Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lessons


A few weeks ago, Maggie, one of the BWSC women volunteering in Tanzania, asked me to write about what I have learned about myself in relation to the Benedictine Values. I wanted to share with you what my thoughts were. 
“If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.” I mentioned this quote in one of my first blog posts at the start of this adventure, as a reminder that I have a lot to give when I give from my heart. During my time in Puerto Rico, my understanding and appreciation for this quote has grown, especially in relation to the Benedictine Value of Stewardship, and the closely linked concept of sustainability.
The first couple weeks as a volunteer teacher were frustrating. As I expressed approximately 10 months ago, I felt like I could not do a good job teaching without a projector, the Internet, textbooks, and a curriculum! I was trying to give what I had to these students, but my resources felt limited.
A few weeks ago I found myself at the Art and Science Gala, surrounded by students and their parents. They were all so grateful for the enthusiasm and motivation they saw me sharing with their children. The parents, more than anyone, knew their children needed this, and that is what I was able to give. A gift from the heart.
When practicing stewardship, it is important to take care of the belongings of others, which is why sustainability is also important. I wanted to give what I could to Colegio San Benito, in a sustainable way. By heading the WeCycle program, I was able to help these students learn to take initiative with the resources they have. I was not able to donate money to implement an immediate change, but with the idea of stewardship and sustainability in mind, I was able to encourage the students to become leaders of their school and continue the WeCycle program for many years to come. I know that what I gave will extend beyond the WeCycle program – the students now value the idea of stewardship and are better equipped to give with their hearts in a sustainable way.
I have learned countless lessons in the past 10 months, and I have come to greatly appreciate each of the Benedictine values, however, I think my idea of stewardship has grown the most.

If I had to add another value that I've come to appreciate and learn a lot about, it would have to be friendship. 
In college, you don’t necessarily need to be friends with your roommate, you just need to be able to live with them. However, in the Benedictine Women’s Service Corp program in Puerto Rico, this doesn’t relate as well – not when you share meals, an office, students, a bathroom, a closet, and are together constantly around the clock. Friendship has been an essential element in my experience this year, as well as an additional Benedictine value.
            Sarah and I have become friends. As friends, we care for each other, and look out for each other in an equal give-and-take arrangement. We have depended on each other for success, fulfillment, and happiness. We listen carefully, show empathy, and want the best for each other. In the mutual understanding that we have, we are able to allow space when we need to be alone, or with God.
The value of friendship is one that supported me during my time in Puerto Rico. It allowed me to make and grow from my mistakes. Friendship fosters all Benedictine values, and I am happy that my friendship has been able to grow this year.

The lessons that I have learned about stewardship, sustainability, and friendship are only a fraction of the lessons that I have been impacted by this year. At this point, it's hard to fathom the idea that I will be leaving SO soon. That what my life has been for the past 10 months is about to change drastically. It's hard to reflect on everything that has happened during my time in Puerto Rico. But as I start the reflection process, I know that it is all a good thing. I am finally able to look back and begin to feel thankful and happy about all of it. I look forward to sharing a bit of my experience with everyone soon! Until then...


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

I am one of the luckiest women in the world right now, because I got to spend Mother's Day with my mom, in person! She is the best.

Probably the most frequent compliment that I receive has to do with my kind heart and positivity. These traits were 100% passed down from my mother. She is the kindest and most positive person that I will ever know and I have her to thank for all of my best qualities.


She never wears make-up and she is always beautiful. She is happiest when others are happy. She is strong, a best-friend, caring, fun, smart, and loving.

There is so much to thank my mother for. I hope she knows how much I love her, always.


 Thanks moms, for doing what you do.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

WeCycle (and so should you...)


Wow, where has 2nd semester gone?!

