By Madeline VandenHouten

“It’s the people who really pull you back. I love it so much.”

That’s how senior Sydney Radandt recalls Jamaica. She was one of eight Ripon College students who traveled this past January to the Blue Mountains, Jamaica to volunteer in Hagley Gap, one of mountains’ highest living communities. “Ripon College” is a common and familiar name to the Blue Mountain locals, as students and faculty have been traveling there for more than 10 years.

The tradition to travel to the Blue Mountains was started by Dr. Joe Hatcher, or “Professor Joe” as he is known in Jamaica. Hatcher is a professor of psychology at Ripon College.

“I think I have taken students 10 or 11 times, probably a total of about 130 students or so. One year Mary Avery took a group, and I’ve had a number of faculty go along with me, including Mary, Geoff Guevara-Geer, and Jack Christ,” Hatcher said.

Traditionally, the trip had been designed as an in-focus course. Students were required to take an International Peace Studies course with Hatcher before travelling to Jamaica two weeks in May. This year was a bit different. The trip was not an in-focus course, but rather a one-week-long volunteer trip open to the community.

“Alumni are welcome to come along. The trip isn’t for academic credit any more, so that reduces the cost of the trip considerably,” Hatcher said.

From the eight students who attended, all but one had never been to the Blue Mountains before. The Blue Mountains made quite the impression on them.

“I didn’t really know what to expect. I was just open to the experience and whatever was going to come my way,” said senior Emma Goral. “But I just loved how tight the community was. You could just walk down the street and everyone would say hi to each other.”

Junior Carissa Waite agreed: “I will always remember how simple and caring every single person we came across was. I appreciated that and respected it so much. I have never experienced anything like it before. Overall, this experience was very humbling.”

For most of the students, Hagley Gap was an entirely new and unknown community. But for one of the students, this trip was about catching up with old friends. For Radandt, this January was her third time to Blue Mountains in the past 18 months.

“Honestly it is hard for me to talk about Jamaica without getting emotional. After the first time traveling there, I knew that it wouldn’t be my last. I have actually revolved my senior seminar project around the Blue Mountain Project. It involves research at the grass-roots level in Jamaica, as well here in the States. I am excited to jump into that. Who knows, maybe you can find me back there over Spring Break,” Radant said.

“Sydney coming along really made a difference; it gave me a very enthusiastic trip leader…The whole group was great; everyone got along well and supported each other,” Hatcher said.

“What I have tried to bring back with me is to not be so concerned with time. I’ve tried walking slower and not trying to be so worried about doing a million things every day,” Goral said.

The Blue Mountains of Jamaica are expected to make an impact on even more generations of Ripon College Students. A student organization, Student Volunteers for the Blue Mountain Project, plan to travel back to Hagley Gap in August 2017.