One Month in Subic Bay!

The weather is slowly getting better around here. The typhoon that went north of us was causing monsoon rains here, but it is supposed to hit land in China in the next few days, and I’m hoping that will lead to some better weather.

We started cross country today (finally!) and have about 30 kids signed up. I anticipate at least 1/3 of them will quit within a week. I know that sounds very negative, but I have logical reasons. Swim team will start in about two weeks, and a lot of kids are likely to change there minds when that becomes an option. Also, cross country is HARD. And a lot of our kids do not enjoy pushing themselves physically. Today was a light day: dynamic stretching and a 1.5 mile run. We had kids walking and complaining about the distance and hills. It’s only going to get harder! Our meets are 5k, so they haven’t run half of the meet distance yet. The weather is going to be our biggest challenge when it comes to practice. Our housing is situated at the top of a hill, so most long runs would leave us no choice but to go downhill. This is very dangerous during rainy season. The roads are constantly a little bit slimy, and with traffic on the main road up to our development it’s just too risky. We are getting creative, though, and have found a few winding routes that will take the kids through most of the housing. We can get in about 3 to 3.5 miles that way. There’s no choice but to run in the rain as well. Today it started pouring about halfway through their run. Luckily most rains only last a couple of minutes, and the kids don’t seem surprised by our expectation that they will keep going, regardless of the weather.

It has been frustrating to not have a consistent school schedule because of the rain and flooding. I find it hard to get into a good rhythm with my lessons and my students when we see each other for a couple of days then a day off, then a day on, and so on. I just start to build a relationship or get a feel for a class and we have a hiccup in the schedule. I spend more time reviewing what happened the last time I saw them than I do teaching something new. I look forward to the time when this will get better. This week we only had three days because of a cancellation and a holiday. It might seem strange, but this week felt longer than any 5-day week I’ve ever had.

On a positive note, I am loving the time I do get with my students. Here are couple of highlights from my week: 

I gave my 8th graders an assignment to create a name tree as a preliminary assignment for their memoirs. I explained that the tree is a metaphor for themselves and we talked about what an analogy was. They came in and presented trees that absolutely blew me away! Trees with roots that were pictures of their families, the countries they are from, dates of birth etc., trunks that represented the things they feel will never change about them, branches showing ways they’ve grown, and leaves that show the things they enjoy and care about, but which might change over time. They took my explanations to heart and exceeded my expectations with their creativity and understanding. And they clearly had FUN with their homework. Every time one of their classmates got up to present the whole class would erupt in applause to encourage the speaker. I love how supportive they are of one another! I grinned like an idiot the whole way through their presentations – even the bad ones. One of the kids put a quote from Richard Nixon on his tree. I asked him if he knew who Nixon was, and he shook his head, “no.” I smiled and politely explained that he was a U.S. president that is not too popular because of some of the bad things he did when he was president. 🙂

In previewing a story about turning eleven, I asked my sixth graders how many of them are eleven. I couple of my students started to raise their hands then stopped, looking confused. Finally, one of them asked, “Do you mean our Korean age or our international age?” Now it was my turn to look confused.

“There’s a difference?”

They smiled and nodded eagerly. Apparently when you are born in Korea you are automatically already one. And if you are born at the end of December you turn two in January. Internationally, my students were eleven, but in their country they are twelve. I absolutely love learning these new things about my students, and I think they enjoy teaching them to me. Sometimes I’m not sure who the teacher is, me or them! 

This weekend we borrowed Brandon and Danette’s car while they were in Taiwan for the holiday weekend. We rode with them to the airport in Clark and then took a slight detour on our way home to S & R. Clark’s airport is a really convenient and affordable place to fly out of, so most teachers prefer to use it rather than going all the way to Manila. Unfortunately, the heavy rains the past couple of weeks caused flooding and serious damage. Part of that damage was the collapse of a section of a bridge on the SCTEX, the main road to Clark. A trip that would normally take 40 minutes now takes an hour and a half with all of the detours. This was our first time going to Clark, and we did most of the trip in the dark, so we were pretty nervous about finding our way back. Road closures, construction, and other mishaps are not as well documented with signs as we are used to back in the States. We relied on a lot of landmarks and made it just fine. The trickier part was finding our way to San Fernando, where S & R is located. Jeff’s phone has been acting funny, and the internet wouldn’t work, so we pulled up a map on it while we had a wi-fi connection and just used that. You know, like people used to do before they had smartphones! We ended up finding it with minimal problems. S & R is basically a Sam’s Club or Costco. The prices aren’t stellar, but they have a lot of stuff you can’t get in Subic, and the bulk options are ideal. We mostly got dry goods, but we were thrilled to find a dog bed for Ringo. Okay, I was thrilled; Jeff didn’t get nearly as excited. For the first time since we got here, our cupboards are actually FULL. It’s a good feeling! After we finished our shopping, we hit the road to get home. The long trip and somewhat stressful situation of not really knowing where we were going had us both exhausted by the time we got home (11:00 PM), so we gave in to convenience over nutrition and go McDonald’s, then crashed early for a Friday night.

