A student asked me that today. I had to think about it for a second — I knew she meant “homesick” but “longing for home” is so much more poetic and a little more exact. Of course I miss home; I miss little conveniences and certain foods. I miss having most people in my life a text or phone call away. Missing my family and friends goes without saying, of course, but being able to Skype with them — especially my parents and brothers — has really helped. I also really miss being able to drive places. This culture does not allow laziness; students walk or bike pretty much anywhere they want to go. If it’s too far, they take the train. In a lot of ways, this kind of change is great for me. I have become less reliant on my phone as a means of communication, I am getting used to walking ~5 miles a day and I’m eating better foods just to name a few. My awareness that it’s a good kind of change doesn’t mean that it’s not hard though. Willingly having taken away reliable conveniences from myself is no fun! I can only imagine that having them taken away from you when you’re unwilling is much less fun. If I had answered the student’s question honestly, I would have told her that I didn’t really miss home itself, but I missed things about home that made home more homey. Instead, I told her that I hadn’t been too homesick, but when I did get homesick I was able to Skype with my family. That’s an answer a 14 year old ESL student can handle.
Now I’m just going to jump right into talking about school. The teacher’s schedules here are very different from those in the US. The teachers don’t go all day, every day. The school day at Tornhagsskolan is from 8:10-4, but our cooperating teacher, Ann-Sofi, has class from 8:10-9:05, 12:15-12:35, 12:55-1:50 and 3-4 on Wednesdays. That’s a grand total of 4 hours and 40 minutes of non-instructional time she has built into her school day on Wednesdays. Every day is different, but that’s generally about how much time they have to plan every day. On Tuesdays, when Ann-Sofi is done teaching at 1:05, she is free to leave for the day. Pretty good gig! Not to mention, they have quite the swanky teacher’s lounge with the “Rolls Royce of Coffee Machines.” Jaclyn and I each got a master key to the building, so we can come in here for fika any time.
I mentioned our cooperating teacher, Ann-Sofi, but when I didn’t mention is how excellent she is. She’s really peppy, helpful, is a fantastic teacher, and has been kind enough to allow Jaclyn and me to kind of hijack her classes for the next three weeks. We came in last Friday and introduced ourselves to both classes, and the 8th grade (our equivalent 9th grade) class prepared small presentations about themselves for us. On Monday, we went into the hall with pairs or small groups of the students, and they introduced themselves one-by-one and told us a few things they enjoyed doing. It was a great way to learn names and get to know the kids. Also, I learned that hamsters seem to be an oddly popular pet. For the eighth graders, we’re working with two novels and have divided them into 5 groups. Thirteen people are reading one of the novels, and eleven are reading the other. Because the books offer insight into American school life and punishment/discipline respectively, we’ve decided to use this as the basis for our mini-unit. The objective is to teach them about school life in America through the novels, and allow them to critically examine how it’s different from school life in Sweden. They will then weigh the pros and cons of the systems against one another. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it works out.
We’re also teaching Ann-Sofi’s 9th grade (our equivalent 10th grade) class. We met them on Friday and Ann-Sofi allowed us to go over idioms, idiomatic expressions and similes with them. When we met them, the class was really talkative and engaging but very much on task. Jaclyn and I expected the review of the idiom activity to go smoothly based on what we had seen on Friday. Man, were we wrong! It didn’t go poorly I guess, but those kids clammed up like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was like pulling teeth to get them to say anything. It felt like class took forever and it was so hard to tell if what we were saying was clear because we couldn’t get any reaction from them! It was so frustrating. Afterwards, though, I was thinking about it and of course they didn’t speak. They are taking a foreign language course and here come two fluent, native speakers to teach it. If I had been in their position in my German classes in high school, no way would I have said anything. Today, we decided to kind of ease them into our short-story mini-unit. Jaclyn and I each read aloud, pausing every so often to go over words they didn’t know and cover plot to make sure they understood it. Then, we asked for volunteers. No one volunteered, but one student gave that look that was like “I don’t want to raise my hand because it’s lame but I’d do it if you asked me” (I used to give that look all the time) so I called on her and she did a beautiful job reading aloud. My hope is that the other students will be more willing to participate now that one of their own has contributed.
We have also been thinking about how to level the playing field a little bit, because they seem kind of intimidated by us. We’ve been talking about making it clear that we’re learning new stuff too and we’re just as uncertain about what we’re learning as they are. We are going to ask them to evaluate us as teachers, just as we’re evaluating them as English learners. We’ll likely talk about it with them tomorrow and allow them to complete the evaluations on the last day or two we’re there, before we move on to the upper secondary schools in the city. Hopefully, this will make them a little more comfortable with us being in the classroom.
We know they want us there, they keep telling Ann-Sofi that they are lucky we’re there and asking her to ask us to do certain things with them, but when it comes to speaking to us, they clam up like nobody’s business.
Aside from school, we’re also registered for a class on campus that covers the history of Sweden’s school system and theories behind it. We had our first seminar tonight with our professor, Anders Magnusson. We are expected to call him Anders, which feels weird to me. The seminar was great; it’s in English and it’s a wide range of students both in nationality and in grade levels they’ll be teaching. Tonight was just an introduction night, so we didn’t do much. What we did do, though, was participate in a competition. There was no prize except the thrill of victory. We divided into groups (mine was 3 people, the smallest) and created a self-supporting tower our of straws and tape. Guess who won! That’s right, my group! It was me, Spanish Isabel and German Lara. Here’s the winning tower:
Magnificent, isn’t it?
And this brings us to the “Emily’s Embarrassing Moments” portion of the post. It’s necessary this time, but I hope it doesn’t become a regular installment here. Over the last week or so, I’ve had two embarrassing things happen. Number one: I was on a long run this past Saturday, and I chose to go on a trail in the forest behind Ryd. I was be-bopping along, minding my own business, and all of a sudden this man — he was like 60 — came out of nowhere and whizzed right by me, leaving maybe six inches between us. For those of you who don’t know, I start very easily, and am inclined to flail about when startled. That’s exactly what I did here. This dude surprised me and I flailed my arms. I wound up hitting him in the shoulder and on the side of the head. Whoops! He looked back at me (he hadn’t broken stride) with disgust and disdain and said something in Swedish I can only assume was an insult. It was horribly embarrassing.
The other one happened today, and it’s more of a retrospective embarrassment. I wore this outfit to school:
As you can tell from my pose, I felt super fashionable and generally pretty good about myself and my choice of outfit. I should have known that something was awry. If you can see, the skirt buttons all the way down to the hem. Well, I got home after team-teaching with Jaclyn all day AND our first seminar with Anders and found out that the third and fifth buttons were undone (I buttoned them up before the picture, obviously). I can only assume I was walking around like this all day. Again, whoops!