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.

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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.

Share, Please!

Last weekend, one of the pastors of the church I go to was telling me about a book he is reading on Christian theology.  The book explained how religious practices often come before beliefs in peoples’ lives, meaning that they go through the actions of religious practices and then connect them to beliefs instead of practicing according to belief.  This means that we preach what we practice, instead of the other way around.

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The Catholic church in Rabat

This certainly holds true in my own personal path to faith.  I started by going through the motions of being Christian, such as attending church and getting involved in church activities, before actually becoming Christian.  After a while of acting like a believer, I began to realize that I did actually believe.  Some of what led me to that point was that I enjoyed the practice of the religion even without the belief, but then realized that believing was an extension of those practices, and in return made them much more meaningful.

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The Orthodox church in Rabat

This is also interesting from the point of view of a teacher.  Children may not support their actions with belief until later ages, but they can get to that point by practicing a certain action.  For example, maybe it takes many years of being told to share before a child comes to believe that sharing truly is the right thing to do.  But hopefully after a year of “share, please!” multiple times every single day, my students will start to think that it’s a good idea.

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Sacre Coeur, the Catholic church in Casablanca

To give another personal example, I was brought up vegetarian, although it was my sister who had qualms with eating meat.  Once I reached high school, I started to think about why I didn’t eat meat, and realized that I believed that it is healthier, more economical, and kinder to animals not to eat meat.  It’s true that I am now an omnivore, but I still believe that it is better not to eat too much meat, and much prefer to cook vegetarian meals for myself.

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We shared some bites.

The idea that practices come before beliefs shows us that a lot of what we believe now is not based on what we decided to believe, but on what we were taught to do by our parents, teachers, and mentors.  I find this encouraging as a teacher, as I hope that after telling my kids every single day to throw out their own trash and eat their vegetables, they will grow up to believe that they should be independent, tidy, and health-conscious.  It could also be seen from the opposite perspective; many conflicts begin because people have clashing fundamental beliefs.  I guess my objective as a teacher is to figure out which practices lead to which beliefs and make a point of instituting those in my class.  Because everything really is much better when shared!

Learning Language like a Three-Year-Old

I find myself taking a lot of lessons from kindergarteners, and language learning is one of them.  I don’t think that adults are necessarily much worse language learners than kids, but we do have several disadvantages:

  • Kids who learn foreign languages usually study for many years, including being fully immersed
  • Kids are free when they speak; they are not inhibited by feeling self-conscious
  • When one learns a language at a young age, it is usually done through immersion in conversation and by learning from everyday situations, books, and interactions, instead of from grammar lessons and lectures
  • Children who are in a sink-or-swim situation are very motivated; for example they might have to learn a language to succeed in school or make friends

I took a French class in the fall and felt that I learned very little from it.  I was really disappointed for a while, until I realized that the reason why I got so little from the class was because I learned so much French elsewhere.  So I’ve decided not to continue with lessons, because I want to learn French like a kindergartener.  However, since I cannot quite put myself in that situation, and because I have the benefit of another 20 years of life, I am going to try to expedite the process.

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Here I am, about to go to kindergarten.

I don’t have many years just for learning French, but I do have plenty of opportunities for immersion (and to put myself in sink-or-swim situations!), and I can choose my own songs, books, and movies to move myself forward.  I also have the benefit of having studied other languages and understanding grammar.  At the moment, I have decided to focus on which tenses people use when they talk so that I can improve how I conjugate verbs.  So that is my plan of how to learn from my students, but also take advantage of the fact that I am not three.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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!

I am the Least in my Father’s House!

And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?  And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. (Judges 6:14-15 KJV)

Last Sunday the sermon at church centered on the above passage, which describes Gideon and his doubt that he can succeed because he is the smallest in his family.  It was about the importance of not comparing oneself to others, but instead using the strength you have.  I am frequently guilty of comparing myself, whether it concerns grades, appearance, friendships, or career success.  I know that I often feel better or worse about myself depending on how I compare with the people around me.  These past couple of weeks, I have thought (or worried) about whether or not I will be a good teacher this year compared to the others.  I am the youngest teacher currently at the school, and probably the least experienced, since I am one of few without an education degree.  In addition to that I worry about my career path in general; I don’t want to be a teacher long-term, which is very different from most of the other employees.

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 I am content with the fact that this Kentucky Redwings hat looks better on Loic.

But instead of comparing ourselves to others, we have to be the best we can be, because if we are confident in ourselves, we have no need to compete with other people.  I should not worry that I am the least experienced; I should concentrate on being the best teacher I can, and improve from there.   What matters is that I chose this path because I was confident that I wanted to go to Morocco, to work with a diverse group of people, to gain experience as a leader and teacher, to have a positive first work experience, and to increase my language skills.  What other people choose to do is certainly interesting to me, but I should be confident enough in myself that I do not resort to comparing.  Maybe that Kentucky Redwings hat isn’t my style, but I should remember that I have had quite a bit of success when it comes to modeling my mother’s knit hats.