My first blog entry since I have landed in the United States. My first blog entry since October. I am struggling with what I want to say, how I can summarize this experience in a few paragraphs, how I can convey the emotions I am feeling and have felt. I will do my best to express what I am thinking, five days removed.
Welcome home! How was it? has been the most common question I’ve been asked. I find it difficult to sum up everything I experienced and learned in a few sentences, which is why I wanted to write this post. Truthfully, it was
- Hard. It was on of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I have become so much more independent in this past year than before, but I still missed my family with every fiber of my being. Not being home for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, made me heartbroken. Getting infected with a severe stomach bug for five days and having to solely take care of myself, on a different continent, was exhausting. Lacking wifi so FaceTimes were few and far in between was tough. It was hard missing my family.
- Eye-opening. In my other few entries, I talked about the income disparity. I was ignorant before this; I was unaware of how little some people survive off of. I was unaware that there are children, my students, that come from those conditions. Children who don’t have running water, children who live in informal houses, children who live in townships where there are shootings every night, children who lack basic hygiene.
- Exhausting. I saw the poverty almost every single day I was there. I saw people on the streets begging, I saw people going through trash, I drove on the highway and saw townships, I saw my littles and talked with my teacher about their home lives. It is exhausting to be exposed to those kind of situations and feel so utterly helpless. It is exhausting to be in a country and a city that is known to be progressive but yet I saw day-to-day the reality of extreme poverty that the majority of the population faces.
- Humbling. I was shocked. The longer I was there, the more I realized how incredibly privileged I am. Is the United States flawed? Absolutely. However, am I privileged enough to fight against inequalities in the system? Am I privileged enough to be in a country that has a union to protect teachers? Am I privileged enough to be proud to be labeled feminist and participate in a third feminist movement? South Africa does not have those movements. There are an abundance of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) fighting for those without a voice, but the impact nationally is still unseen.
- Challenging. Everyday I was challenged. In my classroom, I have never been tested like I have by those 30 little humans. It made me reflect on my teaching practices. On my teaching philosophies. Every. Single. Day. Working with my mom and my other housemates, I had to think about what I was doing and how I could improve. And I had to improve hard. I had to repeat expectations every single time I was in front of the classroom. It tested my patience and I lost it more than once. Even though those Grade Rs were the hardest group of children I have taught, I fell in love with each and every one of the little anklebiters.
- Life-changing. Was this experience exhausting and hard? Yes, 100%. Everyday I was challenged. Cape Town challenged my views of the world and flipped me upside down, 180 degrees, and shook me on the way down. I am a completely different person than when I left in August. It gave me passion to fight for those can’t. It taught me the importance of getting to know my kiddos. It slapped me in the face with perspective and privilege.
Yesterday, a few of my friends from Cape Town went to talk with the current seniors in Neag. At the end, I closed with this:
“This was the hardest experience of my life. However, I would do it all over again. Was it great? Absolutely. There were some things that I have never been able to experience and things that I crossed off of my bucket list. But I am not going to lie to you, it will be hard, I can guarantee that. But if you go, and I hope you do, it will be the most eye-opening and life-changing experience you will ever have. It has made me so much more passionate about fighting for those who don’t have a voice, fighting by using my privilege, fighting for those not just in Connecticut, but those across the world. It has made me a better teacher, but most importantly, it has made me a better person. It is challenging, oh boy it’s challenging, but one thing I can promise you is that it will be worth it.”
So, thank you Cape Town, for shaking up everything I thought I knew about this world. You have a piece of my heart. I’ll end this entry with:
“A little part of everywhere I go becomes a big part of everything I do.”