Saturday I was awakened at about 6:00 AM by something I hadn’t seen or felt in a lonnnng time: SUNSHINE! I held off until 8:00 before waking Jeff up to show/tell him the good news. It was like a dream! Determined to take full advantage of the sunshine (who knew how long it would last!), we took Ringo on a walk/hike to El Kabayo Falls. Erin, a lower school teacher that lives near us, joined us as well. The trail was pretty muddy and we had to trudge through water in a few places, but it was worth it to be outside and to see a local attraction. The falls were raging after all the rain. Swimming isn’t allowed in the Falls normally, but after all those rains it was definitely a bad idea. Ringo was thrilled to be outside. Round trip, it was about 5 miles. Considering the dreary days of the last two weeks, sunshine and all the sweating that goes along with it were fully welcomed. On our way back, we passed a building and heard monkeys. About 20 or so were on the roof and in the trees screeching and carrying on. I looked up and saw all of them staring at Ringo. Apparently, monkeys aren’t too keen on dogs. They didn’t come near us, and Ringo wasn’t interested in getting closer. He stared and kept looking back as we walked away. I think it’s safe to say he’s curious but not stupid. As soon as we were past the building they settled down. I tried to take some pictures, but they were too far away. We see monkeys pretty regularly now; I hate to say it, but it’s becoming almost common place.

After the trip to the Falls, Ringo was in dire need of a bath, so while I hosed him down, Jeff went into Subic to get his phone fixed and pick up a couple of beach towels. A group of teachers had planned a trip to the beach and we weren’t about to miss out. We went to a country club that has a beach because several of our teachers are good friends with some of the members. This place was NICE! Unfortunately, the beach was closed because the surf was too dangerous. We had to settle for swimming in the country club pool. 🙂

We met JJ, a close friend of several teachers, and he invited us all to his father’s birthday party later that night. We met his family – all so friendly! – and sampled some traditional Filipino foods. Jeff and I tried goat for the first time. The flavor and seasoning was great, but you have to watch out for bones.

After the birthday party, a large group of us decided to go do karaoke. This is a very popular past time in the Philippines, but there’s a twist: you can rent your own private karaoke room! It’s like a hotel room, but with a large tv, speakers, microphones, couches, and a bar. I have never seen anything like it.

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Sunday I decided to get brave and venture out to the Olongapo market. There are several, so I got recommendations from some teachers and went to the one closest to Subic. I haven’t driven in over a month, and driving here is not like driving in Iowa, so I was more than a little nervous. A couple of other teachers joined me. We got lost, but we eventually found it, thanks to Dave’s smartphone. The market was a lot like I expected: stalls with fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and crafts. Normally people here stare at us when we walk through the mall, but I’ve gotten so used to it I hardly notice. If seeing foreigners at a mall is strange, seeing them in the market must be like a UFO siting, because I could feel every pair of eyes on us. No one is hostile or unfriendly, but it is a little uncomfortable. I finally got to try banana cue, which I have been dying to get my hands on. It’s a street food snack where they roll a fried banana in caramelized brown sugar. DELICIOUS! Sometime soon I want to try and go to the bigger market, which is on the other side of Olongapo.

While I was at the market and running errands, Jeff went and played tennis with some of the other teachers. We met back at home and decided to return the car to Clark that day rather than waiting and doing it on the last day of our three-day weekend. The trip there was simple since we (okay, Jeff) knew where we were going. We took a cab all the way back to Subic because we didn’t want to deal with the bus and it wasn’t TOO expensive. It was great to have the freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted all weekend. We planned to get a car all along, but now we know we REALLY want one. Cab fare adds up quickly here and taking Ringo on hikes/camping farther from home will be easier. All in due time.

After a busy day, we decided to stay in and watch a recording of the Lions vs. Patriots preseason game. Even though we already knew the outcome, it was fun to watch football. I’ve missed it so much, and I know there won’t be a whole lot of opportunities to watch it this year. As long as I can see most of the Hawkeye games and catch the Lions every week, I’ll be happy. Brandon, Jeff, and another teacher split the cost of a NFL package, so that should take care of the pro games. College, on the other hand, is a little trickier to come by.

On our way home, we had the cab driver stop at a convenience store, and while Jeff was inside, he asked me if Jeff was my husband. I told him yes and he asked how long we had been married. When I told him it was only about six weeks, he proudly told me he and his wife have been married eighteen years and have three children. I explained that Jeff and I have been dating for over seven years. To which he responded, “Oh, so you get married now because you are pregnant?” I almost burst out laughing! I told him no, I was not pregnant. “Why? You don’t want to be pregnant?” I smiled in the dark of the backseat. This is a common line of questioning here. It does not make sense to a lot of people that we are married and not having children. But this was the first time someone had assumed I was pregnant simply because I was married! 🙂 I realized once we got home that this was nothing culturally abnormal or inappropriate in his mind; his oldest daughter is 18 – the exact number of years he’s been married.

We had Monday off this week for All Heroes Day. It was a quiet one in the Mayrose household. I spent a good deal of time thinking of one of my greatest heroes: my grandmother who passed away a little over six months ago. I miss her and think of her often. Already I’ve told stories of her to my students who marvel at the fact that she was over 100 years old. Tomorrow, when I have them journal about their heroes, I will be sure to tell them more about her and what a strong woman she was. This way, she lives on.

Mostly I spent the day gettingt some school work done and Jeff worked out. Other than that, the day was uneventful. I know it seems like we never work, what with the weather and the holidays, but this will be our last short work week for about six weeks. September is devoid of holidays, so unless we have another typhoon or tropical depression, it’s nose-to-the-grindstone time here in Subic! I’ll be happy to have a settled routine – remind me of that when I start complaining about working too much in my later blogs. 🙂

This weekend marked the one month anniversary of our arrival in Subic Bay. It’s hard to believe it’s only been 30 or so days since we got here; it definitely feels like we’ve been here, known the people at Brent, and been away from our families and friends a lot longer than that. We are starting to get comfortable here, which is good. The weather has settled down (hopefully for good!), we have begun to feel adjusted at school, and our surroundings are familiar. Next weekend we venture off to Manila (maybe the third time is the charm and we will enjoy the city) with 20 or so runners for our first cross country meet. That should shake things up a bit; no chance of getting bored chaperoning teenagers around a major city!

