Saturday, November 20, 2010


How is it already November?  I find it hard to believe that Christmas is a month away, it doesn't feel like November- It's 80 degrees and sunny.  I've been without internet for a while which has been good and bad.  It's been good focusing on more creative and mind-broadening activities in my free time and to take a break from the enthralling world of facebook, gmail and skype.  I did miss my daily contact with the outside world.  There's something comforting about hearing how everyone's lives continue in a similar fashion at home while I am so far away.  I know it's only been a few months since I left home but I feel like i've been here for ages. It's strange the way that time moves here.  Because the seasons don't change, it feels as though time stands still, yet every time I look at the calendar another month has passed by.

The past few weeks have been new and interesting.  My schedule has been flipped by the ongoing bus crisis.  Usually, all 400ish students are bussed a half hour bumpy ride from their homes on Ebeye to our high school in Gugeegue.  The school owns 3 buses, 2 of which customarily function.  For a while, however, only one bus was working.  This meant that it would take half the day to get all of the students to school.  The endless, overcrowded and pot-hole ridden trips took a real toll on our lone bus.  On top of this, we ran out of fuel.  To conclude the bus saga, the teachers are now bussed to Ebeye to teach at the Middle School in the evening.  In our brief stint at the Middle school, our high schoolers have wreaked havoc.  Each day, I get complaints from the teacher whose classroom I am using that various items are broken or missing.  Also, one of the math classroom windows has been smashed by one of my delightful freshman.  In fact, I was locked out of my classroom on Friday (I'm guessing on purpose). The school security guard ordered one of my students to break in through the window and let the rest of the class in.  During my roommate, Amanda's class, there was a diaper throwing contest outside. Imagine trying to teach a class of unruly sophomores as dirty diapers fly at you through the second story window. During my other roommate, Mary's class, a drunk man walked brazenly across the room to the doorless bathroom and relieved himself.  It's been an eventful week. Well, that's enough internet for me, I've had an internet overdose today...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recent Highlights and Thanksgiving

Life continues to fly by as usual. Today, however, I suddenly felt cold for the first time in months. I had a quick onset of the chills- some type of illness is spreading rapidly across the islands. From Majuro to Gugeegue, many of the teachers have been catching whatever it is that's going around. I think we've all reached a breaking point. From my point of view, we like to think we can handle all that is thrown at as because that's what we are here for and it's the commitment we have made. As we've learned this week, the stress eventually catches up and takes a physical toll. Unfortunately, this is the worst time to be sick. The first quarter is coming to an end and next week is finals week. I feel a mixture of relief and worry. I am pleased with the material I have covered thus far and am proud of many of my student's hard work and also of my own accomplishments as a teacher. At the same time, I am worried about those students that have fallen behind and are failing. In some cases, it's a lack of effort on their parts. In others, I am sorry that I don't have the time and resources to be of assistance to those students who really need extra help. I feel discouraged in my ability to help these students mainly because my lack of Marshallese skills and inability to relate to them in any way.

Anyhow, I don't mean to constantly complain and make life sound so difficult. For the times that I feel in despair or frustrated, I remind myself of how lucky I have been with my own opportunities (and education) in my life so far. I also think of how purposeless I would feel if I wasn't doing anything to help others who haven't been as lucky as I have been. For the most part, I wake up each morning and go to bed at night happy with myself and where I am. That is and should be all that I ask for.

Since I haven't written in a while, I'll list the highlights of the past few weeks...

A few weeks ago, we went fishing in the rain with our kind and friendly neighbors, Andrea, Terry and their adorable 3 year old son, Sebastian. Together, we caught about 20 fish (3 of which I caught) and we ate them later for dinner. While fishing, I spotted my first shark. He was only a foot long but it scared me considering that I had been diving to unhook the fishing line and bait that was stuck on coral.

