Friday, 29 May 2015

Graduation and Farewell Kosrae

Although this blog has lain dormant for months, I'm going to go ahead and resurrect it for one last post. Today was graduation day at Kosrae High School. It was a special celebration filled with smiles as well as tears. Exactly one year to the day of my own graduation, it was a bizarre feeling to be on the other side. I proudly sat in the front row and watched my students cross the stage. At the end, the graduates all stand around the edges of the gym floor so that everyone can walk around and congratulate them. The students are given leis of all kinds, made of anything you could imagine: candy, chips, ramen, money, and I even saw one with toilet paper rolls on it. Some of them even have inter tubes around their necks, and I saw one graduate with a cake made of dollar bills. Seeing these students, whom I have gotten to know and love over the course of the year, walk across the stage was a completely new experience that I don't even have the words to describe.

As I sit here reflecting on the day, I am having so many emotions. Many of the students asked me today when I am leaving, and I was very sorry to tell them that I leave in three days. It's funny, because I have been counting down the days until I get to go home and see my family, and today all I want to do is stay here. I am questioning why I decided not to stay with WorldTeach for another year. I have practical reasons and things I want to do at home, but I try to remind myself specifically why I decided not to teach after this year. I remember all the lesson planning, grading, students not getting it, being frustrated with them cutting class and not turning in assignments, seeing bright students with no motivation to try, struggling with the internet and trying (but usually failing) to use any technology, behavior problems in the classroom, random and unscheduled disruptions or cancellation of classes, as well as the problems of life in Kosrae: ants in my bed not once, but twice (we're talking a couple hundred at a time), my blistering sunburn from earlier this week, the boils and ear infections, mosquito bites, and power outages. It was hard. It was really hard. But even remembering all of the hard parts, I can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of happiness. In addition to the happiness, I feel extremely sad to be leaving this place so soon, especially to be leaving my amazing students. I feel guilty leaving them and moving so far away, not knowing when I'll be back or if I will ever see them again. I am extremely excited to see my parents, be able to hug them, watch football with Dad, and cook with Mom. I know why I want to go home. What I don't know is why I want to leave here. But that's just it: I don't. What I really want is to be in two places at once. Since I know that I can't, I think maybe if I remember all the hard parts, it will remind me why I decided to go home so soon. Then I realized something. I'm trying to think of all the reasons I want to go home and all the hard parts about this year that made me want to go home. The problem with that logic is that it isn't about me. It's about my students. The year was great because of the hard times and I feel proud because my students made it through their own obstacles. It doesn't matter what my obstacles were, it matters what their obstacles were. I was there every day helping them learn, no matter what else was going on or what was holding them back or what frustrations we had. I spent day after day working with them, believing in them, and pushing them, and that is why I am so happy today. That is why I am so proud of them for making it. That is why I don't want to say goodbye. No matter how much I hated making tests and writing lesson plans, it will never come close to how much I have loved spending my days with these students. I refer to them as "my kids", which always sounded weird to me when I heard other teachers do it. I just didn't understand it, but now I do. They may be 18 years old, but they feel like mine. I'm not calling myself a parent, but these kids are definitely mine. They are just mine in a different way. I've seen them struggle and I've seen them succeed. I've seen them working really hard and I've seen them slacking off. I've gotten to know their quirks and seen them do some pretty hilarious things. They've made me angry and they've made me proud. After all of that, to hear them say a simple "thank you" makes my heart swell. It tells me that they consider me theirs too. I am a part of their journey, and for that I am incredibly thankful.

When I try to think of the words to explain how they have impacted my life, I truly cannot come up with anything. I can't even come up with specific memories of the year that show their impact. I just know it is there. I can feel that I am a different person today because of them, and I am incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity. Spending every day with those students changed something inside me, and nothing will ever take that away. I am really going to miss my kids. I am going to miss spending every day with them and watching them laugh, struggle, engage, learn, and grow. Even though I am saying goodbye, I will never forget these students and this island community. Coming here is and always will be one of the best decisions I ever made.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Happy Holidays from Kosrae

