Sunday, 3 February 2013

Greetings from South Africa!

Disclaimer: This blog reflects my opinions and observations, and my opinions and observations only. Although I am a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, I am not a member of the US Department of State, nor do any of my updates reflect the US Department of State in any official capacity.

Hi everyone,

I’ve been in South Africa for three full weeks now: 1 week of orientation and 2 weeks of teaching. Here’s a quick update on how things have been.

After being reunited with the other ETA’s, some at the airport and others at the hotel, we had orientation, during which we visited a local primary school and heard speeches from various education officials. It was great seeing the other ETA’s again. We hadn’t seen each other since June, but luckily, we learned at orientation that there is a Fulbright conference in Ethiopia in April that we are all invited to. (It ends two days before my 23rd birthday.)

I was initially supposed to be placed in Durban, but was switched to Pretoria in December, which means I am living relatively close to the embassy. The closest ETA’s are in Jo-burg, but others are as far away as Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Everyone at the embassy has been so generous and welcoming thus far. I really appreciate all the support we have received.

I spent my first weekend getting furniture for my apartment. The apartment is very secure, but has no furniture, no fridge or microwave and no free wifi. It also only has a bathtub, with no shower and the detachable shower heads they sell at the hardware store don’t fit. The good news is there is a gym in the same area as my apartment, so I can shower there. They also have computers that patrons can use. The Laundromat is small and you have to let them wash your clothes for you rather than doing it yourself, so a load of laundry costs 66 rand or just over 8 dollars. So far laundry is the only thing I have found to be overly expensive. Rent, gym membership, and food are all reasonably priced.

One of the highlights of my time here, other than teaching, of course, was the Lincoln Premiere. The Pretoria and Jo-burg ETA’s were invited to the South Africa premiere of the movie Lincoln. It was a wonderful event. Great hors d’oeuvres, some funny photo opportunities, and some great books about the US that will be helpful when I’m teaching. The free popcorn and soda during the movie was a pretty sweet deal too. J I also “almost” won a door prize. Key word being “almost.”

Last weekend, the Jo-burg ETA’s and I went to Ukatula Lion Park (which was supposed to be a one hour and 15 minute drive, but took much longer. Thanks Google.) It was a wonderful experience though. We got to play with 5-month-old lion cubs, pet a 4-year-old cheetah, and hold newborn lion and tiger cubs. It was incredibly fun, definitely worth the trip. I’m just really glad I wore jeans that had some give to them because lion cubs are a lot like puppies—they like to nibble. The only thing that would have made it better is if the workers would have let us hold the baby lions like Simba in the Lion King, but no, you have to support their butts. (Goofy tourist moment, what can I say?)

Although I am living in Pretoria, I am teaching at a high school in the township of Atteridgeville. This term, I am co-teaching two grade 8 classes, two grade 9 classes, three grade 11 classes, and one grade 12 class. Next semester, I will be working with the grade 10’s.

The students have been incredible so far, very helpful and very eager to learn. Unlike in the States, students are not grouped by ability level, such as AP, honors, etc. Instead the older grades are grouped by their interests. From what I can tell, it is similar to how students are grouped by major in college. Also, the class sizes in South Africa are much larger. My grade 12 class has roughly 24 students, but the grade 8 classes have over 50, and not all the students have chairs and desks. Also, because of the large number of students, the students stay in their classrooms and the teachers move from class to class. I am still getting accustomed to having to bring my eraser and chalk with me to class. My “office” is in the library.

I had to do several impromptu lessons the first two weeks. To my credit, I remembered a great deal of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I read as a sophomore in high school, enough to do a 90 minute lesson on it with about 30 seconds notice. I also taught a lesson on direct and indirect speech to all my grade 11 classes. Now they are learning to outline a 5 paragraph essay, which they love…not. The grade 9’s are learning to identify the main point, topic sentence, and supporting evidence of paragraphs, and will be doing some creative writing next week. Assuming I can get my hands on some index cards, I’ve got some games I want the grade 8’s and my grade 12 class to do.

As for the students themselves, they all had a wide range of questions for me, everything from do I know any celebrities to how do I do my hair. I am trying to learn conversational words and phrases in Sepedi (Northern Sotho), one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, and the mother tongue of most of my students. Many of them speak Zulu as well. Some have English names, but many don’t. That combined with the number of students I have, is making it hard for me to remember names, something I’m usually very good at. Luckily, they are being very patient with me.

I am starting my martial arts club this week. ETA’s are required to do one extra activity during their grant. The club is mine. I also work at a reading room on Fridays, where my co-ETA and I are leading a “girls club.” We are hoping to start a creative writing group at the high school soon, but in the meantime, we will be doing some creative arts projects at the reading room. Half the girls want to have a debate and the other half wants to put on a play.

Check back in a couple weeks for another update!
- Beth