Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Quick Explanation

My Uncle Karl pointed out it had been a while since I posted, but I had no idea it had been so long since my last post. Well, I have a couple to post in quick succession that have been word documents for a while... thanks for being loyal and patient readers!

Lots of Love!


I know I have been bad about posting lately. I had a crazy busy schedule for awhile- I was teaching an SAT prep class after school for 3 weeks, so I had to teach 6 normal classes a day plus 2 and a half hours of SAT prep in the afternoon. Plus, I get inspired to write something, but it takes me so long to get on my computer, on the internet, that I sort of lose inspiration. I will try to be better for the last couple months I am here. Most of the other volunteers are leaving as soon as they can in June- a couple are going to Western Samoa then leaving. Everyone pretty much will be gone by June 16th. Not me! I decided that I wanted to stay until August. I will be teaching summer school at PiCED- the Pacific Islands Center for Educational Development. One of the main reasons is that they are paying me- I wanted to accrue a little money so that I don’t have to freak out when I get home- it will give me a little bit of buffer zone to find a job. The second reason is that I want to try teaching in a better environment to sort of get refreshed on the whole teaching thing. Teaching at NVTHS has been wearing mentally and physically. I am just bone weary of trying to teach kids who don’t want to be taught. The SAT prep class, which was also through PiCED was a nice refreshment from normal. The students in my class were MOTIVATED. They PAID MONEY to be there. They actually valued education. I left class the first day in a cloud of giddiness. I went home: “April! Bret! You will not BELIEVE what just happened. I taught a class in AIR CONDITIONING. I had a PROJECTOR. The kids actually got quiet when I talked! They did their work! They asked smart questions!” I got blank stares for a few seconds and then a unified, “it sounds like a REAL SCHOOL!” It was amazing. Even though it was 2 and a half extra hours of work a day, it refreshed my spirits. I am hoping that the summer school will be similar. I know the students won’t be as proficient- after all, they will be there for extra help, but hopefully they will possess the same desire for education and respect for their educators. Basically, I feel like I could really love teaching, but some aspects of this year make me question that. I want to try it in an environment more similar to that which I would experience back home to feel it out.

Long story short, I will be boarding a plane home on August 2nd, 2011. I will arrive in Richmond on August 4th- At that point I will have celebrated two birthdays in American Samoa, and will have met and helped orient the new batch of WorldTeachers. Crazy. In the meantime, I am just trying to get through the end of school. This week is review. Next week is exams, and the last week is…. ??? I don’t know WHAT they expect us to do. I hope we have a field day.

Just for Fun

One of the biggest problem areas I dealt with in the SAT prep class I taught was how to write the essay. Specifically, they did not know how to give examples to back up their reasoning and arguments. I have included below some excerpts from some of the essays I read, for your enjoyment.

“These daily actions will alter the course of history. Here is a self explanatory example. I decided to skip school today because we are having a quiz which I didn’t study for. But on the same day my parents were secretly called in to take a tour of everyday class learning. While I am out having the time of my life, my parents are sitting in that classroom worried that I might be injured or kidnapped.”

“Facts are important as proving that life exists, such as water on the moon, Europia, the existence of mermaids.”

“Relying more on facts than imagination can get you a job. Barak Obama knows his facts, he doesn’t just sit there and do nothing, does he? Even the Governer[sic] of our country has to know his facts. I know this because he’s done a lot for country. For example he had an idea “instead of the school, kids preparing food for themselves to eat. I can hire cooks to make the children’s food. I’ll handle paying it with the government money.”

“You won’t die when you don’t know your facts, but you’ll suffer if you do not know your facts. Not just facts about your life, but real facts about other random things. Did you know your hands have more germs than your butt? Did you also know that you cheeks have a lot more germs than your teeth? It’s all about knowing your facts!”

Four Months...

“If she’s Jewish, is she American?” I’ve been avoiding the question of my faith, but Bret, one of the other WorldTeach volunteers at my school, has been telling her students what I am (not sure how I feel about her “outing” me, but whatever). The opening quote is a real response from a student when Bret informed her of my religious status.

