9 Months in 800 words

So blogging. I told myself once a month was reasonable. And it probably is. Yet somehow, here I am, nearly 9 months since my last post, struggling with putting words on paper.

I guess the best I can hope to do is give a little bit of a picture of what the last 9 months have looked like.

November: I spent Thanksgiving weekend at a deserted resort island called Pisar out at the edge of Chuuk Lagoon. It was a peaceful, much needed break.

December: I finished my first semester as a teacher. Gave my first final exams. Submitted my first semester grades. I chaperoned a service retreat for the junior class, and finished the basketball season as a state champion basketball coach! Everything started to feel more adult. Christmas break was wonderful! We celebrated both Christmas and New Years with all of the faculty who hadn’t left for the holidays, and campus was quiet because all of the boys had left. I also spent part of Christmas day with my sponsor family.

January: The faculty and staff all started out the year on retreat together, and then we jumped right back into the swing of things! My schedule changed a bit so second semester I taught Physics, Chemistry and College Counseling. I also held volleyball tryouts in January and coached both the JV and Varsity girls’ volleyball teams.

February: February is a long month for schools because third quarter is just a long stretch with no breaks. Xavier is no different! I proctored a Saturday SAT for the juniors, went out to a neighboring island to give the Xavier entrance test to 8th graders, and battled through the long weeks.

March: It started much the same as February (a battle) but when 3rd quarter ended, it slowed down a bit. The last week of March was dedicated to taking the junior class students on their big spiritual retreat called Kairos – which was a privilege. I can’t brag enough about my students honestly.

April: This is when the days started to fly by. Easter break split April in half and included another beautiful visit to Pisar.

May: May began with a visit from my Jesuit Volunteer Corps program coordinators and a retreat of my own, continued with one on one visits with each of the junior students that I serve as college counselor to, progressed into the end of fourth quarter, exams, senior week, and graduation, which all flew by.

June: My second year JV community mates had departed by June, and after an all Xavier faculty end of year meeting on June 3rd, everyone started to go. By June 4th only a few of us remained on campus. Lucky for me, Ben came to visit and we got to spend 2 incredible weeks together. He proposed on the roof of Xavier High School and I got to show him the place that has become my home over the last year. I don’t know how to express how grateful I am to have been able to share this place with somebody so special to me. I celebrated my birthday with cake, ice cream, and the wonderful XHS Leftovers (the people that are “left over” for the summer, we’re an exclusive club now 😊), and then because there’s very little to do in Chuuk for the summer, flew off to Yap (another state in the Federated States of Micronesia) to teach at a summer program there.

July: Here I sit, in Yap Catholic High School’s volunteer house in the village of Nimar where I live alone. These last few weeks have been such a welcome change. Life is quiet here, my schedule is open, and the internet is substantially better than at Xavier. It’s been a blessing to experience another part of Micronesia and to see how both similar and different it can be.

This past year has been a whirlwind, and this summer has helped me slow down, recharge, and gear up for another one. I won’t make any promises, but hopefully I’ll share a little bit more this year about where I’m living and working, and maybe even teach you all a bit of Chuukese.

Sometimes it feels like the rest of the world is on pause because I’m so separated from it. Children aren’t growing up, no one is graduating from college, and there’s no major world events happening. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to being home and being in the middle of all of those things again, but for now, I’m happy to be in a Micronesia bubble and am looking forward to what the next 11 months bring.

Kinamwe (Peace)



A Day in the Life on Mabuchi Hill

Someone told me before I came here that the days at Xavier High School seem long, but the time passes quickly. Nearly 3 months in, and I’d say that’s remarkably true.

Let’s take a look at a typical school day (though truly, nothing is “typical” here):

4:00-6:30 AM – My first alarm goes off. I set it earlier or later depending on how much work I have left to do to get ready for the day, and how many classes I’m teaching. The first thing I have to do is shower. I’m sure you can guess why that’s a necessity in a tropical climate like this one. I walk over to my office and get to work before the students are around.

7:30 AM – This is about the time the girls arrive to campus (from their sponsor families) on buses (the boys live in a dorm on campus, so they’re always around) and will come to the teachers’ offices asking for passes to use the computer lab or to borrow materials for assignments etc.

7:45 AM – Morning Study starts. This is the only study period where both boys and girls have study together because of the way their schedules work. Freshmen through juniors are required to be working in the study hall quietly during this time (seniors have the privilege of working in their classrooms) unless they have a pass from a teacher to work somewhere else including the Student Center, the Library, the Computer Lab, or a teacher’s office for make-up work or extra help.

8:35 AM – 3 days per week there is a 10 minute all school assembly for things like announcements, embarrassing people on their birthdays, singing the Xavier Welcome Song to guests in the community, and starting the day with prayer. It usually goes much too long which means that first period never seems to start on time. Oops!

