Random things I’ve learned from teaching

A fun thing about being an ESL teacher is that you get to learn a lot of little details and facts from other people.  I get the opportunity to talk about politics, religion, culture, and also just daily routines and opinions about life in Morocco with my more advanced students.  Here are some completely random but interesting facts I’ve picked up.

On visas:

If someone who is not French marries a French citizen abroad, that person can acquire French nationality after four or five years through a local embassy, without ever stepping foot in France (if only Americans could do the same!)

Moroccans do not need visas to visit Turkey, so the combination of that and the popularity of Turkish soap operas make it one of the most popular countries for Moroccan tourists

On religion:

One reason why eating pork is forbidden in Islam and Judaism may be that pig meat spoils easily in the heat, since both religions have origins in hot climates.

In Islam, the day that each person will pass away is predetermined and cannot be changed (which is not the case in Christianity)

Completely random:

Drinking hot coffee actually makes your body colder, but drinking hot chocolate warms it up (as if I needed another reason to consume chocolate)

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But what if you eat chocolate with coffee?

There is no wage gap between men and women in Morocco – but that’s not to say that there aren’t more men in leadership positions.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country, just after independence.

Why We Do Not Want to Stay in Morocco

When I first came to Morocco nearly four years ago, it was love at first sight.  The weather was perfect, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and every day was an adventure.

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Beautiful rock formations in Oualidia

I thought my husband and I might stay long-term, to keep taking advantage of Morocco’s beautiful diversity of cultures.  I was so much more in love with Morocco than any of my colleagues, most of which I thought would leave after a year or two.  But as it turns out, my close friends from my first year will probably stay significantly longer than I will.  Here’s why:

  • There are not many job options outside teaching, which is not my career.  I have also worked part-time in two NGOs, but both were pretty shockingly disorganized.  I don’t think I ever attended a meeting that didn’t start at least an hour late.
  • Getting a visa is a yearly challenge, especially for Africans.  My first year, my employer did everything for me, so I never even knew how difficult it was.  These past two years, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble renewing my visa due to unhelpfulness both from my new employer and from the staff at the prefecture.  And my husband has been working for almost three years on a student visa because his employer doesn’t want to pay the fees for a foreigner’s contract.
  • It’s just really hard to walk down the street.  I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to work, but feel so much less lucky when men comment on my clothes or appearance, or especially when they try to follow me.  It’s better when I walk with my husband, except on the occasions when people (men) yell racial slurs at us.  And then there are the broken sidewalks….
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A surprisingly well-organized slum

  • The rising culture of materialism is exhausting.  Like any fast-developing country, Morocco has become more and more focused on material wealth.  The thing to do on the weekends is to go shopping, and having a car has become a status symbol.  I struggle to explain to my students that I don’t have a car because I like to walk, not because I can’t afford one, that I don’t eat at the most expensive restaurants because I actually like to cook, and that I want to become a social worker because I genuinely find that profession fascinating, not because I got rejected from programs in technology or finance.  My idea of a good career is one that I find rewarding, not necessarily one that pays a lot of money.
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This guy probably gets his hair done in a salon every week.

There are things I love about Morocco too; the community I’ve found here, the opportunities I’ve had to meet new people and learn new languages, and the chance to experience another way of life.  The ocean in Casablanca is beautiful, the vegetables are always fresh, and my husband and I have wonderful friends.  But there’s a time for everything, and I really feel like it’s time to find a place to live with more trees than cars, even if it is somewhere with cold winters and no pomegranates.

 

My English Class is like Casablanca at Rush Hour

Last night when I was being driven home from my church, our car got stuck in the middle of a traffic jam caused by five cars driving the wrong way through an intersection.  Everybody was honking and making wild gestures.  At one point a man got out of his car to yell at the driver in front of him, which only slowed everyone down because no one behind him could move.  Everybody was honking, swerving, and yelling all at the same time.  The stop light nearby changed to red and back to green again, totally irrelevant to what was actually happening on the street.

Everybody's going somewhere.

Everybody’s going somewhere.

This morning I taught my English class for young adults.  Since it was the last class of the week, I thought it would be fun to play a game.  I introduced a guessing game where one person would think of a food and the other students would ask a yes/no question to figure out what the food was.  My students’ desks were arranged in a circle, so I told them to ask the questions one by one in a circle.  It worked fine for the first round, but once all of the students understood the game, they stopped waiting their turns.  I would ask one student for a yes/no question, and three people across the room would be shouting out,

“Is it eggs?!”