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Rain, Rain, Go Away…

Our first full week of school is done and gone. Classes were cancelled on Monday because of a typhoon. This sounds a lot scarier than it was. This particular typhoon hit farther north, so we just got a lot of rain and a little wind. School was cancelled because the rule is any time there is a level 2 typhoon or higher in Zambales, we cancel. We are technically in Zambales, but just barely. We are almost in Bataan. Northern Zambales got hit much harder than we did. So, we have traded snow days for typhoon and flood days! I wish I could say it was a lot of fun, but we spent most of the day inside, bored out of our minds. A few of us went out to dinner because we were so stir crazy, and we decided to end our extra-long weekend with a massage. Why not? They are only about $8.00 for an hour here. It was wonderful! No better way to end a weekend, if you ask me!

The school week went really well. I am starting to learn all of my students’ names and personalities. For the most part, they are incredibly hard working and smart. We see our students outside of school quite frequently because the community is so small. Back home I would nearly have a coronary if I saw students after I had worked out or if I was consuming an “adult beverage” with my dinner at a restaurant. I have quickly gotten over that here! There’s just no way to avoid them, and it happens so much I’ve come to expect that they will see me at 6 AM, walking the dog in sweats. The great thing is they are always, no matter their age, excited to see us. They will wave and shout from 20 yards away to get our attention just to say hi. It’s very sweet.

We had our meeting for cross country on Thursday and about 20 students showed up. We had already decided Jeff should act as head coach since he has the experience, and I will be his assistant. Practice will start Monday. It’s going to be very tricky training in the rainy season. I’ll be interested to see how often we actually get to have practice!

The highlight of my week was checking my mailbox and finding a package from Rachelle and a letter from Tracey. It took about 3 weeks from the time they were sent for them to get here. I didn’t even know Rachelle had sent anything, and I had forgotten Tracey said she sent a letter, so it was a wonderful surprise. It made my day/week to get mail from home! Our boxes, which were supposed to arrive on the 6th, still haven’t arrived. Now they are supposed to get to Manila on the 20th. Jeff and I hope to have them by the end of the month. It’s been so long since we shipped them, we’ve pretty much forgotten what we put in them!

The weekend started with an appointment for Jeff and I to get our physicals and psychological tests. This is standard procedure to work at Brent; I believe it is also required for a visa. It’s pretty thorough; I’m curious to see the results. Part of the testing involves choosing an order of preference for about 8 colored cards. I’m sure this will reveal something deeply intuitive about our personalities. 🙂

I was not looking forward to this weekend because I had to spend all day Saturday in CPR and first aid training. Jeff got out of it because he was certified in the states where it takes about 2 hours. I joked (okay, I kind of meant it) that I hoped it would rain all day Saturday so he couldn’t have any fun without me. Not half an hour after I got to the school for training, it started to pour. And it didn’t stop for more than a few minutes for the entire weekend. We lost power twice during training, and the instructor finally told us to go home. We have to finish training on Tuesday. It actually wasn’t that bad; I learned a lot of useful information and kept thinking about how beneficial this training could be when we go hiking.

After training, the power stayed off for about 2 more hours, so we went into town for dinner and to get away from our dark, dismal house. We came home to find the power back on (thankfully!). It looks like the week ahead will be very rainy as well. We have been spoiled so far; now the rainy season is showing its true colors. At least the sounds are soothing!

Our helper, Hermie, started last week. She comes twice a week for a half day each time and helps out with cleaning, dishes and laundry. It’s so wonderful to come home to a clean house and to not have to deal with our washing machine. It has separate sides for washing and spinning the clothes. I had to be taught how to use it, and I’m still not entirely sure I’m doing it right! Either way, it takes over an hour to wash the clothes, and you have to fill it with a hose, drain it, then fill it again. Which means we can’t really “set it and forget it” like we could back home. Having a helper, cheap massages and mani/pedis… we are definitely getting spoiled here.

(post started Sunday, finished Monday)

We were supposed to have school today, but the rain kept coming, and Rita (the river between Olongapo and Subic) flooded, leaving many people stranded and unable to come to work, so they cancelled school for the day. Image

It’s been lighter today, but lots of thunder the last couple of hours. I’d like to say I’m excited about another day off, but we are bored out of our minds! The crew is getting together later this afternoon to watch movies at Brandon and Danette’s, so that will shake some of the boredom. It’s great to have such a close community of teachers. We have this Wednesday off for a local holiday, and next Monday off as well. I know, we’re spoiled.

We are starting to plan our trips for the year: a trip to Boracay in December for a long weekend with a couple of the other teachers, Banaue in October to hike the rice terraces, and Thailand/Cambodia for Christmas. I am most excited about this last trip! In the future, we hope to get to Vietnam, New Zealand, China, and possibly South Korea and Japan.

Getting to talk to family and friends has made this transition so much easier. I was worried early on that we would barely every get to see/talk to people back home. Already we have set a weekly schedule for Face Time with Jeff’s parents, I’ve chatted on Google with a few different friends, and Facebook makes everything easier. It’s nice to feel connected even though we are so far away.