Last Friday, we checked out the nightlife on Ebeye. We went to a bar/club with some of our coworkers. The night was fun- especially the dancing. The following day, Amanda and I walked to our secret swimming spot I have renamed mermaid's lagoon. We relaxed in the beautiful water for a few hours as the tide quickly came in. Lara met us at the spot a few hours later so we stayed and became prunes in the water for a while longer. Finally, we realized that the tide had come in higher than we had ever seen before. We looked towards the end of the island where we had come from. The waves were breaking against the tree line and we came to terms with the fact that there was no chance of getting back around the island the way we had came. It was clear that we could not get back lagoon side unless swimming (as there was nothing left of the beach). We considered waiting it out but couldn't because of how hungry, thirsty, sunburnt and pruney we were. Amanda and I decided to cross the very thick mysterious jungle that covers most of the island (our mp3 players deterred us from the long swim). Lara, whose number one fear is spiders, began swimming away after one look in the cob-web infested jungle. Amanda and I, in our soaking wet guams (that resemble night gowns) looked like a mixture of Wendy from Peter Pan and a wizard from Harry Potter as we stumbled in, over and between branches while we waved wand-like branches in front of us to snag the oncoming spider webs. To keep our morale up, we yelled out spells along the way. We finally emerged from the jungle proud of our small accomplishment. As we reached the meeting point of the island we had been stuck on and Gugeegue, we met up with Lara. She had successfully swam back with her bag tied around her neck. We were surprised to see that the tide was so high that the 40 foot coral pathway between the islands, that is usually completely exposed, was now covered with water. We walked knee-deep through the water directly where the ocean and lagoon met. Looking to either side was a very memorable spectacle. I was standing, literally, in the middle of pacific ocean :-)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Essay Writing & Mannit Day

Not too much has changed in the past week and a half. School continues to be hectic and the weekends have flown by. Fortunately, my mood has dramatically improved. One of our two buses was working for most of last week, leading to shorter classes and my happiness. I spent last week going over the basics of grammar. The review was a necessity and went relatively well. The material was certainly successful in putting many of my students to sleep. I’m proud to say that I have learned 120 or so of my 140 students’ names. Getting to know them has made my job more fun and has been helpful for classroom management. I have definitely come to see the need for discipline and have been demanding more respect as a teacher. Luckily, I am not hated by all just yet. During the assembly today, one of my students asked me, “Miss, do you have children?”. When I told her that I did not, she whispered to me “Well, then do think I could be your daughter?” I laughed and told her she was too old to be my daughter but we could be sisters. My roommates found it creepy but I think it was sweet. Another student wrote in his journal, “I like you Miss, you are my mother of English”. It was reassuring to me that even though I can be a total bitch in class at times, some students still like me enough to want to be my child.

This week is designated to the Social Science department. This is great news to me because it somehow means that we only have two real days of classes. Last night, the head of the English department paid my roommates and I visit to let us know that there would be an essay-writing contest in our classes today and tomorrow. We couldn’t help but laugh when we read the theme and criteria. The theme is, "Responsible citizens contributing to the prosperity of the Nation". Seeing as many of my students had trouble answering simple questions such as “What is something you are good at?” and groan when asked to write more than a full sentence, I felt that the expectations were slightly unrealistic. The grading rubric described standards that I think might have challenged a number of people from my graduating class at college. After explaining the vocabulary, question and components of an essay, the chaos began. With myself as the only teacher and 35 students in each of my classes, it was nearly impossible to be of assistance and answer questions while maintaining any kind of order in the rest of the classroom. All I can say is- I did my best.

Because we are lucky enough to have such a diverse staff, on Wednesday, the teachers will split up by country and teach students about our respective cultures and history. My three roommates and I will be giving a brief US history and pop culture lesson to students from grades 9-12. To my surprise, Marshallese teenagers seem to know more about pop culture than we do. According to journal entries I have read, my student’s lives are highly influenced by pop-sensations: Justin Beiber, Hannah Montana and the rest of the Disney crew. Perhaps I can convince some of my grade 9 to put on a Justin Beiber concert (as they do sometimes between classes). Although I have been living in the RMI for about 2 months, there is plenty for me to learn about Marshallese culture. Luckily, I will have an opportunity to learn more about Marshallese customs this week. Friday is “Manit” day. This is a day set aside for the celebration of Marshallese culture. I hear there will be delicious food and activities such as coconut husking contests and basket weaving. It should be an interesting week…

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Month In...