For months, Sarah, Nicole Paizy (the art teacher), and I, have been planning the Art and Science Gala at Colegio San Benito. The purpose of the Gala is to showcase all of the art and science projects the intermediate students have worked on throughout the year. This year, however, there was an additional goal of raising awareness about the WeCycle program to the CSB students, their families, and the administration (as well as fund raising). One of the most precious moments I have had during my time in Puerto Rico happened during the premier of the WeCycle video that I put together about the process of this project. As soon as the video started, I instantly thought back to one of the first weeks of school when I barely knew the students. I had assigned them to research five interesting facts or reasons about the importance of recycling to share with the class. Nobody knew, including myself, that from that small assignment, a recycling project would be born that would consume a large part of our class, and lives… It was rewarding to show the WeCycle video in front a large audience. It made me proud to see the eighth graders be proud of something they had worked hard on, and something they were excited to show their friends and families.  It was also fun to look around and see the other teachers, students, and administration realize why the two foreign blond girls made their classes dig stuff out of the trash, store all the smelly junk in their office, take over the weekly announcements with recycling facts, yell (friendly-ish-ly) at people who almost threw recyclables in the TRASH, taped “WeCycle” posters all over the school, and were overall obsessed with recycling. The biggest reaction we received from parents about the project was happiness about our enthusiasm. It was good to hear this, because even if my students forget the names of the chambers of the heart, at least they’ve had motivation to initiate a small change. This eighth grade class has, unfortunately, been stamped as a little bit unintelligent and very lethargic. It’s true that they can be lazy, if you let them be, but they are far from unintelligent. And as far as being lethargic goes, I partly blame the heat. Anyway, the eighth graders need people to motivate them and get them excited about something. They need goals, people to believe in them, and high expectations. I think it was evident to the parents that that’s what we have provided them with, and they are happy. It was definitely one of my most proud moments ever, because the eighth graders were proud of the impact they were having on the school, and to stir up that emotion in them is a big deal. Eighth graders are usually too cool for anything.

Please check out the WeCycle video:
At the Gala

Entrance to the Gala
Entering the Gala...
Inside the Gala
The WeCycle Table

1st Graders in Recycled Dresses!

My most proud moment in Kindergarten was at the conclusion of the diagnostic exams Sarah and I have been giving for the past few weeks. During the exam there were a few students who really surprised me – students who literally seemed like their heads were in the clouds everyday during English class, but somehow pulled off a 94%!. My reaction was something like, “WHOA, where did that come from?!” I guess within the chaos that is Kindergarten English class, in between the regurgitated chewed-up erasers, the frenzied singing, and the disordered distribution of papers, the kindergarteners actually learned some English! What a phenomenon! The proudest moment throughout the Kindergarten English experience though, was spreading out all of the diagnostic exams and looking at them together. Before administering the exams we put together a group of 15 exceptional students who are ready to go on to the bilingual program without even taking the exam. They would undoubtedly score 95% or above. That left 10 open spots in the bilingual program for us to fill, hence, the diagnostic exam. Twenty-one students took the exam, and 18 of them scored above a 70%, with 12 of them above an 80%. Our problem is that we would love to be able to admit at least 15 more of them into the program, but there is not enough space. It’s a pretty good problem to have, and it’s pretty awesome that we somehow had SO many students learn such an exceptional amount of English. Proud moment!

There have been some definite highs points throughout this teaching experience, and naturally, low points as well. Low-points were the result of frustrations with unruly children, miscommunication between the administration and faculty, lack of support/materials, and other issues. However, I have realized that at the foundation of this frustration is care. Low points happen because I care about the students – I want to give them as much as I can in 45 minutes. High-points also stem from care. I love seeing students impress me on exams, get really excited about the WeCycle program, and ask lots of questions about a topic that interests them, because I care.

I love teaching and how it’s impossible to lose my imagination while spending time with kids. I also feel the happiest, most empowered, free, and at peace when I am outside. I love sharing adventures, lessons, peace, and happiness that is found in nature, with other people. Being a teacher has been a rewarding experience, but I think I could succeed even more in an outdoor classroom. I think children are becoming too programmed as a result of electronic communication and tight schedules/routines. I’ve seen magic happen when students enter the natural word of unstructured exploration, where they have a space to think and learn. Students need the opportunity to interact physically with nature, to turn on their imagination and curiosity. Environmental education allows students that may not strive in the formal classroom, a place to do so. Children need the chance to unplug from the technology controlling their lives, discover how they can strive in their own way, and open their eyes to the beautiful world around them.

For these reasons, I couldn’t be happier that I found the Wolf-Ridge graduate naturalist program. For 10 months I will be living in the northern woods of Minnesota, teaching 40ish classes based on environmental education, team-building, and natural history, as well as earning my Certificate in Environmental Education and 18 credits towards my Masters of Environmental Education. I am really excited to be starting this program at the end of August, and it would be a dream come true to someday be a director of an EE program.  

