Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Update on the Last Couple Weeks

This week marks the last exams of the last trimester. Which means this is almost all over! This is by far the most bittersweet feeling of my life. On the one hand, I am completely overjoyed to smother my family with hugs and kisses, but on the other hand I could cry right now just thinking about not seeing my girls every day.

My friend told me recently, "What we start we must end." It's a short and sweet phrase, but it encompasses the hard truth. I have to go home. I can't stay here forever. Although as cheesy as it sounds, I hope part of me stays here with the girls. I hope they don't forget me, and I hope they remember the life lessons I taught them.

The good news is, is that I still have 2 1/2 weeks left with some of my girls, 3 1/2 weeks with the rest of them. So before I get my keyboard wet with tears, let me fill you in on the stories and adventures from the past couple weeks.

About 2 weeks ago for a gym class Matt and I took the girls to a soccer field at the farm. Usually we play at a local basketball court that we have to share with local, loud, hair-filled-with-a-bucket-of-gel teenage boys who - I swear to God - live to annoy me. In short, I was happy to go somewhere where we could have a gym class with just our class. We played capture the flag which - much to Matt's surprise - I have never played before. The girls absolutely loved it. Actually, the ones that didn't fall down and scrap their knees loved it.

In other news, we have also recently been turning the school into a small zoo. We have now collected 2 giant dead snakes (a boa constrictor and a king snake), a live turtle that contrary to popular belief moves pretty quickly, and a fairly large elephant beetle that lives in the mango tree. If you don't know what that last creature is, try to think of that part in the Lion King where Pumba is trying to catch a blue beetle and just as it flies away, Nala leaps out at Pumba. That blue beetle is what an elephant beetle is, minus the blue color and the animation. Though I'm not too sure how much longer it's going to be living for how many times the girls pick it up, scream, and then drop the poor thing.

Speaking of the Lion King, a couple weeks ago Matt, Alex and I borrowed the projector from the school, moved all of our living room furniture, and projected the Lion King on our wall. As a courtesy to Alex and Matt, I didn't belt out the lyrics to every song, but for the record it took every ounce of me not to. 

Today was also a filled with fun moments. During my Social Studies lesson, we were talking about people with high education who can know how to build things such as as calculators and iPods. My student, Rosa, raised her hand and said, "I know someone who is more intelligent that the person who invented the calculator." I asked her who and she said, "The person who invented white-out." For the record she also commented on the intelligence of the white-out inventor a couple months ago. Out of all the things in this world, white-out is the one she's the most fascinated with. Unbelievable.

Also today I had a sexual education class. Right now I am teaching them about self-esteem and how they can improve theirs. So today - as an activity to boost their self-confidence and life their spirits - I had them write a praiseworthy note to everyone in their class and stick them in an envelope with their names on it. I accidentally gave them an extra piece of paper, but instead of giving it back to me, they all wrote me a note. One of my students (my white-out girl, Rosa) even made me my own envelope to put them in. She sealed it shut and told me I can't open it until I'm on the plane in November. I don't know if their spirits were lifted by the exercise, but mine sure was.

Did I mention it's going to be hard to leave them?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Final Trimester of the Year

Well, we're almost half way through the final trimester of the school year and while it's pretty late to say this, I have a new goal: write in this blog once a week. It's been difficult for me to write a blog post lately for two reasons. One, time is not on my side. Two, it seems impossible to narrow down everything I'm experiencing here to just a page on a blog. Although like I said, it's a goal, so here it goes.

In this third trimester I find myself teaching all new classes. With my segundo ciclo (my second graders) I have an art class, and a music class. With my tercero ciclo (ninth graders) I have a social studies class and an accounting class. Teaching these classes have been so enjoyable because I'm learning the information along with them. While I considered myself a good student in high school, I COMPLETELY forgot any and all information about the cold war. I mean really, when was I ever going to have to know that again? It's not like I was one day going to find myself teaching it to eleven girls in Honduras. But as life would have it, here I am, relearning it and really enjoying it too!

