Home.

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.”

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Plettenberg Bay

What a weekend did we have!

Friday morning was my birthday!!! Last year at this time I had grudgingly woken up for a 6 am field hocke

 

y practice, went to the doctors to get tested for mono, slept in my apartment for three hours only to be woken up by my doctor telling me I did, in fact, have mono. Then spent the next week and a half recovering from the fatigue the sickness had on my body.

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This year was so different! We woke up at 6 am in order to start traveling to Plettenberg Bay, an area of South Africa approximately 6 hours away (give or take traffic). It was also my housemate’s, Carly’s, birthday! We were surprised with cupcakes and balloons and a birthday song by our housemates before we left.

 

 

 

 

When we arrived in Plett, we immediately went to see the big cats at Jukani Sanctuary. They had tigers, lions, hyenas, wild dogs, cheetahs, jaguars, OH MY! Our tour guide, Bert, grew up on a wild refugee farm and was so informative about these incredible creatures.

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SATURDAY!

First, we went to an elephant sanctuary. Easily one of the coolest experiences of my life as we got to walk with their trunk in our hand! I walked with Jabu, which means Happy. I was definitely happy with her! IMG_2740.jpgIMG_2808.jpg

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Then we went to Monkeyland! There were so many different types and the best part?? THEY DON’T HAVE CAGES!!!

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Finally, we went Africanyoning, which was a combination of swimming, zip lining, abseiling (repelling), & cliff jumping….all in a canyon between two cliffs!!!

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SUNDAY – the long-awaited bungee jump. I knew ever since I decided on South Africa that I wanted to do this jump – it’s the world’s largest bungee jump bridge. Four other people from our group decided to be reckless with me as well and we did it. See my facebook for the video but here are some pictures of me willingly jumping 216 meters off a bridge!! 🙂

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All in all, it was a fantastic weekend!!

Here’s the link to all of my photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Cw7cnX8YsU21en3d2

 

Christel House

My placement this semester is at a school called Christel House. It was established by a woman called Ms. Christel, a woman who has provided funding for three schools in extremely impoverished areas across the globe. (She’s actually visiting SA Christel House this year!) For example, in South Africa, all of the children come from townships. These townships can be very far though, so students must take a bus 50+ km to come to school everyday. (Some of my littlest ones come from Manenberg, a township with one of the highest crime rates.) Besides funding transportation, other things such as tuition, uniforms, books, and other fees are paid for for the students.

The school itself is Grade R (kindergarten) through Grade 12. Each grade has two classes, each with an average of 30 students. (For reference my student teaching class in Hartford had 21). Although that may seem like a lot, some of my fellow study abroad pals have over 40 students – so much that they run out of chairs!

Christel House is split up into four campuses. Grade R; Foundation Phase – Grade 1-3; Grade 4-6; and Secondary Phase – Grade 7-12. They also have music, which includes band and choir (a lot of schools in this area don’t have music classes); library (that’s where I am!); computer; and sports (otherwise known as physical education). I know many schools in the United States take these extracurriculars for granted but Christel House is the only school with programmed time for music out of the five schools the 11 of us are placed in.

In the library, all grades in the lower school (grade 1-7) come in twice a week: once for issues and once for a lesson. Grade R only comes in for their lesson (Wednesday mornings!!! – my favorite morning). Issuing books is pretty standard procedure of getting the book stamped and scanned so the student can lend it out. The number of books is dependent on the grade, so Grade 1 gets 1 book, Grade 2 gets 2….Grades 5, 6, and 7 can get 5. The upper grades (high schoolers) come in as well during their free period. A lot of them like coming in because they can use the computers we have. There is a computer lab but that is typically reserved for class periods.

Also some things that are different:

-I’ve had school cancelled twice. Once for violent taxi strikes due to a boycott of taxis because they are unfairly pulled-over. The other was for a march against the government – South Africans are very unhappy with their current president.

-I’m called by Miss Kelsey (truthfully, I like being called by my first name rather than being called Miss Iwanicki) or just Miss.

-Everyone, including my grade R’s, are bilingual, if not trilingual (English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa). (And I thought I was special for being conversational in Spanish/English! – Well, the kids do think Spanish is a cool language.) [There’s also sections of the library for books in Afrikaans and Xhosa!]

-The bell is not an end-all be-all. By that I mean, sometimes we lolly-gag in the staff lounge after the bell rings and the students are still out playing and the teacher may not even be in her classroom. (There’s this very real thing called Cape Town Time where almost everyone is late all the time.)

