Once I clicked the “submit” button on my application, I felt a twinge of nerves and excitement. Um, did I really just decide to apply to spend part of my summer training teachers- in Ghana? Well, according to the message that just popped up on my screen the answer was “yes.”
Wow. That is not exactly what I had planned to do with my Saturday night in December. I thought was just sitting down on my couch to watch some recorded shows on my DVR. But sometimes I find there’s some satisfaction in doing something that I wouldn’t normally do without consulting at least my parents and close friends. They almost always go along with whatever my idea of the moment is and understand that I am going to jump on those “once in a lifetime” opportunities. Because, like they say, you only live once, right?
Truth be told I didn’t seek out a fellowship. I didn’t initially plan on spending my summer in Ghana. It hadn’t really crossed my mind that I should, or could, spend a summer volunteering. I had thought about going to Cuba to learn more about the culture of the people in that country. I thought about maybe going back to Europe to explore some countries I hadn’t yet visited like Denmark, Sweden and Finland and, perhaps, trace back some of my own family history. I thought about visiting Japan to explore Tokyo and take in the sights and sounds of the bustling city. But never Ghana. That is, until that night on my couch, I came across a picture online of teachers working with students and the letters “LRTT.” There was also an eye catching tagline. I can’t remember exactly what it said, but I do remember it was something along the lines of “Are you a teacher….” Yes! “…who wants to travel and make a difference?” Yes! (I actually responded out loud to the non-existent audience in my living room. I do this sort of thing a lot.) I clicked on the link to find out more. After browsing the website, reading some blogs, and finally Googling exactly where Ghana was on a map (needed a brush up on my geography), I realized that an LRTT fellowship combined all of my greatest interests- teaching, travel, and meeting new people. I knew that I had to be a part of it.
It didn’t set in that I had solidified my summer plans until I made an excited phone call to my mom a few days later. After the initial barrage of questions (How long will you be gone? Where will you stay? Who are you going with?) It was her final question that left me, mouth agape with, what I am sure was a dumbfounded look on my face. She wanted to know why. I didn’t have an answer right away other than “Why not?” and since I’ve always been told it’s never good to answer a question with another question that answer wasn’t going to fly, especially with my curious mom and all of my teacher friends. I was definitely going to need some time to reflect on my “why?”.
I’ve spent the past 9 summers getting on airplanes, flying to countries I had yet to see, and enjoying weeks of exploring, learning, eating and becoming fast friends with the people I meet. A point of fact: many of my travels have been inspired by the stories of adventure and conquest from these kindred spirits of frequent flyer wealth and good-airport bathroom appreciation. This time, I am the jetsetter test-case. Nobody I know personally has been to Ghana before or participated in an adventure anything like this. I finally get to dip my toes in the water first.
I think what excites me most is not knowing exactly what is going to happen during this international fellowship. While that may make the average person nervous or anxious, it gives me a distinct thrill and a feeling that what I take from this adventure will be directly linked to what I invest. To put it a different way, I am writing my own Ghana novella. I am going into this fellowship with 9 full years of teaching under my belt. I have taught in 5 different grade levels at three different schools under several different administrations. I have worked with a diversity colleagues, curriculum, and student demographics. Even though I will be showing up to my school in Ghana with a suitcase full of experience, knowledge and wisdom, I don’t know exactly how or if I am going to utilize each item I unpack. I have so many questions- Will my skills be applicable in a country so different from my own? How will my educational experience translate in a classroom that has limited resources and is very foreign to my practice? How will my choices impact the community I will be working with? I know the only way to find the answers is to get on that plane and go.
It has been so helpful to get on Facebook and WhatsApp and connect, conspire and commiserate with the other participating teachers. I know that right now, there are over 30 people from all over the world getting ready and engaging in the same self-talk. I need to book my flight! What shots do I need? How hot is it going to be there? I need to make sure I’m prepared! Uh….what does prepared even mean? It is extremely comforting to know that there’s a whole group of us that can support each other prior to, during and after this life-changing experience.
As the countdown begins, I continue to ask myself what has been asked of me by everyone I know upon sharing my summer plans- Why did I decide to do this? The short answer is, because I felt that there isn’t anything else I would rather do with my time and resources. The longer, more truthful and perhaps more meaningful answer for me is that I cannot be fully ready to explain my reasoning until I get home and have the opportunity to reflect upon my experience. It is not a flashy, profound mission statement to be sure, but my experiences as a teacher and world traveller tell me that the answers to the big question are revealed by doing and not idle contemplation. One thing is for certain, deep down I am meant to be a part of this program. I am meant to meet the amazing people on my team and the teachers and students I get to support. I am meant to have this experience as both a teaching and learning opportunity. My “why” is in the making and I can’t wait discover it.
By Jessica Pagan
Are you a teacher interested in a Fellowship or just wanting to find out more about LRTT. Please visit www.lrtt.org/fellowships