Reverse Reverse Culture Shock

Our trip to Peru allowed for a very twisted but interesting cultural experience. People talk about “reverse culture shock” – the idea that re-entry, into that which was once normal for you, can be a surprising and overwhelming experience. While most people go home and are reminded of things that they had forgotten about while abroad, though, I headed to another third world country, which was very similar to Indonesia, and watched other people go through the things that had been normalized in my mind over the last two years.

river

I watched 93 others process the things that I stopped balking at long ago – bucket showers, no toilet seats, hot and humid weather, not understanding the language, a lack of efficiency, and big bugs.*

buses

indo shoes

transport

The biggest change that I recognized in myself, though, was my reaction to things not going as planned. One of my biggest shortcomings is my love for control. I’ve habitually stuffed my life so full that things not going as planned throws a major wrench into my mental projection of how things should go.

Those of you who know anything about Indonesian culture can probably imagine, with some amusement, the way that it lined up with my personality and priorities. Needless to say, I had many opportunities to practice dealing with things that did not go as planned. To name a few: nothing ever being done on time, rain storms and flash floods, bankrupt airlines and disappearing drivers.

When we got to Peru, there were lots of things that weren’t quite what we expected. I didn’t get my luggage for two days. “We provide bedding” turned out to mean that there was a sheet on the mattress, but nothing else. We had no enclosed showers, and the public spigots sat between the boys’ and girls’ cabins.

What struck me, though, was that none of this really bothered me. Two years ago, I would’ve been up in arms, but my time in Indonesia taught me that, if you really think about it, those things don’t determine your effectiveness or joy or anything of much importance.

I learned that complaining and worrying and anxiety don’t solve anything, and that one’s response to a situation is 95% of the outcome. This sounds so simple, but it had to be beaten into me time and again before I really internalized it! I can’t say it was a fun lesson to learn along the way, but I am grateful for it.

So for that, Indonesia, thank you for rarely getting things right the first time.

*A quick return to the big bugs and getting over things that don’t go as planned. There were tarantulas around our camp, which had the students (literally) running in terror. A few days in, I decided to teach an object lesson in taking control of one’s surrounding and overcoming fear. One of the translators picked up the spider, and I passed it around to many of the students, who quickly learned that they were, in fact, bigger than the spiders at hand. I was pretty impressed by how many fears were tackled!

anna

spider

Investments

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks left in Indonesia.  While I am unbelievably excited to get home and see the people I miss, breathe clean air, climb a tree, and eat Chipotle, it will also be hard to leave.  There is so much that needs done before I leave – the school year must be wrapped up (teachers – and English teachers especially – I know you feel me on this one!), my house needs packed and cleaned, you’re-leaving-the-country paperwork needs to be taken care of.  We have our last homeroom get-together to be had, our last student council event to be planned, our last coaches meeting to be attended.  On the other side of things, a place of dwelling in America needs to be found, paperwork needs to be done for the new job, summer plans need to be made.

And on top of all of this, I am leaving a lot of people that I have grown to love.  And moving to the opposite side of the world.

Now more than ever, the question arises:

What is important?  Where do I invest?  

A few weeks ago, my mom shared with me a story about my younger brother that answers this question beautifully.

As you prepare to be challenged by a 12-year-old, let me give you a quick background on my family:

We love to win.

It’s just something in the Schaeffer blood.  Ice cream and winning, not necessarily in that order, are among the most important things in life.  My father has instilled in us a deep love for both.

And this love for winning can bring lots of good!  In addition to the highly entertaining rivalries and memories that have resulted from this, it often points to achievement.  We don’t want to give up!  My siblings have accomplished all sorts of neat things due to the drive to do well.  Where I see it tripping me up, though, is when it becomes the main goal.  When it becomes more important than people.

A co-worker put it well recently while we were casually sharing important life lessons with our students.  “Just because you prove you’re right doesn’t mean you win.”  Sometimes focusing on achievement means neglecting or stepping on the people around us.

