Friday, February 15, 2013

Welcome to Oakwood and Adulthood

"They" say that people in Northern Ireland are the most friendly people you could ever meet. Well, "they" are wrong. Friendly is absolutely the biggest understatement. The people that I have met here are some of the most thoughtful, selfless, understanding, welcoming people. Everyone in my life here has been nothing but sweet and lovely towards me. I can not describe how thankful I am for all of the friendships that I have made here and what they have meant to me this past month!

Oakwood :)

My placement in Oakwood Integrated Primary school started this week, and it has been better than I could have ever expected! The first moment I walked through the door, the principle introduced herself to me and took  me through every room in the school, introducing me to each teacher and their class. It is a fairly small school with only one class per grade level. That means only a total of about seven classes, each holding roughly thirty children, a teacher, and possibly an assistant teacher. Thankfully, it has made it easy to get to know everyone quickly. The break room is a lovely environment where I have gotten to know many of the people on staff, and they have all showed a genuine interest in me being there. I am in a Primary 3 class with 31 six and seven year old children, 11 of which are girls; the other 20 being boys. They are some of the sweetest children! I may be a bit biased, but it's still true! Of my 31, 11 have been "diagnosed" with some sort of disorder or disability, and all of them are boys. These disabilities include many things, from being on the autism spectrum to slow processing speed in literacy. One of the boys with ASD speaks with an American accent occasionally, which I've found very interesting. And one boy struggles with reading due to his dyslexia, and he puts a pink filter over his books to help him bring all of the words on a page into focus. I had also never seen that before, but it truly helps him, and it's so neat to watch him progress by using what works for him. The students are all really great about respecting each other and working hard!

My teacher has been wonderful as well! She has only been teaching about five years, and this class is her first permanent teaching job, so we will be learning together a lot. However, she is so wonderful with the children! They have so much respect for her, and I feel like I've learned so much from her already! She treats me like an adult, continually gives me praise and encourages my confidence in teaching, and she is very supportive of my role in her classroom. She has let me help with most everything the class does, and she has guided me the entire way while planning and teaching lessons thus far. It has been incredible to experience her hospitality and support! After our first long week she even took me out to a town called Lisburn for "coffee and a wee chat" and a bit of shopping. As a teacher, and as a person, she is so wonderful, and I know I will learn so much from her over the next few weeks!

One of the most interesting aspects of my school is that it is integrated (religiously), and I got to experience a religion lesson with the class on Wednesday afternoon. It felt so bizarre to see the children learning about Jesus right there in the classroom; something I would not experience in the States! It was truly fascinating, because my children all come from different backgrounds (family beliefs), including protestant, catholic, atheist, Islam, and others. During the lesson, my teacher told the children about Jesus in the temple at age 12. Afterwards, about 1/3 of the class (Catholic students) prepared for their first confession with the teacher. They recited prayers, sang songs, and rehearsed lines and the schedule for the ceremony (which we will all go to next week). Meanwhile, the other students wrote sentences and drew pictures about the story that the class read together about Jesus. One boy read stories from the Quran to himself (that his mother supplied to the classroom due to their beliefs). It was very interesting to see it all in a school setting! I have so much respect for my teacher and her strength in her beliefs, and yet the guidance and acceptance she gives to all of the children. It is amazing to see them all respect each other and how comfortable they are with believing differently from each other. It is simply beautiful.

The class at the moment is nearing the end of a unit over weather. I taught a one hour lesson both Thursday and Friday of this week. Both were literacy lessons over a book called "Ridiculous!" by Michael Coleman, about a tortoise who wants to go out in winter when she should be hibernating. I read the story with the children, reviewed new vocabulary from the story, and they did character summaries with sentences, drawings, and speech bubbles. They created some wonderful work! This past week we also talked about "Healthy Hearts," in honor of Valentine's Day, which I thought was a lovely spin on the holiday! We talked about how to be both physically and emotionally healthy: exercise and showing love to people :) I am excited to teach them more and get creative with some lessons we have planned for the next few weeks! Next week I will be presenting on the United States of America (and Arkansas specifically) for a few days, so I am really excited to see how they respond to that. Other than "Captain America is from America, too!" we haven't really been able to talk about it much...!

My first day, it took me an hour and a half to get from Stran to Oakwood. That included walks to and from bus stops, waiting at bus stops, and two bus rides. It's not terrible, but it is definitely something I would never do at home. I'm not going to lie; I have felt like such a grown up taking the bus on my own every day! Thankfully, the first day I met a teacher (for P1) at my school who literally lives on the street beside my University, and she graciously offered to drive me to school every day! So I get to sleep in a bit more and ride in her nice, warm car for a quick twenty minutes to school instead of the hour and a half bus trip.The twenty minute drive in the mornings with the P1 teacher have been such a blessing. She has already become another great support system and extended family during my time here. I have been taking the buses back after school, but the trips have been a great time to relax and reflect on what I have been learning and experiencing each day.

My Primary 3 Classroom
Incentive Charts for "Table of the Week"

Painted "UK Map" with weather for Belfast, Glasgow, and London

Also, this past week, I turned the big 21! I was once again overwhelmed by the love I received! People that I have only known for weeks (or in some cases only days) treated me as if I was family! My day began with a surprise birthday song, "Happy 21st Birthday" streamers, and balloons in the staff break room, all thanks to my thoughtful principle at the Primary school! Then, I went to my classroom, where my teacher presented me with a bouquet of flowers. If you know me well you won't be surprised to know that I shed some tears at this point. I was feeling the weight of being so far from family and friends back home on what was supposed to be such a special day, and I was so captured by everyone's thoughtfulness towards me, when they barely even knew me! The day continued with two cakes, being sung to by the entire school at assembly, sung to again by two classes half way through the day, sung to again by the entire staff at lunch, two cakes and one decorated bun (by one of my students), embarrassing myself by having to stand on chairs, and multiple cards. The best part was all of the lovely smiles and birthday wishes from the children. They were so genuinely happy for me, and I felt so appreciated.

