Monday, February 29, 2016

Not My First Rodeo

So let’s talk about “the second time around.” This year is my second year living in the Dominican Republic and working at the Hogar del Niño. As it draws to a near close, I can’t help but give voice to the sentimentality that continually seeps in when I least expect it as this is also my last year working at my favorite place on Earth.

Last year definitely paved the way for both Larissa and I to be successful in our respective endeavors this year. We both learned Spanish, I learned Sign Language, we learned how to be teachers (a.k.a. I learned how to discipline children with stern love), we learned how the school functioned, we learned the hundreds upon thousands of names of our students and colleagues, and I learned about both the positive and negative personality quirks of my students and how to address them. In addition, I learned the rules of our students’ favorite game volleyball, to always stay alert at recess when the kids are playing kickball so as not to get a line drive to the face or back of the head, how to fix a pair of glasses when they are hit by said line drive, how to make my children giggle until they fall over, how to come up with a fun activity on the spot, the innumerable uses of a plastic water bottle in the classroom and in life, and how to get 25 pre-schoolers to actually march in a straight line without one running off or leaving to chase after a leaf (it’s harder than you think). 

I personally did not plan on staying a second year, but I am elated that I did. The lessons I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve gained, and the connections I’ve forged this year will remain with me throughout my lifetime. I would not trade my two years here for anything in the world.

This year I am lucky enough to have my own English classroom where I teach 25 three, four, and five year olds at a time instead of going into their classrooms and teaching 50 as we did last year. In this way, I have much more control in the atmosphere of my classroom so that I can focus on teaching English instead of prying children off the walls (with love) as I did in their classrooms last year. I am also happy to report that I do not lose my voice as frequently as last year from not only teaching 50 three-year-olds, but from projecting my voice to the far reaches of their classrooms. This year, I alone teach English to all the pre-schoolers which was overwhelmingly difficult at first, since I was used to teaching only one age group. However difficult teaching 500 pre-schoolers instead of 150 was at the start, it has been greatly rewarding as the year went on. 

My schedule this year has been in two words: jam-packed. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have class from the time I get there at 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. with a 45 minute break for lunch. Although my classes make me collapse from exhaustion at the end of the day, it thankfully doesn’t feel like work when you love what you do. I try to remind myself to savor every moment and take every opportunity to ply my students with love.

I refuse to think about my last days at the school, as I have been placing all thoughts of leaving in a cardboard box that I duct tape air tight and place in the far reaches at the back of my mind. I will deal with leaving when the time comes. All I know is that my two years here have been incredible. The children here are extraordinarily special that it is impossible to not fall in love with them and want what’s best for them.  

There have been times when Larissa and I look at each other, and by the bereft look on our faces one of us knows that the other is thinking about the end of the year and what we are possibly going to do with ourselves. Then we mourn in contemplative silence for a good seven minutes or so while we figure out how to (legally) kidnap all of our students and/or transport the entire school to the States.

Lastly, one vital aspect that has undoubtedly made my second year that more fulfilling is the person I have had at my side during every high, low, and in between. Being here with someone who shares the same mindset as I about our students, that they always, always come first has been so reassuring since our work has always been the most important aspect to us. In addition, both working here and Larissa have taught me that it is not the end of the world if my plans go awry or if I did not have a chance to plan or prepare (my favorite “p” words) in advance.

I know that when I leave here in June, I will be leaving behind a piece of my heart in each of my students. I imagine this place as the most joyous place on Earth. If I can have just half of the fulfillment and joy that I get out of each day of working here for the rest of my life, then that will be enough.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Expect the Unexpected

We are about a month into year two, and what a month it has been! Connielyn and I have been so busy, we haven’t had a second to breathe. We are constantly running around the school, teaching our classes, planning for our next classes, and meeting with other teachers and staff members. Our days are crazy, but we still love it!

We started this school year exactly a month ago, on August 17th. We walked into school the first day, and it was so nice to be back in the place we love so much. We were greeted by other staff members and friends we had made last year. Everything was familiar and comfortable. This new school year was a very different experience from last year. Last year, everything was new and exciting, but also scary. I had no idea how the school worked or who anyone was outside our group of six volunteers. This year, it was just me and Connielyn, but we weren’t alone—we were surrounded by people we already know and love. We already knew the school and how it worked, so we were able to jump right back into life at the Hogar. 