First of all, I hope that everyone back home had a wonderful Christmas holiday and was able to spend it with family. Unfortunately, because I am so far away, this was my first Christmas away from home. It was definitely different, but I got to facetime with everyone back home so I got the best of both worlds: family and the warmth of island life. It was definitely weird for me to be hot on Christmas, but in a way it also made it easier to be away from home since it doesn't feel like Christmas and it doesn't remind me of home at all. I spent the week getting certified to SCUBA dive, so it has been a really fun week for me! We learned a few things then jumped in the water and got to do four dives, two of them on Christmas Eve. I can't complain about that! We saw some pretty awesome stuff! Throughout the four dives, I saw two schools of barracuda, two sea turtles, two eagle rays, got in the middle of a huge school of rainbow runners, and saw tons of other tropical fish and beautiful coral. I can't wait to go again! A huge thank you goes out to my wonderful grandparents who funded my certification. I am so lucky to have great family that is so generous. Even though I wasn't home to celebrate Christmas with them, I have received tons of packages full of my favorite goodies and I still have more coming! My parents even sent me a miniature Christmas tree with real lights that I kept in my classroom, and the students loved it! We listened to Christmas music while we reviewed and I even taught some of the students how to make paper snowflakes. One particular student was especially excited about it and proceeded to make snowflakes for all his teachers and reported to me every day on his progress. He is one of my attention-seeking students who always wants to look like the cool guy, so I loved that he was so into making snowflakes, as it isn't exactly something a manly man would want everyone to see him doing. The rest of the students loved the snowflakes on my door and the paper chains hung around the chalkboard. Their faces all seemed to light up when they walked in my classroom the last week of school. All in all, I had a wonderful holiday and I feel so loved. Though my parents consistently send great packages, I have to give Ray Phelan a shoutout here for the absolute best package to date. It was filled with huge bags of all the best chocolate: ferrero rocher, dove, ghiradelli, and some classic hersheys to round it out. I cannot contain my excitement, and my roommates are happy you sent the giant bags so that I share with them too. Thanks for the wonderful package Ray! And as always, thank you mom and dad for the weekly packages. I don't know how I would survive without your constant supply of goodies from home. To grandma and grandpa Cole, thanks for all your wonderful packages! Your homemade goodies are not only delicious, but I know they've got love baked in and they always make me smile thinking of you. To grandpa Turkey Tom and Joyce, thank you for the great packages! You filled them with so many awesome goodies of every kind that are going to last a long time, so really I owe you a three-month thank you because that's how long it will take me to get through all the goodies! I got all of these packages today, and it was a great Christmas present to receive so much love from home. I can't wait to see what's coming from Eleva! It was so great to talk to everyone Christmas Eve! I miss you all and I wish I could have been there.

I'll wish everyone a Merry Christmas one last time, and say a thank you to everyone who sent packages or just sent their love. I love and miss you all and I hope you have a great start to the New Year!

I'm sending my love from Kosrae!

Friday, 28 November 2014

October and November

I've gotten really bad at updating the blog, so I'll do a quick little bit about the most exciting and funny things that have been happening. I've just been living the normal life of a teacher here in Kosrae and everything is normal to me now, so I haven't felt like anything was worthy of me taking the time to sit down and write a blog about. However, looking back on the past couple months, there have definitely been some blog-worthy moments, so I'll just write a little about everything that has been happening.

First of all, we had a crazy week of power outages in October. The way it was explained to me was there are a few generators for the island (maybe 5 or 6), and over the years most of them have broken down. It is expensive to fix them, so naturally, they just wait until they all break and then they will put in the money to fix them. For the past year or so, the island has been running on one or two, and if those broke down, we would be in serious trouble. We lost power for a while one night, which isn't unusual, except that it never came back on. Usually when the power goes out, it comes back on anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours later. But to have it go out for many hours was unusual. It turns out, one of the generators blew, so we were in big trouble. While they were working on fixing it, we could run on the small generator that generally only powers two of the smaller villages. So for about a week, the generator would run for one village for two hours at a time, then switch to another for two hours, and so on, so we were all sharing power. It was a crazy time to say the least. I'm still unclear on the details, but apparently it's fixed (for now), but I still worry that it won't come back every time it goes off.

After that, the next exciting thing I can think of is Halloween. My wonderful parents sent a ton of candy for me to give out, so at school that day, I gave all my students candy and showed them pictures of my parents and I. They loved it! With my juniors, who I have for chemistry, we did glow sticks and talked about the chemical reaction inside that causes them to glow. It was a fun day. That night, all the asets (white people) got together for a party at Bully's, one of the restaurants here.

