Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Final Farewells

I write this post with a very heavy heart.  Today I just completed my third and final year teaching Social Studies in Singapore at ICS.  I have been anticipating this day for a while now trying to prepare myself for how I was going to feel on the last day.  However, it just kept feeling surreal to me.  I even tried to force it on a few occasions by reminding students that this was the "last day of actual class", but nothing came out.  I didn't feel any emotions; no joy nor sorrow.  I started to expect that maybe I wouldn't feel anything ever.  And that I would just seamlessly just pick up and leave Singapore very similar to how I had entered it with high expectations for emotions that never come.  However, today proved me more wrong than a Helen Keller joke.

The emotions really started three days ago, over the weekend, when I decided that I would make a slideshow video for each of my classes by compiling photos that I had taken or stolen from others of things we did throughout the year.  But I made it particularly special for my 8th graders, many of whom I have walked all the way through Middle School since they were tiny 6th graders.  For their video I compiled pictures of all three years starting as 6th graders, then onto 7th grade, and final this year as 8th graders.  I felt so pathetic as I was making the video and tearing up as I played it back to myself in my bedroom alone.  It was then that I began to question how stoic I would be on the last day.

I started off the day strong.  I prayed with my homeroom class, we did some administrative stuff like turning in books and cleaning out lockers, and then we all went to the gym where we handed out awards.  Piece of cake.  Next we went to recess where I played soccer (and had a pretty remarkable goal from midfield I must say) and then went upstairs for the party.  The party is mostly a time for people to walk around, eat food, chat with each other and then eventually make their goodbyes.  I spent most of the party time signing yearbooks.  When I finally finished signing everyone's yearbook that wanted me to, I started walking around to the other rooms.  Still no crying.  However, during this time I reached into my pocket to check the time and realized there was only 15 minutes left until school was out.  That realization hit me like a mighty wave and I just started tearing up and then full on crying.  Ironically, a student who is also leaving ICS this year, whom I had teased would cry before I would, walked out into the hallway right as I had started to cry and was the first to notice.  I quickly tried to escape to recover, but students were everywhere and I had nowhere to go.  A few deep breathes would eventually stop the tears, but it was futile because just a minute or two later they would come back.  It also didn't help when I began to read all the notes, yearbook messages, instagram or Facebook posts that students wrote for me either.

Why was I crying?  I don't think I could really explain it to where anybody that has not been through the same thing would understand, but I'll still try.  Imagine for three years totally dedicating yourself to just one thing and letting that thing consume your life and your thoughts even when you are not doing that thing.  Then imagine that that thing was loving a specific group of people.  And for those three years, that group of people might change a little here and there but many of the relationships built continue to develop over those three years.  Now, imagine just one day, very abruptly, having to stop seeing that group of people, and for many of them likely never seeing again.  If you can imagine that then you might know how I feel now as I write this.  My job these past three years (despite what my contract might say) was not to teach Social Studies.  My job was to love on some kids, and I did that as best as I possibly could.  No, I wasn't perfect.  I got upset, lost my patience, yelled maybe too often, but I never stopped loving my students.  And now being expected to just walk away from it is difficult.  I don't have any kids of my own (*yet: in case I read this in the future and things have changed), so I am not going to be so bold as to compare it to what a parent goes through when their child leaves home for college because I don't think this is on that level, but I would argue that it isn't too far off.  Especially when considering the fact that many of these students lack a fatherly presence in their lives, which I have tried intentionally to emulate for some of my students by going to all of their sports games or musical performances, or playing sports with them at recess, or just simply asking how they are doing even when I know they are just going to say "I'm fine" but to just let them know that I care.

I realize that I am rambling now and that this is much longer of a post than I anticipated, but this is my raw emotion, as I am writing about this about 10 hours after it happened and still randomly breaking into tears again.  People have tried to comfort me by saying that I will get the opportunity to do the same thing and love on a whole new group of kids in Korea, and while I don't doubt that that is true for one second, I also know that it won't be the same.  I am not saying I will love the students in Korea less than the ones that I have had in Singapore, or vice versa.  What I mean is that I will not be the same person in Korea as I am here and it will just be different, and I don't know that I am ready to let go of this version of Brad McMath.

I will take the memories made with these students with me for the rest of my life, and for quite a number of my students, just because I am changing my location and that there is now a much greater distance, geographically, between us doesn't mean that our relationship is ending.  I hope and plan to continue to stay in touch with and even visit many of the students in the future.  God has been so good to have brought me to this school where I have had the opportunity to teach such amazing students.

