By Caleb and Alex Reed
The first few months at site can be tough, everybody knows that. New community, new routines, less contact with the outside world, heck, less food and water! One of the things that was particularly challenging for us was the shocking transition between the rigid schedule of training and the sudden lack of schedule associated with starting at site while our primary assignment, the school, was finishing for the year. Sure, we wanted some transition time to ease into our new lives; but two months of downtime started to look pretty long after the first two weeks!
Oh, but you’re supposed to use this time to “integrate” socially, they say, so that you don’t just go in guns-a-blazin’ before anyone knows (or cares) who you are. Because of this, albeit subconsciously, I think we developed a sort of mental dichotomy between our social integration and our work. (“I can’t work right now, I’m integrating!”) But this was further complicated because we needed to set ourselves apart from the tourists that come to the islands by proving that we, unlike them, weren’t just hanging out.
You might not know this, but this is pretty hard to do when you’re supposed to be the new English teachers, and you aren’t doing any teaching…real convincing. Thankfully, a few people actually believed us, and asked if we would be willing to do some private tutoring until we were able to start the formal community English classes that everyone kept asking us about. Absolutely!
After a few private tutoring sessions, these connections started to grow into friendships, which also led to further connections and a better understanding of people’s needs regarding English. One of those other connections was a spunky young community leader who became instrumental in coordinating efforts for beginning our much-anticipated community English class.
One of the things that we learned through this process was that rather than being a hindrance to our social integration, our work was actually our greatest asset. The strict subconscious separation we had between work and social life at first, has now been replaced by a cyclical understanding wherein responding to meet one need/value results in access to relationships, which results in a better understanding of further needs/values, which results in further opportunities to respond, which results in further access, etc.
At the launch of Regálame English we had over forty people, and though that may not sound like that many, it is about 5% of the population. Within the first week, at the request of a number of class members, we started a second class on the other side of the island; and after an impromptu lunch invitation to a separate isleta, we were asked to do a class there as well, which has also been holding strong. At the end of eight weeks we awarded thirty-five certificates for consistent attendance.
Through these classes we have also made many more friends. We have been invited to lunch, to go snorkeling, to go fishing, to go snorkel-spearfishing, and to stay in private cabañas. And through this we have also been able to learn more about other ways in which we may be able to support the community in their goals beyond English. Who would have thought that the integration of our work and social life would be so…integral?