As a volunteer, it is always important to be flexible. Going into this year, Connielyn and I were unsure of what we would be doing. We figured we would be working in the Nivel Inicial, like last year, and Connielyn wanted to work in the Deaf School as well. I was unsure of what I would be doing, but I knew what I didn’t want to do: I knew I absolutely did NOT want to be the English teacher in the high school, which was Angie’s job last year. I was so scared they were going to ask me because as far as we knew, they hadn’t hired a new English teacher yet. Our first week at school, the students weren't back yet so we were just resettling in and getting ready to start classes in the Nivel Inicial. The Director told us we would have our own classroom this year, which was so exciting! So we got right to work making materials to decorate our classroom. We met with the other teachers in the Nivel Inicial, and we created a schedule for classes. All the while, I was still unsure of what I would be doing for work.

That next Monday was the first day of classes, so the students finally arrived! We got to school at around 8 a.m., like we do every morning. We were just starting our day when someone knocked on our office door and told us that Carmen, the Coordinator of the High School, wanted to talk to me. I walked up to the high school so nervous that she was going to ask me to do the one thing I didn’t want to do. Sure enough, at 8:45 a.m. Carmen and the Director asked me if I could do them a favor and teach English to the Freshmen, Sophomore, and Senior classes—five classes in total. I said yes, even though I was terrified on the inside, because there was nothing else to say. I am a volunteer at the Hogar and am there to help them however I can. The school needed an English teacher, and so I stepped in to fill the position until they hired someone. So at 8:50 a.m. with my heart in my throat, I walked into my first class of 38 seniors. I had no plans, no time to plan, and I was so nervous I was shaking, but I made it through. Luckily, I already knew a lot of the students in that class and had built relationships with them last year, so there were a lot of familiar faces in the crowd. I made it through my next four classes that day as well, and each time it became a little less scary. 

Now, it is three weeks later, and I have continued to be the English teacher in the High School. It is a job I never wanted to do, but I love it. It is hard, challenging, and frustrating. There are classes when I just want to walk out of the room and leave it all behind, but I love every single one of my students. They are all smart, talented, and want to learn. I have never been in a classroom where students are so eager to learn. One of my main challenges is getting the students to stop talking out of turn, but most of the time when they are talking, they are yelling out the answers or asking me to call on them and then getting upset when I don’t. This is such a drastic contrast from when I was in high school, since I personally never wanted to participate, and my peers were never this excited to answer a question either.

I don’t know how much longer I will be the English teacher in the high school. I know they have hired a new teacher, but I’m not sure when she will start. What I will be doing this Monday is a mystery to me. I have started setting up plans for what I will be doing next, but I won’t be sure of what I’m doing until I have actually started. As I said before, in this job, flexibility is key. I can’t wait to feel settled in and actually know what my job will be this year, but I will miss my students so much when I am no longer teaching them every day. It has been a great start to the year, and I am so happy to be continuing this adventure at the Hogar del Niño.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Seize the Day!

As I sit here on the guagua on the way to Puerto Plata with the adrenaline rush from running to catch one guagua to the next slowly wearing away, I feel like I can finally sit back and enjoy the week off. It is currently Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which is the week leading up to Easter in Christianity. As volunteers and teachers at the Hogar de Niño, we also have that week off from school. So of course with all of the free time we have, it is the perfect time to explore this beautiful country! We have decided to head to north to visit the cities of Puerto Plata and Cabarete, as well as explore the island of Samaná. With the closest of those paces being four hours from La Romana, the guagua ride as you can imagine, gave me plenty of time think about what a busy month we have had and to really soak it all in. We had Kris, Father Jim and the HOPE group come volunteer at the school during their Spring break, our loved ones from the states visiting, and have started planning aTalent show at the Hogar. All of those things along with the normal hustle and bustle of our schedules have made the past few weeks jam-packed with laughs, moments of frustration and success, as well as memories that will last a lifetime. 