Time to get some work done; this 3-day week is going to kill me. : )

First Day(s) of School

Wednesday and Thursday were our first two days of school. Both were like first days because we have different kids every other day. We have blocks A-D on Day 1 and E-H on Day 2. Some weeks I will see my Day 1 classes 3 times, other weeks only 2. I’ve never taught in this form of the block, and it’s taking some getting used to. So far I like it, though. I’ve always preferred 90 minute periods to 45 minute periods; I just think it’s more conducive to teaching concepts in English – plenty of time to teach something and practice it.

Of course I was nervous to start school, as I said in my last post. I set my alarm for 5:30 so I would have PLENTY of time to get ready and go to school early to finish up a few last-minute things. I got up, showered, and headed to the kitchen for some breakfast. I was surprised by how dark it was, but I didn’t think much of it until I looked at the clock on the wall: 4:50. Confused, I opened my computer to see what time it said. Same thing: 4:50. I double checked my alarm and saw that somehow when I set the alarm the night before I had also changed the time by an hour. Not even 5 AM and I was showered, dressed, and pretty much ready to go… with 3 hours until school started. Awesome. I made the most of it by going to school at 6 and doing a little more decorating in my classroom and making copies of my rules and syllabi.

Aside from our regular classes, most teachers also have a homeroom class. Homeroom meets every morning for about 15 minutes. Jeff and I are the homeroom teachers for grade 7 – he has the A’s and I have the B’s. Each grade also goes on a “camping” trip, and it turns out that grade 7 has what I would consider to be the best trip! We go up to Baguio, which is up in the mountains, about 7 hours away, and do survival and adventure activities. The kids like Baguio because it’s cold. : ) Camp lasts for a couple of days at the end of the year. Our kids are already excited about it.

On the first day of school homeroom was extended to 30 minutes so we could pass out textbooks, assign lockers, give out forms the parents need to sign, and give out supplies. We were also supposed to have hard copies of class rosters for each of our classes since the enrollment changes daily at the beginning of the year (we didn’t get these until B block, but with such small classes, I managed). Thirty minutes turned out to be not nearly long enough to get everything done, so I rushed to get through most of it, only to realize that A block I have my homeroom kids! Once I realized that, I was able to slow down and take up a little of my class time getting them lockers.

My class sizes are VERY small. A block is 6 kids, B block is 8, and C block is 11. On day 2 my numbers are a little higher, but still no classes over 12. When I taught at Woodward my average class size was about 25, and my largest was 33. This is a huge change, and actually not all for the best. Discussions with numbers this small are hard enough, but when you factor in the generally timid nature of many of my students, you have a serious problem. I have made it clear how important discussions are and mentioned that some discussions will be worth points. Many of my students are very motivated by grades (unfortunately!), so I hope this will prod them to participate.

Part of the reason my classes are so small is the high ESL population at Brent. I don’t have kids that are in ESL until grade 8, and then I only have the level 4 kids.

Overall, my kids are awesome. They are incredibly nice and very polite. Very very polite. They all say good morning as they walk in and good-bye as they leave. They say thank you when I hand them anything, and they ask permission just to walk in the door! It’s going to take some getting used to. I don’t want to make it sound like my former students were rude, because that usually wasn’t the case. It’s just that the culture here is much different. I can already tell that my students will probably never talk back or refuse to do something. The Korean students are encouraged not to bow to us (something they are taught to do as a sign of respect), but some of them do it without thinking. They also hand back papers with two hands. I try to reciprocate, but sometimes I forget. Needless to say, classroom management will not be an issue here.

As much as I am already liking my students, living in such close proximity isn’t so great. Just today we looked out our window and realized that one of our students lives in the duplex next to ours. I don’t particularly enjoy living this close to students, but I guess that’s just the nature of this particular beast. The school and the school community are very compact. Even when we aren’t at work, we still have to keep a bit of our teacher demeanor. You never know who is a parent or relative of a student.

I expected the first two days to be mad chaos. They were exhausting (I forgot how much energy it takes to teach middle school!) but things went off relatively seamlessly. I’m learning where things are and s-l-o-w-l-y learning names. Most of the Korean students choose to have an English name, which helps. Brandon, my classroom neighbor, has been more than gracious in answering my questions and giving me advice on how to get things done faster/easier. I’ve made him my unofficial mentor; he just doesn’t know it yet. : )

I’ve been curious to see what teaching in the same school with Jeff would be like, and it’s probably too early to make many judgements, but it’s fun so far. We don’t see each other much at all during the day, but it’s nice getting to walk to and from school together, eat lunch in the same group, and talk about work/kids and actually know what/who the other one is talking about. I’m glad we are both grade 7 homeroom teachers so we can experience camp together. We are also in the same “house.” The school is divided into 2 houses – gold and azure – for competitions of all kinds. It’s pretty intense; the kids are very invested in it, even though you get nothing for winning. Well, I guess bragging rights count for something. Anyway, Jeff and I are both Gold. There will be a big house event in a couple of weeks where we compete in things like tug of war. Then sometime later, because I am the MS English dept., I will host a spelling bee between the two houses. And at the end of the year there is another huge competition. I’m sure there are more things throughout the year, but those are the ones I know of so far. It sounds like it will be pretty fun.

I’m also getting used to being called Mrs. Mayrose. I accidentally introduced myself to a student’s mother as Ms. Meinecke and then quickly corrected myself. She probably thinks I’m crazy. At first I wasn’t sure what I should have my students call me because my legal name is still Meinecke, but I figured it would be easier for kids to know me as Mrs. Mayrose, and my name will eventually change, so when Ms. Edna asked if it would be okay to put my name as H. Mayrose on my school mailbox, I decided to make the unofficial change. It’s been a bit of a chore getting my email and other accounts changed, and sometimes I have to have staff look me up under both last names before they find me, but it’s slowly getting normal. A lot of the staff are still trying to figure out who Heather Meinecke is; I’ve even been asked if I know her. 🙂 I’m still fighting back a goofy grin every time one of the kids calls me Mrs. Mayrose. It’s got a nice ring to it.