My 8th Grade Slide Show

7th Grade Slide Show

6th Grade Slide Show

My 8th Grade Boys
All but one of these I have taught for two years, 
and all but three of them I have taught for three consecutive years

Carissa :(

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fun in Singapore pt.2

As my time in Singapore is dwindling to a close, I have been trying to go out and cross off everything on my "things to do in Singapore" list, which is an actual list on my phone.  Over Singapore's Labour Day, me and James went to East Coast Park on the other side of the island to be able to notch off two of those things.  The first was Ski360, which is a cable guided wakeboarding course.  Although I am experienced at wakeboarding, I was a little apprehensive about it because I had never started this way and I really did not want to eat it at the start in front of all the people.  Instead of starting in the water and then standing up once you start like you would behind a boat, with this you start with your board just sitting on top of the water and you on a seat.  Luckily, I was able to get started just fine and everything was normal until I got to my first turn.  The turns were not gradual curves but rather sharp turns which caused my ski rope to slack, which any skier knows will yank you once the rope is taut again.  For the first couple of turns I was able to recover despite being yanked, although it was far from smooth.  However, when I got to the last turn, back at the starting line where all the people were waiting or watching, the turn was so extreme that this time I was yanked straight out of my boots on my board.  As I was flying through the air head first like a human torpedo, I could already start to hear the crowds reaction with a synchronized "ohhhhhh".  Luckily nothing was hurt except my pride and I quickly gave the lifeguard a thumbs up to let him know I was fine and I swam to the edge.  By the end I eventually was able to overcome the turns, albeit still not comfortably, and could go for a few cycles before getting tired and dropping off at the start.  Fun experience.

Immediately after, we got a quick bite to eat and then headed over to a prawn farm to try our hand at catching some prawns.  Almost immediately after putting my bait in the water, I snagged a MONSTER prawn, but as I was pulling it out of the water it dislodged itself and fell back into the pool.  In the end, I caught two prawn, and James caught zero (he had caught one but as he was putting it in the net it jumped out).  Definitely not enough to make a meal out of, but that is just fine with me because prawns are disgusting!

A few weekends before the end of school, some of the parents put together a send-off party for me and some of the boys I teach.  It was an all day event with tons of fun activities with many of the kids I have gotten really close to over the past 3 years, with the 8th graders (many of which I have taught since tiny 6th graders 3 years ago) in particular.  We all met at noon to play a few hours of laser tag.  I was half expecting this to be a little childish, but planning to play with a good attitude and just have fun with my students.  However, it turned out being totally awesome!  I lost myself and reverted back to a little child again.  The laser guns and sensors were super accurate, and you could even see your laser as you shot it.  And yes, it is safe to assume that I completely owned my students too.

The next activity was to go to Turf City, where they have many mini-soccer fields to be rented out.  This is a popular activity among my students for their birthday parties, and this was the first time I was getting to go along with them.  We had enough people to form 3 teams of 6, and we played a cut-throat/winner-stays style for over two hours. I'd also like to point out that I scored the most goals for my team :)

Lastly, the parents who organized and paid for the whole days worth of fun, joined up with the whole group at a Korean BBQ restaurant where we all ate a buffet style Korean BBQ meal together.  It was a wonderful day and a great reminder of how truly special my students are and how lucky I have been to teach them.  I will definitely miss them.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Philippine Philanthropy

Last weekend, 16 students, 2 other teachers, and I flew off to Kalibo Philippines to visit a school there that had been hit by the catastrophic super typhoon Haiyan.  Last semester, in November, our Middle School raised over $2,000 to assist this school's recovery.  We now got the opportunity to go visit them and spread some much needed love to the children of this school.

