Friday, August 22, 2014

This Week

My blog post yesterday was a few days delayed thanks to the internet connection so I’m going to double over. Being an SM in Palau is unique because it’s enough like the States to think that things haven’t changed much, but different enough to catch you off guard and remind you that you’re in a whole different part of the world. Some of my friends that I met at the Hawaiian orientation are on a single square mile island without electricity or running water. Whereas yesterday I ate ice cream while watching Modern Family on my laptop, but I still have fleas. Today a parent came to pick up their child in a custom 2014 Camaro, yet there are other students living in tin paneled stilt houses over marshes. It’s funky and I’m not sure what to get used to.

Those bugs though… Yesterday was a bad day for bugs. Though I already told you about my favorite pastime, Roach Hockey, I assure you that there were many other excitement-filled experiences. Like when as I was pulling a stack of textbooks away from the wall, a spider with a 6” diameter jumped out at me and then up the wall and ran around the classroom. It took everything I had to stand there like a man and let my kids know I wasn’t a wuss. I believe kids should never see their teachers scream, cry, or cuss and I almost did all of them. I was holding it together pretty well until the spider started coming back my way across the ceiling. I was sure he was going to come right above me and drop so I hustled over to the wall to grab the bathroom pass. Thank God I chose to buy a toy sand shovel as my bathroom pass. As the spider came towards me I held up my shovel and slid it across the ceiling knocking the spider out the doorway and promptly slammed the door. Wooooh too close for comfort! A few minutes later a shriek emitted from the classroom next door. I didn't have the heart to tell them who helped the spider get there J

In addition to Roach Hockey, we've begun to find dead frogs on our apartment floor. I have no idea how this keeps happening, but once again we grab the broom and aim for the front door. With the exception of that spider I’ve been taking these fleas, ticks, frogs, roaches, and geckos in stride.. but I hope with everything that’s within me that there won’t be a snake in my apartment.

On to better things! Our first half day was Wednesday and it went very well. My previous experience with kids this age group has been the last 5 years at camp, but school is such a different environment and the cultural difference is very evident. My students aren’t used to any ownership or decision making, asking for feedback leads to silence, and they say they’ve never been asked what they think about a passage. It’s like military school. My kids are very well behaved thanks to the 5th grade teacher before me (they ate their lunch in complete and absolute silence), but their scholastics and independent thought processes are rough. We’ve been practicing reading the textbooks out loud so I can get a better grasp on things. With the exception of three or four kids, I would say they probably are 2 years behind where they should be. Three of my kids have been retained one or more years and though I was told my students all spoke English fluently; I have a student that doesn’t know the words animal or color in English even though he is a returning student to the school. One of my friends teaching on another island posted that her 4th graders thought that 1+3=6. Education is simply not the same out here. It amazes me that students from these schools not only attend university at Southern, Oregon, or Walla Walla, but that they thrive! My personal theory only 1 week in is that it’s simply based on the parents’ involvement and direction. Granted I have very little basis for this statement, but that is what appears to be the largest distinction in students’ achievement- better get the parents involved quick.

I got my Palauan Driver’s License on Monday, so now I can drive myself and the elementary teachers to school every day in our minivan! It took a couple drives to get used to shifting with my left hand, using the blinker with my right, and simply being on the right side of the vehicle. The written test was hilarious and included so many grammatical errors I wonder about the legitimacy of some of these drivers on the road…