-And of course a hundred other things because I’m in a new school, in a new city, in a new country. 🙂

 

Update from CT (Cape Town, not Connecticut)

As of yesterday, I have been in Cape Town for 3 weeks. Time is flying by. We spent the first two weeks getting oriented to the city and country and have just started our internships last week. I want to take this post to update my status here. 🙂

Orientation was incredible. My instagram (@kelseyiwanicki) has reflected beautiful sites, mountains, ocean, heights, blue & white where the sky and ocean meet. We have been fortunate enough to climb two of the three major peaks in Cape Town, including Table Mountain which is one of the seven new wonders of nature in the world. We spent a day venturing around Cape Town, eventually making our way to Cape of Good Hope, the southern most tip of Africa and close to where the two oceans meet. We saw penguins at the largest penguin reserve in South Africa.

However, our volunteer coordinator, Vernon, has also made sure we have been exposed to the community. He took us to a church in a township, where the sermon was primarily in Xhosa (a language that is extremely different than either Spanish or English). We spent a whole day touring the townships and seeing informal housing. It is hard to describe how important it is to see this poverty and what an impact it had on me. He made sure we went to these areas including Langa, Kayalitcha, Mitchell’s Plain, and Guguletu (just to name a few), to give us a sense of where our students are coming from. These areas of extreme poverty (where government services mostly don’t venture) are literally just across a highway from an area of well-to-do homes. As much as we have been able to be tourists, we are also getting the realistic, eye-opening version of Cape Town, which I am eternally grateful for as I get a better understanding of my students and their home life.

Speaking of my students, I am placed at Christel House, a school that services students from many townships and seeks to educate the poorest of the poor. My placement until the end of the term (end of September) is in the library. To be honest, at first I was completely disappointed because I was expecting to be in a classroom. However, I have grown to love the library and librarians. I have been able to meet almost all of the class Grade R (kindergarten) to Grade 6 and walking through the school I am greeted with multiple smiles and hugs, which makes it all worth it. My day consists of a variety of doing librarian duties (organizing books, checking them out [my job is the stamper – haven’t been upgraded to the computer…yet], administering reading tests, marking those tests, supervising lessons [with Grade R!], plastic wrapping books, labeling books, & generally anything else that needs to be done).

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This is one of the breath-taking views I was talking about. Two weeks ago we climbed to the top of Lion’s Head, this was the view.

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Not the best picture I’ve ever taken, but this is one of the townships. If you look closely, you can see the tin slabs that construct homes. There is no running water in the home and residents must walk to the “outhouses” that serve the whole township.

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This was at the artist collective in Langa, a township. The efforts are providing beauty in a place that was haphazardly constructed. Everything in the pottery studio is handmade.

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A picture from the District 6 Museum. District 6 was originally a primarily black area until the whites in power decided they wanted it as the land was close to downtown Cape Town. Thus, those black families had to be relocated to the outskirts of the city although the whites never developed the land of District 6. The tapestry is embroidered with messages from families and people who were original District 6 inhabitants.

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Last but not least, the man himself, Vernon! Our volunteer coordinator (and my fellow UConn sweatshirt twin!!). This trip wouldn’t be anything without his team. Much thanks to them all.

Thank You (A few weeks late)

This summer was easily the best of my life. Since graduating I feel like a new person after doing things I had only dreamed of as a little girl. But of course, I couldn’t be here without some truly amazing people. 

This is my thank you. 

To my Costa Rica people:

The La Paz community, especially the second grade kinkajous – thank you for teaching me to enjoy the little things. I have grown as a teacher and person by being in your classroom and I know you will all grow up to be amazing people. To Beverly and Kaitlin, thank you for accepting me as one of your own so quickly. You are both incredible teachers with unmatched patience. Thank you for winning the spirit stick, I am forever grateful for being in that classroom. 

To my host family – muchas gracias para todos. I felt immediately welcomed through our games of jelly bean tasting. Thank you for talking slower when I couldn’t understand and making me feel like one of your own. I truly feel like part of the family and cannot wait until my two families meet. 

To Emily and Chelsea – I am so glad to have gone through this experience with you. From volunteering in the primary school, to dog shows, and zip lining in the rain forest, I’m glad you were both by my side. You both will impact so many lives with your paths. 

To Liz – thank you for organizing this experience. Because of you, I was able to explore one of my favorite countries in the world and find my second home. 

To my camp people:

To the LIT campers – I never thought I would have enjoyed 15-year-olds as much as I did. You understood my sarcasm (and gave it right back), let us pull tricks on you, and helped me with my patience and go-with-the-flow. Being a teenager is tough, but I have no doubt you will all grow up to be awesome adults. 

