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  • Amy Kujak
  •  | Education
Latvia Graduation

Latvian Experience Part II

November 20, 2011

I was one of ten teachers on the trip as well as three high school students from Somerset, WI to help out throughout the camp. What made our group so much fun is that we all got along so well and went on a lot of adventures on the weekend or after class was done for the day. Most of the group already knew each other, and I was the only person that started without really knowing anyone well, but that changed so quickly. Out of the ten teachers, five of us were under the age of 25 so we were all able to relate easily and formed friendships quickly. What really benefited me during the beginning of camp was that two of the teachers were just in their first few years in the field so they were able to give me lots of advice, and I continue to talk to them every once in a while to get ideas. Each teacher was responsible for their own homeroom, and we were allowed to move the room around however we wanted to. This was the first time I have really felt like a teacher, even though I have had many classroom observation experiences. This was my classroom, and decorating and organizing it gave me a sense of pride and purpose in what I was doing. I went nuts making everything just as I wanted so it would be perfect and ready for when our students came Monday morning.

When I was first given my list of homeroom students, I was honestly intimidated. On the list, there was not a single name that I could pronounce, and I could only think of how difficult it was going to be to learn their names. Well this anxiety lasted about two minutes until one of the veteran teachers told me the names I was looking at was the students’ LAST names, and in turn pointed out to me their FIRST names. What a relief! These names were much, much easier to pronounce. The ten students in my homeroom were all 12-13 years old, and were all from Latvia. Now even though our camp is located in Latvia, we get students from other countries as well. In the past there have been a lot of Russian students, and students from Bellerose, Saudi Arabia, and sometimes Poland. What I did not know was the dramatic differences in the mannerisms of students from these different countries, especially the students from Russia and Latvia. The Russian students are more outgoing, talkative, and more willing to try new things (Now this is more or less a stereotype and was not true for all of the students, but from what I saw this statement was very true.). On the other hand, Latvian students are more reserved, quiet, and passive in what they do. And my whole homeroom was full of Latvian students. For the first day, I just had some “getting to know you activities” in order to create a positive learning environment where everyone is comfortable. This did not go as I had hoped—at all. First, all of my students already knew each other from the regular school year, and they did not want to talk any more than they had to. You know when you are sitting in class, and the teacher is talking and talking, and none of the students are saying anything in response. That is what I felt like! Like the teacher in Charlie Brown where all he says is “Wa wa wa…” I hoped that this was first-day jitters, but it made me a little worried for what they might be like for the rest of camp. This did get a lot better over time once I learned the different personalities of my students, and what activities they liked and didn’t like. My homeroom class was also unique in another way in the fact that out of the ten of them, seven were boys and only three girls. It provided for a very interesting dynamic because the boys preferred to play card games when the girls would rather do arts and crafts or color.

There was one student in my classroom that was picked on by some of the other boys more than anyone else in the class. Even though whenever they picked on him they spoke Latvian so I would not understand what they were saying, their tone and body language made it clear that what they were saying to this boy was hurtful. If you are interested in the education field, non-verbal language is just as informative as verbal language but is something you will have to pay a little more attention to. I talked to the boys who were bullying the other, and it got a lot better.

Watch for the next Latvia post! (I don’t want to put too much on one page because it would be a lot to read.)

“Don’t be afraid of change, you may lose out on something good but you might gain something even better.”

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