The past few weeks, I have been doing a lot of fun things in my free time. Brandi and I have gotten really good at paddle boarding, and we can catch some pretty big waves on our boards. We have even been able to catch waves and then stand up on the boards, so we are basically professional surfers :) A bunch of us played wiffle ball on the beach last weekend and it was so much fun! It was the first time I picked up a bat and a ball and actually played any sort of softball since my last game. It was a really fun day. I can't believe that I'm still doing things like paddle boarding and playing wiffle ball on the beach at the end of November.

I did a feedback survey asking my classes how things are going and what they would like to see happen in the future. Unfortunately, in one of my classes I received some very inappropriate responses. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and it is unfortunate that students feel comfortable saying these things to their teacher just because she is a young female. In general, I have not encountered this often, and I feel like I have handled it well when it has come up, but this was one example of students being blatantly disrespectful. I don't want to simply go off on a rant, but it is definitely something that needs to be addressed, and something that if any future volunteer reads this, they should be aware of. It is something I have not heard of any of the male volunteers encountering. It is not a daily, or even monthly occurrence, but I have had a select few students say or write inappropriate things. The day after this survey, we had a very serious talk about sexual harassment in my classroom. I made it clear that this will not be tolerated and that I deserve to be treated with respect. I can only hope I got through to these students and that it will not come up again. It is something that comes from a culture where it is okay to disrespect women and think of them as the lesser sex. This is a society where domestic violence has only very recently become against the law, and multiple people are still fighting against it, arguing that they have the right to beat their wives (though not in those words, I'm sure). The disrespect of a teacher is only a symptom of the engrained belief that women do not deserve respect, regardless of their role. I realize that Kosrae is far ahead of many other places in the world, and I am thankful to be here instead of somewhere worse, but this island still has a long way to go. I hope to be a guiding force by strongly opposing any disrespect in my classroom. It is a small thing, but a small thing is better than none at all. The respectful students far outnumber the disrespectful ones, and set a great example for their siblings and other students. Hopefully they will pave the way for a brighter future for the women of Kosrae.

I didn't intend to go into a serious discussion of gender roles when I began this post, but I feel like it is something that needed to be said. Back to a more light-hearted recount of my time here.

A couple weeks ago we climbed Mt. Finkol, which we learned afterwards is not only the tallest mountain in Kosrae, but also the tallest in all four states of the FSM. It was a long, difficult hike, and I was struggling a lot by the end, when my legs felt like they were going to collapse with ever step I took. I like to think I kept a good attitude even when I was clearly the one holding everyone back. I just made jokes the whole time and tried to keep everyone laughing. It definitely kept my spirits up and my mind off the multiple hours left when I was already more tired than I could have imagined I would be. At one point when we paused for a break in the stream, I literally laid down completely in the cold water and put my head on a rock as if I was going to fall asleep. I needed to save my energy for the last couple hours of the hike; I couldn't waste it on sitting up. I was quite possibly the sorest I have ever been in my life. That is including the many difficult first heavy squat days in college, which is really saying something. I was sore for about 5 days I would say. For the first two I dreaded getting out of bed because I was in crazy amounts of pain just walking anywhere. My arms were really sore too, because of all the steep parts where you had to pull yourself up, and then crab crawl on those parts on the way down. Many of you know I am not, nor have I ever been, an endurance athlete. I'll run my 60ft to first base and take a break, thank you very much. God forbid it's a foul ball and I have to run that distance twice. I can stay out there all day, running short sprints with breaks, but climb for 7 hours straight? What was I thinking when I agreed to that? My teammates will enjoy imagining me doing this, I'm sure. I'm still mentally recovering from it, and we'll see if I climb any more mountains while I'm here. My guess is I'll get talked into it, but right now, I can't even imagine doing another one. I was barely able to teach on Monday and Tuesday (2 and 3 days after the hike), and my knees gave out on me a few times those days, in front of entire classes of students. Not my best days teaching, to say the least. I do have some incredible pictures of the view that I guess made it all worth it. How many of you reading this can say you climbed the highest mountain in the FSM? Probably nobody, so take that.

November has flown by. It has mostly just been a lot of school. I've had to change up my lessons a little bit, and the students seem to be doing better with it. As with any job, you have good days and bad days, but lately it seems like a lot of bad days because the students are getting crazier and less willing to work the closer it gets to Christmas. With Thanksgiving, we only had Thanksgiving Day off and had to go back on Friday. It was a tough day for everyone, and a lot of the teachers were grumpy and still feeling full from the day before. The students clearly didn't want to be in school, and were just a bunch of crazies not wanting to do any work.