To the LIT staff – I also never thought I would have loved my co-counselors as much as I did. I was worried coming in halfway through that I wouldn’t fit in, but exactly the opposite happened. Because of this group I now have best friends in CT, Mexico, Australia, Spain, and the Netherlands. You are all incredible, please never change. 

To Jul – I thoroughly enjoyed having you as my boss. After eight years of being friends, this only made me realize how appreciative I am of you and how grateful I am that you have been in my life for so long. You are so good at what you do and the kids adored you. Thank you for welcoming me into the family. 

To my everyday people:

To my UConn people (especially Maranda, Flynn, Kierstyn, Gabby, Kara, and Jen) – I can’t imagine my life without you. I am so happy I transferred 3 years ago and you all came into my life. UConn won’t be the same without you but I am so proud to be your friend. Thank you for being mine. 

To my Granby people (Jul, Meredith, Laur, and Alexis) – the friendship we have is so incredibly rare. To have 4 people I have been best friends with since eighth grade is special and amazing. To see how you are all impacting the world now makes me proud & grateful. I know that regardless of where our paths take us, you will always be my people. Acorns forever. 

& last but not least, my family (especially Mom, Dad, & Krista) – thank you for supporting me on this crazy journey. I know we didn’t see each other much this summer but I knew your support and love was there. I am so lucky to have such a close knit family. I love you all with all of my heart, so thank you. 

-With that, I say thank you. Thank you to anyone who has supported me and been in my life. Because of all of you I am where I am today: happy. Here’s to my next (South African) adventure!-

We Had Ourselves a Day

As a teacher, as a student, as a learner, as a college graduate, as a human being, there are days where you just have days.

There’s no other way to describe it except just by saying that Monday was one of those incredible, unreal, wow-I-can’t-believe-I’m-here, kind of days. We went on a field trip to Eco Park Diamante to see up-close and personal the animals the second graders had been studying for their last big project of the year.

(Side note: one of our earlier posts was talking about field trips and how both Mom/I kind of dread them, but this one really changed my view of them to be completely honest.)

I’m not sure how else to describe the experience except through pictures, to see what I saw.
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We started with an hour and a half bus ride, playing iSpy, Cheesey Touch, and eating snacks.

Once we got to the Eco Park, we had to take another bus to the visitors’ center, and another to the actual animal sanctuary. IMG_6408 (1).JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we are waiting at the welcome center, looking at a map and organizing our plan of attack for seeing all the animals. IMG_6414 (1).JPG

I also couldn’t resist getting a picture of these awesome kiddos waiting zip-liners and “The White House” (which is actually just a popular resort).

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Can you tell we were excited??

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The first animal we saw was the chestnut-chested toucan. The best part about the big birds were that we actually got to hold them!IMG_6432.JPG

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Then it was off to the snakes, then big cats! (Here we are peering into the margay cage.)IMG_6442 (1).JPG

The jaguars were playing around when we got there. When we went back later in the day, Nico (one of the jaguars) was sleeping.

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Monkeys!! They actually climbed on over to us too. This one had a baby on its back that I didn’t even notice until one of my kiddos pointed and shouted with awe, “look, a baby!”

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Then we said “hello” to a crocodile, which was amusing since we know a song “Never Smile at a Crocodile!” You can’t see him in this picture, but he was basically right below where the kids are standing. IMG_6460.JPG

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Found the iguana doppleganger of this little nugget and just had to take a picture. (He’s in the middle right. They both have red tops and the iguana was basically the size of this guy.)

 

 

 

In the butterfly exhibit we got to hold butterflies on our hands. I’m holding a blue morpho, which is one of the biggest butterflies in the whole world!IMG_6515.JPG

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The worker in the butterfly area also let us set a newly emerged butterfly into the sanctuary! However, the butterfly didn’t want to leave us, so we thought blowing on it would be a good idea (update: it didn’t work).

 

 

My favorite animal was the sloth!! We got to see it during feeding time. Not only are they too lazy to eat, they’re also so lazy and slow that they don’t even need cages. IMG_6493.JPG

We rejoined as a whole class and explored the butterfly exhibit again. Everyone wanted their picture with the butterfly they were holding. And I, of course, obliged (happily).

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Finally, on our way out, I snuck away with this little nug to say goodbye to his favorite animal, the jaguar. IMG_6514.JPG

Best field trip I’ve ever been on that’s for sure. It was amazing to see all of these animals in rehabilitation homes and then to see the pure joy on my students’ faces when they saw the animals they had been studying.

Times like these make me never want to leave and make me incredibly happy and confident of the profession I chose.