Friday, April 30, 2010

Saying Goodbye

Today was our last day of teaching. I was very sad to leave my precious students, and they were also sad to see me go. This whole experience, especially the teaching, has blessed me more than I can begin to explain. I am so thankful for everything I have gone through during what has honestly been the best six weeks of my life.

During our first break, I met the kids outside as usual to hang out with them while eating lunch. As I walked out, two girls approached me and asked if I would help them unzip their jackets. Knowing something was up, I played along and unzipped them to find letters, cards, and various other gifts for me that they wanted to surprised me with. I was overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness! One sweet girl decorated a shoebox for me and filled it with some of her only possessions- chocolate biscuits, a cell phone pouch, a picture of her, and an American dollar. These children have so little to give, but are willing to give so much. I think we could all learn something from that.

I left each student with a letter, a picture, a new pencil, and their very own book. I placed the books and things on their desks while they were out for break-- you should've heard and seen them as they spotted the gifts awaiting them. There was very loud scream, enthusiastic jumping, and I was attacked by several enormous hugs. These students are incredibly grateful for whatever they receive, and the impact of that is definitely rewarding. Although these children also present many more challenges than what I have experienced back home, watching them with their new books made everything worth it.

The day came to a close as I reread their favorite story, Morris Goes to School, out loud for one last time. They laughed just as hard as the first. :)

While saying goodbye to the students, I was able to stay positive and tear free. But after getting in the van, waving, and watching them run after us, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I have really grown to love each and every one of my students, and it is hard knowing that I most likely won't ever see them again.

Tomorrow I will bid farewell to everyone and everything else. There is so much about this country that I cherish, and my experience here has brought me so much joy. Thank you all for your support and prayers, and I will see you soon!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Autumn in the Air

Walking into school this morning, I realized that the weather felt surprisingly similar to Michigan around this time of year. It was quite chilly and the ground was frosted with morning dew. The mornings and evenings are becoming colder here, making me wish that I had packed more pants and long sleeves. Soon it will be winter in South Africa, and the rains will become more frequent and predictable (or so I hear).

Every day with my Grade 3 children is a different experience. Some days I keep constantly busy, some days are slow, some days are overwhelming, and some days are joyous. Through it all, I am savoring every moment that I am given with these students. They are full of life, energy, and love. My teacher shows her heart for the children daily and I am always pleased to help her in any way that I can. My respect for her grows each time I am placed in a difficult situation during the school day.

Today I read the story "Morris Goes to School" to my students. It's about a moose named Morris who learns to count and read at school. The children got a kick out of it and seemed to interact with the text quite well. We discussed the genre of 'fantasy,' main idea, characters, and beginning/middle/end. They were engaged and very well behaved throughout the lesson, and they were able to document the experience by drawing pictures in their "creative workbooks" of the story. After coming to realize the difficulties many students have with reading comprehension due in part to language issues, I was impressed by the quality of their discussion and responses.

I also had the opportunity to improv teach a Grade 6 class last week. Their teacher came up to my room to request that I watch his class while he went to a meeting... of course I was willing and soon found myself in an Afrikaans speaking classroom full of twelve year olds with very little direction from the teacher. Instead of telling them to quiet down and read for who knows how long, I decided to do an interactive lesson with them on probability that I had learned in one of my math classes. I whipped out my handy unifix cubes and began teaching, hoping that they knew enough English to be able to understand and communicate with me. Although at the time the experience was difficult and frustrating due to their behavior, I look back on it fondly-- because I survived, had them engaging in probabilistic reasoning, and came to appreciate my own nine year old students in a new and significant way. Not necessarily something I would want to do again... but a good experience nonetheless. I am coming to find that God's plan for me (and others) here is much more meaningful than I/we realize at the time. His purpose may not be immediately clear, but it exists in very powerful ways that hopefully we are able to eventually discover.

The first weekend after school was spent in a beautiful beach house in Pringle Bay. To exit the house, you must first walk over a small sand dune to be surrounded by a beautiful sandy beach, the Atlantic Ocean, and mountainous landscape. It was gorgeous and the weekend was full of relaxation, delicious food, game playing, enjoying the outdoors, and laughter. Andrea and I found a small non-denom church on Sunday morning... and though we were some of the only people under the age 60 in attendance, everyone was very welcoming and we were glad that we went.

After school, I have spent time with my host family and group members, gone for walks, cooked and ate wonderful meals, prepared for teaching, and shopped around Stellenbosch. I continue to absolutely love my time spent here in this country, in this town, in this school, and in this home.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sharks and Students

Holiday has come to an end and school has begun! I arrived back in Stellenbosch on Friday afternoon and started in my Grade 3 English-speaking classroom on Monday.

