University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica Past Review

By (Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology., SUNY - College at Geneseo) for

SUNY Geneseo: Mona - University of the West Indies

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Seeing people living with scrap metal as their housing materials has definitely given me a more global outlook. Everyone needs to leave the United States and see another country, and personally I believe it has to be a third world country of some kind.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

For most classes, 60% of your grade came from a three hour final exam where you are given three questions and told to write everything you know. For other classes, this was 100% of your grade - nothing else. This is not an adequate way to test a student's learning capabilities, for if you are unsure on one of the questions you are already facing a 66% on the final. The workload consisted of a full blown lab report every week/ every other week per science course you are enrolled in - not ideal for enjoying the time abroad.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I was extremely displeased on two fronts in regards to preparation and administration. First, we were told that a visa was not required since we would not be staying over 180 days. When myself and the other student on the trip arrived, we were held in immigration for over an hour and repeatidly threatened to be sent home as we did not have proper documentation. There was then an overall additional $150 fee through UWI and the Jamaican government for alien registration and passport extension. We were not told of these things by either the host country nor UWI until the Jamaican government came to the school and told us. Upon asking the Study Abroad workers at UWI, they knew about this the entire time. The second issue I had was that neither country warned us of the intense hazing activities that occur on campus. They call it "Orientation", and lasts for the first 14-18 days that you arrive. It doesn't matter if you are a first year or final year student; if it is your first time at UWI and you are living on one of the halls, then you are subjected to it. Among the major things are sleep deprivition (Kept awake until 1:00am, wake up call and drill lines at 4:45am), degrading "nick-names" with sexual meanings that must be shouted out loud, and public humiliation. On the last note, this took place every morning and every night when there were drill lines. If you refused to perform in whatever activity that the older students requested, then the rest of the group would be punished. What struck me the hardest was that the SSDM, the person in charge of the halls, openly came and spoke to us on the line and allowed this to happen. When school officials were approached on the matter, we were told that it was merely "orientation". This is hazing. Plain and simple.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The windows, as in most Caribbean countries, did not have glass or netting but were instead slatted windows. This posed a huge issue during the rainy season where all kinds of bugs would enter and bite you in your sleep. The dorms were set away from campus, probably a 10-15 minute walk. Some were located right next to the classes, but most international students were placed in these further locations. The safety consisted of guards at every entrance to the halls, and barbed wire surrounding them. After dark, we were told that campus was not safe since it was an open campus that any person could enter. Dining facilities were not really available, so almost all of the food that you eat must be home cooked.

* Food:

When available, the Jamaican food was incredible - especially the Jerk chicken from the street vendors.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Excluding the orientation program and the school, Jamaica and its people were wonderful. The food was fantastic, although eventually you get sick of eating 11 different cooked versions of chicken. The countryside was breath taking, however, and something I would never trade.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

The majority of the health issues on campus were conducted by Medical Science students. I do not remember seeing a single actual professional doctor, but there was a hospital on campus. However, anything that could be treated without going to it was done by the students. No one I knew experienced something life threatening to need to go to the hospital. Even though there were guards and security all over campus, there was still multiple instances of laptop theft from within dorm rooms, and rooms broken into.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Food is generally the same price or more expensive than in the United States. It was believed by most international students that Jamaica was going to be cheaper; it is actually much more expensive. Everything is imported.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? There is a ~$150 fee that the Jamaican government requires after you arrive for passport ans alien registration fees. There are also other hidden hall fees that are not mentioned, all small things that add up to a significant amount. Bring a bit more money in your bank account than planned.


How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

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  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

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  • International Students
  • Local Students
* Who did you take classes with?

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  • Local Students

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? You have to go with a very open mind. Very open. The culture is completely different in every way.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Marine Ecology I and II

Course Department: BL31E/F
Instructor: Dr. Mona Webber
Instruction Language: English
Comments: The class was too focused on phytoplankton and zooplankton, but the other topics covered were interesting. The professor herself was delightful, but the people responsible for grading the lab reports and assignments were some of the most unhelpful people I have come across. When questions were asked, the answer simply was "You should know how to do that."
Credit Transfer Issues: I was told before leaving that this course would transfer in as a Biochemistry elective. Upon return, the head of the department shifted to a new professor and I was told it no longer would since it was "Not in the spirit of Biochemistry." While this course was fun and exciting, it is a ton of work for merely non-core elective credit. To future students - Before leaving, get the verification signed on paper that it will transfer so that you will not run into this problem of "Oh, now it doesn't count."