Monday, November 30, 2015

Love and Teaching in Brazil

When you're a teacher, you mark your time in chunks...80 minute class periods, 5 day weeks, 9 week quarters, 2 always seems like time flies!  It's hard to believe we've been in Brazil 4 months already and that we are 2 weeks away from Christmas--bring on that loooooong break, baby--I'm ready!

Adjusting to cultures requires a tremendous amount of flexibility in every aspect of your life, both professional and personal.  What to hang on to, what to let go, when to go with the flow, when to stick to your guns.  It's exhausting, more than you sometimes realize.

One of the more interesting aspects of teaching is adapting to the culture as it plays out in school. We are heavily influenced by our host country.  This is especially true here, where our students are predominantly Brazilian.  Our school is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year, which means we have 2nd and 3rd generation students here.  We also run a Brazilian studies/diploma program as well as the IB and standard diploma, so we have a large number of host country teachers as well.  As an international school we have our own culture, but the Brazilian influence is much stronger here than a host country culture might be in other schools.  Before we arrived we were "warned" about the very social, warm, and interactive nature of Brazilians--exhibited by both parents and students.  The principal told us that, compared to our experiences in China, we might find ourselves rethinking class management and instruction in light of the personality of the Brazilians.

So true!  Brazilians are warm, friendly, sociable, and love to talk...from the oldest to the youngest. And, of course, that plays out at school, where our students are very social and chatty...all through the day.  Any classroom management, discipline, encouragement, and relationship building strategies that you have developed need to be rethought and tailored to the population of students you're working with.  That part about when to flex, when to stick to your guns?  Much more challenging, but (in some ways) much more important in an overseas setting.

One of the biggest ah-has has been the idea of students liking you as a teacher.  Of course we want to be liked, but I think my experiences would be have more along the lines of building positive supportive relationships, understanding students, earning their respect, etc.  When all of those are in place, along with good teaching, it's very likely that students do like their teacher.  Here, having students like you and having them feel like you like them comes almost before the other things.  I've never had to think about working to have my students like me in that way before.  I wondered if it would feel like pandering for a superficial "friend-y" feeling and would that come at the expense of being able to really get students to push themselves?

Turns out that it hasn't worked like that.  It's definitely required a shift, not for the worst, but just different, a way that works here, but may not in other places.  It's a set of skills that have to be adapted to be a teacher that moves from country to country.   I used to be surprised at the physical contact between students and teachers, something I've never experienced before (and what would certainly never be OK in the States) but when my middle school students started to hug me, I think I realized I've hit a milestone in my adjustment to my teaching life in Brazil.  I've come to enjoy that aspect of of getting to know my students!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Asante Sana, Tanzania

I've been thinking about Tanzania a lot lately.  A friend and her daughter have just moved to Dar es Salaam and I'm loving reading about her stories of wonder and bureaucracy, knowing that there are untold amounts of each in her future!  I also just finished reading about Beryl Markham and her growing up in Kenya.  I have loved Isak Dinesen's "Out of Africa" and worshipped at the foot her house outside of Nairobi when we visited, but I think I like this book more...I loved seeing Karen Blixen, Bror, and Denys Finch Hatten from another point of view.  I also love the images of Africa--I want so much to be so taken with a place that I could endure almost anything, but I know I would be more like Beryl's mother, back to the "real world" after a couple of years! I also marvel at the refinement and culture that seemed to exist--the furniture, the drinks, the meals, the clothes--that existed back then.

I am so thankful in so many ways for having the privilege of living in Tanzania.  I think the first experience overseas for people tends to really be the one that "sticks" and that's definitely true for me. Life there is hard and beautiful and kind and frustrating and blessed.  On the outside, I don't look different, but I have revisited people and places and events over and over in my mind and so many of my decisions and attitudes have been influenced by my time there.  One of the biggest blessings is that our first overseas experience was in Tanzania.  Starting there so alone, the challenges of water and electricity and inefficiency, the beauty of community and acceptance--I learned I didn't have endure things--I absorbed them into my life until they felt routine.  I could always look around when things felt bad and see people struggling with so much more, or see friends who had lived through so much more in their time in Tanzania--then I knew I could manage it, too.

As we've moved on to China, Saudi, and now Brazil, I've encountered people who have considered these places hardships, who have experienced real struggles adapting to their overseas lives.  I am so grateful that Tanzania was our first overseas experience.  Nothing I've experienced has been as difficult as our first months settling in there.  No hot water in our apartment?  I had no water in Tanzania when our line was diverted and our pump went out.  No recognizable foods in the grocery store?  No processed foods in Tanzania at all!   Red tape?  I think I've managed to live in countries that have raised it to an art form!  We've moved on to places that are easier, for sure.  But I will never forget the school, the church, the rugby club, and the people that embraced us during our time in Arusha.  We have been changed--for good.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Welcome to Sao Paulo!