Somehow I never thought through the process of keeping grades until I got here. We have a great little software program we use and we print off grade sheets and post them with anonymous ID’s assigned. I chose to let my anonymous ID’s be characters from Toy Story, so I can announce that Rex and Slink need to turn in yesterday’s science assignment. I think it’s pretty neat! Now that the first week is in the bag, I think it's time to gain a little insight and inspiration from the most upstanding role model, Jack Black, and the most educational movie I can think of, School of Rock. I'll let you know how it goes ;)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Living in the tropics is something to get used to. The rain here makes me want to change my residence to California so that I may buy an umbrella without shaming myself and every Portlandian. Living my whole life in Portland, I thought rain was no big deal… I was wrong. It comes out of nowhere and you better hope you can duck and cover because it will rain sheets every which way for a full hour and then suddenly clear up with sunny skies.  The heat here is also something to reckon with. Our apartment has air conditioning and the classroom air conditioning can be turned on for four hours when the kids are in the classroom. Up until the first day of school I decorated, cleaned and worked in my classroom sweating bullets. I like to do “the squeegee” where I run my index finger across my eyebrows and forehead and form a little puddle on the floor beneath. Earlier this week I actually slipped in said puddle because it’s just that prominent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to complain, I’m merely comically reflecting on the past couple weeks. I find myself drinking 5 or 6 liters of water daily and still feeling dehydrated! Gatorade has been a real winner this week again. Needless to say, I was extra excited for the kids to come so the air conditioning could accompany them J

In Palau there are dogs EVERYWHERE. On our drive to the school we pass at least 20 stray dogs daily just running around trying to avoid getting hit. These strays join together and eventually we have packs of wild dogs. We’ve been lucky enough not to run into any yet, but last year one of the SM’s had to sleep in the Chapel because the local pack chased him into the chapel and continued to head butt  at the door. Luckily at the PMA campus we have a couple strays-turned-pets. Dozer and Buddy are real pals and they are amazingly friendly and loving. Unfortunately as half wild animals, they are infested with fleas, ticks, and various fun things.  My roommate Andrew and I were naively unaware and contracted these fun friends so we have been scratching and trying to get rid of fleas for the past week. I feel bad for the pups now though because no one will pet them or get close to them, they come running up to us every day and we make our best attempt to leave or simply ignore them and they obviously don’t understand why. Here’s a picture with Dozer when I first got here. I was messing around with my GoPro trying to shoot a panorama and this guy followed me everywhere running between my legs, trying to get attention, begging for the belly scratch….I regret that now… So I bent down to take a selfie and Liiiiick!

Sunday fun day! We took an excursion and kayaked and SUP’d 5 miles around some rock islands. Now these are different than the Rock Islands, (what you see when you google Palau) but they were still beautiful. Five miles is a quite a ways when you aren’t used to paddling and we were a bit sore and sunburned.

Basketball is huge here; however this does not necessarily correlate to skill level. The male high school and elementary teachers are playing in the Business League of Palau and while I have not played since my sophomore year of high school, I’m going to do just fine once I get in shape. We play our games at 9 pm at the National Gym where they host the Micronesian Games (like the Olympics, but for Islands with a population of 20,000) and last night we played the best team in the league with a few members of the Palauan National Team. While we lost by 20, I’m not worried about the season, I’m worried about sweating. I started sweating as I put on my shoes and that was just the beginning. It’s going to take a lot to make my endurance last the whole game as we only have 2-3 subs. The game here is much different with no emphasis on defense and a lot of “Cherry picking” where the ball is hurled like a football back and forth between baskets.

Lastly, I’d like to close with my new favorite sport. Roach Hockey. While some are afraid of these scurrying little creatures, I have taken it upon myself to make use of these little guys for entertainment. Whenever a roach is spotted, a broom is quickly acquired, a little dekking (SP?) and then slap shot across the room into the wall and a victory lap to the garbage can to celebrate. I only hope that one day we can play a full-fledged game of Roach Hockey in the Gym. Maybe I should start stockpiling? :) 

Friday, August 15, 2014


I should mention at some point that church members have “adopted” each of us SM’s for the year. These Palauan Moms and Pops greeted us at the airport with lays, hugs, and groceries to get us started. We sit with them at Church and have a meal with them from time to time at their house. It’s a great way to get into the culture right away. My Palauan family is unique and awesome, mom is a Palauan senator, dad is a storyboard carver, sister is a senior at PMA, and brother attends WWU-how crazy!

After Sabbath School, Church, and potluck, we headed out to a nearby waterfall and swimming hole in the central part of the island. Here’s a picture from under the falls.

After seeing the free flowing nature of the waterfall, my body decided it was time to mimic. Let’s just say Gatorade, Immodium, and I are best friends.