For more information, check out the Wolf-Ridge website: http://www.wolf-ridge.org/


Sarah and I will be headed to Minnesota in a few weeks, continuing the adventure there. It’s been an…um….exhausting experience. We’ve had to adjust to monastic life, learn how to be teachers (and learn a lot, we did), build a friendship, and live in a new culture. I feel so lucky that I had such a hands-on teaching experience, and I couldn’t be happier with the new (as of 10 months ago) life-long friendship that I have with Sarah. I am unbelievably excited to be reunited with the rest of my friends and family soon!! I now completely understand that no matter where you end up in the world, being surrounded by those who love you is the most important thing ever. I wouldn’t still be in Puerto Rico now if it weren’t for the loving words and support sent from those who love me. Thanks!!

Sarah and I and the basketball team at our last second and last tournament

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thursday

Before I actually start talking about Thursday, I want to mention Tuesday, since that comes before Thursday – ask the Kindergarteners, they are currently learning the days of the week.


Tuesday was Valentine’s Day so naturally the day got kicked off in eighth-grade homeroom by eating cupcakes, coca-cola, some kind of cheese-filled arepas, quesitos, and receiving valentines and candy from the eighth-graders. In Kindergarten, we were greeted, well, more like bombarded, by a sea of red-wearing, and sugar-loaded Kindergarteners. All of them were pushing their way to us, saying “MISSES, TOMA!” and shoving a mountain of valentines, candy, and presents at us. I remember receiving a ton of candy from my classmates in elementary school for Valentine’s Day – I used to put it all in a box and stash it in the fort we built where we waited for the bus in the morning. That way we could eat candy right before school and right after school, something that would not be allowed in the house. Anyway, the amount of candy that I received this year is much bigger than any amount I remember getting when I was elementary school! The Sisters enjoyed the extra chocolate!


Valentine's Day treats!



Okay, now for Thursday. It started pretty normal… I fumbled out of bed, ate some cereal, missed my ride with Sister Carmen, and waited for a ride from S. María and S. Vivian. I rushed to the gym just in time for the start of the girl’s basketball tournament where I would be coaching Colegio San Benito’s elementary team! Yes, meet one of your new basketball coaches – ME! Well, Sarah is the main coach, since she actually knows a thing or two about basketball. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a total soccer player. I like sports, but if I had to rank them in order of the ones I have the most experience with or enjoy playing the most, basketball would probably be near the bottom. Regardless, Sarah and I have been coaching the girls’ basketball teams at CSB (I’ll explain more later), and since Sarah was not in school on Thursday, I was the one who would be coaching the girls during the tournament.

I chose the starting line-up, and the game began! Although I don’t have much experience with basketball, I do know that #1, you cannot walk/run with the ball – you are supposed to dribble, #2, the ball is usually being dribbled or passed between teammates, not rolling out of control around the court, #3, the team spreads out in order to cover the court, not everybody clumps together and follows the ball like a swarm of bees, and #4, when you shoot, you typically aim for the box on the backboard, or somewhere in the vicinity of the net, you don’t throw it as high or hard as possible and hope for a basket. Again, I’m no basketball expert, but this game didn’t quite look like the typical basketball games I have viewed in my lifetime. However, it was awesome because we didn’t lose by that much (6-12), everyone played, everyone had fun, and I’m almost positive we can only go up from here! After the game I was in quite a few pictures with the players and their families as Coach Jana. Go basketball! And thank God we have Sarah to help us improve!

So, the girls were out of the tournament after one game, and my day continued as “normal”. I arrived to Kindergarten where the plan was to show a YouTube video of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (we wanted to read the book, but we didn’t have it yet). We had the video set-up in our office upstairs. I arranged the Kindergarteners in two lines, told them to be very quite, and marched them up to our office. Surprise – the Internet was not working! I led them in a few songs while I dinked around on my computer at the same time, but it was just not going to work. I lined up the Kindergarteners again, and we marched back down to the classroom. I had to alter the lesson a bit, but we got through it. When it came time to switch to the other Kindergarten classroom, I couldn’t leave, because nobody else was in the room to stay with the students! Finally, I saw Sister Esther in the hall and I waved her down. She graciously stayed with the students while I went up to the other Kindergarten classroom. I was completely alone during this class too – Mrs. Valezquez must have been watching the tournament. I started the lesson, and all of a sudden I noticed a big wet puddle spreading towards me. I followed the wetness to its source and realized what I thought was someone’s leaking water bottle, was actually someone’s leaking bladder. AHHH! What was I supposed to do with the biggest urine-puddle I had ever seen and 23 Kindergartners? I ended up sending the student with a friend to the nurse, Sister Esther, hoping she was back from the other Kindergarten classroom by that point, and I kept blabbering about the letter sounds while throwing paper towels over the mess on the floor.