Social studies is also one of my favorite classes for how many times the girls say things completely ridiculous. When we started the course, I showed them a map of the world and asked one of my students where Europe was. She looked at the map in deep concentration for about a minute and when she finally looked up at me, she confidently proclaimed, "You have a bad map. Europe isn't on here." It was also slightly amusing to see how long it took them to find their own country on a map. Although my favorite part about teaching maps was how defensive they got over the size of their country. They were FURIOUS when they discovered Spain was a bigger country than Honduras, and they were in a fierce debate over which continent was bigger: their own continent of America or Asia. (I should clarify things a bit by mentioning that in Honduras, they're taught that North America and South America are one continent called America.) There was also one class where an innocent enough discussion over the positive and negative aspects of tourism in Honduras turned into a heated argument about whether or not tourism was beneficial at all to their country. Even though they may have silly answers or silly preconceived notions, it is an incredible experience to watch them learn, to watch them think for themselves, and to see them explore their curiosity.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lessons Learned

About two and a half years ago I spent a semester living in Rome. The adjustment to life in Italy turned out to be quite difficult, and I wasn't sure if I was ever going to fully enjoy it. One day, however, I decided to skip my history class and explore a couple churches and a museum I had wanted to visit for a while. I ended up having one of the best days of my life. As I walked back to my apartment, it hit me: I had fallen in love with Rome and never ever wanted to leave. Of course I had to leave, because my life had to go on. Thank God for that because now, I find myself living in an incredibly surreal and unexpectedly captivating life.

When I came here in January, I really thought I had a lot of things figured out. I knew where I wanted to go in life, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be. But as life would have it, I have been tossed this game changer... that happens to be an entire country. And trust me, living in Honduras has taught me lessons that I never knew I needed to be taught:   

1.) I've learned the value of my service here, and the incredible, heart-lifted-out-of-your-chest feeling when you realize you're actually making a difference in the world... or at least to a young girl. 

2.) I've humbled myself quite a bit. I never thought I was very uptight, mostly because I'm normally around people a bit more uptight than myself. Coming here, however, has taught me how much I need to stop, relax, and enjoy the moment I'm in. But let me repeat this: Life here has taught me that, I'm still not very good at living in the moment.

3.) I've taken The United States down from the pedestal I unconsciously put it on. When I first came here, I constantly compared Honduras to the States and thought how much better the States were. I felt bad that Honduras didn't have as good of an education system, a health care system, an economy, etc. But truthfully, Honduras has the same problems as the States, just in different forms. Both countries need an incredible amount of help and support. I realized that by thinking I was above someone else because of my citizenship just put me a thousand degrees below them. This dawned on me once when I saw a woman as old as my grandmother walking down the street, carrying a 5 pound bag of beans on her head. She looked exhausted and I thought to myself, "Wow, if she were in the States, she would probably have a car to drive so she wouldn't have to carry all those beans. And she probably wouldn't have to eat only those beans. She could probably go to the grocery store and get something more delicious." But lets think about this for a second. She probably doesn't know how to drive a car. She probably wouldn't like 90% of the processed crap in the grocery store because she's never eaten it. Her life is in Honduras, and this what she knows. While I'm sure she has struggles in her life, how dare I think that the best thing for her is to leave her life here, and be in a new life she knows nothing about. Even recently when I got stitches (a story which involves our vacation to La Ceiba, a mechanical bull, and the hopes of winning 500 lempiras), I was constantly comparing the medical attention I received to health care back home. While I'm sure no health clinic would pour red liquid out of a gatorade bottle onto your gaping wound (I really hope it wasn't gatorade), whatever they did got the job done because my hand is perfectly fine now. 

The thing is, I could write 10 more blogs just on the lessons I've learned here. And another 10 more about how much I've grown, and how much more growing I have to do. I'm not sure what the future has in store for me, because I'm not sure what I have in store for my future. While it's a bit nerve-wracking to try to find solace in an "I don't know," I know that it's up to me. With a bit more guidance from this wonderful country, my friends and family, I'm hoping that I can take my life into yet another incredible chapter in my life. The point is, is that slowly I've come across the realization that I'm in love with Honduras, my service and my students. And just like my time in Rome, it's going to be really hard to say goodbye. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Have I told you about my daughters?

