US Law Professor Adapts to Living in Jamaica

Inga Laurent, Associate Professor and Director of Law at Gonzaga University, moved to Jamaica to study restorative justice for nine months as the 2016-2017 Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar. When thinking about the move, Laurent was worried that safety would be an issue for her on the island. Her orientation by Fulbright reinforced the message, as did the news, messages from people who had visited Jamaica in the past, online forums, and the security website of the university. Upon her arrival, images that called her safety into question were everywhere: ubiquitous security guards, ATM doors that locked behind her, chain-link fences surrounding nearly everything. Because she expected that her adjustment to Jamaica would be difficult, Laurent found herself becoming a person she didn’t know, someone who was “shackled” by fear, someone who felt “horrible” all the time, and was weighed down with malaise, discomfort and a need to “save” herself from everyone, even the people she encountered walking home from the campus. She couldn’t stop thinking about what she needed “to protect” herself in here surroundings and kept shopping for more things that she thought would make her feel better; of course, nothing could. They were just more things at risk of being stolen.

Laurent’s attitude changed one evening when she was invited to see the musical “Garvey.” She experienced the warmth of the local residents and the story in the play. After that evening, she woke in the morning and discovered that her first thoughts were not of safety to danger, but of the warmth of the sun as it rose over the sea. Through the connections she made with her friends, she returned to her real self. She no longer focused on staying “safe” by buying things. She was no longer bothered by the daily tasks of living. Laurent said she began to see her time in Jamaica as an opportunity instead of a challenge.

In thinking about her first days in Kingston, she realized that she had gained some insight into fear and how it can take over a person’s life. Ultimately, Laurent realized that she was moved in her life by music and dancing and making connections with other people. And she concluded that “we are all just trying to live our best lives. We are doing the best with our situation. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.” She recognized that while it may be necessary to confront some harsh realities, she had only created a “story” about being in danger, that nothing had actually happened to her. “I was my own worst enemy. Living in that place of fear did nothing to protect me, and worse, it prevented me from accessing the connection I really needed and from seeing beauty and light. Fear can be both a reality and a state of mind, and living there, whether real or perceived, is an awful place to be. Overcoming it often requires us to push through the desire to isolate, to connect.”

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