Thanksgiving Day was awesome though! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, only second to Christmas because of all the family I get to see then. Thanksgiving at home is so relaxed; I always enjoy cooking with my mom and watching football with dad. Although I missed out on those this year, getting together with everyone at Bully's was great. We had a potluck with a turkey and everything. I took the initiative for the WorldTeach crew and made all my favorite dishes from home: scalloped corn, green bean casserole, homemade noodles, and Grandma Julie's butterscotch pie (the most delicious old family recipe), and even added a couple new things, like chocolate pie and pumpkin bars. Everything was a hit, and I was so happy to have the comforts of home cooking, even though it wasn't quite as good without mom's love baked in. However, no holiday comes without it's share of challenges. Here in Kosrae, our challenge was the lack of power. Yes, again. And yes, on Thanksgiving. We were laughing about how big of a deal it would be in the US. Here we just went with the flow, tried to wait it out, and when it didn't come back on, we all gathered at Sandy's to cook because she was the only one who had power. I think it was a blessing in disguise, because we spent the day just like a family should, cooking together and enjoying each other's company. After all, we are our own little sort of family of teachers away from home. I love cooking, so I was more than happy to spend the day preparing my favorites and then getting to share them with everyone at Bully's. The worst part was knowing we had to go back to school the next day.

The latest excitement has been the threat of black magic. Yes, you read that correctly. It is possible that my classroom has been infested with black magic. I don't want to go into details because of the privacy of the student, but one student has been having some medical issues, and seems to be having a stress response, but when it happens at school, it is always in my classroom. The explanation for this is black magic, so we were brainstorming solutions and my students think we should get air conditioning (yes, please!), or take a field trip every day to get out of the doomed classroom. The principal even said in a staff meeting that anyone who wants to change rooms for greater comfort should just let him know (obviously in reference to my tainted room because by now everyone on the island has heard about it).

I'll end with a few funny things that my students have said or written the past few weeks:

-One student offered to set me up with a local boyfriend, saying he was "just trying to help me out"
-The same student told me that he was Snoop Dogg and to start calling him D-O-double G
-In response to a question asking, "Is there anything outside of school affecting your grades?" a different student wrote that "yes there is something outside affecting my grades, it's the wind."

Friday, 3 October 2014

Life Lately

It feels like it’s been forever since I last posted, and things are starting to get crazy around here. It’s the end of first quarter, which is totally unreasonable given that we have only had 3 full 5-day weeks of school. The school gives us a grading scheme that we have to use, which includes three tests and a final exam for each quarter. How they expect us to get through enough material to give three tests is beyond me. I barely got through my introductory unit by the end of the quarter. And then to have finals every quarter? That’s just ridiculous. For a place that is so relaxed about everything and cancels school randomly all the time, it’s very strange that they have a system for how we have to grade. Then to top it all off, we found out on Thursday that the governor was cancelling school on Friday as a reward for doing so well academically over the past year. There are two giant problems with this: 1. It totally sends the wrong message about the purpose and importance of education by making it a reward to not have school, and 2. We didn’t even do that well academically. Kosrae is doing a little better than the other islands, but that doesn’t mean we are doing well. A lot of the grade levels have below 50% performing at the level they are supposed to be at. All of the Worldteach teachers have commented on how crazy this is, but it’s a perfect example of how backwards education is here. So basically it’s been a little crazy since first quarter ends next week. In a different way of thinking about the end of the quarter, it means the school year is a quarter of the way done, which is crazy to think about. Christmas break adds some time to it, but aside from that, I’m almost a quarter of the way through this adventure. Time is flying! Once I got settled into being a teacher here, things have felt like they are moving crazy fast.

This week has definitely been the toughest one yet for me. I’ve come down with a little bit of a cold and a really painful ear infection that has made going to work every day a little harder, and then got some difficult news from back home. I can’t bring myself to write very much about it here, but I’ll just say it has been difficult to be so far away from home this week. My heart is definitely back home with Harvard Softball and the Ricciardone family. I’ve been doing my best to channel the strength and spirit of Lisa and teach for her this week. Laura, I’m sending as much love as I possibly can your way.