As I sit in the wonderful AC of my quiet apartment, I realize that I am already half way through my third real week of classes and wonder how I will be able to experience days such as today for the next 9 months. Last week went relatively smoothly as I became more comfortable in the classroom and got to know my students. The shortened classes (due to a broken bus) probably had a lot to do with my lowered stress level. This week, however, I spent each night and morning wishing that both buses would break. I've come home each day feeling frustrated, tired and overwhelmed. The biggest obstacle for me has been teaching and creating lessons for such a wide range of english speaking and writing abilities. I've also found it strenuous keeping four classes of 35 teenagers occupied for an hour each day in a language that many do not understand. Today was, more or less, a free for all.

My favorite part of the school day is during the first 1o minutes of class when I have everyone write a journal entry on a question I ask. Reading hundreds of these entries over the past weekend was amusing, interesting, tiring and- at times- frightening. It definitely took some heavy interpreting to understand the ideas that were trying to be expressed. My favorite instance of this was trying to understand the paper of a girl who kept saying "pigass" in each sentence. I finally figured out that she was trying to say "because"... not quite sure how the two got confused. I found myself very excited when a student answered the question in a full sentence, using somewhat legible english and unnerved when a question such as, "Who do you admire most?" was answered with "I admire is when I write I admire at school admire because I do admire is my most admire". When some answers closely resemble this, knowing where to begin teaching is not an easy decision.

At the end of the first week of school, I began teaching grade 9 about the idea of culture. I felt that this topic was a good way for my students and I to get to know and learn from each other. I had everyone write about and discuss their favorite food, music, holiday and traditions. We talked about different aspects of culture and I had small groups create a picture to illustrate each aspect. I hung everyone's pictures on the board as a visual display and constant reminder of what the word "culture" encompasses. Luckily, I found a reading with the title "Understanding Cultural Differences" in our class workbook. After introducing the text to the class, I realized that the level was way above most of the student's comprehension so I decided to make the unit into a vocabulary review. I had each student write down 5 words they had either never seen before or were unfamiliar with. That night, I made a list of each word. The list was disheartening.. in a comical way. The words that got to me the most were: culture (the word we had discussed for the past 5 days), respect (our number one class rule) and understand (the question I had been asking each class 10 times a day). This past week and a half I have spent going over the 16 most commonly misunderstood words. I am still unsure of how this information has been received but the quiz I'm giving Friday should give me a better idea.

Aside from school, I haven't had much of a life. My main hobbies have been: swimming, snorkeling, knitting, reading, drawing and watching movies. Some days, the highlight of my day is "getting my groove on" (as my student Rickinson would say) to the "hip-hop dance party" dvd left here by former volunteers. Even after memorizing all the moves, Amanda and I still look ridiculous as we get down and funky with our exercise dvd. Other than hip-hopping it out, I've been going on long swims and walks down to the neighboring island. There is only one house on this island so it is a wonderful place to feel at peace.

My Secret Swimming Spot

On Saturday, we were invited to a dinner party at the neighbor's. The food was scrumptious. I felt very content as I devoured chicken, freshly caught fish, coconut crab (a better tasting lobster) and sipped on coconut milk. I'm hoping the following week will be filled with more of these marvelous things described in this last paragraph and a bit less stress.

Monday, August 23, 2010

School Begins

Today, after a week in limbo- unsure of the grades and subjects we were teaching- classes finally began.  I headed out my front door and arrived at my classroom approximately 30 seconds later.  As expected, the classroom was locked.  I soon found out that the locks had been changed Friday and that the principal held all of the keys.  I sat on the stoop outside of my classroom with a number of my 9th grade students for all of first period and part of second period.  By now, I've learned to expect such delays so I took the time to read.