We set off early Thursday morning, and it wasn't until late Thursday night that we finally arrived at our sleeping quarters, which was Catholic seminary there in Kalibo.  The next morning was when we went to the school.  The plan was for us to work in the morning, and then after lunch we would have time for playing with the children and then we would exchange performances in the afternoon.  We didn't know exactly what work they wanted us to do, but we arrived with a willing heart to serve them in whatever manner possible.  The first thing they did was to take us to their garden, which had been completely destroyed and roughed up by the typhoon.  When we arrived there was already an old man working an old steel plow being pulled by an ox.  Amazing to see the use of technology that dates back to around 3000 BC with Ancient Mesopotamia still being used today.  After admiring it for a bit, he soon asked if we would care to give it a try, and a few of us, myself included took quick turns working the plow and driving the ox.  It was pretty cool.  Afterwards, they took us the real job that they wanted us to do, which was paint their front fence.  Acting as the trips photographer, I was making sure to snap pictures of my students working hard, but in the meantime I was also taking time to get to know and just be silly with the kids at that school.  They were so fun to just goof off with and talk to that I at times forgot that I was supposed to be working and was getting accused by my students of slacking off.  Although I did work, it was these moments of talking with the children that were most rewarding.  While I was talking to my favorite kid, Jefferson, I was served a huge Southern-sized helping of Humble Pie.  In a group of about 10 or so students who had surrounded me while I was painting, Fredrick began to ask me if I knew about the typhoon Haiyan that had come through the area.  After confirming that I had, I began to ask the kids about their experience with the typhoon and most of them replied that it was very scary.  But Jefferson gave me more insight to how the community continues to suffer from the storm as he explained the the typhoon had ripped the roof off of his house and that he still, six months later, does not have a roof on his house.  It's always amazing to learn and see what children in different parts of the world have to endure, and yet how soon we forget when we are given those reminders and go back to complaining about taxes, traffic, or whatever else mundane first-world crap we like to bicker and whine about.

Jefferson giving me a bigger smile

We only worked for about an hour before the Filipinos told us it was too hot to work, which we completely agreed! So instead, they decided to roll out our lunch for us a bit early.  They prepared so much food for us but the most notable item was the lechon, which is a full pig that is splayed over a bamboo spit and has been cooked crispy.  They also had available for us the Filipino delicacy called balut.  This is a partially fertilized duck egg in which the embryo has already begun to take form and in some you can even find feathers.  A few of us wanted to try just for the experience but only one of us actually ate the whole thing, and it was a 7th grade girl!  I just could not overcome the mental aspect of what I was eating and the texture.  Within two chews I felt my stomach involuntarily trying to turn itself inside out.  We tried not to offend them, but I actually think they found it amusing to watch us try to eat it.

After lunch the kids had a number of performances for us including a choreographed dance, a cultural stick dance, a cute little girl singing "Let it Go", and the highlight was my new buddy Jefferson bringing down the house with a beautiful Filipino song.  After their performances had finished, it became our turn to entertain them and for this we had prepared a couple rap songs to perform.  First, me and two other students rapped the Black Eyed Peas song "Where is the Love?" with the girls singing the chorus.  It was fun seeing the Filipino's, who really love their music, get into it and start swaying their hands during the song.  Next two of my students took the lead rapping "Hall of Fame" by The Script, with other students filling in other minor roles of the song.  I had a lot of fun with it, but I know many of my students were very nervous, but I thought they did great.

Next was a series of different games we played with the students of their school.  Games such as a sack race, a cross-dressing relay race, a pseudo-pinata game and then there was this game where you walk on coconut shells as stilts, however we didn't get to play that game because as we took turns practicing my weight broke the shell (I felt like the kid from Sandlot after hitting the homerun causing them to not to be able to play anymore).  The games ended with a series of volleyball games, their main sport, in which they embarrassed us all in good fun.  The games wrapped up a fun day getting to share so much joy with the students of the Philippines and of our students as well.

The next day was our "fun day", although our work/service day turned into a fun day as well, for this day we were taking our students to the world renowned Boracay Beach (TripAdvisor ranked #19 beach in the world).  It was a full day to just let loose and have fun at the beach and surrounding shops, and a great opportunity for bonding with my students.

On the last day before we were traveling back to Singapore we got to witness a mass at a local cathedral (the one that one of the other teachers on the trip and his wife were married in).  On the way back we had a long layover in the city of Cebu, which just so happens to be the place were Ferdinand Magellan was killed.  Ferdinand Magellan, as you hopefully know, is the Portuguese explorer, sailing for Spain, who is credited with sailing all the way around the world.  However, he didn't actually make it as he was killed in the Philippines.  It was his crew that continued and finished circumnavigating the globe.  So of course I was super excited to go see the place where he was killed in a battle that took place on the beach.  We had to add a little history into the trip while we were in the Philippines!

Eventually we made it back to Singapore.  With the trip concluded I am very thankful for both the opportunity to get to know and interact with the children in the Philippines who were so kind and always happy, but also the time to get to bond with my students who rarely get to see me step out of the "teacher" role.  I think they finally realized how cool I am :)