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Sharing Culture


Editor’s Note: After sharing about US culture with Jamaican preschoolers, Missioner Janice Smullen reflects on the differences and similarities between the cultures.

I was invited by the guidance counselor of the St. Aloysius Infant School (preschool) to give a presentation about the United States. The children were learning about world cultures and had hosted visitors from Africa, India, and Europe. Reminding myself that these are preschoolers with short attention spans, I knew that I would have to narrow my thousands of thoughts down to a visually exciting few. I wanted to present some of the differences between our countries and also stress the similarities of the people. Because seasons are nonexistent in Jamaica, I knew that pictures of those would work to depict some of the differences. Because I value the energy and potential of young children anywhere in the world, I also wanted to show pictures of their joyful faces.

Snacks are a pretty important part of preschool and because apples are available here, I decided to also show the seasonal changes of an apple tree and then offer a taste of apple to the children at the end of the presentation.

The students’ eyes widened when they saw the pictures of snow and they laughed as I described the difficulty and the time required to come in from outside and shed 3-4 layers of clothing in order to use the bathroom. I tried to compare the tall, rocky mountains in parts of the US with the plush green mountains of Jamaica. Jamaicans love music and clapping so I taught them how to chant and clap the spelling of M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I. Before I passed around the apple pieces to taste, I taught them the Johnny Appleseed grace that my children used to sing in preschool.

I don’t really think of this presentation as a chance for accompaniment in the Franciscan sense: I did all of the talking and there was little time for a two-way conversation. I had to present to three different classes, on their time schedule, to a total of about 150 children. Because of this, there wasn’t time to explore their reactions to a white lady. (Many of the students that I teach want to touch my skin and hair.) There wasn’t time for me to ask them about their favorite times and foods and games in Jamaica. Their wide eyes and smiles and focused attention told me that I was able to share the Franciscan sense of wonder at God’s beautiful world.

My time in Jamaica has awakened me to the differences in cultures. There is so much negative press coming from the US these days, I hoped that I could show them a happy and varied picture of life in the US. The final picture that I shared was of the Statue of Liberty. I told them that if they ever visited the United States, it was my most sincere hope that they would feel her beacon of light and welcome in all of the people that they met there.

Just as I have felt welcomed here in Jamaica.

Reflection Question: spend some time today learning about a culture other than your own – in what ways is it different from your own culture? What are some similarities that they both share?

Janice has been granted the fruits of a family vocation and many community volunteer experiences during the past 40 years. Each experience has helped to build her faith in God's unending and unconditional love. She has been a CCD teacher, doula, ESL instructor, retreat facilitator, and mentor to refugee families. Now, Janice is grateful for the freedom and health and the opportunity to continue service and growth overseas. She lived most recently in Greensboro, NC, and loves to garden, sew, read, hike, and do yoga. Janice has been in Kingston, Jamaica since March 2016.