Tag Archives: School

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I see students almost everyday for guidance and one of the biggest concerns they come to me with is anxiety and/or depression because of the pressure they’re under. A lot of that pressure comes from parents, teachers, and peers, but so much more comes from themselves. Now this is a topic I know a lot about. I have anxiety and depression. I am constantly second guessing myself. I rarely feel like I’m good enough or successful enough. I’m constantly comparing myself to others and trying to prove something. I don’t know who I’m trying to prove my worth to anymore, I just know that someone out there still needs to see that I’m good enough. Why?

I’m always telling my students that they are amazing just the way they are and they shouldn’t focus on getting the perfect score or having everyone like them, but instead focus on doing the best they can do. Then they can’t feel disappointed in themselves because they put in every effort. I tell them that the world would suck if we were all the same, so they should rejoice in their own personal strengths and uniqueness. I say all of this, and I mean it, but I can’t seem to give myself that same advice.

I tell them it’s ok to not get 48 points (the equivalent of a 4.0), but I’m obsessed with whether my 3.93 will get elevated with these last credits associated with my internship. I tell them not to stress about being as good as their peers at something, but I’m always comparing my PC service to my friends or trying to study everything under the sun because someone knows more about something than me. I tell them to not focus too much on the end result, but to focus on the now and the journey, but my head is always 5 or 10 steps ahead. I tell them to rejoice in their individuality and uniqueness, but I have been trying for as long as I can remember to fit my life and body into a mold of what women should look and act like. I tell them to love and treat themselves well because they’re the only people they have to be with every second of everyday, but I so constantly beat myself up for not being perfect.

This is not just me. This is human nature and how we’re conditioned societally. There is this ideal of the perfect human and we’re constantly comparing ourselves to that and seeing the positive ways our peers are achieving that. But no one is perfect and as we see the positive in others and the negative in ourselves, other people are seeing the positive in us and the negatives in themselves.

I’ve been told a lot lately that I’m really inspiring, which of course I appreciate, but it always surprises me. I don’t feel that inspiring because I’m constantly putting myself down and saying I’m not doing enough and if only people saw me on the days where I make a peach crisp, eat it as my primary meal for the whole day, and watch over 12 hours of glee, they’d realize that I’m just like everyone else. That example, by the way, is essentially how I spent my day today. But the point is that I am inspiring in many ways, just like everyone else around me is. We’ve all had to overcome something and we’ve all succeeded at something. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who I can say hasn’t inspired me in one way or another.

But I also could be a better example for the people who look up to me. How can I tell my kids not to stress about their grades when I cried the first time I got a B on a test because I thought it was the end of the world?; when I am still so obsessed with my grades that I’m nervous to go back to school? How can I tell them to not compare their achievements with their peers, when I see a project another PCV is doing and think that I’m a terrible volunteer and I’m not working hard enough? Or when I call myself stupid and ignorant when someone brings up a topic that I’ve never heard of? How can I tell them to not focus so hard on the end result when my head is already on applying for Ph.D.’s and what my life will look like in America in 8 months? How can I tell them to rejoice in their uniqueness and individuality when I have based my self-worth on being thin and looking like the girls around me? How can I tell them to love themselves and treat themselves well when I am constantly bringing myself down for being fat, unlovable, stupid, lazy, etc.?

I’m great at giving the advice and seeing the good in those around me, but I’m not so good at doing the same for myself. I sometimes come off as cocky and arrogant because I’m trying to hide my deeply ingrained insecurities, but who is that helping. That’s not giving an example of authenticity. I’m tired of trying to be someone I’m not. I’m tired of putting all this pressure on myself. I’m tired of trying to make myself smaller for the world. So I’m going to start taking my own advice. I’m going to give myself credit when credit is due and I’m going to put in the most effort I can in every area of my life (while listening to my body and mind) so that I have no reason to feel guilty or bad about myself. But I’m also going to let myself have days to eat an entire peach crisp and watch 12 hours of glee. I’m going to stop thinking about my size compared to others, that number on the scale, or the size on a tag. The size of my body doesn’t define my worth or even my health. And if someone tries to judge me for the little piece of my life that they see, that’s a reflection of them, not me. They don’t know my life, my story, or really me if they think they can or should judge me negatively. Just like most of the humans I know, I’m a pretty awesome person. Hopefully I can start teaching my kids through example instead of just talk. We all deserve to feel good about ourselves and live happy lives. It’s unfortunate that it’s often one of the most challenging things to do.

