Students learn sustainable practices in Jamaica

Prior to visiting Jamaica, junior Kerry Ryffel was interested in sustainability. However, after participating in adjunct faculty member John Galuska’s “Root, Fruits and Resilliency” program last summer, Ryffel realized sustainability was something she wanted to study at school.

The program is designed to broaden students’ understanding of sustainability. In class, students learn about important facets of Jamaican culture, including economy, ecotourism and agriculture. These topics will be combined with studying sustainable practices and theories.

“I really appreciated that there was a balance of science and culture,” Ryffel said. “I think that there’s something for everybody there.”

Ryffel is now a double major with psychology and sustainability.

Galuska, director of the Foster International Living Learning Center, will be leading students to Jamaica for the ninth time this summer for the “Root, Fruits and Resiliency” program.

Starting May 10, the course will last six weeks, with two weeks in Jamaica. Three weeks will be spent in the classroom before the trip, learning about colonial and cultural Jamaican history, ecological issues in the Caribbean, agriculture practices and ecotourism.

Students will return to Bloomington for a final week of class to complete the course, and will earn three credit hours.

Jamaica is an area of interest because of its agricultural practices, ecotourism and sustainability efforts that are applicable in other countries including the United States, Galuska said. During her time on the trip, Ryffel said she saw the way these practices can be translated to American food systems.

The program allows students to individually explore topics of their own interest in Jamaica while working on service-learning projects.

“There was a ton of hands-on experience,” Ryffel said. “We learned about everything but then we got to apply all of that in Jamaica and work with farmers and different community leaders and actually work with them and help them and that was really powerful.”

Students were able to talk to people in Jamaica from all walks of life, ranging from musicians and farmers to spiritualists and authors.

“We show them how culture is basically connected to the environment and how people are connected to the environment,” Galuska said. “People living in Jamaica are living that interface.”

Students on this year’s trip will participate in group activities such as hiking in the Blue and John Crow Mountains, seeing cultural sites and working with farmers to learn about local agriculture.

After more than 10 years of work, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has finally named Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains a World Heritage site. There are only 32 areas in the world recognized for both cultural and natural elements.

According to UNESCO’s website, the south-east area consists of tropical rainforests, cultural trails and globally endangered species.

“It was really an amazing experience,” Ryffel said. “I’m really thankful I did it. I would encourage anyone to look into it.”

Graduate and undergraduate students with a minimum GPA of 2.75 can apply for the program up until Feb. 8.ab

Galuska can be contacted at for more information.ab

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