19 February 2010

Sat, 20 Feb: The first day of school

In the week since the cyclone, the grounds of the agricultural college have been swarming with staff and students, cleaning up the fallen branches, collecting the coconuts that flew everywhere, and putting the roof back on the dairy shed. We had several false-alarm-first-days, the ones where the night before, I'm told that we're starting school the next day, but then the next morning, in light of all there is to be done on the grounds, it's pushed back another day. I was glad for each delay, because, as I said two posts ago, we still didn't have a finalized class schedule and I still didn't know what I was teaching. And by this time, I wasn't surprised any of the days that were ghost first days, as it were, because we've both learned that in Tonga, nothing happens till it happens.

The real first day was yesterday, a Friday. It was a comical-on-me, frustrating, satisfying day overall. A study in my own cross-cultural confusion. I woke up in the morning, thinking that we had a school assembly, and not too worried about any of my tentative classes, because the classes I'm teaching never fall on a Friday. So I think that even if we really do start, I won't be teaching til next Monday anyway. I get dressed, put on my kie-kie (the woven belt that is the Tongan womens' version of a suit), and walk down to the assembly area. No one's there! I walk around to the chapel, and see that not only is everyone gathered, but the program has started and they're already singing. I think that it's probably better to show up after it's done rather than walk in in the middle, so I come back an hour later, and find out that there always is a 7:30 AM Monday and Friday staff meeting right before the assembly, a fact that I was utterly unaware of. "Didn't you hear the bell?" my colleagues ask me. Of course I did, but, feeling clueless and culturally out of it, I had had no idea what it was for. To me, it seems like bells ring at all hours of the day, and I'm never sure what they're for. Having gotten that cleared up, I ask what we talked about, and find out that we are starting school, and that I'm teaching my first class in an hour.

Thankful for years of "you're the visitor, why don't you give a little speech" kind of on-the-spot thinking, I quickly rush home, slap together a lesson plan, and to my surprise, pull it off. It was (Year 3) Communication, and by the end of it, I learned a lot about what the students already know, and I think, they also had a little fun with some of my crazy games.

Now that school has officially started, I'm teaching (Year 1) Farm Management and (Year 3) Communication this semester, and next semester, I'll tackle (Year 1) Computer Skills, (Year 2) Agricultural Marketing, and (Year 3) Farm Business Management. I'm learning as much as I can about agriculture in the mean time, and eternally grateful that management and marketing is essentially the same everywhere, once you relate it to the industry's specifics. And with that, I constantly feel like I'm channeling the first day of Strategic Marketing with Professor Ringold.

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