As most of you know, we have moved on from Saudi to Sao Paulo, Brazil.  We are always grateful for the opportunities and experiences we have, but it was no secret that Saudi was not a good fit for us.  We had interviewed with the Graded School before and were impressed with their mission and their ethos...this time, they were equally impressed with us as well!  We've just finished 2 intense weeks of inservice and 2 days of school.  Graded has a very strong student learning-centered focus that we are loving, a well-organized curriculum with lots of time and conversations around planning and design, a strong emphasis on technology, and a very friendly welcoming staff.  It reminds us a lot of our school in China, but a bit less "driven" in its feeling.  It's an outdoor campus with beautiful green spaces and a park-like feeling.  It's smack in the city, as you can see!  It's also very Brazilian--we have a Brazilian track and since the school is so old (95 years) we have 2nd and 3rd generation students here.  There is a definite Brazilian/Portuguese flavor to the school!

Sao Paulo:  Sao Paulo is the biggest city in the southern hemisphere and about the size of Beijing (about 24 million people).  You can't tell from this air photo, but there is nothing flat about SP.  The whole city is tucked up in and between hills so EVERYTHING is up and down.  The city is known for crime so we do need to be very careful when we go out and about.  It's also known for being VERY expensive and that is true.  EVERYTHING costs A LOT here...and the dollar has fallen quite a bit, even since we signed on back in December, so we are making less than we had expected.  For now we are on the Greek-style austerity plan!

We haven't been out too much as we've been so busy with starting up work, but Sao Paulo is very pretty.  Very lush and tropical but without the humidity (at least not yet).  It's winter here, but the "winter" is very tolerable....although there's no AC or heat in buildings, so layering is the way to go.

Sao Paulo is also very, very diverse.  It has the largest concentration of Italians and Japanese outside of their respective countries.  People have migrated here from around the world, and it shows.  After living in very homogenous cultures, it's a wonderful change to be a part of such diversity.  At the school, however, Portuguese rules.  There is virtually no English in Sao Paulo and no one speaks English.  Learning Portuguese here, then, will be a necessity as a matter of survival.  If you think it's like Spanish, guess again--it's not.  Spanish speakers here have some more success navigating life, but even they say that learning Portuguese is not an option here--it's required!

The Caipirinha--with passion fruit!
Life:  It's Latin--very social, relaxed, always time to relax. The food is great--we get free lunches at school and it's all homemade on site.  Lots of rice and beans, lots of meat and fish...away from school, lots of cheese and sausages ala Italy, lots of wine and beer.  No American products really, and nothing in English, so shopping is quite the adventure right now!  We can't wait to go exploring--although Cameron has made us promise not to see anything interesting until he gets here.  In a city this big, there will be lots to see once we get our house in order right here in SP!

Life is good as always--every new post bring new challenges and new blessings.  We are adjusting to apartment life and the reality of living on a strict daily budget in order to do the things we want to do.  We are a part of a dynamic school that has everything in order the way it should be and we are energized by that.  Noah and Ava bear the largest brunt of the change, having to resettle and find themselves socially and academically and that is always so hard to watch.  There wasn't much to say about Saudi, but stay tuned for the adventures we'll have in Sao Paulo!

Friday, February 21, 2014

No-No, Valentine!

No Valentine's Day in Iraq, either.
On February 14th we had Friendship Day at our school.  Students could pay 10SR for the privilege of not wearing their uniform that day (the money goes to charity) and were decked out in reds and pinks.  It's so strange to see them all out of uniform, and some little ones (or their parents) took full advantage and decked themselves out in fancy dresses and styled hair.

Valentine's Day is forbidden here.  Islamic code strictly prohibits any public display of affection between sexes is completely taboo and men and women are completely segregated (which is why Mark could place his falafel order inside a street shop, but I had to give my order through a window because I wasn't allowed inside).  The muttawa (or religious police, which are officially known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) patrolled the shops for red roses, heart-shaped decorations or gifts, and Valentine's chocolates.  Of course, I'm sure shopkeepers and shoppers probably found a way around the ban--or decamped to Bahrain where life is not so restrictive!

I have never been a huge fan of Valentine's Day, except for conversation hearts!  It really is a manufactured commercial attempt to sell stuff and I probably would not have even noticed that there was nothing missing, had I not heard about the ban.  Just one more quirk of life overseas!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

International Day at DBGS

International Day is always fun.  Even though I've learned how deeply culture runs in our bones, it's always fun to have days where you get to show off your traditional clothing and eat good food!  One of the benefits of working with the little ones is that they are so enthusiastic and adorable!

From Sudan--wearing the clothes for prayers.


The big parade--Turkey and Egypt are leading.

The Welsh daffodils are in the lead.

Australia (!) and China

Another Egyptian!


Saturday, November 09, 2013

I Saw God's Gracious Face in Each of Your Smiles

St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, IA is where Mark's brother and family attend church.  It is a big, beautiful, busy congregation and they were a wonderful support for Mark during our time there. This article is in their current newsletter.

Mark and Carla Hillman left their long-held jobs in education in Minnesota, and packed up their three kids to move half-way around the world.