Probably about the same time I was dealing with the chaos of Kindergarten, there was a bit of crime happening in Humacao that had upset a few parents of students at the school. I spent the rest of the afternoon locating students whose parents were there early to pick them up – what a day!

This was a crazy day in many regards, but at the same time, I’d say it’s a pretty average school day at Colegio San Benito. It’s not uncommon to answer an interrupting knock at the door and be greeted by a fully dressed and painted clown ready to start a birthday party in Kindergarten that you were totally unaware would be happening, or to burst out laughing/crying in front of the class because one of your students belts out, “EL CIIIIEEELLOOOOOOO” in a deep and vibrato-y voice, while you’re trying to read a story about counting turtles. I’m realizing these unexpected and silly interruptions are not going to stop, so bring it on CSB! Give me some more incidents to journal about!


The clown that showed up at the door


There have been a few moments when it has become clear to me why I am here in Puerto Rico, even though there are countless other places I could be, or other jobs I could be doing. Many of the moments happened throughout the process of setting up the recycling program, and others happened through the basketball team. Sarah and I were asked to coach the girls basketball team, so we decided to go for it – why not? When we asked our team what they did last year, they said they didn’t play because they didn’t have a coach! WHAT? How can that be that the girls just didn’t have the opportunity to play last year? It is so outrageous to me that they weren’t able to play because nobody wanted to coach them – I don’t know the first thing about basketball (well I’m learning, thanks to Sarah), but I do know that I can be a good role model for these girls, learn to play, and that I don’t mind spending a little extra time after school to have some fun with these girls and try my best (with Sarah) to put together a good team. The next moment happened when a young girl from the team informed us that she was going to miss practice – she asked what she should do to make it up and Sarah told her to practice passing with someone. The girl said she didn’t have anyone because she does not have siblings, her dad is in Iraq, her mom had died, and her Grandmother works too much. Yes, they definitely need us. I may not be a basketball star, but I can make a pretty good target, I’ll try to catch passes, and I’ll learn to return passes, dribble, and shoot.

Recycling program update: We are officially called WeCycle now, and we have a cute little logo to go with it! Starting last semester, we spent a lot of time researching the importance of recycling, especially in relation to the health of ourselves, and our earth, but the most exciting part of the project happened about a month ago when we got our hands dirty with some actual recycling research at Colegio San Benito. We spent a week collecting data (in our office) on how much recyclable material the school is throwing in the trash during an average week. For an entire week we collected the trash, brought it to our office, sorted it, and counted it. However, 45 minutes at the end of each school day to dig through 3 large trashcans, 11 classroom trashcans, a few miscellaneous trashcans from the teacher lounge and office, and 1 large dumpster, separate and count the recyclables, and dispose of the trash again, is not a lot of time. The week was hectic, smelly (our office still has flies in it – that’s a problem), but extremely important and eye opening – I think everyone was amazed to see the enormous portion of recyclable material that ends up in the trash during an average week at CSB. Dirty, necessary, and kind of fun :) 

video
   

Inside of a trash
Sorting!


Pile of cardboard
Tons of plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper, and cardboard
Keeping track of recyclable material pulled from the trash
The WeCycle Team!
Enjoying some pizza after a week of digging through trash
Sarah and I made worms in dirt dessert to share on Friday! It was an appropriate dessert choice after a week of digging in garbage


The eighth graders think I am as crazy as ever… I think they appreciate it though, kind of like the students from the Magic School Bus appreciate Ms. Frizzle for making them go on strange adventures in order to understand how things work. I haven’t led them through anymore fire-ant hills or rain puddles, but I did make them dig through trash, actually watch the Magic School Bus (the episode where they get eaten and digested by a human), turn a game of baseball into a review (they had to answer questions correctly in order to “run the bases” and not get a “strike”), take walks around the school property (we have to stand in the burning sun unless they answer questions correctly which allows us to keep walking in the shade), and make them act out various conflicts and resolution tactics, work as a community, and make collages of various topics, such as what makes a good friend. I am a big advocate of active learning.