It's official. Over a third of my time here has passed. A couple weeks brought the start of the second trimester. Two more semesters to go until I find myself on a plane back home.

It's a bittersweet time though, because on one hand, I simply cannot wait to wrap my arms around each and every member of my family and friends, and on the other hand, I can't imagine not seeing my students almost every day. Their smiling faces are the first thing that greet me when I enter the school every morning, and the last thing I see when I leave each night. They make a 13-hour workday seem like 2. They even make Friday's seem a bit sad. A once celebrated day of the week now brings about a disappointment that I have to wait two whole days to see them again. When I walk around town on Saturday or Sunday I can't help but glance around the crowds, scanning each face for a familiar alumna (student). Though most of them live in aldeas (small towns/villages surrounding Guaimaca), I get lucky every once in a while when I hear a, "¡Hola Christinita!" as I walk across the street. And no, I didn't just spell my name wrong. After initial awkward student-teacher barriers were broken, they began calling me Christinita. I can't explain the why behind this too well, but basically in Spanish you can add an "-ita" to the end of some words to make them mean that word, except smaller. It's not that they think I'm small, but my name happens to have a perfect flow to add an "-ita" to the end of it.

The love I have for these girls is equally reciprocated each and every day. Each Monday morning I'm greeted with a hug and a kiss from almost all of the girls at the school - not just my grades. When snack time comes around, if I'm busy doing something and don't have time to grab a snack, they'll bring one to me. When I go with them to mass at night, they take turns holding my hand or linking arms with mine while we walk. By far the biggest amount of love I was shown was on my birthday. We had been talking about birthdays a couple weeks before mine, so I told them when mine was. I didn't think they remembered, but about a week later one of them said, "May 9th is next Wednesday, right?" I said, "Yes, why?" to which I got a smile and a, "Because it's your birthday!" When I walked into the school the morning of my birthday, I barely had time to put my bike away before I got a bombardment of singing from the chiquitas, the youngest girls at the school. A few minutes later when I walked into my segundo ciclo's classroom, I was once again greeted to singing, hugging, and many letters and pictures expressing their love and wishes that I am blessed with many more birthdays. 

My math class on my birthday. 
My first class of the day was a math class with tercero ciclo. I had planned on doing practice problems with them, but when I walked in, they had decorated the board so beautifully with birthday greetings (in Spanish AND English), and beautiful pictures of cake and balloons. I didn't want to erase it so I wrote the problems around their decorations. Later I had another class with tercero ciclo but this time it was an English class. I had debated whether or not to put in a movie in English with Spanish subtitles and call it an English class. I decided in the end, however, that just because it's my birthday, doesn’t mean I should sacrifice valuable learning time. That mindset went down the drain when I walked into my class and found juice and cake waiting for me on my desk. What do you do during class when you have cake and juice? You watch a movie, duh! It was a fundamental rule all through my grade school, and I didn't dare break it now during their grade school. We watched Monster-in-Law (in English with Spanish subtitles) which was nostalgic because it was the same movie I saw with my friends on my 16th birthday. I absolutely loved watching it again with my students! I was telling my friend Keara this a couple days ago and she replied with, "I thought we hated that movie when we saw it?" She's right. My students, the juice, the cake and all the love they gave me on my birthday made me forget what a horrible movie it actually is.

It's the mindset I've been having here recently, though. It doesn’t matter how terrible something is, or how bad something may be going, my students have an uncanny ability to make everything better. It's their love, their innocence, their eagerness to learn and my eagerness to watch them grown that has been making this year so special. I can't wait to see what all of them are going to become, and I hope when I leave here, I leave them with a spark to reach for their dreams. I want them to settle for nothing but the best, and I want them to defy every Honduran statistic telling them they should stay at home and have babies for the rest of their lives.  I am so proud of them for every accomplishment I have seen so far, and I know I will have so much more to be proud of in the future.