What I Wish I Had Known (Part 1)

I’ve been a little down the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been good about blogging. Sorry! I know you probably don’t really care, but I said I was going to be better about it, so I care. This post is going to be a little long and as I started writing it, I realized it was going to be far too long. So it’s actually going to go out in installments. This first will be mostly about my job. The next will be about cultural differences and I’ll try to get it out in less than a week.

This series of posts is mostly aimed at the new trainees coming to Botswana in July/August. I promised them I would write a bit about what it’s like here, what I packed, etc. So, it’s aimed at them, but will also be pretty informative about what my life is like here for all you curious friends and family out there.

I’m going to get extremely real in this series of posts, so I just want to put a disclaimer that these are my perceptions and feelings toward my service currently. I do know many volunteers who agree with me on many points, but I really can only speak for myself and my one perspective out of the 120ish volunteers currently in country. I also want to make a point that this gives you an idea of what your service could sort of look like, but everyone has completely different services and faces many different challenges. So I don’t want you to read this and start building expectations that this is exactly what your service will look like. This is my service and no one else is going to have the exact same experiences as me. So here goes.

Here’s a look at my job, both what my job would have been in Ralekgetho and what my job is here in Kanye:
I’m what’s called a life skills volunteer in the Youth in Development sector. I’m in a unique situation because I’m going through a second community integration phase right now. While my fellow volunteers are really getting into their jobs, I’m still trying to figure out what my job is going to look like. That being said, because of my unique circumstances, I’m able to tell you about two very different Botswana experiences.

In Ralekgetho (my first village) I worked at a small primary school of only 160 students. That’s the smallest school I’ve heard of here. I refused to teach because I didn’t think that was sustainable or useful when what I’m here for is to help with HIV/AIDS work. The main thing we’re supposed to do in schools is help them to implement a curriculum called living or life skills. In the primary school level, it’s mostly about self awareness, self-esteem, and other basic mental and physical health topics. It really isn’t until standards 5-7, which are the last three grades at the primary level, that you go into more HIV related topics. A large issue we face here that the national language is considered English and so their standardized testing is done in English, but more often than not, the students are taught in Setswana and their English is not good enough to read the tests. This can lead to students failing out of school and falling into more risky behavior which can lead to HIV. So we are expected to help rectify this situation a bit.

So this is what I had planned for projects: I was going to start 3 English clubs, one for standards 1, 2, and 3, one for standards 4 and 5, and one for standards 6 and 7. I was also helping the health post in my village and they wanted to do monthly health talks for the community. So the standard 7 teacher and I had planned to teach the standard 7s a health topic and have them lead the health talks for the community. My tutor in the community wanted to start a girl guide troop and I have a lot of experience as a Girl Scout for 11 years, and the founder and leader of a large troop of 30 girls for 3 years, so I was going to help her with that. The community seemed a little disjointed from the school, so I was planning a monthly newsletter to share more of what was happening with the school and community as a whole. I was also planning monthly events to address vision issues in the school, oral hygiene, gender based violence, etc. I was also planning to fix up the school library, have library hours to talk to students, and start reading clubs.

I had a lot of plans and normally I wouldn’t try to start so many different projects, but I was really able to integrate in Ralekgetho and had many people who wanted to help with these projects. So I had a lot of hope that they would be sustainable and successful. Since I had to leave that village before I was able to begin anything, we really have no idea how successful I would have been. I’ve heard of volunteers who’ve had 20 or so ideas and not a single one was successful in their service. There are just too many factors involved to really know if something will take off. Ralekgetho was also one of the few sites that had never had a volunteer before. So I was really starting everything from scratch.

Kanye is very different. First off, I’m in a senior secondary school, so I’m working with form 4 and 5 students (11th and 12th grades). I am teaching, more like facilitating, 14 classes a week on guidance and living topics. So similar to the living curriculum for the primary school, just more in depth and we have a whole period to discuss the topics instead of just infusing it into other lessons. I also have office hours to work with students one on one for guidance and counseling. On top of that I am facilitating a club called teen talk and helping with the PACT (peer approach to counseling by teens) club. I’m also assisting a local man in starting a youth center. Besides the youth center, I am just filling in the shoes of the previous volunteer. I never really had interest in teaching, but my counterparts expected me to just do what the previous volunteer did. They had already made a schedule of my classes before I even moved here.