Something fun that Sarah and I did was go kayaking in Humacao – we basically got dumped in the river in a kayak and we were given a map that got soaked within the first 100 feet of our journey. Maps are fun to use sometimes, but I also like just “going with the flow” (pun intended). Along the way, we saw a lot of iguanas, heard a very loud and strange noise, almost got stuck in a massive amount of mud, watched a bird catch and eat its fish dinner, and relaxed out in the middle of a lagoon, away from the loudness and busyness of Humacao Centro. Being able to spend time with a really great friend, Sarah, in a kayak, away from school and the monastery, was really peaceful. It made me cherish our friendship for more than just supporting each other at school and during our crazy life at the monastery. It reminded me of something I would be doing with my friends at home in Minnesota, and for the first time in a while I felt completely at peace.

By the way, I wrote this while hanging in my Christmas gift from Yvonne and Cezar – a hammock I hung on the porch of the monastery! Maybe I’ve found my new blogging spot, so I can stop apologizing for keeping everyone hanging (yes, I know, I’m punny today!).

Hammock on the porch


Until then,
Jana

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A new semester of new adventures


Hello again!

We just finished our seventh day of second semester after a much needed break from teacher life! There are some changes this half that I should let you know about. I will now be teaching English in Kindergarten in Mrs. Velazquez’s class, and I will also continue teaching Health to eighth grade. Sarah will now be teaching eighth grade History class, as well as the other section of Kindergarten (Mrs Lopez’s class). Before break we decided to make this switch in order to keep us both refreshed; it will also allow us both to gain teaching experience with more than one age group and distribute the workload of eighth grade and kindergarten evenly. 

When I started teaching in Kindergarten the first day, it didn’t even seem to faze the students. It’s quite comical how adjustable they are - they could care less about who is in front teaching them, it’s all about the clothes the teacher is wearing and how her hair looks that day. I even had one student who sits in the back call Ms. Sarah over during class and ask why I had a skin-colored Band-Aid on my ring finger. They can be extremely observant of the most bizarre things.

It’s been seven days, but already I feel that I am becoming better organized and prepared to interact with parents. In eighth grade I made it the responsibility of the students to keep track of missing assignments and grades, but with Kindergarten I have to keep track of everything X 23! I’ve quickly figured out that being organized doesn’t only mean keeping track of missing assignments, it’s about planning ahead and communication! On Tuesday, I had all the students put a homework packet in their folders (due Friday), and since they had their folders out, I also gave them a practice packet of numbers that I was planning on working on in-class later in the week. On Wednesday, I happened to look in about five of the students’ folders and saw that not only did they complete the homework packet, but they completed the entire in-class packet as well!! I felt kind of bad that they did so much work for English as homework, but more than that I was annoyed at the thought of how much time I spent putting that packet together for class and the thought of putting together something else. Thinking ahead and communication…

As for eighth grade Health class, it’s off to a really great start. We are about to get into some really exciting topics – it will be very interesting to be on the other end of things this time around. I feel good about how Health is going though, because I already had a semester to figure out what works with those students, and what doesn’t. It was really great to see them after a break, and they seemed excited about the semester I have planned as well! The project I am most excited about is one in which Sarah, the eighth graders, and I will be working on together. Sarah and I started the ball rolling on the recycling program, but we are determined to get it off the ground before the end of the year! We have big plans to put the eighth graders in charge of the project by dividing them into committees in order to make a video about the importance of recycling, write letters and be in contact with important associates such as Waste Management and the San Benito administration, and track our needs and progress through social media and other modes of communication. Not only is it important that we respect the health of our earth and all the life it supports, but we want these eighth graders to understand how they are apart of history and to be proud of something they can leave behind at this school. Hopefully this project will be one way in which they can find value in some of the lessons they learn in school – that everything is related and what they learn doesn’t stop at 2:45 when the bell rings. On Friday I had three students stay after class to discuss ideas they already had about the recycling video. It made me so happy that they are excited about it, which really made me feel like a teacher!!

