When I Grow up I Want to be a Polyglot

As I mentioned in a previous post, next year we are going to be living in the U.S.  I’m doing a masters in clinical social work with a specialization in trauma counseling and refugee issues.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know how important these issues are to me. I have already chosen my classes, and I am in the process of finding a field placement to start in September.  Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I think, if it were next year already, I’d be on my way to learn about human behavior or to meet trauma patients!  I’m excited about it.
During these last few months, I am trying to enjoy the things I’ll miss about Morocco (like pomegranates), and to prepare for next year.  One thing I’ve been doing is studying Spanish at the local Instituto Cervantes.  I studied Spanish in school, but I want to be at a level where I’m comfortable having a conversation or giving information, as I think that will be really useful as a social worker in the U.S.  I’m also enjoying the opportunity to study another language now that I have more language learning tools under my belt.  Here are some things I’ve learned from studying French (more info on that process here) and from teaching English.
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I hope I am going in the right direction.

  • There is no reason to be embarrassed about making mistakes.  When I was learning French, I felt like it was like riding a roller coaster because I would get so emotional about successes and failures.  It might be easy to worry whether my fellow students like me or think I’m smart, but it is more important for me to practice speaking Spanish than to not say something stupid in front of a group of people I don’t know that well.
  • Motivation is perhaps the most important factor in language learning.  Learning a new language takes time, so it is crucial to be dedicated and to put in time studying, listening to music, reading, and reviewing.  Three hours a week of class isn’t enough for anyone to learn a language, so it is really up to the student to learn or not.
  • Personally, I study best alone.  I think everyone needs to find how they learn best, and I make the most progress reading and doing exercises by myself.  I love to read, so finding books I like makes a huge difference for me.
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I would like to study on this lovely rooftop in Rabat.

  • You don’t need to find a special method or spend a lot of money to learn a language.  I find that one of the best ways to practice is just to try to describe a situation in my head in Spanish while I’m walking to work.  For example, I’ll imagine that my teacher might ask me what I did last weekend, and I’ll go through my answer in my head.  Once I get a chance, I’ll look up whichever words I wanted to use but didn’t know.  This is a good way to expand useful vocabulary.
  • Finally, language learning is a lot of fun.  Once I got to the point in French where I was no longer translating in my head but instead was just coming up with what I wanted to say, it started to be so much fun to speak in French.  Once I realized that I could read novels or watch movies in French and enjoy them, a new world of culture, literature, film, and friendships opened up to me.  I can’t wait to have the same experience with Spanish!
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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.

My Own Report Card

I just gave out report cards to my students to track their progress in their first semester of school.  I don’t think anyone is going to give me a grade on what I’ve learned this fall and on my adjustment to post-college life, but I wrote notes for a final essay anyway.  Here is what I have learned in the first semester of my freshman year of life.

  • Everything costs money (except walking).  This is a lot less of a problem if you are getting a regular paycheck.
  • Working 40+ hours a week is really tiring – but it makes you truly appreciate the weekends.
  • Staying healthy takes time (time to exercise, rest, form positive social groups, and buy, chop, wash, and cook vegetables)
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    These flowers are healthy.

  • I looooove to cook.  I like using seasonal vegetables, I like making up recipes, and I like baking bread.  I don’t, however, like following recipes or instructions.
  • I am Christian.  I was a bit confused about what I believed throughout college, so it’s nice to have figured this out.
  • It is really nice to have Christian coworkers because you never have to defend your beliefs.  However, I think it is also nice to have friends of other religions.
  • I love learning languages.  I think Standard Arabic is one of the most beautiful languages, and I also really like speaking French.
  • My sister is really cool.  I also knew that already, but in this past year we’ve had really good trips to visit each other abroad.
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We also take super cool pictures of ourselves.

    • I’m really thankful to have a roommate.  I like being alone sometimes, but I much prefer to be alone together.
    • I really like to run, and feel a lot better about everything after running.  I already knew this, but the fact that I’ve been able to continue to run regularly has been wonderful.
    • I need to complain more.  My roommate complained to anyone who would listen about how cold our apartment is, and someone anonymously gave her a huge comforter.  I, however, continued to suffer silently.
    • I’m never going to be an amazing singer, even though I do enjoy singing.  That’s okay, I guess.
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    Who wouldn’t want to be able to sing like these guys? They’re certainly enjoying it.