So, after two days of teaching, we have a 3-day weekend. If you ask me, it’s pretty much the perfect way to start the school year! Jeff sprained his knee playing basketball, so we are taking it easy this weekend. I’m starting to feel at home here. We’ve learned the best places to go grocery shopping and hired a helper for two days a week. The magic and awe of a new, foreign place is fading into a more comfortable familiarity. And with that comes the reality that no place is perfect. Just today, I came out of the bathroom and saw a movement near the ceiling in the hallway. A “healthy” (monstrously huge) cockroach with long antennae was twitching his way across the wall. I watched him for a minute, completely disgusted, and when I realized I couldn’t reach him, I called for Jeff. He took my sandal and made a swipe, but missed, and the monster fell. We couldn’t find him and realized he must be ON JEFF. Just as that realization hit and Jeff began swiping as his shirt, I saw it crawl UP THE LEG OF HIS SHORTS! I started screaming, “Take off your pants! Take off your pants!” Jeff ripped his shorts off and began dancing around in his underwear, shaking his shorts frantically. Eventually, the cockroach fell onto the floor and Jeff smashed him with vehemence. We both looked at each other in shock.

Jeff recovered first and grinned, “There are classier ways to get me out of my pants, Heather.” And I started laughing. Okay, things aren’t PERFECT here, but where in the world are they? I’ll buy some bug spray tomorrow, and the next time something like this happens, we will find a way to laugh at that, too.

Setting up and Open House

School starts tomorrow, and I’ve become more excited than nervous. Part of the reason for this is open house. We had ours today from 10:30 to 12:30, and it was a great way to break back into middle school teaching without actually teaching. I got to meet a lot of the students and a few parents, so tomorrow won’t be such a shock to the system. It was nice to see that 6th graders here and 6th graders back home share a lot of the same traits: excited for middle school but also pretty scared. While my students in the Philippines will differ in a lot of ways from what I am used to, I can see that some things are universal, like first day jitters and the desire to impress your friends by acting up in front of the teacher. During my ten minute introductions for each section I told the kids where I was from. Most of them (all but 1!) did not know where Iowa is. I told them it’s in the middle of the US and it has no mountains and no oceans; it is as flat as this floor and covered in corn. Nothing like feeding the stereotype! I also made sure to tell them that I find the Philippines to be beautiful, but I still love Iowa because it’s home, and it’s pretty in it’s own special way.

My classes will be very small (5 is the smallest, 10 is the biggest), which is actually not something I am happy about. Classes that are too small, like several of mine, are almost harder to teach because the things you plan for a larger section of the same class don’t take as long with a section of 5 kids! Plus, discussions are a lot harder to keep going. I will do the best with what I have, and just maybe my numbers will grow as more students enroll in the next week or so. We have class lists, but we have also been warned that they will change frequently due to last minute enrollment. We won’t have a really accurate count for about two weeks. Chaos!

Preparing for the school year here was a lot different than back home. I feel more like a first year teacher now than I did (gulp) SEVEN years ago when I was actually just starting out. Part of the reason for that is the building, staff, and students are all completely new to me. At Woodward, I knew the building and most of the staff, so I felt more comfortable. The other reason it is so different from back home is the resources. I am used to having a set budget to buy classroom materials. Here that’s not the way it works. There is a supply room and you have to fill out a request form, which must then get approved by your department head, then you can go get what you need. I have already had to do this three times because I realized after I fill an order that I forgot something! It is time consuming, but it is also organized. I hope by next year I’ll be better at figuring out what I need all at once!

Because there isn’t a budget that I can go shopping with, I am limited as to what I can get for my classroom. I started out with about 1,000 thumb tacks and no door knob or stapler. There was nothing left for me to decorate with either, so I had to go scavenging! Luckily, the veterans have been very helpful. I got some posters and borders from the library and another teacher, colorful background paper from supply, and the MS social studies teacher told me where I could go to stamp out letters for bulletin boards. Back home I would just buy a packet of letters (or 4) with part of my budget allotment. Here, I have to cut the paper to size, then use a machine to punch out each letter. It took me about 1 1/2 hours to cut and punch out a quote for my bulletin board! Needless to say, I am learning to be resourceful and creative. Jeff does not have to worry about these things because his classroom is a gym, but he does have a homeroom class and one section of grade 9 history. For these two classes he has to “borrow” other teachers’ classrooms. They’ve all been very nice about (this is a small school, after all), but I think it makes it harder to attain that “classroom” feel when it isn’t your space. Don’t feel too bad for him; he has 3 plan periods! Our schedule is an every other day schedule, so we have blocks 1-4 on day 1 and blocks 5-8 on day 2. Jeff has plan once on day 1 and twice on day 2. So lucky!

So that’s a little more about school, which officially begins 10 hours. Wish me luck!

Days 8-9: Training in Manila

Thursday and Friday our school had Brent staff training. There are three main campuses and a few satellite locations for Brent International. Brent Manila is the biggest of the schools, so we all meet there. I won’t bore you with the details of our collaboration, but for those in the education field, we worked on parallel curriculum alignment on Atlas Rubicon. 