One of the hardest things about being in this country is not being able to practice my faith. Granted, I am not the most observant Jew in the world (I love bacon, and shellfish, especially together... with cheese) but at home a Jew is not that big a deal. Most people at least vaguely know what they are, and they don’t care that much. Almost every supermarket has kosher products, and at all the major holidays, they have specialty items geared towards their yehudim customers.

Before I even came here, I struggled to decide what I would do. The idea of hiding who I am was not something that appealed to me, but what little I did know about American Samoa led me to believe that those few who even knew what a Jew was would NOT consider it a positive thing. This country is a Christian country. There is at least one, if not three churches every 100 feet or so of road. There are 5 times as many churches as schools; a wide range of the Christian denominations are present. There is the London Missionary Society, the Congregationalists, the Mormons (so many Mormons!), Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you ask a Samoan what religion they are, they will list one of those. It doesn’t even cross their mind to say Christian- to them, is the only religion there is. Islam some have heard about- mostly through the mirror of the war. Ask a Samoan about Islam, and most think its followers a) don’t believe in God b) have more than one God or c) they believe in Jesus too right?

Judaism enters even less. Although one might think that through the process of Sunday school, Jesus’ original faith might have come up, from what can tell, it is not a common topic of discussion. Most of my kids think (duh) Jesus was Christian. To them, anyone who is not Christian is just not worth anything. They are automatically wrong in whatever views they have, they deserve very little respect, and they are going to hell. Period. I know it seems like I am exaggerating, but I promise you- I am not. It is one of the most shocking things I have experienced since I arrived. There is not even religious tolerance between the Christian denominations. Everyone is not sure whether the other is Christian enough to be saved. One of my students flat out told me that she wasn’t really sure if Catholics were actually Christians. The idea that they would accept me is next to impossible, especially as I am already an outsider to them.

Ultimately I decided not to make my religion known. Classroom management, respect, obedience are hard enough with my white skin- I felt that adding a strange belief system to the mix would only decrease my ability to teach my students, which I told myself, was why I came here. Ultimately, I think my choice was correct, if difficult, but I never expected the toll that all of this would take on me. I certainly never expected to be excited to return home and go to Friday night services and listen to Rabbi Beifield’s too long sermons…. But I can’t wait! I can’t wait to be able to crack jokes and be understood, to not feel awkward when someone asks, “what church do you go to?” to visit the AEPi chapter and WM, and to wear a Jewish star necklace. I also want to go to Israel even more now- I feel like my soul needs a little bit of a refreshing. I need to feel like part of the Jewish community again.

All in all, it has been an eye opening experience. I never expected so much religious hostility on American soil- but I do feel that the experience has better prepared me for future instances in which my particular religion may be threatened or questioned.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Gecko Named Wilma.

Not really. I did think it might be a good idea to check in and let you all know that I am safe and fine, despite the cyclone that has descended on the island. My house lost power this morning, but so far it has not posed that much of an issue. In true Samoan fashion, we gathered some belongings, called a cab, and headed to.... McDonalds. McDonalds, haven that it is, has its own house sized generator. It never loses power, and most importantly, it has both internet and a big screen TV. All of the housemates and I are now firmly esconced here... along with about 25 assorted palangis and Samoans all intent on both Chicken McNuggets and the NFL.

In other news, before I return to rooting for the Jets (sorry, but Palumalu is not enough incentive to cheer for Roethlesberger (sp?)) I feel I have to share one of those moments which inevitably ends up on a tacky calendar, with the theme of "You know you are in Samoa when...."
Thursday morning I woke up as normal... maybe a little groggier due to the constant rain and lack of usual sunshine pouring through my window. I stumbled to my kitchen, pulled down my granola and looked in the bag... to find a GECKO. Staring back at me. Far be it from me to stop anything or anyone in Samoa trying to be healthy... plus geckos are cool with me. They eat termites. So, despite my overwhelming feelings of, "this is my LIFE. MY LIFE." I simply tipped the bag over, counted the granola as a casualty of the war on bugs, and went to school as normal.