Internet for the first week was running a third of the speed it should have and with 20+ users, it took about a 30 mins to load a single page. After a week of this we investigated and found out that the company had been capping us at a lower rate than we were paying so now we have enough internet to make some updates!

I’m living with 6 American SM’s in a 3 bedroom apt. on the Academy campus which is 13 miles from the Elementary and a 25 min drive. Nicknames have already begun to stick, it’s just a matter of time until they become permanent J.
Coming to the South Pacific, I had expectations of the way some things would be, while I was right, I was also wrong, surprise! I had several “lasts” the week coming up to leaving as I had what I thought would be my last burger, coffee, pizza, etc. Come to find out, there’s a lot of American brand foods here! It’s very expensive, but I can get most things I want and need! The Portland based Western Family brand is everywhere. A bag of Orowheat basic bread is $7.50, Pace salsa is $8, and a gallon of milk is $7-$8. So my stipend will definitely be used for food alone! I’m toying with the idea of eating nothing but rice and Tabasco for a week to see how it goes.. We’ll see…

We’ve spent a few hours each day working in our classrooms getting stuff ready. Everything is pretty basic. Unfortunately we have no novel sets for the kids to read, so 45 mins a day of reading class is out of a workbook L. I plan to remedy this for next quarter, but it will have to suffice for now.

The expectations of SM’s are very high and we wear collared shirts, long pants, and shoes everywhere we go in this humid heat. Once we are established and people know us, we can relax a bit, but for now there’s too many first impressions to make to wear board shorts and tanks. However occasionally I get to throw on the boardies and go snorkeling. Here’s a picture from a recent twilight trip. (Both photos captured with my GoPro)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Sunday at 3:30am I woke up and drove to PDX with my family to catch my first flight to San Francisco where I would catch the connecting flight to Honolulu. Several of the WWU SM's were on the flight as well and we huddled together through the airport with our bags bursting at the seams.

Packing everything you need for a year into a single 50lb bag, a carry on, backpack, and pillow is harder than I thought it would be, especially with my dive and photo gear (which comprise close to half of my stuff) but that's just it, it's just stuff and I have to remember I can survive without it! I was a little worried that I wouldn't make it through airport security and the gate with my 33 liter backpack as my additional "personal item" and my 36lb carry on, but they were so busy they pushed me right on through and I didn't complain!

We were the first flight into Honolulu where the GMM (Guam Micronesia Mission) was waiting with a van to take us to HMA (Hawaiian Mission Academy where we would stay for the next 3 days. Groups of 5-10 began to come about every half hour or hour and everyone was excited to see each other and meet SM's from other schools/countries. The west coast kids took a trip to the ultra touristy Waikiki Beach for an hour to swim and hang out until the East Coast kids arrived.

From that point, other than meals and sleeping, it was straight meetings on cultural practices, dress codes, teaching seminars, poisonous everythings, etc Sunday night until Tuesday night. It's nearing midnight Hawaii time on Tuesday as I write this and we leave HMA at 11am tomorrow. Some island groups are leaving as early as 4:30am and as late as Friday.

It's amazing the bonds we've already made with those we will be spending the next year with as well as those we've met just days before who will be in different parts of the world. It's going to be great to keep up with them this year and hopefully in the future as well. Being Adventist and growing up in that culture has been great for a setting like this where we can talk with seemingly strangers about all our mutual friends and acquaintances, summer camps, and veggie foods! There are few people groups that have so much in common...

Here's a picture I stole off Fbook of all the outgoing Island SM's. Most are from WWU and Southern, but there's a sprinkling from most schools as well.   That's a lot of college kids!

You may have heard about a tropical hurricane that is aimed for Hawaii, but it just recently got downgraded to a tropical storm. It may become a slight problem for those leaving later in the week, but it appears it will not affect us.

As for the internet in Palau.....Our whole staff, academy, and students are running off of 220 kb/s at a whopping $800/month. To give some perspective, at home in Portland I get about 9.6 mb/s (about 40 times faster) for a loose approximation of $50. Needless to say, I won't be spending as much time on the web as I do at home!

Next time you hear from me, I'll be in Palau!