We had the option of taking a bus on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday at 4 a.m. Normally I would want the afternoon bus, but we had only been in our new house for a few days, and I was worried about Ringo being home by himself for 2 1/2 days. We arranged for our principal’s daughter, Alex, to come and let Ringo out and feed him. She came over and met him, and all was right in the world. 

Wednesday night we went out to eat at Sitting Bull in Barretto with Brandon and Danette and another teacher, Lauren. This is a town close to Subic that is known for its seedy night life, but there are actually some great restaurants there as well. Coming into town, Brandon and Danette pointed out the Barretto cemetery. Because of elevation, graves are above ground in tombs, and Barretto’s cemetery is on a hill, so you can see tons of these tombs at a glance. Many homeless people also live in this cemetery because it offers shelter. It might sound morbid, but I thought the cemetery was beautiful. I wish I had thought to take a picture. Next time!

Sitting Bull’s menu was endless. It covered every American culinary treat you could think of. I had a burger and Jeff had a meatball sub. Both were excellent! It was nice to have a little “break” from exploring new foods and flavors. Other than that, our night was uneventful. We went home, packed, and got a few hours of sleep. 

The bus ride to Manila was also uneventful, thankfully. Driving in Manila is an absolute nightmare. There is a general disregard for all posted signs and road markings, so a 2-lane road often has 3 or more lanes of traffic that bottle neck, slowing everything to a crawl. We stopped just before we got to the school to have breakfast (McDonald’s, Starbucks, they have it all), and as I walked back to the bus, I notice a semi parked nearby. Several men had hooked hammocks to the bottom of the semi and were napping in the shade it provided. We’ve seen this several times. Instead of really nice cabs with beds, the truck drivers sleep this way. I don’t know how they do it! So much is going on around them, and anyone could come attack them. I see this as a true testament to the non-violent nature of the people here. We got to Brent Manila before 8:00 – about 3 1/2 hours of travel time. 

Our administration had made several comments prior to our trip about the facilities and expectations at Brent Manila. I was still surprised by the expanse and grandeur of the school. If you have looked at my Facebook photos, you have a good idea of what Brent Subic’s school looks like. Well, Brent Manila is 4 stories and fairly state of the art. It was hard not to be jealous of their building and technology, but I found myself very happy that I was in Subic instead of Manila. The atmosphere is just different. I feel that the staff of about 50 at Subic is more of a family, whereas Manila is just too big for that. Jeff and I both agreed that we are very happy with Subic, even if it means a few less accommodations. 

After our day of meetings, we had a social with karaoke and a photo booth. One of our teachers is on the Philippines American Idol, and we got to hear her sing. She was amazing! In fact, all of the Filipinos who sang were impressive. When the social ended we headed to the hotel, which was pleasantly impressive. Our room was big and modern. Like the hotel we stayed at in the Dominican, this one required you to put your room key in a slot to turn on the lights and AC. When you leave your room and take your key, everything shuts off. 

There was a little shopping area across the street from our hotel, and we headed out to find the rest of our Subic people. After wandering around for awhile, we heard shouts of, “Iowa! Hey, Iowa, over here!” I guess we have a nickname now. : ) We walked through the row of bars and girls (bar girls as described in a previous post) came to greet us and try to get us to go into their bar. I noticed that one of the girls was not biologically female. This is actually fairly normal in the Philippines. Cross dressing and identifying as the opposite gender are widely accepted and practiced here. I know some people won’t agree with this, but I think it’s awesome that the culture here is so accepting and allows people to do and be what makes them happy. 

We had a few drinks with our new colleagues and headed back to the hotel around ten, exhausted after being up at 3, on the road at 4, and in meetings until 4.

The MS principal approached us the second morning of the conference and told us that her daughter had had no problem letting Ringo out the previous morning and afternoon, but she went back around 9, and Ringo was barking and growling. She was too scared (understandably) to go into the house. We thought maybe it was just too dark for Ringo to see who she was, or he was asleep and got confused. After our lunch, she told us Ringo had behaved the same way when Alex tried again that morning. Jeff and I had planned to join most of the staff on a trip to our headmaster’s summer home in Tagaytay, but we decided to switch buses and go straight back to Subic to see what was going on. I was worried that Ringo had hurt himself or got sick.

Training ended at 1:00, and we were on the road by a quarter after. I quickly dozed off. When I awoke about 45 minutes later, we were STILL in Manila, sitting in traffic. It was about 4:00 before we actually left the city limits – about 3 hours of inching along. Everyone clapped and cheered when we took the exit out of Manila. Traffic is yet another reason I couldn’t live there! I tried to make the most of it by people watching. After we left Manila, we were home in about 2 hours.

The drive from Manila to Subic is actually quite beautiful. We had traveled in the dark from the airport and to Manila the morning before, so this was the first time we actually saw it. Outside Manila the landscape was dotted with small towns and rice fields inhabited by the occasional carabao (water buffalo). We saw children riding the carabao and young men zooming down dirt roads on their little motorcycles. As we moved closer to Subic, there were mountains in the distance and the flat rice fields turned into terraces among the densely forested hills. It was absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t bother taking pictures through the dirty bus windows because it wouldn’t have done the view justice. 

We got home around six and got the keys. Alex came with us to our house so we could see how Ringo was behaving with her. On our way, Alex mentioned that Ringo started behaving this way when she went to let him out after a terrible storm. The windows were all open and the AC was off, so Ringo, who is terrified by thunderstorms, had experienced it in all its fury. Jeff and I looked at each other, knowing now exactly what Ringo must be feeling and thinking. Here he was, not 10 days after traveling on a plane for 20+ hours, less than two weeks in a new house in a strange land, and he was left home alone during a horrible tropical thunderstorm. 