When the students decorated the board for my birthday, one of the messages they wrote was, "Thanks for being the best mom of our class." I never realized being a mother would also fall under my job description of being here. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Progress in the Past Month

It's hard to believe we've been here for 2 and a half months already. The time is absolutely flying by!

This past month has been particularly eventful. For starters, a volunteer group from Stonehill came down a few weeks ago to work here for a week. It was absolutely wonderful to have some familiar faces around here for a week, especially my friend Rachel! In addition to being an absolutely wonderful friend, she's an incredible artist. At one point during the week, she drew a few of my students, and they went crazy over her drawings! They are still talking about them to this day. The rest of the group came to the school at different parts of the week, and they all really connected with the girls. Most groups don't really talk or interact with the girls, but my students really enjoy having visitors and meeting the volunteer groups that come down.

This past week was the second round of exams for my girls. I felt like such a proud mom to all my students because they all did so well! Out of 36 exams, only 2 girls failed. While I was upset about those girls failing, it was a lot fewer than the first round of exams. One of my students is kind of a slacker, and she doesn't seem to try or study that hard. She failed her first exam a month ago, and I had to talk to her mom afterwards and see how we could help improve her scores. I gave this student a study guide for this exam, and told her mom about it so she would study the weekend before the exam. My student told me she studied, but when I asked her review questions the day before, she wasn't getting any of the correct! In fact, I asked her the same question 3 times and she got it wrong every time! You can imagine how nervous and unhopeful I was to grade her exam. Well that girl who seemed to know so little got an 80%! She literally doubled her score from her first exam! (And she finally got that question I asked her 3 times right.) I was so proud that I wrote her name in the book of accomplishments. She hugged me 3 times when I told her how well she did. It's the little moments like these that have made my time here so special.

It was a little sad today after exams ended today, because I had to say goodbye to the girls for a whole week! We all have vacation this week, and while I'll miss them, I'm pretty excited for this week. Alex and I are leaving for Copán tomorrow to see the Mayan ruins, and enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation. Say a little prayer for us for safe travels!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Who doesn't love a good book?

The past 2 months have been absolutely incredible. I have fallen in love with each one of my students, I am able to communicate (not very well, and not all the time) in another language, and I've gained a newfound respect for every teacher I've ever met. As corny as it sounds, Honduras has given me so many reasons to smile. But with that, I've also had many moments of frustration. The biggest problem is with the library. It's smaller than my room at my house, and it's barely half filled with books. There are a few reference books on each subject, some old magazines, and only one or two shelves for books the girls would enjoy reading. Every Wednesday my two grades have Taller de Lectura (Reading Workshop) where they pick out a book from the shelf and read for an hour. For most of the girls, this is the only time they read for fun during the week. I'm not sure that they have a strong desire to read, but when they do get a book they actually enjoy, it's hard for them to put it down. The problem is, there aren’t many books for the girls to read, and the school doesn't have enough money to afford new books. The other day, a girl from my segundo ciclo, Angeles, was looking for a book to read. You should know that Angeles is very intelligent. She is one of those girls in the class who isn't allowed to answer questions after a certain point because the other students need to answer too. And she loves to read. Actually, love is an understatement. The other day I had to take away her book during class because she was reading instead of paying attention (though I doubt I was teaching anything she didn't already know). When she was looking for a book the other day, she picked up The Giving Tree. I told her she wasn't allowed to read that book because it was far too easy. She started to complain until she opened it up and saw that there were only 1 or 2 sentences on each page. (She read the entire Harry Potter series last year.) So I handed her A Wrinkle in Time. She didn't want to read it, but I told her if she doesn't like it after a few pages, she could get a new one. About 15 or 20 minutes later I found her 2 chapters into the book, and absolutely loving it. She finished it 2 days later. She found a new book during Taller de Lectura this week, and later on that day I found her half way through reading it. Digna, another bright gem in my segundo ciclo (who is best friends with Angeles) says that she doesn't like books, but she likes the book she's reading. I got her to admit that she actually does like books, but it has to be a good page-turner book. The point is, the girls love to read! More importantly, they NEED to read. I hope I don't have to write any more sentences to convince you of the importance of reading - we all know how important it is for kids to read.

