After what felt like both a millisecond and a century, I have officially finished my year teaching abroad in American Samoa. I’m back in the States. Life’s moving onward.
I came into this teaching abroad experience without expectations, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Even expecting myself to feel a certain way upon leaving my classroom and home proved fruitless. It honestly felt like I would be staying in American Samoa for another few weeks or months. As this would never truly end.
The posts I’ve written pertaining to teaching abroad in American Samoa still ring true, and I’ll likely repeat myself. But I feel I owe it to myself at least to close this chapter of life in the only way I know how.
Without further ado, my last hoorah for teaching abroad in American Samoa. I made it. I did the thing. There are so many words I could express, but I’ll organize what I can.
the cocoon opens. a butterfly emerges.
This particular feeling I’m left with after teaching abroad this year is indescribable. The best I can say is that a lifetime’s worth of challenges and growth has been condensed into an intense cluster of months. You’re constantly being tested, especially in the littlest moments that really shouldn’t grind your gears. And yet, here you are, waiting half an hour every morning for an inconsistently scheduled bus to arrive.
Keep in mind, I’m the youngest person in my cohort of American Samoa volunteers. A year ago this time, I had just graduated college in three years. Every other day was an existential crisis, absolutely terrified about what in the world I was doing.
With all that’s happened, the soul searching and self-discovery, I can come out on the other side saying I have better sense of self and purpose. While my days were chock-full of work and preparation, the downtime detached from excess distractions of Western life provided the time I desperately needed.
I’m someone who’s always thinking ahead. Wanting to buzz through life and move onto the next destination. Teaching abroad in American Samoa forced me to sit down, even for just a year, to really dig deep within myself and ask, who am I? Where is God leading me? How am I using this one life I have?
teaching abroad. teaching in general.
I have a lot of teachers in my family, so teaching abroad felt like a natural alternative for me to try out this underappreciated career. No, this position isn’t for me, but the skills and perspective that accompanied my everyday work will stay with me always.
Teaching is difficult. Teaching abroad is even more difficult, especially with ESL students. Some of my students likely never understood what I said. Others couldn’t form coherent sentences. The disparity between high- and low-performing students left me paralyzed when making plans to please everyone.
Inevitably, I look back, anxiously considering all the ways I could’ve done better. Never getting to certain concepts, not implementing enough discipline in the right way, and not devoting enough time for one-on-one instruction. Consequently, I set the bar high for myself, aspiring to be as impactful as my mom and my own favorite teacher whose lessons continue to inspire me today.
Of course, those two examples have years of experience versus me walking into a barren classroom in a developing country with zero idea what I was doing. Luckily, I’m proud to say I’m very comfortable as a teacher. I can think on my feet, raise my voice when necessary, and adapt plans as I go. The classroom management never achieved the highest degree, but A for effort, right?
American Samoa: home to my children.
My hardest goodbyes were, by far, exchanged with my students. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I feel like I’ve adopted 16 children. This is coming from someone who never felt fully comfortable with children. I even doubted I’d ever raise a family. In short, these kids have changed my heart and my life. I walked into teaching abroad with no expectations, and I sure wasn’t anticipating the overwhelming emotional connections I’ve make.
I’m a very emotional and sensitive person (an empath and Highly Sensitive Person, if you’re curious about definitions). So, I probably made some mistakes. When the students seemed blind to my mental state, or fell silent when I asked a discussion question, I took it to heart. If they all bombed a test, I blamed myself for not teaching them. Heck, I even opened up honestly with snippets of my own struggles, telling them more than is probably recommended. In other words, whatever unwritten rules of teaching exist, I likely sidestepped those within a week.
teaching abroad, and teaching beyond.
My all-encompassing emotions also reached the other end of the spectrum. I shared my biggest passions in life, even if it wasn’t in the standards-based curriculum. I taught them some yoga. We talked about empathy, compassion, and kindness. I exposed them to some new cultures and religions they had never seen or heard of before. If they used an inappropriate slur, I called them out and told them why it was wrong.
My goal for teaching abroad wasn’t to make these kids smarter or hope they remember all the traits of good writing. In an environment not conducive to positive views of education or big dreams, I want my kids to step out of fifth grade as better people, showing more kindness and openness.
Most importantly, in the tough middle-school years to come, I hope they stay strong. I hope they never forget that someone will always believe in them and care about them and wholeheartedly know they are capable of anything.
teaching abroad in American Samoa changed me.
The lessons, inside and outside the classroom, I’ve learned when teaching abroad in American Samoa will stay with me forever. They have certainly molded me into the person I’m meant to become. Looking back on everything, I don’t remember who I was a year ago; she’s a completely different person with a completely different frame of mind.
The thoughts I have about my year in American Samoa could digress exponentially, but overall, I put my endurance, resilience, fortitude, resourcefulness, and creativity to the test. And I did the thing. That’s pretty cool.
I return to the States with a wider perspective and a hunger for leaving this earth more loving and compassionate than it was before. As the Wicked tune goes, I have been changed for good.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie