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Vantage Points

July 9, 2011 4 comments

    So, I haven’t added much to this blog lately. I’ll admit, I’m not totally invested in it just yet…not that it really matters, as I’m pretty sure there are only two people paying attention to my infant blog experiment (thanks Mom and Dad).
    I’ve only got about two weeks left in Nepal, so I’m going to add as much as I can in that time. Here’s a bit of reflection that I scribbled down sometime after my first few weeks volunteering at the school.
    Excerpt from my journal, May 22nd, 2011:

    I’ve been in Nepal nearly a month now. My job is the main focus of my time here. The school, Sunrise English Boarding School, is an interesting place. It feels like an incredibly relaxed atmosphere to me. No one looks over my shoulder…the principle more or less just showed me where the classrooms are and left me to it. I feel a lovely sense of freedom as far as my lessons are concerned (or at least I would, if I had more teaching materials). They trust me to use my time efficiently, and I’m doing my best to make these three months a great learning experience for my students.

    The classes are sometimes simple to teach, and sometimes totally excruciating. I have no books, no paper, no coloring pencils, no flashcards, no tape, no glue, no scissors, often no sanity. My creativity, or my “teacher-magic,” is starting to get stretch marks. Some of my classes are small, with older children who require few props and/or supervision. Other classes are quite large, with 20 or more young students, and they are…unruly. Nepali children are often amazingly polite, but get a whole lot of them in a classroom, and they don’t seem to understand that shouting and giving each other a slap or two with a notebook is not ideal behavior. I’ve got one little girl in my youngest class that yells strings of Nepali into my face furiously and hides the chalkboard eraser. Every day. To use the parlance of our times, WTF?

    Mostly, though, the kids are completely endearing. The first time I showed them some National Geographic magazines, the response was of exuberant appreciation. “Miss, give the book one more time, PLEASE!” was a sentence I heard over and over. Some flipped through a magazine intently with quick, rough flicks, and some slowly traced their fingertips over the glossy images on each page…but all of them were intrigued by the beautiful photography. I think they’re a bit intellectually starved. There’s not much of the proverbial fuel-for-the-fire here. Nepali kids are so easily entertained that it makes my job as a teacher a bit easier, but it also makes my bleeding heart even softer.

    I have recurring thoughts of adopting a little dark-eyed Nepali child, and if I did I would make sure that child had a life chock full of…I don’t know, STUFF. Kids need trips to museums, sticky or spicy foreign foods, music, board games, finger paints, vast sheets of white paper and boxes of markers and crayons, books books BOOKS…how else can they explore their blossoming abilities, discover what inspiration feels like, and get a taste of the bigger world outside their own? Nepali kids are missing out. I want to take them all back to my hometown, let them walk on the beach and smell the air. I want them all to know the relaxed sort of pleasure that is a rainy afternoon spent in a library with the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. I guess this is partially my American arrogance, but I want to be able to magically give them all the childhood that I had, the enriching, well-rounded childhood that everyone would have if the world we live in was utopian.

    I’m trying to see these kids, and their lives, as they are. I know I’m looking at things from a vantage point made up of my own life experiences…but I feel that part of my job is to leave that vantage point, and the judgments and perceptions that come with it, behind. I’m not sure it’s even possible, but it seems necessary in order to be fair. Maybe Nepal has its own versions of inspirations and outlets for a child’s mind…but I think not. I’m not able to see them from where I am.

    My job seems huge to me, important, and a task of Herculean proportions. A day at a time, a class at a time, an exercise at a time…but really, how do you teach creativity? How do you pump some lifeblood into an atrophied imagination?

…More on this later…*sigh of frustration*

Thanks for reading 🙂

Golden Tickets

May 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m a girl who can always rely on her parents for a bit of sage advice.  The saying, “Variety is the spice of life,” is a great favorite of my mom’s.  “Travel,” my dad tells me, “You’re at a place in life where you can have adventures, so hey, why not?”  One of their most valuable lessons, one that I’ve taken to soul and reached for each day of my adult life is this:  Find something you LOVE to do, and figure out a way of making money at it.  Can I call this the “American Dream” of my generation?  Is that an accurate way to think of it?  I’m aware of this sentiment everywhere now…nearly everyone I know wants a job that is somehow MORE than a job.  A bigger paycheck isn’t necessarily the endgame anymore.  A way of life, a calling, a passion…these are what we’re searching the want ads for, going to college for.

I feel that I’ve been a traveler my whole life.  When I was younger it was my imagination, fueled by plenty of books, which took me to distant, foreign lands.  These days, I’m slowly realizing my dream of seeing the world in a more physical sense. 

Teaching.  That’s the answer for me.  How to travel everywhere, and somehow make enough money to sustain those travels?  Teaching English as a second/foreign language has been my golden ticket, as it has for many others with similar desires.  About a year after graduating from university, I was perusing the job listings on Craigslist.  I saw an ad for a recruiting agency, looking for Americans interested in teaching in South Korea.  That was it, I saw a path materialize in front of me, and all I needed were the balls to step onto that path.  Moving to Seoul by myself and starting a career that I had no experience in was the most difficult transition of my life.  I thought about quitting, I sobbed into my cheap, squishy Korean pillow every night, and I dreaded going to work (I had a supervisor who looked at me as if I were snot).  But, eventually I acclimated.  I acclimated, and then I thrived.

 I spent a year in Korea, travelled to Tokyo, Xi’an and Beijing, Bangkok, and North Korea, had a more magically enriching year than I would have thought possible, and then moved on.  I spent the summer after that in Madrid, teaching and backpacking.  I saw Barcelona, Paris, and Lisbon.  Later on I moved to Hong Kong, and taught there for a year, visiting Bangkok again, and Macau.  Then it was back to Korea for another year, and from Korea to my current situation…Nepal!

I’ve spent about four years on the move now, and with each year teaching has become more and more important to me.  I can almost, almost say that my enjoyment of sharing knowledge has transcended the pleasure of travel.  I have a few sub-par teaching days, of course…moments when I want to flick a disrespectful kid on the nose and yell, “What’s your problem, punk?!”  But, for the most part, I love what I do.  We can put that in capitals: I L.O.V.E. what I do.  Mom and Dad, who always say “life is short, so make the most of it,” are happy that I’ve found so much satisfaction and joy in my work.

Nepal is a series of firsts for me.  It’s my first time in a developing country, my first time doing full-time volunteer work, and my first time teaching truly eager, engaged kids.  Over the past couple years I’ve been developing long term career goals.  I want to bring education to places that have a great need of it, and help provide opportunities to children and young adults who might otherwise not have them.  I want to make a difference…don’t we all, in one way or another?

I’m here in Kathmandu with a great organization called VCAP Nepal.  Anyone who is interested can read up on them at http://volunteer-in-nepal.org.  I’ve committed to teaching English here for three months, and I’m already halfway through that period of time.  This blog is going to be an account of my final six weeks here, my daily life, my experiences at the school where I work, and my fundraising struggles.  This will also go beyond my time here, to when I return to the States and continue my involvement with VCAP as best I can from there.  I hope at least a few of you find something of interest here, feel free to stick around for the ride…

Thanks for reading!

Sarah