Workng with the students on the HOPE group this year was an unforgettable experience. From the day the arrived at the school, until their very last day at the Hogar, their hardwork and dedication to their mural, in the classroom, and in their relationships with the kids has made me proud to say that they are from my alma mater, Stonehill College. As a teacher that has been at the school since August working with the kids and knowing the ins-and-outs of the Hogar, watching Thomas, Yun, Zach, Marissa, Jamie, Brianna, Meagan, Julie, Ravi, Tom, Kris, and Father Jim interact with the kids and take all of the challenges head on was truly admirable. I can admit than there were plenty of times I could have stepped in when a deaf student wanted to know someone's age or one of my students wanted to know where someone was from, and the communication was just not working. I know that I could have easily stepped in and told them what he student was saying and coud have competely prevented miscommunication and frustration beween the two. But instead, I wanted to see if it was all possible. If one of the volunteers and a student could communicate and understand eachother even though they were from different backgrounds and using different languages. As an outsider looking into the conversations, it was both amazing and entertaining to see the interaction between the two and how the language barrier seemed to be unimportant. They were both able to get the general points across with hand gestures and facial expressions just fine, proving that it indeed was possible!

The students at the Hogar are accustomed to volunteers coming into the school and helping in their classes and extracurricular programs. I truly believe the week that the HOPE volunteers spent with the kids has made an impact on the students at the Hogar. They have seen them change a blank space in their school into a beautiful area for them to enjoy. There were numerous relationships made and I can only imagine the memories that will be remembered. Just the other day, I was very suprised when one of my 4-year-old Kinder students asked when my friends were coming back to teach them English! I know for me, as well as the other volunteers, having the HOPE group volunteering and working with us side-by-side, reaffirmed everything the Stonehill Service Corps stands for. We always know that Stonehill College as a community is behind us supporting us here in the Dominican Republic with all of the work we are doing at the Hogar. But there was something special with having Kris Silva, Father Jim, and the HOPE group there right alongside with us that made it so much more rewarding. 

With our lifestyle here being one beautiful day after the next, along with the Monday through Friday, 8 to 4 schedule of school, it is tough for one not to fall into routine and invariability of the schedule. Hearing from our visitors this past month about the gradual change of seasons that is happening back home, along with the occasional snow storm every week that makes things interesting, I am always reminded that no matter how repetitive each day or week may be, each should be treated like a gift. No day is like the previous one and it should be appreciated and lived as if they are different. The HOPE group was a refreshing breath of fresh air because their energy, motivation and kind words reminded me of why I love the Hogar so much and how satisfying my decision to do service was for me and what I want to accomplish in my life. I recieved a palanca, which is a note that each person in the HOPE group writes at the end of their service trip for someone, that really touched my heart from one of the volunteers that I keep on my wall to see every morning when I wake up. The volunteer wrote we as group have inspired him and helped him to define his first HOPE experience; and for that he is forever grateful. To think that I have made an impact on someones experience at the school doing what I love warms my heart and my commitment here worth it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

English Day!

            On December 3, every student of Hogar del Nino presented, performed or exhibited the projects that they had been working on for a month for English Day. It is hard to put into words the amazing effort, talent and determination that our students put into their projects! There were tears in our eyes because we worked with our students every day and witnessed first hand how hard they worked to prepare their presentations, dances, songs and art exhibitions; we are so very proud of them!

Students in each grade worked on different projects for English Day. The Kindergarteners that Larissa and I worked with sang three Christmas songs; Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer. Students in first grade also sang Christmas songs and students in second grade through fourth grade performed parts of plays. Students in fifth grade through twelfth grade researched American topics such as cars, American presidents, technology, American films, and tourist attractions. The students from the Deaf School practiced and performed different dances.

I worked closely with two 8th grade classes on their English Day projects and I was so impressed by how hard they worked each and every day! First, they researched about different forms of American technology, such as medical technology, social media, boats and airplanes. Once they recorded their information, I worked with them on presenting their information. We focused on their pronunciation and truly knowing their information so that they wouldn’t be as nervous come English Day. Each grade decorated a classroom to aid their presentations. When I walked into the 8th grade classroom, I was amazed by their creativity and their readiness to present their information to others!