At the start of second period, the principal arrived on the final bus with the remainder of the students.  After a brief assembly, I held about 10 minutes of second period and about 20 minutes of third period.  Despite the fact that I taught for about a half hour, I was exhausted and feeling somewhat in despair.  Other than students chattering to each other in Marshallese, all of my classes were silent.  Nobody would so much as nod their head to the questions I asked and everyone silently refused to participate in the simple icebreaker activity I had planned. For my final class period, I held class for a bit over 30 minutes which felt like an eternity.  Most of the students stared at me as if they had no idea what I was talking about, which they may not have.  This is exactly what has been creating my confusion and elevating my stress- not knowing if the students do not understand what I am saying, whether they don't like my activities and don't want to participate or whether they are just shy because they are new to the school.  I'm guessing and hoping that the explanation is the latter.  Also hoping that tomorrow and the following days get easier as I get used to teaching, establish a routine, get to know my students and their abilities and as they become more comfortable in the classroom and with me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Arrival at Paradise: The Island of Gugeegue

As a volunteer with the World Teach program, I will be spending the following year on the gorgeous island of Gugeegue.  Gugeegue is connected to Ebeye, the second largest island of the Marshall Islands and, by far, the most densely populated- with approximately 15,000 people residing in 1 square mile!  Gugeegue and Ebeye are connected by a 5 mile causeway and are part of the Kwajalein Atoll (the largest atoll in the world).  Gugeegue is quite a small island, I was easily able to navigate the entire island.  It took about 20 minutes to walk the length of the island and no longer than a minute and a half to walk across.

Along the causeway from Ebeye to Gugeegue

My room

Sunset from the dock behind my apt

Although my surroundings are beautiful and living situation has exceeded any of my expectations, the educational challenges here are grand and my work will not be easy.  I hope that I may be of assistance in the classroom and community and would like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to come here in the first place! 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

(Near) Death by Coconut

Luckily, our second day here was a Sunday, the day of rest.  Cultural norms determine that minimal activity is to be performed on this day.  We spent most of the day eating, reading, walking, listening to music and talking.  In the morning, Val and I decided to take a walk down the coral beach of the lagoon and read on a sandy patch.  Lured by the beautiful warm water and gorgeous view, I set down my book to my left, water bottle to my right, shoes by my feet and walked to the water.  I stood peacefully in the warm water attempting to register the idea that this unbelievably picturesque surrounding was my new home.  After about 20 minutes, Val ran up to me and told me that her reading had been interrupted by the loud thud of coconuts falling right beside her.  I turned around to see two plump coconuts sitting in the sand directly between my book, water bottle and shoes- literally within the sand print of where I had been sitting.  I’ve definitely learned my lesson: always look up before sitting down.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Arriving at Majuro & Life in Ajeltake

After a calm night in LA and wild night in Honolulu, we (all 32 of us) have arrived on the other side of the world. We took a four-hour plane ride, leaving Hawaii at 7am on Saturday and landing in the Marshall Islands at 11am on Sunday (we are 17 hours ahead of the US).  As our plane descended, I nervously peered out the window, looking at the water that we were feet away from landing in.  We couldn’t tell where the lagoon water left off and ocean water began; land was absolutely nowhere to be seen.  Moments later, to our great relief, we felt the wheels hit the ground.  We had landed in Majuro, the capital island of the Marshall Islands- a place that many people have never even heard of. 

About an hour later, we arrived at our residence for the next month; a bright purple elementary school in the town of Ajeltake.  We chose our sleeping rooms, “Jikinkiki” in Marshallese, I somehow ended up in the least populated room.  We were introduced to the bathrooms and taught how to flush the toilets manually.  The trick is to pour a bucket of water in quickly enough to make the toilet flush but not so quickly that water pours out in, on and around the toilet.  Never did I think I’d be so excited to successfully flush a toilet.  We were also introduced to bucket showers, which involves trash cans full of rain water from the water catchment, small buckets to scoop the water into larger buckets that we take into a tarp surrounded wooden frame and pour on ourselves. After sweating profusely induced by a long day in the heat (covered in sunscreen and bug spray), I greatly enjoy this method of showering.  I take my daily shower around sunset, enjoying the beautiful sky and swaying palm trees overhead.  Life is good J

Majuro Airport

View across the street from our home (Ajeltake Elementary School)

My sleeping quarters during orientation