They went to build an orphanage in Tanzania. They went to China and worked with kids there, too. Now, the Hillman family is in the process of moving to Saudi Arabia.

But there was an unexpected stop along the way – five months in the Quad Cities at the home of Mark’s brother and sister-in-law, Steve and Jen Hillman.

Cancer can do that – put a person in a place they didn’t think they’d be, accepting the kindness, love, generosity of family, friends, strangers.

So can a lot of other circumstances.

And that, Mark says, is one of the most important lessons he’s come to understand: God doesn’t care where we are – our physical location on this planet. What matters is that we are serving God by serving others.
You might have seen Mark, Carla, and the kids around St. Paul. Mark has a bald head, and for awhile, a mask to protect his fragile immune system as he battled lymphoma. He came to worship, a book group, and Bible study, volunteered to help the building crew clean on Monday mornings – he vacuumed a lot of doughnut crumbs.

Just after his last hospital stay, he joined the Tuesday morning book group at St. Paul. The group read The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser.

"One of the strong points he makes is that the incarnation continues in and through each of us,” Mark said in his note to friends sharing the news his lymphoma is in remission and is cleared to travel to Saudi Arabia. "When we show love, support, encouragement, etc... to others, we can do so because of Jesus's love for us and when we do, we continue directly Jesus' incarnation –He lives.”

Rolheiser suggests that God needs our "actions of love for each other" in order to answer prayers.
"I found his words describing exactly what I experienced this year,” Mark said. "God became more and more real to me as you visited me, fed me and my family, wrote letters, liked my health updates on Facebook, and as you prayed for me and my family. I saw God’s gracious face in each of your smiles and my prayers have been answered.”

Mark saw God’s grace when his family was robbed in the middle of the night in Tanzania. His neighbors came to the family’s rescue, and then guarded the Hillman’s compound night and day for weeks – without being asked.

He saw grace in the families of his family’s church in Beijing. When Mark was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment, people he never met from that church brought his family meals.

And when his family needed a place to call home while Mark finished his treatment at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Steve and Jen Hillman welcomed them into their home. Their church, St. Paul, welcomed them too.

So as he and his family begin their journey in Saudi Arabia, Mark Hillman knows this: "It doesn’t matter where I am, the community of Christ is there.”

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

We Kicked It!

I certainly know that I would not be able to survive if it were not for the fact that I am being upheld by the prayers of so many people.

I thought these 2 quotes were suitably juxtaposed together.  It is true that there were so many times that there didn't seem to be anything to cling to except the knowledge that so many people, known and unknown were praying for us.  At the same time, there times when I was so angry and scared at what was happening that keeping calm was a joke and I wanted to kick everyone's ass.

When someone has cancer, the whole family and everyone who loves them does, too.

On October 4th, Mark complained about some pain that seemed to be a possible bladder or kidney infection.  55 weeks later--almost 13 of those spent in a hospital bed--he kicked cancer to the curb.  Actually, I'm not ashamed to say that we all did.  I can't say I would rather have had cancer than watch someone go through it, but cancer infected every one of us.  Like its spread through the body, cancer spread through our lives, our church, our family, and our friends.  We are "those people," the family relative, that friend from college, that former colleague--the one who had cancer.  And even though it's gone, it will never be gone, at least for me.  It will always lurk just around the corner, unseen.  Maybe just waiting, maybe out of sight for good.  There will never be a doctor's appointment, a pain, a fever, that won't cause cancer to rear its head in my heart.

All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.

There were so many time when I could not do anything but pray.  I was terrified of articulating what I really wanted, which is the cancer to be gone, because so many have prayed for that, to no avail.  I prayed mostly for peace and strength,  patience and courage.  I looked desperately for blessings and opportunities to be thankful.  I tried to push away the thought that maybe I really don't want God's will to be done, if that meant an outcome that I didn't want.  I didn't want God to give me more than I could handle, because some days it seemed that that was what was happening.  Some days there was nothing I could do but just cry and ask for more strength than I had.

In those 55 weeks I worked full-time and ran back and forth to hospitals.  I took care of my kids and my husband.  I packed a house and sent it to two separate countries.  I drove my kids from Seattle to Iowa.  I took my son to Missouri (twice) and let him go to start college.  I imposed on my family as we moved in on them in Iowa.  I left them all behind to start a new job in the most challenging place we've lived to date.  And yet although very little has happened in the way I thought it would, everything did happen.  The rough places were made plain.  I have no idea why so many hurdles were thrown up, or why the load was so heavy, but at every stage, those obstacles have been moved aside.  It's not luck, or coincidence...I do believe it is God working in and through my life and the lives of the people around me.

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.

If you hope for happiness in the world, hope for it from God, and not from the world.

I can't wait to move forward.  We're in a new place, new jobs, new experiences....a new beginning.  I want to put worry behind me and soak up the sun and the joy of being with my family.  I want to relax, something I can't even remember doing.  I want to be more than I've been this past year--a better wife, mother, teacher, and woman.  I can finally look ahead at the possibilities again!