The remainder of holiday was amazing-- a jam packed and very eventful 2 weeks. We traveled along the Garden Route and made several stops along the way.
Mossel Bay: Stayed for 3 nights, went to church on Easter, was shown around the town by one of the pastors (who is from Illinois), went adventure caving at Cango Caves which required us to squeeze through VERY small spaces, went to an ostrich farm and was able to sit on and ride an ostrich, shopped at an Afrikaans Arts Festival, and relaxed at a restaurant on the waterfront while waiting for our bus that had broken down to be fixed.
Montagu: Stayed for two nights, took a tractor ride up a beautiful mountain, enjoyed a traditional meal of potjiekos, which means cooked in small black pots over a fire. It consisted of rice, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, zucchini, and carrots, with malva pudding and ice cream for dessert. Also- wine tasting and time spent in the sun at a hot springs resort.
Cape Agulhas: Stayed for 1 night at a backpackers- explored the beach and ocean, petted and fed huge sting rays, went to the southernmost tip of the continent where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, walked up to the top of the lighthouse at that point, visited a very small missionary town for lunch and a tour, more wine tasting.
Gansbaai: Expected to stay for 1 night in preparation for shark cage diving, but it was cancelled on Saturday due to rough seas. We all decided to stay one additional day, so we spent the free day hanging out and bonding as a group. Sunday was shark cage diving! We got on the boat and traveled for about 15 minutes into the Atlantic. Once we got out pretty far, they anchored and dropped the cage into the water. We got our wet suits on and waited for the sharks to come. I was in the first group of divers. There were 5 of us in the cage, and you hang out there above water until the people in charge yell 'DOWN!' At that point, you drop your legs and hold your breath to see the sharks face to face underwater. What an amazing experience! There were many sharks and they came extremely close to us... even biting the cage at one point. Afterwards, I watched the rest of the divers and the sharks from the upper deck. Fortunately, I wasn't seasick like many others in our group!

The first few days of school have been very interesting. It is extremely different than school back home and it definitely takes some adjusting to. There are 25 students, all coloured or black, and they wear uniforms and most come from the local townships (large areas of shacks). There is not a lot of time spent actually teaching... it's more that students are given things to work on and they do some small group practice with other things. Classroom management is a major issue, as the teachers often seem frustrated and have no strategies for dealing with the students.. which means they often resort to yelling or even hitting. It's hard to get used to. I have been doing a lot of the teacher's work such as copying, printing, laminating, typing, etc. I am glad to help in any way, but I'd rather be in the classroom working with the students.

Today I was able to teach them about America and what it's like. I showed them a map, pictures from home, and a book that American students wrote about their country. They were fascinated and had many questions to ask and stories to tell. I also taught them a basic clapping pattern to get their attention, and they responded to that really well. I am hoping that in this short time I can both get to know the students and implement teaching and management strategies that can be used after I leave. I'm also hoping to begin teaching more and more often!

After school, I really enjoy spending time with my host family and friends. We have been eating delicious dinners and getting to know each other. I'm thankful to have a nice place with very loving people to call home for these four short weeks.

Thanks for taking the time to be part of my experience! Grace and peace.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I am currently at the Mossel Bay Backpackers hostel- enjoying some sunshine and relaxation (and a quick bit on the internet) after a busy and active couple of days. On Sunday we stayed in Knysna, on Monday we traveled to Addo Elephant Park where we saw elephants, warthogs, kudu, zebras, buffalo, dung beetles, and jackals, and on Wednesday we traveled to Tsitsikamma National Park and spent a couple of days ziplining and hiking along the Indian Ocean. It was beautiful!

Yesterday was the big day- BUNGY JUMPING! We arrived at the site of the world's highest bungy jump, Bloukrans Bridge (see below), at about 10AM. I had a moment of hesitation as I watched a couple of jumpers go, but I ignored it and registered as soon as possible. The walk up to the platform was long and quite terrifying, as the metal we walked on was completely see through. When we got to the center of the bridge, there was loud music playing and we all were totally pumped up and excited. The guys up there were awesome- encouraging and made each of us feel very safe. I was attached at the ankles, so I had to hop out to the edge of the bridge (with help) and put my toes over the edge. They then counted down for us 5-4-3-2-1-BUNGY! The jump was incredible. It was hard to tell what position I was in, where I was in relation to the ground or the bridge, or even whether I was falling or being pulled upwards. It lasted probably 2 minutes before I started coming to a stop. The feeling of hanging in the middle of a beautiful valley, listening to only my racing breath, was amazing.

After we got back to solid ground, we bought our photos (coming soon) and DVD of the jump and headed back onto the bus. What an incredible experience! I am so glad that this was part of the trip because I don't think I ever would have done it on my own.

We celebrated Easter at a quaint church we found right next door to our hostel, and one of the American guys we met there is "fetching" us shortly to show us around the beach town of Mossel Bay. I am still loving this country and cannot get enough of it! Tomorrow we are going to the Cango Caves, an ostrich farm, and a South African arts festival.

I hope you all are enjoying some warmer weather and the joy and peace of the resurrection!