my comfort zone by strengthening me in more ways than I could’ve imagined. The poverty I witnessed was tough to bear, but it changed my perspective on Western ideals. This program exposed me to how little some people in the world live with, but how inspiring and invincible they still are.”

Through this SUNY-accredited service-learning program, students volunteer in their area of specialization in the island's schools, care centers, orphanages and hospitals. In addition to their volunteer work, students also explore the diverse culture of this vibrant Caribbean country, all under the supervision of the program’s experienced professors and staff.