“Rice!”

“It’s a fruit? A vegetable!”

The game quickly became chaos because before one student could answer the questions, someone else would have already shouted out the answer.  I stopped the game after a few rounds because it was just too much of everyone talking all at once to continue to manage.  I tried to slow them down and get them to go one by one, but even when I achieved calm moments, they didn’t last.  I felt like the stop light that no one was following.  Which makes me wonder; if we changed the way teachers and Moroccan schools manage their classes, would Moroccans be better drivers?

The Residency Battle

A few weeks ago, Obama made a huge step in immigration policy in the U.S.  He allowed some of those who have been “living in the shadows” to gain proper documentation, and plans to do so for 5 million immigrants.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t think that the U.S. is necessarily the land of opportunity.  But for those who are trying to make a life there, proper documentation is the first step to moving toward their dreams.

After having worked with refugees in the U.S., I am so thankful to to have certain privileges.  I have a strong passport that allows me to travel easily, I am a native English speaker and can find work teaching English despite not necessarily having all of the qualifications, and I come from a supportive and loving family who is there for me if I am in need.  I am lucky enough not to understand how challenging it is to not have these privileges.

This month, I’ve been struggling to apply for my Moroccan work visa.  First, my employers didn’t give me my work attestation, then when they gave it to me it was in the wrong language and took longer to legalize.  I spent weeks reminding my employers that I need those forms, that my old visa was about to expire, and that if I got any closer to the deadline, I’d have to leave the country.  When I finally did get all the forms I needed, it took me hours to turn them in because I needed an extra form from the police station to pardon how late I was.  They did not care at all that it was not my fault!  I finally managed to leave my documents and am now waiting three weeks to pick up the receipt that allows me to travel in and out of Morocco.  Thankfully, I had no immediate plans to leave the country, because I can’t until I get that paper.

Despite all the worry this caused me, I had the option of leaving the country to renew my visa, and I have a fiancé and a family ready to help me when I’m in need.  Despite how negligent Amideast was, I always had a safety net.  So even though Thanksgiving is over, I’m thankful for everything I have that allows me to remain safe, both physically and emotionally.  I’m also (sort of) thankful to have a better understanding of what it is like to be a migrant in Morocco (meaning, a migrant who is not taken care of by an American school), because I hope to make some difference in the lives of those who struggle the most in this country.  But really Amideast, get it together!

At least the weather here is beautiful!

At least the weather here is beautiful!

Happy Thanksgiving

Yesterday was my third Thanksgiving in Morocco.  I didn’t eat turkey, and spent most of the day trying to legalize the legalized copies of my work documents so that I can get residency, but it was still quite a good day.

In my morning class, I asked each student to say what they were thankful for.  The third student I asked said that she was thankful for her family, her friends, and for Teacher (that’s my name, apparently), because I am nice.  I thought it was really sweet and thanked her for saying that.  I continued on to the rest of my students, and every single one after her also claimed to be thankful for me…but I’m pretty sure it was just because they didn’t know how to say anything else.  Well, I’m thankful for their thankfulness, regardless of how genuine it might have been.

I invited a couple people over at the last minute for a (turkey-less) Thanksgiving dinner, and of course also made them say what they are thankful for.  Since I’ve been making so many people answer that question, here is my list:

-I am thankful for technology that lets us communicate with those near and far

-I am thankful for my church and for all of the support it provides; the aid it gives to migrants, the volunteer opportunities, and for the pastor who agreed to do the work of organizing our wedding

-I am of course thankful for my family, friends, and all of the opportunities and support I have in both my professional and personal life

-I am thankful for the fact that I can now start listening to Christmas music!

This is the only Christmas decoration I've got.

This is the only Christmas decoration I’ve got.

Update

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I haven’t forgotten my blog or my (very few) faithful readers.  For a while I didn’t have internet, then I didn’t have enough time.  Now I have both, so I’m back to blogging!

As I mentioned previously, I am no longer teaching kindergarten.  I am now teaching in a language center, which also gives me time to do what I really want to be doing, which is working with the organization at my church for refugees and migrants.  So far, this is going well, and I’ve had a chance to have a larger role.  My job has also been interesting; I teach teens, young adults, and adults.  It turns out the teens are actually the easiest of my classes, which I had not expected.  I am still engaged, and the wedding is planned for just a little more than 5 months from now.  I expect to be writing longer posts about all of those things, so stay tuned!