Love (and lots of wind and rain)

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Random Samoan insight of today- Samoans love synthesizers. The synthetic drum sounds, electronic plinky piano and anything else you can play on a keyboard are classic elements of popular Samoan music. Synthesizers also appear in churches- nothing says both “I Love to Party,” and “I love Jesus” more than a holy song set to “Pop Riff #2!” played by a 300 lb woman dressed in shiny white satin.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Its not easy being Green

I hate this week. It is exam week, which sounds like it should be a piece of cake. More like a foot shoved up you know where. In order to divert my mind from relieving all the stressful moments so far, I will instead discuss a fun quandary of the beautiful island of Amerika Samoa.

My parents visited for Christmas. I actually managed to introduce them to a lot of the food Samoans eat on a daily basis, and they got a pretty good idea of what was available, and what was not. Namely, most things which are green.

It is incredibly ironic- I live in a tropical area. There is greenery everywhere, flourishing proof that plenty of stuff grows. Everywhere you look there are mango trees, banana palms, coconut palms, breadfruit (ulu) trees, and taro plants. However, the only two common vegetables that seem to be grown here are bok choy and a green bean relative called longbeans. Both delicious, but it gets old fast. A few people seem to grow tomatoes, but they can’t quite grasp when to pick them- as a result, mostly, I have been making fried green tomatoes, which admittedly are delicious (if not very healthy).

The biggest problem with vegetables is obviously how far away we are from everything. Anything which comes here has to be shipped a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong way. Often they simply don’t make it, or are in less than appetizing condition. Never has Kermit’s classic lament “It’s Not Easy Being Green,“ held truer than for the poor bell peppers and broccoli shipped over here.

Consequently, I eat a lot of frozen vegetables- there isn’t much variety so it tends to be either frozen spinach or some sort of peas, corn and carrot mixture. When I am not eating frozen, I am daydreaming about all the glorious things I am going to be eating in June- okra, snow peas, okra, fresh lettuce, fresh spinach, squash, zucchini, peppers, artichokes, Hanover tomatoes, fresh basil, lima beans. I hope to live like a rabbit for the first two weeks I am home, God willing.

In the meantime, I charge all of you to go to your local salad bar and load up- and don’t forget to spill a little lettuce on the floor, just for me.



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Weather and Other Strange Things.

The weather here is a conundrum. As one might expect from a place located in the biome categorized as "Tropical Rainforest" (yes, the science I am teaching has definitely landed in my brain) the weather here is hot, wet, or most often, both. Every day brings temperatures of 86-88, and a humidity factor of around 85%. If you aren't sweating, the air is sweating for you... though truthfully it is not that bad. It usually showers at least once a day, however briefly- which brings about 5 minutes of relief, until the rain starts steaming from the streets, turning the entire country into a spa-worthy steam room.

While a perfect day in the United States is a breezy, 75 degree wonder with a blue sky, a few picturesque puffy white clouds and a steady stream of cheerful sun, here the best days are gray. Not rainy, but gray, with enough cloud cover to ensure a breeze and a temperature drop of 5-10 degrees, and a noticeable lack of humidity in the air. In other words, the perfect day here is the "oh crap, not again" day in Seattle.

All I can say is, it is a good thing that I will be returning to the States in the spring/summer. The idea of a actually wintry day fills me both with longing and with an absolute fear of turning into Frosty the Snow(wo)man from the shock to my system.

The lack of variation in weather also creates an interesting time paradox. Even though it is now almost December, everything looks and feels the same as the day we arrived. This creates a strange sense of timelessness, a weird feeling that I am floating through this experience in one long, sweaty dream. One of the other volunteers, my next-door neighbor aptly pointed out that we will all probably look back on this experience as a really long summer job. So all of you back home, appreciate your seasons, your subtle and not so subtle signs that time is passing and the world is changing, because as idyllic as it sounds (and usually is), being in a land of perpetual summer is slightly disconcerting.