Even with the tough week, I am lucky to have a wonderful job and be working with some amazing students. One of my classes really made my day, and they probably didn’t even realize it. It wasn’t a huge deal for them, but I was so happy for a minute because of them. They were just being the normal selves, but I had a moment towards the end of class where I just took it all in because they were having so much fun learning and were so excited to be learning. It was one of those times where you realize how important your job is and you actually understand why people say that their students teach them more than they taught them. It was amazing to see them so happy and having fun in class, but that’s how learning should be. When you are a teacher trying to shove all this information into your kid’s heads, it is really special to see them actually want to be there and be enjoying it. So even though none of you will probably ever read this, to all the students in my 4th period, thank you for being the bright spot in my difficult week.

I’ll end with something totally hilarious that happened to me in class on Monday as a result of the language barrier. I was teaching mixtures and pure substances to my chemistry classes, and one of the types of mixtures is heterogenous. When I first said that, my entire class erupted in laughter. I figured out pretty quickly that it meant something in the local language that must have been funny, but I couldn’t get anyone to say what it meant loud enough for me to hear, so I just moved on with the lesson and talked about how this will probably happen again, but we need to be able to move forward and use this new vocab term throughout the class so we need to get over it. My kids got over it pretty well, but then I was worried about my next two classes. I was debating whether to warn my second chemistry class, but decided not to and I got the same reaction, but it lasted a little longer. They thought it was absolutely hilarious every time I said “heterogenous,” and they would whisper it to each other and laugh hysterically. Again, they wouldn’t tell me what it meant, so I went on with the class and again used it as a teaching moment about maturity and being aware of the language differences. After this class, I had lunch, so when I saw a couple of my students walk by, I went and asked them that I needed to know what it meant. They kind of stared at me for a second, and then one of them said “penis” pretty quietly. No wonder they were all laughing! I was basically standing up there saying “penis, penis, penis” in their language. After that I went into my final chemistry class at the end of the day totally prepared, and I warned them ahead of time that they were going to hear something inappropriate in their language, and that it was okay to laugh, but we would need to be mature about it after, and they were still surprised when they heard it. They took a second longer to react, and I think they were just surprised to hear that come out of their teacher’s mouth in class. Then after a second of processing, they all died laughing. I got a few good laughs out of this, and am still laughing thinking about it. This is a hilarious teaching story that I’ll remember forever. This takes “you learn something new every day” to a whole new level.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Birthdays and reflection

I just got home from an exciting night with my host family. I had a few different experiences all in one night, at one birthday party. First of all, the food was amazing! I was expecting that, because Kosraeans know how to host a good party. There was a ton of food, and it was all extremely delicious. I'm sitting in my bed right now feeling like I'm going to explode. I couldn't stop eating, and my host mom, Almitta, is a terrible influence because every time I finish one thing she keeps telling me to go get more. Especially now that I'm not actually living with them, I'm really missing the local food, so I wanted to stuff in as much as I possibly could while it was all available. I had tons of crab, chicken, rice, breadfruit (with a sweet coconut milk sauce which was super yummy), sushi, usr (banana) tempura (basically just fried banana, AKA the greatest thing you've ever tasted), and they even roasted a whole pig! It was a family birthday party to celebrate a couple different people who have birthdays in September. I'll consider it a celebration for my dad back home too, since his is coming up this week. Happy early birthday daddy! They also had cake and fahfah, which is a local dish and I really have no idea what's in it but it's sort of a sweet glaze over these chewy little balls of deliciousness. I'll have to ask how they make it, but I think it's pretty involved, which is why they only make it for special occasions. It was really good to see all the family, including meeting new people that I haven't seen before because this family is so big.

One of the new guys I met, Willie, my host uncle, is a softball player and even played in the Micro games a couple months ago. He wants to get some girls together after school and have me come teach them softball. I was really excited to hear this, and obviously told him I would love to. He starting talking to all the guys in the family right away and said they're going to clean up the field this week so we can start. Apparently he's even going to call the governor to make sure it gets cleaned up. His words were something like "Kosraeans are lazy so we're going to call the governor". I'm not really sure what the governor is going to do, but I think he wanted to show me how excited he is about this and that he's serious about it. I'm not sure when this will all actually get going, but I'm going to tell all my students too so hopefully we can get a lot of girls to come out and play. They don't have any female coaches, so it would be awesome to provide these girls with a female role model and someone to show them they can grow up to be strong women. The culture here kind of puts women second; they don't get much of a say in anything as adults, and they aren't encouraged to speak their mind or be leaders, so hopefully I can not only show them softball, but how to be yourself and have a voice. I was lucky enough to be raised by wonderful parents and an amazing family all around who pushed me to do things even I wasn't sure I could do and always supported me in anything, encouraging me to find a way to be a leader in everything that I did. I would love to be able to share some of that with the girls here.