In Ralekgetho, I had all the control over my job and here I have no control. In the end, this job is going to be more applicable to my education and career pursuits, but is also less free and open for me to make my own path. In many ways, I feel like I am just acting as another guidance and counseling teacher. So I feel that this job is less sustainable than what I was doing in Ralekgetho. In Ralekgetho I had other teachers and counterparts who were equally as invested in the projects with me. Here, I am pretty much on my own with my projects. When I leave, what I’m currently doing is not going to continue. My teen talk club won’t continue, and my classes will most likely be dispersed amongst the other two teachers, but many times they don’t actually attend their own classes as is; other things seem to take priority. So the amount of teaching will also go down. It’s challenging to think that I won’t be making a real impact in the school, but hopefully I’ll be making a real impact with the students.

No matter what your work looks like here, you’ll have less control than you’ll be used to from American jobs; you just have to find the little things that can keep you going. For me, it’s knowing that I can be a positive influence to my kids. I can help that form 5 who’s being bullied because he comes off as gay (which is further complicated by the fact that any form of sex besides penile/vaginal intercourse is illegal here), or that student who wants to know how to make it through school when she feels all her motivation is gone. I can be that non-judgmental active listener, that I’ve never seen anywhere else in this country. A lot of the time, people just need validation, and I can give that. If that helps a student to succeed and in turn help or influence someone else in the future, I’ve made a sustainable impact. That’s what I have to hold onto.

Watch for my next post on cultural differences! (It is now available here.)

The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love

I had the amazing opportunity to speak with the new cohort of GYD (Global Youth Development) students tonight (yay technology!). They asked some great questions about how the program prepared me for my service, what I’m doing during community integration, gender roles here and how they’ve effected me, projects I’m thinking of doing, how to teach about HIV/AIDS when I’m not allowed to teach preventive sex ed, etc. With each answer I gave, I felt like I was becoming more and more of a Donald Downer (I’m trying to break some gender stereotypes here humans, bare with me).

But this is the truth about Peace Corps, if you’re going to be an effective volunteer who can handle this type of work, you have to know what you’re getting into. Peace Corps is not all rainbows and unicorns; everyday we face new challenges. Those challenges can be worries that we’re doing something wrong, not knowing how to handle the corporal punishment we’re hearing in the next room, not having running water or access to water, getting tired of constantly being a show pony or being free game to be touched and poked and prodded by every person in your community, working in a corrupt system, being far away from your support system, dealing with loss and grief, etc… (All but one of these already applies to me. I’m happy to say I haven’t witnessed corruption). Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of rewards as well, but in the end, the challenges are what make or break your service. You can have countless amazing things, but one major challenge that you aren’t prepared for can break you.

This environment is no joke; emotions are always more extreme than you expect here. Learning one new Setswana phrase can make me happy for days and thinking about how much I wish I could be watching the new season of Grey’s Anatomy can make me cry. That’s a small exaggeration, but barely. Anyway, the point is, where is the line between realism and Donald Downerism?

I think it’s important to share every aspect of Peace Corps. And everything I said was true, it may have been a harsh reality, but reality’s a necessary bitch, isn’t he? And if you’re really considering Peace Corps, it shouldn’t surprise you much. Even the Peace Corps themselves used the slogan, “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love”. One of the stories I remember the most from an RPCV who served in Tanzania, was a gruesome story of corporal punishment and lack of power over those situations as a PCV. Yes, it was hard to understand how people could do that to children, but in the end, that story increased my resolve to become a volunteer because I knew what I was getting into.

If you’re a little squeamish and don’t like peeing in a bucket and dumping it out your window (it beats the alternative of going out to your pit latrine in the dark and being eaten by a giant cockroach or having one crawl up your bum, seriously), don’t think you could sleep through plaster dust falling all over you because it’s a windy night, don’t think you could sit back and just listen while your counterpart gives a presentation on learning challenges with completely false information, or sit in the next room while you hear the standard 1 teacher hitting kids who are sobbing, this job may not be for you and I totally respect that! I personally would be a terrible plumber or massage therapist, but there are great people out there for those jobs. So it’s OK that I’m not trying to do those jobs. It’s just extremely important when you’re going to make a commitment like this to see it from all sides. It’s a multifaceted world we live in, don’t treat it like it’s two dimensional. So, anyway, I’m kind of glad I was a bit of a Negative Nate. My sugar tooth is waning here anyway, so all that sugar coating just doesn’t sit well on my tongue anymore.