This is out of order here, but I wanted to mention that we returned just in time to celebrate Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico. It’s a much bigger deal here than Christmas! We drove with Ivonne, Cesar, and S. Mary Ruth to a town outside of Ponce on Friday, and we met S. Carmen, S. Myriam, S. Lois (from MN), and S. Renee (from MN). That day we watched a very extensive parade that ended with the Three Kings. By the time the Kings reached us, I understood why the parade took so long – everybody along the parade route wants to have a picture with each of the Kings, and a picture of their children with the Kings, and a picture of their grandparents with the Kings… I think you get the idea. By the end, there was no boundary between the parade participants and the parade viewers. And yes, Sarah and I got a picture with one of the Kings, and so did about 15 other parade fanatics. Ivonne insisted that we get our picture taken, and I think the crowd around us found it pretty amusing. After the parade we attended an outdoor mass, ate pinchos (skewers), and shopped in the street market… for a long time. It started down pouring, so we took shelter under the market tents. We spent about an hour looking at woodworking. I was starting to feel bad that I wasn’t making any purchases, and then Ivonne led the way to another tent where we spent the next half an hour standing by the coffee vendor. I was also forced into buying a homemade Vicks cream. Eventually we decided the rain was not going to go away and we made a dash for the van and headed back to the hotel.
The next day Sarah and I rested off our jet lag by the pool.

The first of the three Kings


Waiting for the rain to pass! Ivonne rocking the plastic bag rain hat!


On Sunday, we toured Ponce, which is the town S. Myriam is from. It was very beautiful – we saw the church, the first fire station ever built in Puerto Rico, a castle, and we went to the top of a big cross that was used as a look out post to the ocean at one point. Now it provides a beautiful view of the ocean and nice gardens to walk around in. 

Group shot in Ponce

In the fire station

Castle
Cross lookout


If you are reading this from Minnesota, I hope you staying warm – there is plenty of it to share in Puerto Rico!!

Hasta pronto,
Jana

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Running into trouble!


HOLA!!!

Sorry for the delay in blogging! Hmmm, I am not even sure where to begin this one since it’s been so long. I guess morning is a good place to start:

So, at 6:25a.m the alarm on my cell phone played “Minuet” in an obnoxious rasping tone (Minuets are not meant to be played through cell phones). When “Minuet” was finished, “Ukulele” started to play, followed by “Deep Blue Sea”. At that point it was 6:45a.m, I was finally shaken awake from my dream and I bolted out of bed. By 7:15a.m I was out the door with four nuns, Sarah, and peanut butter and honey toast in my hand… and all down my pants, shoe, ankle, elbow, and backpack. It does not take long for honey to drip everywhere and leave a sticky mess!  At school I cleaned up and was back on track. Until Health class. We made it through the lesson on the effects of the media on body image, and we headed outside to finish the game of kickball I had promised. However, it had just rained, so the field was a little squishy. The first time a ball was kicked out of bounds, one of my students volunteered to go get it. He was reaching for the ball, when his shoe sunk deep into the mud. He ended up losing his shoe and stepping into the mud with his clean, white socks. Sorry mom! The second time a ball was kicked out of bounds, I decided I would take care of it. It was in the weeds, but this was nothing for an experienced camp counselor. I reached down for the ball and next thing I knew my feet felt like they were burning! I looked down and saw tons of little fire ants crawling all over my exposed feet (I had flats on). I came out from the weeds, yelled to the class that we had to go NOW, and ran down the squishy hill to the parking lot. Since it had just rained, the parking lot was full of puddles. I threw off my flats and starting running through puddles. My students were laughing so hard at me – it was the worst pain I had ever felt from an insect, but I knew it was going to turn into one of those situations I laugh about later. The students went to the bathroom to wash the mud off of their uniforms before English class, and we all trudged back to the classroom, leaving a wet, muddy trail behind us. Sorry janitors! However, my feet were still burning – I needed to get to a faculty bathroom so that I could actually wash my feet and rinse out my shoes, but I realized I had forgotten my key! The next 10 minutes I spent running around trying to find a janitor to open the bathroom for me. Finally, I arrived to Kindergarten, a little late, super sweaty, in very itchy. After two Kindergarten classes, it was back to eighth grade. I had a powerpoint presentation with a video on it prepared for History class, but surprise, the converter I needed in order to present it, was nowhere to be found! When relying on technology, back-up plans are absolutely essential.