A perfect example to show the culture and opportunities here is the conversation I had tonight with one of the little girls in the family, Sasha. She's in second grade here, and has pretty good English skills for her age. I was tossing a softball with her tonight and we were just chatting, and I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She told me she wants to be a store girl. She wants to work at Ace, the local grocery store (albeit with a limited range of items). I was half surprised to hear this and half not. Part of me was surprised because when you ask little kids in the US, you always get answers like doctor, lawyer, firefighter, policeman, teacher, etc. We have an engrained hierarchy of career path, and even as kids, we pick the jobs that are highest on the list. You never really hear kids say they want to work at a grocery store. This island is so small that there are limited types of jobs, regardless of your education or skill level. The kids here grow up differently than I did, and I have been here long enough that I already knew that, so her answer also didn't really surprise me that much. It was a moment where I paused and put it into the context of her culture instead of seeing it through my American perspective. It isn't a bad goal by any means, and she has seen so many family members work at Ace and live very happy and fulfilling lives with big families, so I can definitely understand why that seems like the ultimate goal to her, but there are also so many other opportunities out there in the world that kids here just don't even know exist because they don't exist in Kosrae. I don't want this to sound like I am putting her down or dismissing the workers here, because that is not what I'm trying to say. I don't see myself as better than anyone here; I just understand that we have differences and I want the girls here to understand that there are other things out there. I had a moment where I was forced to see the cultural differences, and it made me want to help my students and these young girls see that they can do more than work at a grocery store when they grow up. If they really want to work at a grocery store, that is awesome and they should do it, but I want to help them see that they can do a lot of other things too. There are some students in my classes who are extremely bright, and I really want to help them find their path to bigger things that just aren't available to them here. I love Kosrae, but the opportunities for the kids here are limited, and I am realizing the roles I can play, not just as a teacher, but as an educated, strong woman.

Overall, I had a great time at the birthday party, and I left thinking a little bit more about the reasons that I am here and the ways that I can make a difference outside the classroom. I have said this many times over the past year or so, but I figured out at some point during college that what makes me happy is to help people directly. I need to be face to face and build relationships with people. It gives me so much joy to see exactly the difference I am making, and I am starting to figure out how I can do that here, and I can't wait to get started. Even if I just help one girl have a little more confidence in herself, I will be very happy.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Liberation day and marine life (SHARKS)!

I haven't been keeping up with this blog very well recently, so I'll give a much overdue update of the past couple weeks.

Last Monday was Liberation Day! It was a lot of fun and I'm really glad we got to be part of the celebration. Each village has their own celebration, and we live in Lelu so we went to the Lelu celebration. Within Lelu, there are different areas and each area wears a different color, sort of like representing different teams. We were part of the "Sea Siders" team and wore green. We headed over around 9 in the morning and watched all the different areas walk in. It was held at the Lelu Elementary School, which is really close to our house. Each section sits together and there are a bunch of different games and activities. It is sort of a big field day, but pretty random and unorganized, and they give out very different prizes. Everything is a very friendly competition, all about having fun! At the very beginning of the day, when each group walked in, different middle aged ladies were all trying to pull each other's skirts off and running around like crazy people. It was hilarious! I knew right then that I was going to love Liberation Day. There are a series of different competitions, but they all kind of start haphazardly and everyone who participates gets a prize. The prizes were bags of sugar and bags of laundry detergent. Everyone could participate in every competition, and every person who participated got a prize for every competition. This resulted in Jesse, Aidan, and I collectively getting about 10 bags of sugar total and about 3 or 4 bags of laundry detergent each. The first race just started with a bunch of people running diagonal across the field in front of the school. There was no measured distance, no timing, just if you ran across the field you got a bag of sugar. It was awesome! There were a bunch of different things, like a water balloon toss, a tire rolling race, dizzy bat, and three-legged race. They even lined up all the kids in a big circle and did a race around the kids. Keep in mind everyone participates in all of these. Everyone as in all the adults and even the old ladies, which was hilarious to watch. They were so excited and into it! Some of the women even sat on little kids bikes and the kids were pushing them around on them really fast. It was actually pretty dangerous, but people here don't really worry about that kind of stuff; they just like to have a good time. It lasted until early afternoon, and there was a bunch of food for lunch too, which was awesome. There were a bunch of coconuts too. Have I mentioned my love for coconuts? Fresh coconuts are the greatest thing ever. The coconut water is so good, especially in certain coconuts it is a little fizzy, almost like it's carbonated. Then you can crack it open and eat all the meat out, which is equally as delicious. We eat a lot of coconuts at our house. We also cut up the meat and put it in our oatmeal for breakfast, and it is a delicious addition (especially with bananas too)! Basically the fruit here is amazing. I eat tons of bananas and coconuts and they are delicious. They also have these green tangerines here which are really easy to peel and they taste delicious! Island fruit is the way to go. Back to Liberation Day: it was a really fun day, but we were exhausted by the end. We tried to apply a lot of sunscreen and stay in the shade when we could, but we all still got at least a little burnt. The tops of my feet got absolutely roasted and are now peeling :( oh well, it was worth it.

