Naomi Parekh ’05 from Jamaica

A Fulbright experience opens a door that never closes behind you.

The most important lesson I learned during my Fulbright experience took place on the day before I moved back to the U.S. I took the bus from my apartment in the Halfwaytree area of Kingston, Jamaica. I was on my way to Spanish Town, about 20 km away. This was the group home for HIV positive children that I spent most of my time at. The children range from 5 years old to 14.

As I walked to the group home from the bus stop, I thought about how much I was going to miss that walk. The children were like my little brothers and sisters, and I had grown especially close to a group of five young girls who I mentored on topics ranging from times tables to developing bodies.

I sat at a picnic bench in the middle of the courtyard as I hugged my goodbyes. One of the younger children jumped up on my lap with tears in her eyes. I promised her that I would come back very soon to visit. She said that I wouldn’t come back. That I, like everyone else in their lives, would come and spend time with them and then leave to never return. And that’s why she was crying.

Not even two months after I returned to the U.S., I found myself on a flight back to Kingston. I took my same walk down the same dusty road to the group home. As I walked down the long winding path to the home, I heard a little voice shriek “Auntie Yomi (their endearing version of Naomi), you came back for us! Now we know that you will always come back for us.”

I return to Jamaica to see the children every year.

The year I spent in Jamaica (2005-2006) was challenging, exciting, hot!, and enlightening. The academic, career and life experience that I took away from my Fulbright year will stay with me forever.

And, if I didn’t get that email from the Smith Fellowships office about applying for a Fulbright grant, I don’t think I ever would have thought to apply for it. I am so grateful for the support from Smith and from the Fulbright Program to be able to do what I did. I truly lived a lifetime in that one Fulbright year.