At the age of 16 I decided that not only did I want to complete Gold Duke of Edinburgh, but I wanted to use this scheme as a means of travelling around the globe and guaranteeing, my ticket to heaven. Whilst most of my school peers achieved their 2 week “residential” by volunteering at a local pensioners home or a children’s bible camp, myself and my best friend Olivia decided to stretch further a field than the outskirts of Edinburgh. We flew to South Africa.
Two blond idiots sauntered off the plane in short shorts and sunglasses, perhaps reflecting a young Paris and Nicole on The Simple Life. Unfortunately we had seriously mixed up our seasons. Despite the fact that it was June and our own summer holidays, in South Africa, we were in the depths of winter. Regardless of our goosebumps and shivers, we were not phased, and the shorts remained on.
After a quick stop over at my aunties (who by chance has a mansion in Cape Town), we loaded up on the Western Cape public bus for a 10 hour “cultural” journey to our new school in Knsyna. It was all smooth sailing until the young man behind us started to rap loudly, for several hours. Being the confident young woman that we are today, we politely asked him to shut up. He replied saying “Im going to get this whole bus blown up,” as he was in “the playboy gang.” Regrettably we had not done much research regarding the entry requirements to South African gangs, and we decided to laugh at his stories about the “playboy” crew. Im not sure if its because we were still in the short shorts, or because we had such infectious laughs, but 6 hours later we actually became friends.
So we made it to the first day of our new school, and boy did we stand out. It was a sea of rioting children, running in circles around Olivia’s small bag of Macdonalds toys which her grandfather had kindly given us. As a 5 year old boy grabbed my ass and shouted at me in Kosak (the native dialect of tongue clicks) just as the 8am morning bell rang, I was a bit panicked. We may have been of our depths.
On entry into our new classroom (which resembled a portaloo), the teacher made it very clear that we were to be strict. She handed us a crow bar, then winked. She then pointed out the table in the far corner and said, they are the retards, don’t bother with them. I am not sure if it was my British up bringing, but in my eyes, this situation was not PC in the slightlest. As we stood at the front of the chalk board, awkwardly holding the bar, with 60 pairs of innocent and curious eyes staring at us, this whole “teaching” malarky suddenly did not seem so easy.
In a moment of sheer panic we went back to our roots, and started with what we knew best, the times tables. I am not sure Olivia was following at first, but she got the hang of it… I am not even sure if the kids were following, but they really liked the attention and the lack of crow barrage. As we grew more confident with our class of 6 year olds, we decided to take them to the play park. Note to any students wanting to teach abroad, do not, take 60, 6 year olds, who don’t speak english, to a park. These children were fast, they were furious, and they had energy.
As the days went by, we were determined to get the “special” table back up to par with the rest of the class. We had our favourites, and we definitely put in the extra time with them to try and master drawing the triangle and the square. Flicking through their jotters it seemed they preferred to write the letter “Z,” on repeate. Hours of tracing, dotted lines, pictures, some love, care and attention, the special table did eventually draw a triangle. A right angled one, not an equilateral one, but baby steps.
The main thing I have learned from this experience is that language is not a barrier when your teaching (/entertaining) children, and we made the most progress when we taught in song, through motions or pictures. Bringing in chocolate, balloons, and toys was a huge mistake, as we were slightly molested, but singing the alphabet and number rhymes worked miracles. There was no way we were learning Kosak, and there was little chance these kids were going to speak in English but being creative meant we did not need crow bars.
I challenge everyone to go and teach abroad for a week or two, as its one of those experiences that makes you think, good god we were little shits when we were at school. We both left Knynsa with a new found appreciation for education, language, crow bars and rap. We learnt a few words, hopefully the kids learnt a few words. We now know, never, go to a park, with more than 5 children.