Finding Her Culture and Her Self in Jamaica

Culture is identity. Often we don’t realize it because we are immersed in it. We don’t know what makes the culture in which we were raised unique and how much it affects who we are as people until we are away from it.

Stephanie Smith is Jamaican, but she is also Canadian. She left the country of her birth to come to Canada with her mother when she was eight years old; at 33, she has returned to Jamaica to live with her grandfather, to support him in living in Jamaica for the winter.

She’s a journalist by trade and while there is doing production work for the popular Smile Jamaica morning show. In August, she is planning to take on a year placement with Cuso International as a Communications Advisor for the Office of the Political Ombudsman helping youth learn about the purpose of the office and how to engage in the political process.

Right now, she’s getting reacquainted with Jamaica, and herself. She says, in Canada, “my Jamaicaness to me was a lived experience.” It defined who she was because while living in Toronto she regularly got asked where she was from. Now that she’s living in Jamaica she sees that much of who she is has been created by Canadian culture. It’s an interesting bridge she’s building between the two because instead of it being something created for her in the stories of her family, it’s becoming her own.

“Jamaican culture is always changing,” Stephanie says. “It’s not static. All the things I’ve ben told about Jamaican culture, it’s all different now, the slang, the music. It’s a dynamic culture.” The culture, she is learning, is not the only thing that changes rapidly. She says after having gone through her 20s she had a good sense of who she was, but coming back Jamaica changed it. “It turned my sense of myself upside down,” she says. “I don’t think I would have fully gotten to know myself without returning to Jamaica.”

She’s lucky enough to be getting a taste of it now, but it will be fully put to the test when she’s placed with Cuso International in Kingston. Although currently a journalist she’s looking to transition into development work and will use her time volunteering with Cuso International to learn more about it. But in her placement, it’s not just her own potential she’s looking to develop. “I see young people that have so much energy,” she says. Often when they get trained, they leave Jamaica seeking other opportunities. “They’re looking to migrate, but there’s so much here to develop them to keep them here.”

As her cultural connection comes full circle, Stephanie knows her experience with Cuso International, working with Jamaicans to build a strong and proud country, will have a profound effect on her.

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