Back to my brother.  Although he appropriately loves ice cream, Andrew’s real passion in life is baseball.  Since he was three, that is the activity in which he has invested the majority of his time and energy.  And he’s good!  He plays on a travel baseball team and does a pretty darn good job of it.

Recently, they were playing in a tournament and Andrew was up to bat. The catcher let a pitch pass him, and the opposing coach began yelling across the field, berating him. Andrew, as the batter, was at the place as all of this took place.  Before taking the next pitch, he turned and told the catcher that it was ok, that those things happen to everyone, that he just needed to keep his chin up and keep on playing.

Andrew wanted to win that game.  He wanted to do his best, and he worked toward that.

But he didn’t let that stop him from loving people.

It’s not an either/or questions.  It’s not accomplishments or love.  It’s not working hard or having friends. It’s not winning or being soft.  Both can absolutely co-exist.  We just can’t let a to-do list or a desire to win stop us from seeing people.  Stop us from loving people.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

It is good to strive for excellence.  It is good to want to do well.  It is good to work hard toward things. But we must be careful not to focus on these things alone, blocking out the people in our peripheral vision.

As I finish here at SPH, I want to finish strong.  I want to invest in people.  And sometimes, as a teacher, that means taking the extra hours to give good feedback on students’ assignments.  It means staying after school to focus on that new unit I decided it would be a great idea to do at the end of the year.  It means organizing everything for the people that come after me.  That is one way to invest in these kids.

But it also means putting my pile of papers away during lunch and laughing with the students in my classroom.  It means taking the time to sit and talk with a student that is struggling, whether that be academically or otherwise.  It means patiently working through the silly requests that may presently seem like they don’t matter.

Because really, those are the reasons that I love teaching.  Those are the things that I look back on and remember.  Those are investments in people.

And that is worth it.

Truth and Love

Recently, some friends and I were discussing love, truth, and the relationship between the two.  How do we confront without becoming judgmental?  How do we love without becoming too permissive?  What is loving and what is truthful?  Where do they overlap?  Can you have one without the other?

This idea of truth and love is something that has always been a real challenge for me and my vocal self.  I’m a doer.  I want to get things done.  And if I don’t believe something will make a difference in the end, I generally don’t see any point in doing (or saying) it.

This leads to an often imbalanced application of truth and love.

Today, though, while teaching, I had a tiny little glimpse into how this should look.

I know teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but (if we’re honest) there are definitely kids who especially tug at our hearts. For the purposes of this story, I will name this particular student, who easily fits into the above category, Landon.

Landon didn’t care much about school last year, and sometimes got into trouble for being dishonest or consistently not doing his homework.  This year, he’s really stepped up and taken more accountability for his work.  He’s been trying much harder, and has readjusted his priorities.  He’s growing up and figuring out who he is.

It’s been an absolute joy to see that growth, and it is something that I badly want to reward.  That said, Landon still has a lot of growth to do in the English department.  While I have desperately wanted to nudge his grade in the encouraging direction, I have avoided doing so, hoping that it won’t discourage him to the point of giving up.

Today I handed back an assignment with a failing mark.  We talked through the issues, and some ways that he could fix them.  I was clear in what the problems were, and told him exactly why he received that grade.  I didn’t sugar coat it.  He looked sad.

It’s those things that are hard as a teacher.  How do you encourage a student, but at the same time appropriately cover their paper in the necessary marks? How do you call students out on bad habits without discouraging creativity?  How do you speak the truth in love?

As I sat at my desk considering these things, the class filed out, with Landon being the last in the classroom.  Despite our tough conversation, Landon turned around as he walked out of my classroom and added, “Miss? Thanks for believing in me.”

I was stunned that this was his response to our conversation.  Even after I failed his assignment and told him in no uncertain terms what he needed to work on, he still felt believed in.  The focus wasn’t on what I thought he had done wrong, but on what I thought he could do right.

Isn’t it the same in life?  The same in relationships with family, friends, and even the people that are really hard to love?  If we can invest, if people know, know beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we believe in them, that we love them and we’re on their team, then the focus is no longer on the short-comings that we address.  That negative aspect doesn’t govern the tough conversations that we may have.