True to Alex’s description, Ringo barked ferociously at her when she tried to come in the house, but the minute I said his name, his demeanor completely changed. He gave Alex kisses and nuzzled her hand. I felt bad for her, but I felt even worse for Ringo. He was scared, confused, and guarded. He had gone almost two days without being let out, so of course he had to go in the house. True to his logical and careful demeanor (maybe all dogs do this, I don’t know), he designated one corner of the dining room for his bathroom and only went there. Everything was covered in hair from him “stress shedding.” What a mess! But I have never seen him look so happy and relieved to see us. I think we are forgiven. Thankfully, rainy season will be over in a couple months, and we hope to have a regular housekeeper coming 2-3 days a week. Ringo will be familiar with her, and I expect he will be less likely to behave this way in the future. 

After everything was cleaned up, Jeff and I realized how hungry we were and how empty our fridge was. Unfortunately, our phone situation has been awful. Jeff’s iPhone needed unlocked for his new phone plan, I hadn’t gotten a phone yet, and our home phone was still not working. A walk to town is about 45 minutes, and we had no way to call a cab or order food. Exhausted after two days of meetings, hours on the road, and the stress of Ringo’s situation, we ate peanut butter sandwiches and went to bed. I’ve been trying not to let Ringo sleep in my bed here, but that night I gave in willingly.  

As expected, things will not always go smoothly, and this is probably only the first of many “disasters” we will face. What’s important is we took it in stride, did what was necessary to right the situation, and learned from it.

Days 5-7: New Teacher Training

Today was the first day of training. Jeff and I both woke up at 4 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep for anything, so we went up to the school to work out. As soon as the guards unlocked the workout room it started pouring. The gym and workout room are open air with a tin roof. The weight/workout room looks down on the gym on one side and the covered playground on the other side. Because the space is fairly open to the outside, we could hear the rain in surround sound. I loved it. So far, we haven’t had much of a rainy season. There have been a couple of light showers, and it rains at night, but this was our first real rain. When we finished working out 45 minutes later it was still going strong, and we had no umbrella (rookie mistake), so we had to make a mad dash for home. It wouldn’t have mattered if we were olympians, we would have still been drenched. It was actually kind of fun, though. I felt like a kid again, splashing through mud puddles, rivulets of rain meeting under my chin. Still, not an experience I want to repeat too frequently – after a workout is one thing, on the way to school is another. Umbrella lesson learned!

We headed back up to the school at 8:00 to start our training. Neither of us were looking forward to it. Anyone who teaches knows how painful in-service and teacher orientation can be. It’s meeting after meeting after meeting where you sit and listen to people drone on and on about policies and expectations, fill out paperwork, and get fed bag lunches. Of course, I was expecting the worst. It turned out to be a lot better than I anticipated. They fed us a delicious hot breakfast and lunch, and we had several breaks between meetings. The administration explained that loading us with meetings the first few days is pointless because we won’t listen anyway. When your classroom isn’t set up and you’re trying to learn a new building, your mind is on anything but what’s going on in a meeting. This is the first time I have heard such beautiful logic from administration.

The afternoon was ours to work in our room, and the teachers who had just arrived the day before went shopping. I finally got into my classroom! It is large and it is OLD. My part of the building is from the school the navy built. Their school was only elementary, so my room is set up like an elementary classroom: a bathroom and sink at the back, low counters and low white boards. It’s air conditioned and it works, so I’m not complaining too much. I have almost no supplies… and no door knob. Very strange.

We went out to dinner at Coco Lime and had “pica pica” (finger foods) for the most part. We just ordered several dishes and passed them around so everyone could try lots of things. If any of you were worried about Jeff going hungry, rest assured that he has yet to do so. Pork and chicken are very popular dishes here. I get plenty of seafood; Jeff gets plenty of spicy meats. We are definitely going to have to be careful about our diets here. A majority of the dishes are fried or sweetened. It’s all delicious and full flavored but not the healthiest. I especially like the dishes that use vinegar! One phrase we learned quickly is “Isa ba po” which means “one more.” “Po” is a term used to show respect to the person you are speaking to. I use every time! Thy don’t really have a word for please, so “po” works best. Another important word we’ve learned is “salamat,” which means “thank you.”

The language is pretty complicated. I’ve noticed that we have a tendency to pronounce every syllable separately with a hard stress, whereas the Filipinos speak very softly. The best way I can explain it is to say that we are hard on the language, like a person who brakes too late while driving. We “hit the brakes” for every syllable in a word. Filipinos coast through the syllables, even letting the words flow into each other. So when I say “Isa ba po” it sounds like “EE Saw BA PO.” When they say it it sounds like “eesawbawpo.” I hope that makes sense. I’m working on it!

Our second day of training was much like the first and the third — a lot of new information, a relaxed feel, and lots of time to ourselves. The only notable thing that happened was Jeff had a meeting with two of the other new male teachers and the principal. Afterwards, he came to my room shaking his head and smirking. They meeting was about being a white male in the Philippines. The principal explained to them that if you buy a woman a drink at a bar her drink will cost more than yours. For instance, your beer will be 65 pesos (about $1.50) and hers will be 300 pesos. This is because she is what is called a bar girl. She works for the bar, bringing them business, and she gets a cut of the 300 pesos for her drink. If you want to take said girl out of the bar, you have to pay a fine to the bar. The other two guys were single and had far more stake in the conversation; Jeff was just amused, as am I.