8:50 AM-3:15 PM – The school day is divided into 6 class periods, and is on a 6-day cycle (A-F days) which means every week looks a little bit different. Each grade level has two class sections so for each class we teach, we do every lesson twice. A “full schedule” would consist of teaching 20 class periods in every 6 day cycle, but because we are short staffed this year, I am teaching 26, and some other teachers are teaching 28 and 30. In addition, our principal has picked up a class, and our dean of students has picked up two classes (a full teaching schedule in addition to his responsibilities as the dean: what a hero!). It’s a crazy life!

3:30-4:15 PM – This is “Fitness” time for the boys every day of the week, and for the girls on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the girls have an additional study period. Girls’ fitness is also the only time that the girls’ sports teams can practice, so you can do the math: that’s only 2 hours and 15 minutes of basketball practice every week! That’s been quite an adjustment from my own experience of something close to 10-12 hours! It’s still my favorite part of the week though 😊

4:15 PM – The students have free time, and the girls have a rotating schedule for cleaning the classrooms during this time. This is also when many extracurricular activities will meet. This can serve as many things including “shower after practice” time, nap time on purpose, nap time on accident, or work, work and more work time!

5:00 PM – The girls’ buses leave and take them home for the night.

6:00 PM – Dinner in the dining hall. We have a cook that cooks 3 meals a day for all of the staff and faculty, and we pretty much all eat together every night. We all rotate dish night which includes washing the dinner dishes, putting the leftovers away, making sure the dining hall is clean, and filling the drinking water jug.

7:00 PM – On Mondays, my Jesuit Volunteer Corps community has our community or spirituality nights together, otherwise I’m in my office grading work and planning lessons from now until my night is over.

7:30 PM – The boys first evening study starts. With the exception of the seniors, no students are allowed to get passes to study anywhere except the study hall for this period.

8:25 PM – The boys first study ends, so they all head up to the teachers’ offices to ask for passes, borrow materials, and generally just bother us as much as they can 😊 Sometimes this is the most annoying part of the night, but sometimes it’s the best!

9:30 PM – Second study ends so the boys start to disappear

10:00 PM – Boys curfew (aka FREEDOM)

11:00 PM – 1:00 AM – It’s generally somewhere in this range that I call it a night and walk back to my room. Sleep usually comes easy after the long days, and then I wake up in the morning to do it all again!

As you can see, the days are long. Every day feels like it will never end, yet somehow, I look back on my time here, and it feels like I arrived yesterday. It’s hard to believe that I’m more than an 8th of the way through my teaching career at Xavier High School. But I am. I’m doing it. I’m teaching.

What makes it worth it? At the risk of spouting the cliché of all clichés, the students do. When a student you don’t even teach asks you to be his “Xavier mom,” it’s worth it. When the lightbulb clicks, and a student says “So you mean to tell me that we’re made up of cells with a nucleus, that are made up of atoms with their own nucleus?” it’s worth it. When a student thanks you for assigning a project because it helped her think about her future, it’s worth it.

There are so many questions to be asked, and answers to be discovered. I hope, over the coming months, that I will be able to find the words to explore those here, but for now, this is the life I’m living. It’s like no life I’ve ever lived before, and it’s truly a beautiful one.

And So It Begins…

Ran Annim from Chuuk, FSM! It’s the end of my first almost full month here so it’s time to put some of my experience into writing. So much has happened and there’s no way I can do it all justice in one blog post, but hopefully I can paint a broad picture and then fill in the gaps later.

My fellow first year Jesuit Volunteers and I took a 35 hour travel journey from our orientation in Chicago to our final destination on an island called Weno (pronounced weh-da) in Chuuk State, Federated States of Micronesia or FSM. We arrived here on August 7th and it’s been a whirlwind since then!

The first week or so was our “in country orientation” which consisted mostly of getting to know our surroundings, learning a bit of Chuukese (the local language), and getting to know our second year JVs. The next two weeks were dedicated to training with the other faculty here at Xavier High School and preparing for the school year, and last week class finally started! Nerves were very high going into the first day of classes, but I really am enjoying it. It’s been a lot of fun to finally meet the kids that I’ve heard so much about, and start to get to know them. Since it’s a boarding school and the boys live on campus, they’re around all the time so there are plenty of opportunities to get to know them!

I also have a sponsor family on the island, and I don’t live with them, but I’ve gone down to their house twice now and stayed the night. Our school is a bit isolated up on “Mabuchi Hill” so I love staying with my sponsor and getting a taste of what real Chuukese life is like. Mostly it tastes like a lot of breadfruit, rice and cooking bananas 😊

We only had three days of classes last week, so this week will really kick off the school year and (despite all of the preparing I still have left to do) I’m raring to go. I can only imagine there will be so much more to say a month from now!

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