The students of the Sordo School, or the Deaf School, practiced a variety of dances for the month preceding English Day. When they performed their dances, we all had tears in our eyes and were so proud of them because of how amazing of an accomplishment it is for them to dance in coordination to the music of each song. The teachers of the Sordo School as well as Larissa helped the students to practice these dances. They felt the vibrations of the music and watched their teachers to learn them. Their performance of We’re All in This Together from High School Musical was truly a testament to the Hogar del Nino’s mission; all students can learn, succeed, and grow here as long as we help each other!

Friday, January 30, 2015


      There´s something strange about leaving your home, where you grew up, where you have years and years of memories, to go to another a place that you also call home. All six of us left our home here in the DR to go to our homes in the U.S.A to be with our families for Christmas. With that trip we left a little part of our hearts at the Hogar. Even just for a month it was hard to leave our job, our students, our lives here, but there is no way to describe the feelings of coming back. The first day we saw our students, it felt like we hadn´t seen them in years. They were all bigger, talking more, acting like little adults; now I think we must all know how our parents felt watching us grow up.
     The nice thing about a break, is that it allows you to clear your mind and reflect on the past and plan for the future. We came back with more fire, energy and new ideas to finish our last 5 months here stronger then we started our year. Whether it was new teaching strategies, finishing up started projects or starting something completey new, we want to give these last months everything we´ve got.
    Our first work day back we had a teaching workshop (let me just say I think that was probably the first one in Hogar history and it was so needed). It was a perfect way to start out our new year.The workshop touched on the idea of how we can better teach our students, and gave us a new understanding of what is best for them and for us. 
    We are continuing with our english classes in the pre-school and the upper school, also the reading/writing classes in the deaf school, and the after school special ed class. We have started some new projects as well, such as an English Honors program with juniors in high school, as well as a new reading program for Kindergarten and first graders. 
   I will leave you with a quote:

¨You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.¨

Saturday, September 27, 2014

¡Mes Uno en Fotos!

Since pictures are apparently worth a thousand words, here are some pictures of our first month here. Enjoy!

La Sala de Infancia


La Sala de Infancia or the Infant Room is a daycare for children ages zero to two years old. The children are fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day and are the cutest babies on the planet. Larissa works here in the afternoons. In between our classes in the mornings, we try to sneak up here for our daily doses of baby time and therefore happy time. 

Baby selfies because why not?


So many babies, so little time....

La Marcha de Paz

Last Friday, we all participated in la Marcha de Paz or the Peace March which was held to raise awareness for peace worldwide. Most students in the Nivel Inicial, or the preschool, and their teachers and assistants took part in a walk around the block of the school. All the students and participants chanted "¡Queremos Paz!" which means "We want peace!" All the classes made signs and posters, and students wore visors and carried doves. Everyone wore white to symbolize peace, and so did we! It was a great experience to see and take part in, and it reiterated the purpose of service and why we are all here serving at the Hogar.


Hogar student drummers!

  To conclude our first picture blog, I think we can all agree that we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves in the Dominican Republic. We're embracing the culture, learning the language, and loving the children more and more each day. It's hard to believe we have been here for only a month because we are already seeing such  progress with our students, individual projects, and within ourselves. We are learning to face our challenges with an open-mind and to understand situations from different points of view. Here's our first month in pictures!


Virginia and us at our first Cafe de la Leche of the year, an event the PBO holds every first Friday of the month where Hogar supporters donate milk and baby formula for the Sala Infancia.


Ain't nothin' like them gorgeous Dominican beaches!
"Hi,we're the cutest siblings in the world. Nice to meet you."

Teaching English to our preschoolers.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Poco a Poco

We are now almost a month into our year in the Dominican Republic! This is so strange to think about, since it feels like we've been here for so much longer. We are all poco a poco, slowly but surely, settling into a rhythm here, especially at work.

Airport Selfie!
            At the school, we all teach English in the mornings. I teach Pre-Kinder (2-3 years old), Melissa teaches Kinder (3-4 years old), and Larissa teaches Pre-Primario (4-5 years old). Carola and Nina each have their own projects that they work on in the mornings. Carola is working on enacting a much needed discipline plan that will be used throughout the school, and Nina is developing a curriculum for the school's English program.