A little bit about the school, based on what we have been told and what I have experienced thus far:

The population of the school is 60% Korean, about 16% Filipino, and the rest of the student body is a mix of all sorts of nationalities, including American (mostly teachers’ kids) and Australian. Most of that 60% is also ESL. The students go through a rigorous ESL program at the school, but few of our students are fluent English speakers. My students will all be mainstream (non-ESL) or level 4 ESL (the highest level). Because of this, my classes will be pretty small, but the students will cover a wide range of abilities. Jeff will have students with ALL levels of English. He has been warned several times that this will be a challenge. The language barrier is further complicated for him because many of his students will be very disinterested in physical activity for two reasons: 1) it simply is not a priority for a lot of the students and 2) most of the Korean students are afraid of the sun; they do not want to get a tan and worry profusely about skin damage and cancers. Funny story: Natalie, Jeff’s partner in the PE department, was watching her class playing soccer and suddenly had the feeling she was being watched. She turned around and saw one of the boys crouching in her shadow to avoid the sun!!! Teachers often receive gifts of skin lightening creams for holidays and teacher appreciation day.

We have been told several times that the kids are very respectful and work VERY hard; they often come from families who put a lot of pressure on them to succeed. Some of our students have tutors and attend additional schooling at night. Other students live away from their families who sent them to school here from Korea to get a better English education. The pressure to achieve often leads to cheating, which many of the students see as an acceptable means to an ends. They are driven by grades.

Overall, the school is SMALL. They combine middle school and high school sports into one, and they have actually had a few 6th graders compete on their varsity teams! It’s rare, but it does happen sometimes. The schools they compete against are just as small, or in the case of Brent Manila, we only compete against their JV teams. Most games are on weekends because the schools are all pretty far apart. Teams leave on buses at about 4 AM on Saturday and get home late at night.

The building is somewhat old…okay, really old, and the classrooms are not what we are used to back home.  Everything works okay, and I can’t complain too much because at least I have air conditioning! Jeff’s “classroom” (the gym) is not air conditioned. It has garage-style doors on all sides that can be opened and one wall is only a half wall to the outside, but it will still be very hot in April and May. At least it is a newer gym and is pretty nice!

Jeff and I have been recruited to coach cross country, which is going to be… well, interesting. In the past, it has been purely cross country, but the activities director wants us to run it as a fitness program with running and cross training. Why? CC takes place during the Philippines’ rainy season and running can actually be a dangerous outdoor activity. They used to take the kids on runs down and out of the school area, but it was just too risky with the wet conditions and traffic. We are being restricted to “the hill,” which is the area around the school and the housing developments nearby. We will compete in a few meets. Our season is pretty short, and a lot of our runners will go out for CC purely to stay in shape for soccer. It should come as no surprise that soccer is THE sport in the Philippines. A very close second is basketball, which is getting more and more popular all the time. Jeff will also coach basketball and I will help out with yearbook.

On our last night dining out as a group during training, we went to Vasco’s. It’s an open-air bar/restaurant right on the bay. The owner is a retired diver from Australia. The place is set up to look very nautical, and is full of things he’s found on his dives – ancient pottery, artillery, canons, etc. Part of the bar is set up as a museum. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, so I only got a couple of pictures with Jeff’s phone. I guess we will have to go back. 🙂 The owner came over and chatted with us for a bit, told a couple of dirty jokes about New Zealanders, and invited us into the museum. He reminded us of the “most interesting man in the world.”

Vascos

Vascos

Vascos

Vascos

It was supposed to be a quiet night, but a lot of us ended up extending happy hour until midnight. The veteran teachers wanted to show us around, and they didn’t have training in the morning, so why not? : ) We went to Brew’s, a small bar that has live music. We have heard from every one that Filipinos are amazing singers, and now a firmly believe it. There were two bands alternating sets at the bar. They covered American songs, and they were AMAZING!!! It was an absolute blast listening to them, which is why we stayed so late. Paid for it in the morning, but it was worth it!

So today was our last day of new teacher orientation and our seventh day in the Philippines. Jet lag is starting to go away, and we are beginning to get comfortable here. I have figured out how to run the washing machine with a little help from Julius, the head of maintenance at the school. I no longer jump when I see a lizard skitter across the wall. We FINALLY saw monkeys! (Hanging out on power lines and throwing fruit – not in our neighborhood, thankfully!) And our definitions of cool, warm, humid, and hot have all changed. Jeff has given up on undershirts, and my blow dryer is starting to gather dust – it’s just too humid for all of that. We do not run our air conditioner, except at night. The first two days we ran it non-stop, but in an effort to adjust, we have shut it all off and just run fans unless it gets unbearable. Rainy season, which has been mild thus far, has finally started to show its true colors. I feel as if the Philippines is saying, “Okay, you’ve had your chance to get settled in. The honeymoon is over.” We have had serious downpours and intermittent raining all day the last couple of days.

The language is not a problem because so many locals know English, but I am still determined to learn tagalog because it’s respectful. How many times have I heard Americans complain about non-native speakers not knowing English? I mayl never be fluent in tagalog, but I will make a serious effort to show the people of this country that I respect and appreciate their language and culture.

Tomorrow we leave for Manila for two days of meetings with all of the Brent staff from all the campuses (Manila, Baguio, Subic (us), Clark, IRRI). My principal’s daughter is watching Ringo for us, and we are in the process of hiring a helper. School starts in less than a week, and I am already feeling the jitters and the pressure to get off to a great start. I can’t seem to do enough to feel prepared. Some things never change, no matter time or place.