Love from Samoa,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I am sorry if I worried anyone with my last post (read: Mom and Dad). I was depressed, but mostly I viewed it as a learning experience as a teacher. I am actually glad that I am not so self-centered and egotistical that I never think anything is my fault.
Anyway, it all turned out okay ( I think). I went to the vice principal, who is a very nice lady, and explained that I didn't think it would be fair to count the tests in their mid-term grades. She simply said, "ok." So, problem solved. I have since then been absolutely focused on teaching the formulas and problem solving skills that they obviously did not understand. I have definitely seen a few lightbulbs go off for my students, which gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling, and right now, if everything seems to go well, I will have my students re-test sometime next week.
Speaking of next week, I am so excited! It is slated as "spirit week," and just like in the states, I would bet that various forms of hilarity will ensue. As the schedule stands, Monday is "sports day," Tuesday is "Career day," Wednesday is "international day," Thursday is "Halloween Costume day," and Friday is "black and gold day." I am sure sprinkled in there will be the ubiquitous class meetings filled with learning cheers, and there is guaranteed to be a ridiculous assembly. I am very excited, and I have changed the batteries in my camera in preparation for the tom-foolery. Speaking of cameras.... I have been promising pictures for some time, so it is time to keep my word. Most of the following are my students... ignore the silly poses- it seems to be the "seki-a" (cool) thing to do.

Everyone praying before an assembly...

Aren't they cute??? By the way... if you click on the pictures, it will make them bigger!

Love from cookie-land,


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This was going to be a post about the fun adventures I have been having, especially on Columbus Day weekend (it is very nice to get all the government holidays). However, I am instead going to discuss my current teacher crisis. So far, I would say that I think I am a decent teacher- even in the states, I think I would pass muster, and here, well, I try a LOT harder than most. After my first test, enough students did really well to convince me that on that area of subject matter, my teaching was not the problem for those students who did poorly- their lack of studying was the issue. My conscience was not in any way impinged upon.
However, this latest test has me very disappointed- in myself. About two weeks ago, the administration informed all the teachers that the midterms were coming up- in one week. In less than a week, I had to create a new test and attempt to review with my students. This is coming fairly soon after the last BIG test, so I mostly focused on stuff which I hadn't really tested; I thought the midterm that I created was actually easier than the first test I had given them.
When I started giving the midterm, I immediately noticed some problems- students forgot their calculators, which made the formula section both extremely difficult and time consuming. They were making mistakes and also not finishing- I readjusted the test- excluding one page of it and instead having them write only 2 of the short answer questions on the back of one of the other pages. However, now that I am grading these, I am doubting myself.
The grades are dismal. Beyond simple mistakes in the division and multiplication aspects of the tests, the students obviously did not know or understand the formulas- the vocab section and short answer I can attribute to lack of studying, but for the formula section (which was worth 20 points), I must acknowledge that I obviously did not spend enough time in class on. To me, the formulas seemed easy- but I should not have assumed that this was also true to them. Even my best students struggled with that section, which to me indicates that in this instance, the fault lies with me, the teacher, which is a bitter and humbling pill to swallow.
Swallow it I must, however. I know that this year is a learning experience for me as well, and a major lesson has just come through. I know that I need to go back, re-teach the information, ensure that the students know and understand the material. My dilemma now lies with the test- I feel that it is unfair to keep these grades for them. According to the school, I need to turn in midterm grades tomorrow- meaning that many of these students, if I include the test (which I am supposed to) will be much lower than they should.
How should I remedy this? How can I use this experience to be a better teacher?

By Wednesday, I assume many of these problems will be resolved. I hope to update then. But, until then,

A humbled, contrite and very confused,

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Well, er. Sorry about the 23 day lapse in posting... its been busy, to say the least. I will try to at least summarize what has been going on, but first, a clarification about my last post. I was upset when I wrote that- generally, if I write something negative, it is because it is fresh in my mind, and I feel the need to unburden myself and share it with others. It also would not be honest of me if I did not include both the positive and negative experiences I am going through. Transitioning to a new life is definitely not always easy or fun. However, so far on this journey, I can honestly say that my experience has been good. I have done things, overcome challenges, tested myself in ways I could never have dreamed of. I have a job I love right now, and people who I like all around me. The experience has been great, and positive, and I am not doubting my being here.
That said, the list of stuff that has happened (this is in the order it pops into my head, not the order it happens):