            In a nutshell, our mornings consist of singing lots of songs; I personally have dredged up lots of nursery rhymes from the backs of my memory that I did not even know I remembered. We sing about the morning, about the weather, about the day, and simply try to ingrain English into all that we do to get our kids learning English in a fun way. For example, this past week our goal was to teach all our students the vocabulary words: teacher, boy, girl, the number one, and the color red. On Mondays, we plan out a slew of different activities that we think are fun and our kids will enjoy for the week.

            For my three classes (each of us have three classes that we teach per grade, so for me there is Pre-Kinder A, B, and C) my children are all around 2 and 3 years old and are just learning how to sit in a chair and at a table for extended periods of time. So while it certainly is cute when I see one of my kids crawl onto the table, they should not be doing that, and I have to grab them and place them back into their chair. However, poco a poco I hope to infiltrate all of my students' minds with the English words and activities I teach them. So far, it truly is the best feeling when I hear my students singing along with me and when they say random snippets of songs to me even when we are not singing. On Friday, when I was working with one of the tables in a class a girl pointed to me and said in a sing-song voice "maestra, teacher!!" from one of the songs we sing. Needless to say I gave her lots of high fives and encouragement.

            In the afternoons, we all have various projects throughout the school that we work on. Melissa works in the Zona Verde where she teaches yoga and about the importance of good health, nutrition, hygiene, etc. Larissa works in the Sala Infancia (Infant Room) which is a daycare for children from years 0 to 2 years old where she is developing an early stimulation program. I work in the Escuela de Sordos (the School of the Deaf) where I am helping the students there develop their reading and writing skills. Nina spends her time working with the older grades, middle and high school students, in a program directed toward educating students about life, development, respect, responsibility, etc. Finally, Carola is working closely with our supervisor Virginia Brown who is the director of the English program throughout the school, on a special education program aimed at helping students with both academic and behavioral difficulties.
Our bags are packed and we are ready to go!!!

            Poco a poco I am learning Spanish and Dominican Sign Language, maybe not at the speed I want to be, but slowly but surely nevertheless. Whenever I get frustrated at myself for not knowing the two languages I need to know, I remind myself that I have only be here for about four weeks, and I have a whole year to learn it.

            Outside of the school, life here in La Republica Dominicana runs on a time of its own. Even if we have a meeting at 10 a.m., this could mean 10 a.m. or it could mean 10:30 or 10:45 a.m. This is just one aspect of the Dominican culture that is very different from the one we are used to back home where one is supposed to arrive 10 minutes early to any meeting, and one is considered late if one arrives on time.

            Another thing that I know all of the newbie girls (Melissa, Larissa, and I) and the veteran girls (Nina and Carola) still have a hard time with are the varying degrees of disrespect that we see all around and also in the stark dichotomy of very poor and very wealthy here on this island. It is difficult to see people who have so, so much live right next to other people who have so, incredibly little. Seeing this unjust unbalance always brings me back to the reasons I wanted to do service in the first place, to witnessing the same poverty and immense wealth I saw as a child in the Philippines and feeling helpless to changing it.

            In addition, the idea of respect that we as Americans have and the notion of respect that some Dominicans have is also very different. For instance, catcalling exists in the U.S., but not to the extent that is present here. The five of us could just be walking out of the school to grab a snack during our break and the men here treat us like objects, not as humans. Being in this country has also brought out the feminist in me, since many men do not believe that women should be doing anything considered "strenuous" such as lifting a box. Excuse me, but I know I and the four other women here with me are extremely capable of lifting a box, thank you very much.

We love our new uniforms!
            Now, here in the DR, I know it is impossible to single handedly (or 10 handedly since there is now five of us) to change the entire social system and culture, but what is possible is teaching our kids at school what respect truly is and to simply be good role models and sources of support and encouragement whenever they need it. We offer our love freely and indiscriminately; I could not even count the number of kisses I plant on my students each day. Seeing their joyous, innocent smiles and their unconditional yearning for love and attention replants my mission each day for being here and reminds me why I am here.

            Lastly, I am so incredibly excited for this coming year due to the five other amazing people I am here with. Nina, Carola, Larissa, Melissa, and Angie are incredible women and we are all so similar in how hard we work and how much good we want to do here. It makes our jobs here so much more enjoyable and swifter with the number of hands and the laughter that comes along with everything that we do. I am very eager to how the rest of this year unfolds, and I hope to keep you all updated on what happens next in our adventures! Until then!