Speaking of Liberation, like I said earlier, each village has their own celebration, and a couple villages had them on Friday of last week, so we had no school that day. Our principal also randomly decided that we wouldn't have school Thursday either, so we ended up only having a two-day school week last week (and two 4-day weekends in a row), which was sort of awesome, but also sort of sucked from a teaching standpoint. We're now only 2 weeks away from the end of the quarter, and we have only had 2 full weeks of school Monday through Friday. That's island life for ya... constantly adjusting and adapting. It made this week pretty difficult because we had to teach a full five days! Well sort of... we get out at 1:30 on Fridays because we have a short schedule. I guess I shouldn't complain since my workday here is nothing compared to the average one back home.

I have really gotten into the swing of things teaching. I have flushed out a few problems and made the system work better, so I'm feeling more organized and on top of things now. If you know me well, you know that I am much happier and relaxed when I am organized and have everything in order how I want it :) I also know almost all of my student's names, so that makes things a lot easier. I'm giving my first real exam next week, so hopefully my kids do well on it! I am excited about it because after that, I get to start teaching real science! My first unit has been all review and math stuff that you need to know for the rest of the class, so I am anxious to get into the real science that I like. The last couple days have been enjoyable for me though, so that is good. It makes the day go by so much faster when I enjoy the lesson that I'm teaching. I've been doing problem solving the past few days, and I really like that, so I have enjoyed teaching it. Since I have everything organized, I worry less about the actual teaching and can have fun with it. I'm starting to really like it. There is a lot of planning and grading and management behind the scenes, but the actual standing in front of a class and teaching kids science is really fun for me! I'm starting to get to know them and their personalities, so it makes class a little more fun because I can keep them interested a little bit more. And now that I know them better and know what to expect, I know when I can relax and make jokes and not worry that they're going to get off task.

Last week, I hung out with my host family a little bit more, and it was really nice to see them and spend time with them again. It's nice to get away from the teaching and just relax with the locals. They really have become a second family, so it's almost like going home when I go over there. I swam with some of the kids and someone else was there having a birthday party and had leftover pizza, so they gave some to us. We didn't know them at all, but that's just how everyone is here in Kosrae. It's such a community, so it doesn't matter if you know them or not, you can stop any stranger on the street and say hi, ask for help, or share your extra pizza. It's nice to be in a place where everyone is so generous, even though they might not have a lot to give. I talked with the dad of that family for a little bit, and he actually spent a while in the US in the military, so he knew a lot about it and we had a lot to talk about. It was really cool, but the coolest part is how often that kind of thing happens here. It's a pretty awesome place to be. I was a little worried before coming that it would be hard to break into the community, and there are definitely times that I feel like an outsider, but for the most part everyone is always welcoming and excited to talk to you about anything. They don't care that you aren't from here, they just want to say hi and share what they can. Back to my story about my host family; I went back to the house with the kids after swimming, and my host mom was waiting to give me dinner. She is selling hamburgers, so she gave me one and a pop and sent me home. I wasn't expecting anything from them, but she wanted to make sure I got something to eat. It was great! I am actually supposed to hang out with them tomorrow again, and I am excited! They are doing a birthday celebration for everyone in the family who has birthdays this month, so it should be really fun! I'm guessing there will be tons of food, which I am excited about because I have been missing out on the local dishes since I moved out of my host family's house.