My daily life (just kidding!)

My daily life (just kidding!)

End of Year Returns

When I first took a job as a teacher, I was expecting to get work experience out of it, to save some money, and to learn about language acquisition. I have gotten all of those things out of it, but the greatest lessons I’ve learned are grace, forgiveness, and patience. Teaching preschool is a big challenge in giving love. First, you meet a group of children you don’t know, and their parents, who don’t necessarily like you or trust you. You give everything you can to these children; you serve them, teach them, love them, encourage them, and remain patient with them when they try their hardest to make your life difficult. You do what their parents tell you to do, even if they are not polite in giving those instructions. You do things you don’t want to do, like helping kids use the bathroom or punishing them for bad behavior.  But you also share wonderful moments with them, like learning new songs, discovering that they are able to write their own names, chasing them on the playground, and sharing jokes. You see them every single day, and come to know their every mood, desire, and weakness. You even might spend some idle moments watching them play and considering which one you would be willing to adopt if given the chance. You worry about their nutrition, and feel relieved when the picky eaters expand what they’ll eat. You get excited about new activities that you know they’ll enjoy, worry about them when they’re home sick, and give them a shoulder to cry on after they scrape their knees on the playground.  Some days they might cry when their maids or drivers come because they don’t want to leave class, and sometimes you might miss them when they’re absent from school.

And then at the end of the year, you have to say goodbye. You might see them around again next year, but chances are, they won’t really remember much about you after a little while.  I certainly remember very little of my preschool teachers, and I know that the students are so young that they will forget most of what has happened this year, even though it is the foundation for what they will learn for the rest of their lives.

I am not returning to teach kindergarten again next year, and I’m glad of it. It’s not what I want to do professionally, but I also can’t really imagine starting over another year with new students. I can’t really imagine going through that same process again, especially because I remember that at the beginning of the year (and even several months in), I felt like some of them were so hard for me to love, but now feel so attached to them.  One thing is for sure: when I have my own kids, I’m not letting them leave they house until they’re thirty.

How Long is Long Enough?

My workplace in Morocco primarily offers two year contracts, which for some is a dauntingly long amount of time, for some is just the right length to spend in one place before moving on to the next, and for a few people, two years becomes twenty.  I’ve been in this country now a total of a year and two months, but when I say that amount of time to those who ask, it doesn’t seem quite right to me.  I keep thinking, haven’t I been here longer?  When will I be able to cite an impressive number of years, and to be accepted as a seasoned inhabitant of Morocco?

We had to have two parties just to figure out which kind of cake is best.

We had to have two parties just to figure out which kind of cake is best (it’s the strawberry).

It seems to be very popular to teach for two years in one country and then move to another, experiencing new cultures with every move, but always having the same type of teaching job.  I sort of understand this from having moved between schools, programs, and locations several times during college, but am also confused by the idea of moving around so much.  One year feels to me like just enough time to find out what I want to be able to do here, but not enough time to actually do those things…especially when many of them run on “Moroccan time.”  This is technically my second time in Morocco, and my two experiences here (Ifrane and Casablanca) have been totally different, which makes me think that there are yet more experiences to had.

I went to the Hassan II mosque at least three times before realizing that the brochure is incorrect - it is not built on the water, it is built next to the water.  I had been imagining some hidden room with a glass floor!

I went to the Hassan II mosque at least three times before realizing that the brochure is incorrect – it is not built on the water, it is built next to the water. I had been imagining some hidden room with a glass floor!

In the past month, a lot of things have changed (for the better!) in my personal life and my career.  If changes keep happening at this rate, I’ll have to keep adding on to those two years just to fit it all in.

Empty or Full

The other day, I was reading a travel blog written by one of my coworkers.  She had visited both Sacre Coeur and the Hassan II Mosque in one day, and was commenting on how grand they both are.

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The blog entry detailed how beautiful the two structures are, although the cathedral is no longer used and is falling apart.  It ended by saying that it is a shame that the mosque is more elaborate and impressive despite being for an “empty religion.”  After many Islamic studies courses in college, I find this statement surprising and ignorant, especially coming from someone who chose to work and live in a Muslim country with students and coworkers of different faiths. Although I doubt she reads my blog, I am going to tell you, my dear readers, some fascinating things about the Islamic tradition.