I'm not solely writing this to voice a concern, however, I would also like to ask for a bit of help. If you find it in your heart to help the girls out, and if your wallet finds itself with a few extra bucks, check out the schools "Wish List" on The link is posted below. You can purchase a book on the list, and it will be sent directly to the school. The only thing you have to worry about is which one to pick out. Of course the only this I ask from everyone reading this is your support in my year here, no gifts are required. Although my birthday is coming up in early May and if you'd like to buy one of the books as a present this year, I'll guarantee I'll like yours the most. Thank you so much in advance, but most importantly thank you for all of the support you have given me thus far.

Click here to get to the "Wish List" for the school.

PS - I told Angeles about the wish list and she got pretty excited.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Struggles of my Job

Quite honestly, I've always admired teachers. They mold and shape the minds of youths, while simultaneously filling them with knowledge. They instill confidence in their students that makes you and I able to do whatever it is we want. Or at least that's what I feel my teachers have done for me. But I have to be even more honest: I don't know how on earth they do it.

This week marks the third week of my teaching experience, and not one day has been an easy one. A typical day involves me waking up at 6:00 (alright fine, 6:15 with my snooze button), and getting to the center for 7:15. Once there I finish up last minute preparations, and get to the school prayer for 7:45. At 8:00, after prayer, I have class for 4 hours, not including a half hour break in the middle. After lunch, I help run activities and workshops for the girls. At 5:45, everyone goes to rosary and then dinner follows at 6:00. Every weeknight, the church has an event such as mass, holy hour, or scripture reading. That starts at 7:00, so after dinner, I help bring the girls there, walk them back home at 8:00, and am usually home by 8:15-8:30. Long story short: Days here are pretty full. I blink and suddenly a day has already passed!

I'm with these girls all day, every day. I'm their teacher, I'm their mentor, I'm their friend, I'm their supervisor, I'm their big sister and more. So it's tough to find a balance between being a teacher they respect and a friend they can goof around with. During class, they just want to play and have fun. I get frustrated that their disruptions don't allow me to teach and I start to lose control of the classroom, so I put on my serious face. Once I get stern with them they get upset and tell me I'm mean. I don't care if they tell me that because their emotions have a 2 second rebound rate, but it still wastes time trying to get them to quiet down! Despite that, their questions usually take up a lot of time for no reason other than it takes a few minutes for me to understand what their saying. I've been getting better at differentiating between the important questions and the one that are completely irrelevant to life. (por ejemplo: Christina can you paint my nails later? Christina can I color during class? Christina what are the names of your cats?) Aye! Shush you little children! But like I said, it's a tough balance because part of me just wants to sit and paint my nails with them and color and share stories about our pets and our lives. I know my responsibility to them, however, and whether or not they like it, they have to learn.

Which brings me to my next struggle: TEACHING! Even despite the distractions, it's so difficult to teach! I understand the central nervous system. I can tell you about the different parts, I can tell you about sensory and motor neurons, and I can tell you what's happening in your body when you prick your finger on a needle. But understanding it and explaining it to students who have never heard of such things are two very different things. My method of teaching can be classified as a learn-as-you-go method. It's good that I'm learning and becoming more aware of what they can and can't do, but I'm so worried I'm not going to prepare them enough for their exams!

Though I did have a good lesson last week with my segundo ciclo. I explained the flow of blood through the heart and body, and taught them about deoxygenated/oxygenated blood. Afterwards one of the girls came up to me and pointed out her dark veins on her wrist and told me how that was deoxygenated blood. I asked her where that blood was flowing to and with a half second's hesitation she confidently responded, "Mi corazon (My heart)." I couldn't stop smiling. (The answer was correct.)

Hopefully I'll have more accomplishments to report in my next post.