Today was exciting too! After school, Jesse and I went snorkeling at a new place that I hadn't been before. Jesse wanted to try out the spear gun he is borrowing from someone who is off-island for the next few months. He didn't catch anything, but the snorkeling was awesome! I saw my first shark and an eagle ray! I've seen an eagle ray before, but this time it was really close to me! I got a video of it swimming, and it is really cool! I can't post it because the internet is too slow, but maybe I'll try to leave it for a while so it can post because it's pretty awesome. It swam right towards me and I followed it for a little while to get the picture. Eagle rays are pretty curious, which is great for tourists like me who like to see them. It was no more than 10 ft away from me, so I was really excited. The shark I was also really excited about, but it was kind of far from me. I got a picture of it, but you can barely see it because it's so far away. The only sharks around here are reef sharks, which apparently are not dangerous, and they don't get very big (usually 4-5ft). I don't know anything about sharks, but this is what I'm getting from what everyone has told me. According to Jesse, there was another shark really close to me, but I didn't see it. He saw it and was so surprised that he made a noise and the shark got scared and swam away really fast. When I heard him, I turned to look, but I turned the other way and by the time I looked, the shark had swam away. So basically what happened is I almost got attacked by a shark, but I fought it off. That's what I'm telling everyone anyway... In reality I'm really mad that I didn't see it since it was so close to me!

That's about it for now; hopefully I'll have some more cool stuff to post soon! Shoutout to my parents for sending me all kinds of awesome things that I can't get here. Best parents ever! I'll follow that up with a shameless plug for care packages full of chocolate and processed American snack food, which is actually pretty hard to come by here :)

Saturday, 6 September 2014


This has proved to be one of my most active weeks so far. I haven't done something every day, but I have done two big things this week now. Today we climbed our first mountain! After the Rockhopper race on Monday, I was exhausted for most of the week, but once I finally recovered, I set myself up for another few days of soreness. This is already a very exciting week for Kosrae because it is Liberation Week starting on Monday. The festivities began yesterday, and different villages have their celebrations on different days, which basically means we get a lot of days off school. We had yesterday off, and next week we also get Monday and Friday, so only three actual days of school! It's a pretty awesome deal. We decided to add to the fun and go for a mountain hike today too. Oma is the easiest hike of the mountains here, but I wouldn't exactly call it easy. It was about 2 hours to the top and would have been probably just under 2 hours down, but we took some breaks and made sure the whole group was getting down okay, so we spent a long day on the mountain overall. We decided to go all the way to the top, and there was an amazing view at the top. It was really cool because we could see Lelu Island, where we live, and it was so tiny compared to the rest of Kosrae. We know it's small, but to see it from that view was just crazy! It was a really fun day, and we definitely got our workout in for the week. My legs are going to be insanely sore tomorrow. We went with a couple of the Peace Corps volunteers, and it was great to finally get to spend some time with them. They are all spread out across the island, so it's hard to get everyone together. It's very different from us with WorldTeach because we are all at the high school and have classrooms right next to each other. Not to mention most of us live together too. The Peace Corps has a volunteer at each elementary school, so there is one in each village. There are also some students from University of Washington here for a few weeks doing a sort of mini-study abroad program, and some of them came too, so we had a good sized group. Last time we went on a hike, I got really frustrated with my shoes, so this time I just went barefoot. Jess and Jesse also did it barefoot, and I think it's the best way to go. There aren't really any dangerous bugs or lizards that hang out on the ground or even poisonous plants, so it's not too bad going barefoot. The bottoms of my feet are definitely sore and tired, but overall I think it was a good choice. Last time I got frustrated because I would get mud stuck between my foot and my sandals and little rocks and it just got really uncomfortable. When you get rocks on your feet, they don't get stuck like they can with shoes on, and you can feel everything you're walking on, so I feel like I was more stable that way. A lot of people here just don't wear shoes, and even the people who do always wear flip flops. You never see anyone in real shoes of any kind. I am exhausted after a full day of hiking, so I am excited that tomorrow is Sunday. Since you can't do anything on Sundays anyways, I'm happy to just spend the day watching movies in bed. I need to recover from today so I'll be all ready to go on Monday. Monday is Lelu's Liberation Day, which is apparently really exciting and fun, so I can't wait! There are races and games and all kinds of stuff that everyone gets really excited about, so it will be fun to watch. It is the first real celebration since we've been in Kosrae, so it will be cool to hang out with all the locals and see what it is like to celebrate Liberation Day. That's about it for my update today, but I'm sure I'll have some exciting news after Monday's festivities!