Because, in reality, all of us fail at something.  All of us feel like we just can’t get that one thing right, no matter how many times we try.  That even if we do improve, that it’s still not good enough to be “passing” whatever test it is that we have set up for ourselves.

And sometimes, we just need someone to be real with us about it.  To tell us that we do, indeed, need to keep working on this, but that they’ve seen growth.  To tell us that, yes, we’re currently struggling in this department, but that they know we have the potential to beat it.  To tell us that we are broken and sinful, but they still love us.

And that they believe in us.

I still don’t fully understand the whole concept of truth and love, and I am by no means any good at applying it, but I am thankful today for this glimpse of what that means!

Also, as a side note: I love teaching.  It’s the best job ever.

KDM visit

This past Thursday we had another random day off of school – I’m honestly not sure why – so my student council kids and I went on a trip to an organization in downtown Jakarta that rescues, rehabilitates, and educates children that have been living on the streets.  The organization has been working in the city for 30+ years, and is really doing incredible things!

On my first teacher’s desk I had a post it that asked: “Am I surviving or thriving?”

The thing that was most incredible about this organization is that they were really encouraging kids to thrive.  It wasn’t just survival, just eating and sleeping and getting through the day.  It was kids living as a family, receiving an education at their level, experimenting with art, going on exploratory trips around the country, going to a soccer tournament in Brazil, designing and building their dorm with a volunteer architect.

It was a huge inspiration to me that, even when life is hard or I feel like I’m behind the eight ball, I need to be exploring my passions and practicing my talents and giggling and loving people and seeking out those little corners in which I can thrive.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Sukabumi: Retreat Roundup

In addition to the high ropes course, village visit, and rafting that I’ve mentioned over the past few days, we participated in a huge variety of activities.  It was neat to see the students grow and discover in so many different ways, and neat to hear the all-encompassing answers when I asked what there favorite part was.

Image

One of our main activities was sound exploration, in which the kids used recycled goods to make music.  It was really a fascinating program, and kept the students’ attention for almost three hours!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

We also went hiking and rappelling, which was a great challenge for many of the participants!  I was really proud of my kids though – every student did it!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

All in all, it was a great time of community and getting away from the big city and into nature!

Image

Image

Sukabumi: Rafting

On the final morning of our retreat, we hiked down to a beautiful lake for a team-building, raft-making, paddle-racing activity.  Students split into groups of 12, then worked together to create a raft, row out to get a bag of puzzle pieces, and come back to put them together.

The activity was fun, but I really enjoyed seeing the way that the kids enjoyed nature, both at the lake and throughout the weekend.  Watching them grow excited about the green, the fields, the rice paddies, the stars was so fun!  We truly live in a beautiful country!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Sukabumi: Village Visit

Yesterday, I started a short series of posts about our 7th grade field trip. Today, I will continue talking about our 3-day journey to a national park outside of Jakarta with pictures from our village visit.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Many of our students chose this venture to a traditional village as their favorite activity on retreat, which I thought was pretty neat.  We took jeeps off-roading to get to the village, and then explored some of the aspects of traditional village life in Indonesia.  The students take part in making gula merah, or “red sugar,” make bracelets out of reeds, plant rice, and sift and pound rice.  It’s a fun time – meeting these people, playing with the kids, and trying some snacks – but eye-opening as well.

Image

Image

My group of 6 girls cracked me up at one point.  As we went through the village, we talked about what they were learning and I asked them what they thought it would be like to live like this daily.  Our second last stop in our rotation was the rice fields, which girls often balk at entering the rice paddies because you get so muddy.  The group I was with, however, hopped right in and then begged to stay, asking if “they really had to go to their final rotation?” or if they could instead “plant rice all day.”  They told me that planting rice would be a far better lifestyle than school and homework. Not quite the lesson that I was expecting, but I was proud of the way that they jumped right in and embraced it 🙂

Image

Image

Image

The person that amazed me the most was the 100-year-old man that we met at the station where we cooked sugar.  Not only did he still cook sugar all day… he also climbed palm trees daily to get the materials!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image