By: Kenloy Smith, 2017 Greenheart Exchange Summer Work Travel participant

I was recently watching the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” when I was taken aback. The main character’s financial struggle while trying to “make it” in life was a dream that I also have, and reminded me of my time overseas. It brought me back to a conversation I had with a dear friend last night, who has never traveled before, and he inquired about my time spent abroad over the summer and my favorite moments. As I told him about the differences and similarities between Jamaica and the United States, I realized that all of my fondest memories were with my international friends.

My name is Kenloy Smith, and I am a 20-year-old 2nd-year student at the University of the West Indies. I was a participant in the 2017 Summer Work Travel program, where I worked in Missouri. None of my family members had ever been there, and I was nervous before arriving. I learned that it was a predominantly white state, and I feared that I would experience racism. However, I had fabulous summer and made incredible friends.

I still remember my first day at work, where I met Rhyan. I asked him if I could borrow his sunglasses (because I did not have any) and he shared his willingly. Rhyan later became one of my closest friends, and I got the chance to meet his family and taste his grandmother’s delicious cooking. I even visited his high school to see what the U.S. education system was like! It is very different, yet interesting and I found the visit somewhat motivating since I want to be an English teacher. Rhyan was also my first 100 streak on Snapchat (a social media platform that I use to stay in contact with them)! I still remember Karli, my supervisor, who asked me if I wanted anything one day at work, and I jokingly replied; “I wish I had brought sunscreen.” She immediately went and grabbed hers and shared it with me. I still remember Tanner, who also became one of, if not, my favorite co-workers and gave me a tour of his university. I still remember those slower days after the peak of the summer season, and how our supervisors and managers — Steffi, Mason, Heather, Baylor, Karen, and Isiah– would chat with us. On hot days they even gave us popsicles and my favorite, custard! It turns out that custard is different from ice-cream! I even became friends with Noah, who worked at Andy’s Frozen Custard store (where we got our custard) and Briar from Pizza World, due to my frequent visits. I still remember our grill day where we played the game “bags” – it’s a game where you would throw a small sack onto a board platform and try to get it in a hole. I only got one sack in the hole after many attempts, but I never gave up!

I still remember all of my friends that I made at the Evidence Ministry, and the tears of joy I had as I walked into my very own going away party that they threw for me. I still remember cooking for them Jamaican curried chicken, and how everyone wanted the recipe afterward. I still remember watching amazing new TV shows (like AYO: Voices of Glory, SIX, Oh Happy Day and Moses)! I will never forget meeting the Cole family and Isiah, new friends who inspired me to go after my goals and dreams. I still remember trying the roller coasters for the very first time, and how my heart raced trying to come to terms with this frightening, yet strangely exciting experience. I also faced some struggles and unexpected challenges while in the United States. I still remember getting bed bugs, something I had never encountered before. Naturally, I was terrified, but thanks to my managers Andy and Susan, it was something that I quickly overcame. They took me to get medical care, checked up on me frequently, and made my stay more comfortable.

Finally, I also remember distinct moments of cultural exchange. I still remember sitting by the campfire with Atalie, Britney, and Daniel and sharing stories of our childhood while realizing how wrong pre-existing stereotypes are! I still think about their questions about my country, kind gestures, warm hugs, genuine smiles, different eye colors and hair texture. I made friendships that were rooted in respect, nurtured by understanding, and fortified by trust. These are friendships that stretch beyond geographical borders. Most importantly, I still remember my home away from home.

Sadly, I did not meet my financial goals for this year, and as such, had to sit out going on the program again this summer. However, I am more than satisfied with the summer that I had. I am actually overwhelmed by the enormous amount of experience I gained, the improvement in my English, and the new friends and love I received while overseas. I just had to share my story as a proud Greenheart alumnus! Even though I have physically left Missouri, I know that I will always be in my friends’ hearts and them, in mine.

Spending a season on the Summer Work Travel program can change your perspective and worldview! Learn about a new place and new cultures by embarking on the Summer Work Travel program today.