Cows on dirt sidewalk by wall

I’ve acquired a fear of being trampled by a herd of cows

You may find this amusing, but death by cow is far more common than you realize. Never the less, I do get laughed at here if I approach the cows too gingerly. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first I should explain where these cows are. And the answer is everywhere! Here’s a cow, there’s a cow, oh there’s a goat, another cow, ooh, a donkey, don’t forget the flocks of chickens everywhere as well. I think I’m still getting ahead of myself. Anyway, it is very common for all sorts of animals to be on the loose here. I actually have never really seen any animals fenced in anywhere.

On the way to Ralekgetho, we would drive by herds of cows, donkeys, or goats and every time my supervisor would say Botswana is a cow country, Botswana is a donkey country, or Botswana is a goat country. They are everywhere and frequently hold up traffic. In my village, it seems the fences are more common to keep animals out of yards than in them. The school is fenced all around and yet, somehow, the goats or cows find ways in to eat the little grass we have. The headmaster of the school will ask the boys of one of the classes to go scare the cows or goats out of the school yard. There are also tons of chickens wandering around with their little flocks of chicks following them.

Unfortunately, because there really isn’t any other noise in the village, I’ll be laying in bed and hear a cow or donkey right outside my window. The other night it sounded like a donkey was dying outside my window for what seemed like an hour, no sign of it in the morning. Tonight, there were at least two roosters having a yelling contest a few houses down. You’d think that since I grew up on a hobby farm I’d be used to animals by now, but like I said, you hear them so much more here. In America, there are other noises drowning them out.

Here, there’s nothing. There isn’t even the buzz of electricity. You can hear so much more and while we’re on the topic, see so much more as well. I’ve seen more stars here than I could imagine in the sky and even caught a solar eclipse by accident. Living in places like this definitely change the way you see the world.

The Start of a New Adventure

Beginnings are always the hardest because you don’t really know what’s to come. I’ve been racking my brain for the first thing I want to say, but each time I am hit with this question: “How can I start writing my blog when I haven’t started my adventure yet?” But in all honesty, my adventure started years ago when I first started thinking about the Peace Corps. My journey began when I was seventeen and thinking about which four year college to transfer to. I was looking at my options, Evergreen being number one, and asking myself if I wanted to take a break from school, (because I was so unsure of where I was going to come up with the money), when I stumbled across Peace Corps. Most Peace Corps programs require a bachelor’s degree, but at the time, to work in the agriculture field, you just needed an associates and at least six months work experience in agriculture. Now, coming from a two acre hobby farm, being vice president of the Students for Environmental Action Club, and thinking that I was hot shit, I thought for sure that I would be able to find a summer job and learn agriculture skills to become an agricultural volunteer. Yeah, fat chance of that one. It wasn’t until a day working on a farm, with an angry farmer who didn’t want me there, and my allergies flaring up to where I could barely see, that I realized that was not the life for me. I was not going to make it as an agriculture volunteer, but I was determined to not give up on the Peace Corp.

So I decided to continue pursuing psychology, after all, all the other Peace Corps programs required at least ten years’ experience or a bachelor’s degree. I chose The Evergreen State College (they were ranked number seven in schools to have alumni join the Peace Corps) and focused on school for a full year before thinking about the Peace Corps again. It wasn’t until I was done with my first year at Evergreen, my junior year of college, starting to think about grad school, and feeling completely burnt out that I started considering Peace Corps again. I was having an overnight with two of my best friends at the time, and we were all talking about life after Evergreen. Both of them were considering a year off and one of them in particular (*cough cough* Franny *cough cough*) kept telling me that I really should take a year off. Now I have never been one to take a substantial break in the middle of something. I just want to power through and get it done. But after that first year living on my own, working full-time, going to school full-time, losing both my grandparents in one day, trying to handle a tough living situation, and losing a credit in a class I didn’t think I deserved to lose; a year off sounded really good. Especially because the Master’s programs I was looking into were four or five year long programs. So I thought, “Well, I’ll apply both to grad school and to the Peace Corps, and then we’ll see which one I get into.” So I started to look into each of them individually.

