I wish I could introduce you to someone: my elementary school self. Were you to meet her, she probably wouldn’t say hi. She definitely wouldn’t look into your eyes. People prescribed her with the all-to-common label: “shy.”
I grew up in the type of home one might stereotypically imagine in West Michigan. Summers were spent in Lake Michigan. Fall at the apple orchards. Winter bundled in snow pants. But spring brought break to the routine. My parents would pack their suitcases. We’d head south, not to the usual Michigander’s Floridian escape. Our family would travel just a bit further. Each spring I’d spend some time in Montego Bay, Jamaica as my parents volunteered at the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf.
Over the years, my hosts have claimed that I’ve spent enough time on island to be considered a Ja-merican (a comment which I find speaks deeply to the inclusivity and warmth I’ve received from countless individuals in Montego Bay). The people at CCCD watched me move from infancy to adulthood. But now that I’m reflecting on my time in Jamaica, I realize the students and staff at Mobay’s campus didn’t just watch me grow. They helped me grow.
I think back to the quiet girl who wouldn’t look into the eyes of others.
Many of the conversations with students and teachers ended with me hiding behind my mother’s legs.
For years, I resented my stuttering hands as I failed to converse smoothly in sign language. But as I grew older this changed. Though my sentences still held stutters, I searched out conversations. I relished absorbing new words. My mistakes became a welcomed source of jokes amongst my gracious deaf friends.
As I’ve been welcomed into the CCCD community over the years, its culture has taught me a certain confidence. In recent years I’ve carried this spirit off-island and into my everyday life. I find myself slipping into the personality of my “island self,” a more courageous risk-taker in comparison to me as a child. I take comfort knowing that some elements of Jamaica don’t just stay on island, though I still can’t always fight off the homesickness for this place that shaped me as the stretches between visits to Mobay grow longer.