Jamaican trip offers different look at teaching, agriculture
By Linda Bowman
For Purdue Agriculture students, one option for a required course provides a glimpse of another culture and another time.
Photo provided by Allen Talbert
The manager of a Jamaican banana plantation shows Purdue University students the different parts of a banana plant.
Instead of taking required classes on Purdue's West Lafayette campus, agricultural education students now have the option of traveling to Jamaica with Allen Talbert and Mark Balschwied, professors in the agriculture education department. In 2005, the first year for the trip, 12 students and the two professors made the trip.
"Even the the classes are taught in Jamaica, they are taught with the same books and the students are given the same assignments as the students hwo take the classes at Purdue," said Talbert. Students meet in a classroom three days a week, just like they do at Purdue, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays they go on tours and get field experience.
"By going into the Jamaican schools and observing agricultural education the Purdue students are able to see what it was like to teach agricultural education in the United States 50 years ago," said Balschweid.
"However, the Purdue students also see that kids are kids everywhere. And the kids that they observe while they are here are very similar to the students that they will be teaching once they graduate and become licensed teachers."
For one student, the experience was worth the trip. "The experience that I had of observing different schools in Jamaica definitely prepared me the most to be an ag education teacher," said Greg Brawner, a sophomore agricultural major from Hanover, Ind. In Jamaica, most students learn by hands-on activities and by lecture, he said. He credits the observations he made and the things he learned in Jamaica with helping him learn new techniques for motivating students.
The students took the classes at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education at Port Antonio in northeast Jamaica. While there they observed classroom teaching strategies and talked to high school teachers and students. Students saw different ways of teaching and different ways to apply these strategies in the classroom.
The Purdue students also saw many different aspects of Jamaican production by touring banana, coffee, sugar and orchid plantations. Students learned that agriculture isn't all about corn, soybeans and livestock, and saw rarely seen aspects of agriculture. They can use this new knowledge in the classroom to teach their students different aspects of the agriculture business.
The students had free time on the weekends, which they used to see Jamaica and take in the culture, including real Jamaican cuisine. "The students ate at Boston Bay restaurant, which is famous for its jerk chicken," said Talbert.
"We got to experience the culture of Jamaica, as well as some of the 'fun' activities the country offers," said Kelli Hoffman, a sophomore agricultural education major from Columbia City, Ind. "One of my favorite parts of visiting Jamaica was getting to see all the beautiful sights. The plant life is so different there ... and they had the best fruit juice I had ever had."
The students also took a river raft excursion. "This kind of rafting isn't what you normally think of when you think of rafting," said Talbert. The students stood on bamboo rafts and pushed themselves down the river by pushing a pole against the bottom of the river, Talbert said.
One weekend the students visited Ocho Rios, a popular tourist destination. They shopped for souvenirs and visited Dunns River Falls. "Dunns River Falls was simply awesome," said Brawner. "We chose to climb up the falls by ourselves, at our own risk. Between goofing off and so forth, however, I did have to make sure that I was paying attention. The rocks were very slick and the speed and the force of the water coming down the falls made it that much harder to climb. But that's what made it fun."
"This program allowed me to experience and learn about a different culture," said Brawner. "Before taking part in this trip, I had never seen another country or understood how other people in the world live. This program really opened my eyes in terms of realizing the difference of how we live in the U.S. compared to how others live in foreign countries."