I found over forty Graduate programs to look into, worked for months trying to whittle the list down, and then happened upon a little thing called Masters’ International. It was almost too good to be true. “I could get my Master’s degree while doing the Peace Corps?” I had never found such a happy medium in my life before. So I started looking into Psychology programs in the Masters’ International field. There were only two, one in Montana and the other in Michigan. For me, Michigan wasn’t even an option. It was too far away and I was going to be paying out the wazoo. Montana on the other hand, that was doable. I could become a part of the WGRP and get in-state tuition, it was only an 8 hour drive from home, and it wouldn’t be quite as shocking as moving to Michigan. It was like a little tiny baby step before I left everything I knew for the Peace Corps. Of course there wasn’t a guarantee that I’d get into either the Master’s Program or the Peace Corps, but as the all or nothing person I am, I decided “to hell with it” I’ll just throw all my eggs in one basket and only apply to the one program. If I don’t get in, it really is time for a break.

So I agonized over this one application for months. There was rewrite after rewrite that my amazing best friend was kind enough to give me feedback after feedback on. She and I made a goal that I would submit the application before my birthday, almost a month early, and I did. Then I agonized over my Skype interview, and then I agonized about how long I wasn’t hearing from them. This is why I will always remember the day I was sitting in the lunch room at my first grade teaching assistant job, eating my lunch, when I just happened to check my e-mail and see the news that would change my life completely: I was one of eight students selected for the Global Youth Development Master’s program at the University of Montana. This was the most exciting day of my life because I really had no idea it was coming. I, of course, had people saying that I was going to get in and that I should start planning my future, but I really had no concrete thoughts that I was going to get in. On top of that, I had a giant fear that I wasn’t ready. I was worried I was rushing myself and that I would get to Montana and fall on my ass. I was only 20, I had never lived more than a couple hours from my family, I had been surrounded by the same sorts of people my entire life, and always had a support system around me. How did I know that I could handle all of these challenges? This was the most excited I had ever been, but also the most scared I had ever been. I knew that if I wanted to succeed in the Peace Corps, I had to at least succeed in Montana where I at least still had reliable phone and internet contact with my mom.

So I finished my Peace Corps application, packed up, left the amazing friends and family I had in Washington, and moved to Montana where the first question I was asked is if I had a gun to register with the apartment. It was my first situation with an assigned roommate, my first Montana Summer, my first time trying to navigate a place I had only been once, the first time I knew absolutely no one within eight hour travel radius, and the first time I wasn’t either working, going to school, or doing both at the same time. I had a month to settle in which ended up translating to wallowing in self-pity and loneliness, doing endless online shopping, and watching every movie I had in my collection while avoiding my overly conservative, boy crazy roommate who was generally never alone. It was a rough transition and I really wasn’t prepared for it, but it was probably the best way for me to discover coping mechanisms, learn my needs, and prepare for two years of loneliness and self-pity in the Peace Corps (just kidding, I’ll only be lonely and self-pitying for the first year ;). Once school started, I was plagued with more insecurities of being so young, and not fitting in. I was worried that my lack of experience compared to everyone else would be a hindrance to my success. I was also worried that the two years of going to school with an ungraded system would have ruined me for traditional school. “Could I really do this? Or who was I kidding?” About half way through the first semester, I realized “Who was I kidding. Of course I could do this!” It wasn’t without its struggles though, especially as we played the Peace Corps waiting game.

The application is just the first part. You apply, go through an initial medical clearance, and then wait, and wait, and wait. Then you might hear that you are being considered for a country. I heard in September that I was being considered for Zambia for an English teaching position which I promptly turned down because I knew that every Peace Corps position came with teaching English and I didn’t want it to be my focus. So then I did some more waiting while they thought about my decision to turn down a position. “How entitled am I?” Then I heard I was being considered for Botswana! So there was a burst of excitement and then some more waiting and a bit more waiting. Then one of the moments that I was waiting for, I got a request for an interview! So then there was a bit more waiting. Then the day of the interview, at seven in the morning, a half hour before the interview, and after I had already gotten to the school and settled in, I got an e-mail saying that I my interviewer was sick and we’d have to reschedule. Meanwhile, all the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV’s) around me were saying how prepared I was and how I was for sure going to get in. It really didn’t feel like it after that interview was cancelled though. So I got the interview rescheduled, it ended up being with a different person, and as soon as the interview was done, I knew. I knew that I was going to Botswana with the Peace Corps. It only took three days to hear back that I had my invitation. Second best day of my life.