Poetry and music – You’ve probably heard of Rumi, the Persian poet.  If you haven’t, look him up!  His poems remind me of the book of psalms; a lot of them sound like love songs, but are about God instead of a man or woman.

Language – The Quran is written in classical Arabic, which is a beautiful and complex language. Even native Arabic speakers have to study it for many years to grasp its many rules and structures, but those who can truly speak or write it can produce wonderful songs, stories, and poetry.

Islamic law – Many scholars have worked together to produce Islamic law and the correct sayings of the prophet.  I think it is amazing that one can read exactly what the prophet said, along with who reported what he said, when it happened, and where, and that we can trust that this information was researched for years.

Science and math – The schedule of daily prayers is very complex.  It involves finding the exact times the sun rises, sets, and is at it’s highest every day.  I also find it interesting that there are set periods of time in which to pray. Many Christians set aside a certain time of the day for prayer and reflection so as to make sure to stay on track, which is much the same idea, though less rigid.

Some Islamic art on display in Londo

Some Islamic art on display in London

I firmly believe that one can appreciate the gifts given to us by other religions while still being steadfast in our own beliefs.  And you never know; you might just learn something new about your own traditions and values by learning about those of others!

Shhhhh!!

As a teacher of both kindergarteners and adults, I see both ends of the spectrum of students.  Here in Morocco, both ages of students tend to be quite talkative, since speaking a lot is acceptable in Moroccan culture.  For my different classes, the effect of this cultural practice is totally different because I tend to want the adult language students to talk but the kindergarteners to be quieter.  When I am teaching adult ESL, being with a group of people from very talkative cultures makes my job easy because I never have to encourage students.  With my young students, I’m also glad to hear them practicing English, but feel like I have to repeat myself millions of times every day…they just never stop talking!

As a very quiet person, having to talk all day is completely exhausting.  For my first few months of working as a teacher, I felt like I always had such a strong desire to just be alone.  I was worried that this was a sign that I was on the brink of becoming depressed.  But then one night, as I was staying up later than my roommate so that I could have a couple hours of alone time (thankfully she goes to sleep pretty early!), I found some articles on introversion on the internet that explained what might be going on.  If you believe what you read on the internet, which I do, then you can read about how extroverts recharge themselves by talking and processing what is going on by sharing it with others.  Introverts, on the other hand, process within themselves, and need to spend a certain amount of time alone so that they can recharge their minds and emotions.  Perhaps the fact that I don’t have this time is part of what is tiring me out.  When I was a student, I slept about an hour less than I do now, exercised a bit more, spent more time working or focused, and was constantly a little bit worried about things like impending finals, my thesis, graduating, and finding a job.  However, I did a lot of these things alone.  I spent long hours in libraries and coffee shops, with the freedom to occasionally let my mind wander.  Of course, there were times when being a student was very lonely, but I never found it to be exhausting.  I think that may have been because I had so much more time to process things in my own introverted way.

I also recently came across this TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4 This talk summarizes Susan Cain’s argument in her book Quiet, that our society is set up for extroverts to succeed, and often neglects even the most intelligent introverts.  Offices and classrooms are set up so that those who talk the most do the best, even if they are not putting thought into their work.  She writes that introverts tend to be very thoughtful and observant, but don’t like to share those observations with large groups of people.  Her idea is that introverts should be confident in their style of interaction and should play to their strengths by expressing themselves in writing or in small groups instead of pretending to be extroverts, or feeling like there is something wrong with their disposition.

For while I’m a teacher, there’s not much I can do about how exhausting I find my job to be.  But perhaps I can find ways to get around this by being aware that quiet is something I need, even if others don’t.  And when it comes to sharing my ideas, I know I’m not going to feel comfortable saying them to a crowded staff room or big bible study group, especially if I don’t know each person who is there.  I know I should push myself occasionally to step out of my introverted nature and to share, but I can also use my own ways to express myself.  For example, I’ll keep writing on this blog, a nice quiet and thoughtful way to share what I’ve been thinking.  Because according to Susan Cain,  “Everyone shines, given the right lighting.” 
Sometimes we can express ourselves using big machinery.

Sometimes we can shine while using big machinery.