Flowers from my teacher and flatmate

Decorations in the break room and the
"Birthday Girl" ribbon my class made me wear

 When I came home, I was showered with even many more gifts, birthday songs, cards from home, and a total of six cakes...It was definitely a 21st birthday to remember!

21st was a success!

My sweet gifts

As I spend more time in this place I can feel myself settling in and getting comfortable. Yet every single day I get butterflies in my tummy and chill bumps on my arms at least once, because I am so in love with this city, the people, and this entire experience.

To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Phase One Complete

: "Hi. My name is Kelly. I'm from the States."
New NI Acquaintance: "Hiya. Very good! So, where abouts in the states are ya from?"
Me: "I'm from Arkansas, in the south."
New NI Acquaintance: 1 of 3 replies:
1. "Ah, Arkansas! I've never heard of it..."
2. "Arkansas... now what state is that in?"
3. "You sound like you're from Texas..."

Hello again!
 Two weeks have passed since my last blog, and I have so much to say that I don't know where to start! I have met so many people and done so many new things in the past two weeks! One chapter of my journey is over and another is about to begin. I am done with classes for nine weeks, and tomorrow begins teaching placement out in the schools for the next six weeks! I will be taking two buses and a short walk to Oakwood Integrated Primary every day Monday through Friday. This first week will be a bit slow so that I can get to know my teacher and students, but after that I will be teaching two lessons a day. I'll be in the schools all day every day, so I'm sure it will all become normal quickly. I am so excited to meet the kids and to get started! I know it will be a challenge, but I will gain so much experience from being here. I will know a lot more about my class and what I'll be teaching after this first week.

To give yous a wee update on what the past two weeks have looked like for me, I'll give you a brief overview. I had classes Monday through Wednesday both weeks, covering reading and writing, "Personal Development & Mutual Understanding," and different subject areas within the Northern Ireland Curriculum: Science, PE (dance), Geography, and History. Most of the material is very similar to what I've been learning at Ozarks, but the formatting and various terms are different than what I am used to. Making ten lesson plans and teaching them every week will be a great experience to take home to Ozarks and to apply to my future career, and I look forward to being able to share some of the details of that soon!
Other than classes, I've taken all of the free time I have had these past two weeks to get to know more people on campus and to explore Belfast and even a few other places within Northern Ireland. From what I have experienced so far, this is a beautiful country, and it is full of some incredibly friendly and welcoming people. My experience here would be worth very little if it wouldn't be for all of the great people I have met who have been so willing to show me around and include me in all their banter!
(By the way, for those of you that have asked, there have been a few people that say they love my accent, but I mostly just get made fun of for continually saying "y'all".)

There have been some great afternoons with beautiful weather, allowing me to see some neat things around the city! A few would include reading Narnia in the C.S. Lewis Reading Room in Queen's library, seeing the Belfast Castle, attending five different churches, visiting the Ulster Museum, milkshakes at "Jenz", exploring St. George's Market, going to church and having a family dinner with my flatmate in Ballymena, eating with a group at TGI Fridays, having coffee in a Jazz Bar, seeing the lights of Belfast (from the castle at night, a high point in the city, and during a walk by the sea side), and of course I've shopped at Tesco's more times than I can count by now.
And most recently, I went home with a friend, Jayne, to Newcastle, where we went to the cinema, walked through Tollymore Forest, and drove through the Mourne Mountains and by the coast.

I've also got to try some new foods: pavlova, potato bread, mars bar, pooh bear ice cream, TAYTO crisps, Belfast Bap, Yorkshire bread, Turkish delight, and SO MUCH TEA!

Sometimes I literally get butterflies in my tummy and chill bumps on my arms because I am so in love with everything here...

  A few favorite moments captured from the past two weeks:

Berts Jazz Bar

The Crown Bar (Oldest Bar in Beflast)

At Belfast Castle

Tollymore Forest

Belfast Castle

Belfast signs all throughout the city

Ice Egg experiment in Science Class

Spaghetti tower in Science

C.S. Lewis Reading Room in Queen's Library

Tollymore Forest

Potato Bread

Buying Turkish Delight in St. George's Market

St. Patrick's "Grave" in Downpatrick

Belfast City lights at night

Queen's University

Belfast City Hall at night

Trying a traditional Belfast Bap in St. George's market

Christian Union and Erasmus/International students at iCafe

A wee bit more Northern Ireland slang for yous:

Banter: Good time/Fun
"Who's up for some banter tonight?"

Dander: Walk
"Let's go for a dander." 

Faffin': Messing around
"I couldn't get anything done because I kept faffin' around.

Toilet: Restroom
"Where's the toilet?"

Terms to know:
  • Petrol: Gasoline
  • Biscuit: Cookie
  • Crisp: Chip
  • Chip: Fries
  • Spud: Potato
  • Fizzy Drink: Soda

I'm here for an education and to experience the culture here in Northern Ireland. But, like every other time in my life, I can not deny the spiritual aspect that this experience has brought into my life. God is so present here that it is undeniable. He is the explanation for the people I've been connected with, the beauty through everything around me, and the incredible joy I feel here. Each day I am here I feel so grateful for my life and for this opportunity.

Thank you to everyone at home who continues to support me being here, and thank you to everyone here in Northern Ireland that has made my experience so wonderful so far.

More to come!!

"Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples! 
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! 
 Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually! 
 Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, 
 O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!"
-Psalm 105:4