Not your average school…

There are ten empty pizza boxes stacked up in the kitchen. Every cup is dirty and in the kitchen sink, and the living room is littered with crumbs and pizza crust. There is no more water, soda, or even mango juice left in the fridge. It’s obvious: teenagers have been here.

For months, my 11th grade female students have wanted to have a movie night and sleepover at my apartment. Somehow the boys also got invited (for the movie part), and last night I ended up with a living room full of 11th graders, spending their Friday night at their English teacher’s apartment.

Our beautiful school campus.
Our beautiful school campus.

It’s something that never in a million years would happen at a public school in America. But this isn’t a public school. And it’s not in America. I teach at an international school in Uganda. The differences in atmosphere and relationships are astronomical.

In December, a co-worker of mine posted this on Facebook: “I went to a birthday dinner this evening. The birthday girl was turning fifteen, and seemed completely unfazed that most of her guests were her teachers. International schools have a different dynamic, that’s for sure!

It’s so true- the dynamics of an international school are unique beyond compare.

The high school I teach at is small. There are 17 freshmen, 14 sophomores, 8 juniors and 10 seniors. Our relationships with these kids are anything but ordinary. Teachers don’t just see students Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 and 3. We hang out together after school, we go to the zoo over Christmas break, we plan trips to Jinja over Easter weekend, we have kids over for dinner, they get ready for school banquets at our homes. That’s just how it is here.

One of my girls said last night at the sleepover, “I would never hang out with my teachers in my home country, but it’s different here. We’re like a family.”

Most of my students are international, so their parents here are very busy doing mission work or working for NGOs. It’s why our roles as teachers are that much more important in their lives. We’re the ones at their ball games, school performances, and spending time with them outside of school. It’s where we fit in to God’s plan.

I think a lot of my elementary-teacher friends think I’m crazy. They see the amount of time secondary teachers spend with their students and just don’t get it. But the things our kids go through in this stage of life are so intense. It’s impossible not to get close to kids when classes are so small and especially at a Christian school, where your discussions often involve matters of faith and spirituality.

IMG_20130814_142112I don’t mind if people look at me funny  because I’d rather spend time with my students than some adults. God didn’t send me here to spend all my time with people my own age. He sent me here to be a light for Him for my students. He sent me here to give advice to my girls who are crying over boys or problems at home. He sent me here to talk to the boys about their future plans and how to properly treat a girl. God sent my secondary-teacher co-workers to do the same things. It’s really a beautiful thing we have going here!

In less than two months I’ll leave this beautiful country and head back to America, but I’ll never forget what I’ve experienced here. I’m leaving this place with what I feel like are now dozens of little brothers and sisters from all over the world. They’ve certainly changed my life. I pray that by the time I leave, I’ll have done the same for at least one of them.

From one house to another…

My new apartment is on the second floor of this building.
My new apartment is on the second floor of this building.

It was after 1 a.m. when I arrived at my new home in Uganda on August 1. The sight of the towering house literally took my breath away, and I was shocked as I was then shown to my very own bedroom and bathroom after walking through the giant living room and eating area.

I certainly didn’t expect to live in a hut. My adventure in Africa would be teaching high school English at an international school in city of more than a million people. I knew my place would be decent, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be primitive. However I also didn’t expect it to be really nice.

Housing here is so strange. The school takes care of our housing, but not all housing was created equal. For three months I have lived in a two-story house with two girls. We each had our own bedroom and bathroom. We had house help six days a week. We had double beds, large bedrooms, a huge kitchen and a nice yard. Other people have tiny apartments, twin beds, bedrooms less than half the size of mine, and house help only twice a week. I’m not blaming the difference in housing on the school, but it is pretty extreme, because they have to take what they can afford and what is close to school.

While the house is beautiful, it isn’t my ideal living space. I have always wished I lived closer to school, and I’m definitely not bonding with the dog I’ve been forced to live with. Simba is a great guard dog, but he causes me more stress than he’s worth, even though I try to pretend he doesn’t exist.

Meet Ashlie- my new roommate!
Meet Ashlie- my new roommate!

As I mentioned about a month ago, my friend Katrina left Uganda. Her leaving here opened a space in one of the apartments closer to school. The opening would be with my friend Ashile, from America, and the new girl taking Katrina’s spot is Dutch. Lots of wheels were turning in everyone’s mind as we realized how this could work out great for all of us- where Ashlie wouldn’t have to have a roommate she didn’t know, and the new Dutch girl could have Dutch roommates. And yes- I could be closer to school and not have to deal with the dog.

Yesterday was moving day. I moved to a smaller apartment, smaller bed, smaller bedroom, and I’ll be sharing a bathroom. But to be honest, the great house I was living in isn’t what I ever expected to have here. I’m happy to make the sacrifice of moving into a smaller place. In the end, I think it’s exactly what I need for the rest of my time here in Uganda.