The best part of my day happened during prayer. Usually I am scrambling to find the right page and figure out what is going on, but today, I happened to open up to exactly the right page – it was amazing.

At about 10p.m, I realized my water bottle was completely empty, and that our favorite computerized voice would be letting us know that the alarm was about to turn on. This happened right as I was opening the door… Oh no!! I needed water still! I yelled out the door, “Necesito Agua” (I need water), but nobody heard me. It seemed like a pretty fitting way to end this day.

After a day like this, the best thing I can do is run. I am very grateful that we met a group of fantastic people and joined their running team! I think one of the reasons running is so important to me here, is because it is one of the only times in the day that I feel like I have complete control. I am the only one that can control my body. While running, I am not depending on anyone else. I’m not hoping technology will pull through for me, I’m not depending on my students to listen to my lesson, I’m not scheduled by bells and prayer time, I am in control of just myself. It is a hard lifestyle change to go from living a life of plenty of freedom in college to one that is very structured and controlled. Running has been a great outlet.

Last Saturday, Sarah and I found out about a free 5K race ending with the lighting of the Christmas tree in the plaza of Humacao. Since we live about 5 blocks from the plaza, we thought this would be a good race to participate in. While registering, we were asked for our addresses. We told them we weren’t sure of the exact address, but that we live in the Monastey down this street (pointing down the street we live on). The women reregistering us looked extremely confused – she did not know there was a monastery down that street, nor did she know the address. We asked her why we even needed to have an address, and she told us it was so they could mail prize money. We looked at each other and laughed, “we won’t be winning, so it’s okay”. In the end, they ended up writing down the addresses of our parents’ houses.

Running shoes tied, and numbers pinned on, we piled into a trolley with the other runners. We were jammed all the way in the back, sitting on a spare tire. The trolley cruised to another town, about three miles away, bottoming out quite a few times along the way. Ouch! When we arrived, we chatted and warmed up. The runners started gathering near the starting line, and next thing I knew the gunshot was fired. Off we went! The run was pretty, shaded by big trees and nice views of a little river. When we arrived to the finish line in the plaza, there were a lot of people cheering and the giant Christmas tree looked great. Sister Rufina showed up to congratulate us, which was really nice of her! She knows how important running is to us. After the race, we were about to walk home when some of our friends told us to check out the awards sheet posted in about size 12 font on a building near the plaza. Apparently, Sarah had won first place for our age class, and I was behind her in second. We decided to go check out the award ceremony. It was in a giant parking lot with food stands set up on one side and a massive stage on the other. The spectators included mostly runners and random parents and children en route to Humcao’s visiting carnival. When the award announcer got to the 21 – 25 year old age class, he yelled, “EN SEGUNDO LUGAR, TENEMOS, JANA….. RENEE... … … … GRAZY” The crowd burst out laughing, because they thought he said “crazy”. He called for me to come up on stage. I made my way up on stage and he was talking very loud and fast in my face, asking where I was from, and other questions I probably couldn’t register fast enough. He announced I was from Minnesota, and everyone was cheering a lot more than I would have expected! Next I was handed a check and a gigantic trophy. The announcer then called Sarah up to stage and went through the same routine. We took a picture together, they made a big deal about us coming from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and we hurried to the back of the parking lot with our excessively enormous trophies and unexpected checks! We couldn’t stop laughing – just another typical occurrence of Jana and Sarah having absolutely no idea what they were getting themselves into in Puerto Rico…



As far as teaching goes, I think I am just about as anxious as the students are to have a break. I could really use some time to think about what direction I would like to take next semester. Also, since my students do not have textbooks or other resources for Health or History, Sister Myriam told me I could purchase some reasonably priced class materials, and she would reimburse me. However, everyday I face the challenge of figuring out what I am going to teach the next day, and I feel like I haven’t had a good opportunity to look at the bigger picture, which would allow me to actually consider what materials I might need ahead of time.



Happy December to all!!

-Teacher, Miss Jana, Jana Grazy, La pequeña

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Visitors and Laughter

The first weekend in October, my mom and grandma visited me in Puerto Rico! We spent Thursday evening near our hotel in Isla Verde, eating dinner and walking to the beach.

