When someone moves to another country, they are forced to awkwardly navigate their way through a foreign culture, stumble through the process of learning another language, and learn about local politics and government. While coming to understand another culture, it is natural to compare it to the one from which they came. What many do not realize (until their first trip back home) is how differently they will view their mother country after becoming used to another one. Of course, this concept is called reverse culture shock.
It certainly has been a while. My first year of teaching just ended and summer is still so green and fresh that I’m still having a hard time adjusting its relaxed change of pace. It feels so good to not be constantly thinking about planning/ grading and finally be getting to the tasks that, for so long, were pushed to the back burner. One of those “round-to-it”s was writing back to a friend of mine who is going to be volunteering for six weeks as an English teacher in Thailand. She was asking me for advice on how she could prepare for her adventure, especially in regards to the teaching. Today, I was finally able to give her a sufficient response, and I figured I’d share it here, in case any readers were considering or planning similar trips and found the advice helpful.
I tried writing this as a snappy facebook status, but it ended up being too much to fit into a reasonably-sized status.
Today, the school nurse was giving all 5th graders their Diphtheria Tetanus Toxoid vaccines. The girls had been given consent forms for their parents to sign on Sunday. We had prepared for it and they had bombarded me with questions about it, for a week. Even this morning when I had before-school duty, 5th graders swarmed me and asked me last-minute questions about the dreaded shot that included (I kid you not) “Is it true that people are sick for 10-14 days after getting the injection?” and “Will there be fire coming out of the needle?” I know you’re not supposed to laugh at kids’ questions to their face, but, hahahahah, I did.
Well it sure has been a while! School began September 6th, and life has been moving at a neck-breaking pace ever since.
There’s so much I’d like to say about the weather, the culture, the food, the people, the teaching, the parents, my students, the school, but it’s 10:30 on a Thursday (the Middle-eastern Friday) night and I’m too tired to go into all that. I just wanted to touch base and say that I’m still here, doing relatively well.
Head’s up- this is a long post. But, I’ve been thinking about its contents for months and have been writing it for weeks, so you should read it 🙂
Before coming to Ecuador, I had some experience (exposure may be a better word) to school systems outside the US. There were the trips to Guamtemala City I first took as part of a youth group mission trip in 2004, then later on my own in 2007. I worked with YWAM and, among other tasks, did some teaching in a day-care and after-school tutoring program.
I give you three stories.
One Friday in mid-January, things were going as usual at the elementary school where I teach, Joaquin Chiriboga. That is, until recess (recreo). I did what I normally do at the beginning of each recreo: visited the snack lady, who has a permanent posting in the school courtyard where she sells things as delicious as 10 cent choco-bananas, 15 cent bags of chifles (fried plantain chips), 10 cent fruit cups (pineapple or watermelon, or, if you’re feeling crazy, mixed), and 40 cent plates of rice and meat- all of it very freshly prepared. Once I had my fruit cup in hand, I made my way to a bench where the teachers normally sit and enjoy their free time. Kids swarmed around me and asked me questions about my life at home and how to say random words in English (this usually happens), but the teachers were nowhere to be seen. After about five minutes of being the only teacher in the courtyard, I decided to find out what they were doing. I made my way to the office, where a meeting was taking place. They invited me in, and for the next ten minutes, I listened to some boring details about changes in the way the finances would be handled.
Then, things took a turn. Just at about the time recess was supposed to end, one of the teachers said “Well, today is a very special day. It’s the 70th birthday of our coworker Manuelito [again with the ‘ito’ thing]!!” We all clapped and then began singing Happy Birthday. Then, a cake appeared, along with cups of coke. About thirty minutes later, the dancing began. Thirty minutes after that, one of the teachers left school with an empty box and returned with a box full of bottles of beer, and it just went downhill from there. Basically, the students were left unsupervised for 2.5 hours, they had no more classes that day, and the teachers all got buzzed before noon- in the principal’s office (he was partaking in the festivities too!).
I’m writing from the reclined seat of my second flight of the day, the Dallas Fort Worth to Miami International leg. My week at home flew by, just like I knew it would, but it was definitely a wonderful, life-changing trip!
Life-changing? I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Although any excuse to go home would have been nice, the reason I carved this trip out of my schedule months back was because I needed to attend the UNI Overseas Teaching Fair. In order to, you know, have a paid teaching job next school year while continuing to have the opportunity to live overseas. I’ll get to the fair in a minute, but first I want to reflect upon the weeks leading up to the fair.