  • I like listening to stories from my students, whether they are adults or kindergarteners.  I don’t really like disciplining them though, so I think I am best suited to working with small groups.
  • I really like Morocco.  I like my friends here, I like the tram, I like my church, I like the ocean, I like the stores on my street, I like the architecture, and I like avocado juice.  I am very happy living here and do not want to leave, at least for a while.
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    Waiting for the tram isn’t so bad when it’s this sunny.

In three more days I’ll be on winter break, and in only one my mom will arrive!  I’ve got to rest up so that I’m ready for the second semester of my freshman year of life.

A Day in the Life

Perhaps after several weeks or months of reading my blog, you are beginning to want a more exact picture of my fabulous expat life. So here’s my daily schedule, and you can decide for yourself how fabulous you think it is.

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If we can go diving without water, do you think we could be fabulous without being expats?

The first thing I do each morning is drink Nescafe. Instant coffee may be uncool in the U.S., but I have to admit that I love it. It’s usually my main reason for getting out of bed in the morning (it’s getting harder and harder now that it’s nearly winter.). At 6:45am, I head to the bus to go to the school, at which point it is often still dark and the streets are only populated by men who went to the dawn prayer (I bet you they’re on their way back to bed). I teach from 7:15am until 3:30pm, though since I work with kids, a lot of that time is spent assisting my students as they eat, play, go to and from gym class, and hit each other with blocks (oh wait, we don’t do that….)

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This is what I see as I leave school every day (although it’s not usually this sunny at 5pm….)

At 3:30, I sometimes teach English to parents of children at the school, which is always a lot of fun.  And not just because the adults never hit each other; they also have really interesting stories, and I enjoy listening to them and thinking about how to help them improve their English. I get home between 5:00pm and 6:00pm, and usually prepare dinner right when I get home. And it is usually delicious, due to my cooking prowess.

Three nights a week I have French class for two hours, but I’m hoping to start going to French bible study soon in lieu of classes. I’m thinking that will be more efficient since I’ll get French immersion plus life guidance at the same time. Or rather, if I want the guidance, I’ll have to work really hard to understand the French! When I’m not in French class, I invent new foods (I’m too cool for recipes), use Skype, read, watch movies with friends, and work on my dear blog.

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This isn’t actually the church I go to, but it’s pretty cool anyway.

So there you have it!  What about you, fellow expats?  What are your daily lives like?  How does your host country affect your daily schedule? Are you able to continue doing the activities you enjoy?  What new activities have you found?

Teaching vs. Studying

Now that I have started my French classes, I am both a teacher and a student at the same time.  In fact, I’m teaching a language while studying another one, although in different contexts.  Kindergarteners and adults are pretty different populations to teach, but I’d say that some of my teacher experiences are helpful in my student experiences, and vice versa.

DSCF9358I thought I was done with all that studying! My dad’s knowing look in the background suggests that he knew I wasn’t.

Teaching young children is a lot about understanding their personalities and motivations.  How my class ends up progressing also depends on my own personality and on my style of teaching.  My students might get the same curriculum as my coworker’s students, but they’ll still learn different procedures and behavioral responses from being with me every day.  My French class is the same; our teacher led our first discussion on the interaction of men and women in Morocco because she is interested in feminism and politics, and it is clear that we are going to have to have opinions (in French) on those topics.  The first word she wrote on the board was “un misogyne,” a misogynist.  I didn’t write that one down…it doesn’t come up in conversation much for me, even in English.

IMG_3189This would be a nice place to be instead of being at work.

When I was a college student, I often had days where I really didn’t want to be in class.  As a teacher, I certainly also have those days, but it’s much less okay for me to show it.  If a teacher doesn’t feel like teaching, the whole class will struggle that day.  So I hope to come to my French classes with the same ambition and energy I have for the classes I teach.  Especially now that I know what it’s like to be on the other side!