  1. Went to a traditional Samoan Catholic mass for a Saint's feast day, complete with traditional Samoan dances, half naked men with copious amounts of tattoos, and happy birthday balloons for said saint.
  2. Cooked a Rosh Hashanah feast for 14 people. Appetizer: mini pancakes with a topping of spinach, onions and edam. Main course: 3 roast chickens, herbed potatoes, corn with tomatoes and onions, stuffing. Desert: banana carrot cake cupcakes with spiced cream cheese frosting.
  3. Tried fasting for Yom Kippur- the heat made this not doable, so I ended up drinking water.
  4. Hiked a 7 mile hike to the top of Mt. Alava: the first 1. 5 miles to the summit were the hardest 2 hours I have ever experienced. The trail included tons and tons of basically vertical ladders. Very proud to have completed it though.
  5. Saw Salt- the Russian in it was actually fairly accurate.
  6. Our football team won their first game OF ALL TIME.
  7. Went to a beautiful place called "Sliding rock." Unfortunately, went on a day when the water was very rough and high. Said water picked me up, threw me around and against some rocks. I now have some awesome scars, and a newly found appreciation for being alive.
  8. As a result of said win, we had a combination assembly and school dance- I have video to prove it.
  9. I discovered that as punishments go, wall-sits are the best; far better than sit-ups, push-ups, or jumping jacks. The reason is this- push-ups are ineffective because most students can do a maximum of ten. Plus, they take up a lot of space, and the students find great pleasure in counting as loud as they can. Sit-ups are good, because Samoan students can all do around 50 of them (though slowly and laboriously), but they whine about getting their uniforms dirty, have to have their feet held down, and also count really loudly. Wall sits are the best- they take up little space, as its pretty much vertical, there is no danger of dirt, the kids hate doing them, and since I time them, they can’t count out loud. Plus, thanks to old softball coaches, I can do wall sits for a looooong time, so if a kid whines too much, I sit next to him and continue my lecture while doing a wall sit. This usually shuts them up- after all, I am a girl. Perfect solution all around. Plus, it helps their physical fitness!
  10. Went to a Mormon Church near my house- all two hours of Sunday School, plus the service. Everyone in the village now knows my name. It started at 8 in the morning; apparently, the first two hours, everyone goes to different classes. From 8 to nine, I went to the women’s class. 9-10 was the class for people over 18 but unmarried. 10-11 was the actual service. It was very interesting- I had to get up and introduce myself in the first two classes (they make all visitors do this), and they gave me a copy of their Sunday school book in English, which was very kind of them. They also gave me an English book on the history and beliefs of the Mormon church; from a scholastic perspective (which is by and large how I am approaching all the church services I attend here) and from a human one, it was an interesting, positive, and enjoyable early Sunday morning.
  11. Finally convinced my students that I am palagi, and am not at all Samoan. Apparently, my vaguely ethnic features can add one more nationality to their list.
  12. Watched the first season of Dexter. It is a really creepy and really good show. For those who don’t know what it is, it is basically about a serial killer, who leads a double life, as a forensic specialist and loving boyfriend and brother (to two separate ladies of course) and as a serial killer with a code of conduct (only kill those who deserve it) instilled in him by a cop adoptive father. Not a great description, but it really is a good show.
  13. Hiked to Larson's Bay and swam, read and relaxed. The hike was beautiful- through straight jungle with some sheer rock faces on either side of the trail at some points. I saw the biggest bat ever too... and collected a ton of gorgeous weird shells which I am now obsessed with.
  14. Got really sunburned. Apparently, some days the sun is really strong here... even for my skin. It hurts to sit now :-).
  15. Almost won at Trivial Pursuit. Stupid Mark beat me by ONE QUESTION.
  16. Gave my first test in Science...
  17. ... Had to send two students to the office for cheating. However, on the bright side, I think a lot of my students did really well. I am really proud of them, and apparently they are really proud of themselves as well; a bunch of them are in April (my roommate’s) English class, and for their journal prompt on Friday (something that they are proud of this week) a ton of them wrote that they were proud because they studied hard for Ms. Rosa’s test and thought they passed. I have to say, reading some of those entries was so far one of my best teaching moments; I like knowing that my students are caring about my class.
  18. Made a breakthrough ( I think) with my English class...
  19. Finally got to video-chat with Jeremiah. He got EOD!
  20. Started Gear-Up (one hour of tutoring every morning before school)

There is more I am sure, but I can't remember it all now. Later this week, pictures and videos of my students!

I love you and miss you all,