Friday was a full day of sight seeing in Old San Juan. We started off by eating Mallorca and Quesitos (two typical pastries of Puerto Rico). Next we visited the Paseo de La Princesa, and had a good view of the fort and ocean. From there we caught the trolley up to La Fortuleza (the fort), and spent some time learning its history and exploring the six different levels! We stopped for lunch in a small, local restaurant, and from there we visited the Cathedral, the old convent, and Pigeon Park.

On the trolley!

At the fort!

Pigeon Park


On Saturday morning my mom and I swam in the ocean for a bit, and then we headed to the rain forest called El Yunque. We walked on some of the trails – it was very green and beautiful! From there we followed the shoreline down to Humacao. My mom and grandma quickly met all of the Sisters and got situated in their rooms (my mom upstairs and my grandma downstairs, in the back, where S. Rufina lives). Next, my mom and I headed over to Ivan and Cesar’s house for a delicious dinner of Filipino egg rolls, a roast with potatoes, rice, iced tea, and rolls. I am really glad she had the opportunity to meet Ivan and Cesar – they sing and play instruments in the choir with some of the Sisters.  They are also two of the kindest people ever, and they have “rescued” us from the Monastery a few times :) They live across from the beach in Humacao (about a 15 minute drive from the Monastery), in the beautiful old house that Ivan grew up in! When we got back to the Monastery, we played a few rounds of Rumi-cube in the library, but we made sure we were all in our rooms before the alarm was set at 10pm sharp!

El Yunque


Sunday we spent touring Humacao. In the morning we drove to Palmas del Mar, which is the huge resort and community located on the ocean. It was a beautiful day and the flowers, trees, houses, golf courses, yacht club, and water looked pristine. We made sure we were home by 11am so that we could make it to prayer and lunch! After lunch we visited Colegio San Benito – S. Esther gave us a very complete tour. We were able to see everything from the classrooms I teach in to the third floor where the other three nuns live! Next I showed them the track where I run and play soccer, and then we returned to the monastery. It was extremely hot and humid (like normal), and I think they were both feeling the effects… We spent the rest of the evening on the patio playing cards, Rumi-cube, and looking through my pictures. S. Rufina and my grandma played together on a team for a little bit, and S. María brought us coffee and candy. They were all extremely accommodating and made sure my visitors had everything they needed (at all times!!)

Las Palmas del Mar
My Classroom


I am really happy that my mom and grandma could see and experience the places where I spend the majority of my time – school, Monastery, track, and Old San Juan! It was so nice to relax and spend time with them! I think they will have a better idea of how it feels to live in this community, what it’s like to walk through the town I live in, and how much the heat takes out of you! I feel so lucky that I was able to share some of my life down here with them!

It was sad to say goodbye to them again, but I was really happy to have Sarah back. It would be nearly impossible to survive here by myself. Although my mom and grandma got a small dose of life at the Monastery, there are only three other people in this world (Sarah, the volunteers from last year, and hopefully two more next year) who can truly understand how it feels to be a recent college graduate living in a Monastery and volunteering as a teacher, with absolutely no experience, aside from the previous three months. Nobody else would understand why laughing uncontrollably at inappropriate times (prayer) happens without explanation...

Usually prayer is a very relaxing time and space where I can forget about lesson plans, job applications, being homesick, etc. However, sometimes after a day of letting frustrations, happiness, sadness, excitement, and stress build-up, it is released in the form of laughter, during prayer. Thinking depressing thoughts, pinching myself, and disguising laughter by fake coughing fits doesn’t even help, and as painful as this situation is, it’s nice having one other person in this world sitting next to me who understand exactly why laughter is being released at that moment.

Like I said, prayer is a great time to unwind (sometimes it takes some laughing first) but the place I feel most relaxed and able to connect with God is when I am outside. We actually spend a lot more time inside here that I thought we would. It’s either too stinkin’ hot to be outside, we’re in school, or it’s dark. That being said, the time I do spend outside is when I feel happiest and most at peace. Now that I’ve befriended Luna, I think I will try to do more lesson-planning and reflection outside, where my mind is clearer.

Well, this ended up being a compilation of thoughts. I’ll try to update you sooner next time!

Until then,
Jana