I’ll certainly miss Debby and Elize, but I look forward to new adventures with Ashlie and our awesome neighbors!

Here are some more pictures of my new home here in Uganda:

The view from this different apartment is much more like I expected things to be here.
The view from this different apartment is much more like I expected things to be here.
Smaller bed, but works just fine for me!
Smaller bed, but works just fine for me!
Favorite part of the new apartment - our porch!
Favorite part of the new apartment – our porch!
View looking out the back of the apartment.

The first goodbye…

“After this year, we go back home.”

“Looks like we won’t be back next year.”

“I put in my notice. I’m going back to America in a few weeks.”

1240220_585275881853_518517809_nI wasn’t prepared for this part of working at an international school- the part where teachers and students come and go like there’s a revolving door at the front of campus.

Yesterday I said my first goodbye to a new friend here in Uganda. Katrina knows God led her here, but through her experiences and a lot of time spent in prayer, she also learned that God only wanted her here for a short time. Two months to be exact.

Katrina and I are a lot alike. We bonded almost instantly over common tastes in music, movies and television shows. I was happy to find a fellow American who reminded me so much of my best friends in the States. But for various reasons, Katrina’s time here in Uganda was cut short. She left yesterday, and is now back in America.

It hurt to see Katrina go, but I realize now that this is a common thing I’ll have to get used to here. This was only the first goodbye.1377040_587489186373_734753264_n

I know of a handful of students who will not be back next year. Either their parents are missionaries moving them to another country, or they’re children of fellow teachers who are done working at our school. So not only will many of my students be gone next year, but some of my co-workers I have already grown to love.

Goodbyes are never fun, but they are certainly going to be a major part of my life throughout the next few years I spend in Uganda. I pray that God will use each and every person I meet to enrich my life, and I hope I can do the same for them.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I have no doubt that God will use Katrina to do great things back in the US!  I’ll miss you, girl. We are all praying for you and the start of your life back home again!

From there to here. Not as easy as it looks…

IMG_20130801_093930I never once led people to believe I was moving to Africa to live in a hut and feed the poor. Anyone who had those ideas completely came up with them on their own.

My home here in Uganda is gorgeous. The school grounds are amazing. We have electricity (most days). I can Facebook and email on a daily basis.

The physical similarities end there.

I worked in my classroom all day without electricity. I was greeted by two lizards in my classroom- one behind a bookshelf and the other under my desk. I put up torn and faded posters around my room since I didn’t pack any, nor can I run to the store to buy any. Today I realized about a hundred things I still needed for my classroom and just had to accept the fact that I won’t be getting them until I’m back in the US next summer.

Transition. This morning at New Teacher Orientation we talked about transition. Anyone who thinks that because I have a nice house and a big classroom means I don’t have a transition to make is seriously misguided.

This is Africa. It might not be the Africa you pictured, but it is Africa. I don’t have a television. I don’t have unlimited internet. I don’t have texting. I cannot drink the water from the faucet. I have to take public transportation (a sweaty, crowded minivan or a boda) whenever I want to go somewhere not in my own neighborhood.

Transition. To say I’ve got a transition to go through is an understatement. This morning a teacher was telling us about holding his crying children the night before who just want to be back in America. Another teacher has left her husband in America until he can get his immigration papers cleared. Some of my co-workers are teaching for the very first time. Others, like me, have a huge adjustment to make going from a public school system to an international school.

But there are others going through transition as well… our students.

Heritage International School was originally just for missionary kids. It’s since opened up to locals. We have more than 25 nationalities represented in our student body. Let’s face it- not all of these kids are thrilled at the fact that their parents have moved them to Africa.

People seem to have this misconception that doing mission work overseas means only helping the poor. While I plan on taking trips to villages to do just that, the majority of my time will be working with teenagers. American teenagers, English teenagers, Ugandan teenagers, etc. etc. Do they need Christ any less because they are not poor and living in huts? Also, don’t they need someone to teach them while their parents ARE out in the villages helping the poor? IMG_20130806_120151_new

There are also a number of my students that are NOT Christian. The school, being openly Christian, gives us the opportunity to witness to kids who don’t know the Lord!

Transition. We’ve all got a transition to make. The teachers. The students. The parents. Me.

If you think this has been a walk in the park so far, it hasn’t been. I’m as happy as ever, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tough. I’ve got a lot to learn and certainly a lot to adjust to.

As you pray for me, please also pray for my fellow teachers and my students, whom I will meet next Friday. Also pray for teachers and students back in the United States. Starting a new school year is a time of transition for everyone, but with God by our side, we know we can face it and be successful.

“And he said unto them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15