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By Megan Gardner

Our homes shape who we are today. Going abroad is not about renouncing all aspects of home and fully immersing yourself in a completely different culture with no consideration for your own. Going abroad is about learning more about the world and where your home stands in it. It’s also about learning that the world is not that big. Once you start looking, you find thousands of small similarities between your home and wherever you’re visiting. It’s important to find those parallels and use them as support to build the bridges between cultures.

Thanksgiving was celebrated two weeks ago in the US. Every year, family and friends gather together to enjoy a big meal. Everyone wakes up early and spends hours cooking the big feast. Families teach their children how to cook traditional dishes like turkey, mashed potatoes, mac n’ cheese, and of course, pumpkin pie. The day ends with a big dinner where everyone talks about current events, life updates, and what they’re thankful for.

Obviously, but Tunisia does not celebrate Thanksgiving (although SIT did host a great Tunisian Friendsgiving). However, they did celebrate Mawlid (المولد) a few days before Thanksgiving. Mawlid is the celebration of the birth of Mohamed. Every year, family and friends gather together to enjoy a big meal. Everyone wakes up early and spends hours cooking the big feast. Families teach their children how to cook traditional dishes like a3siida (عصيدة). A3siida is similar to a pudding made from pine nuts and it takes hours to prepare. Everyone helps out and decorates their own bowl of a3siida with almonds, walnuts, and candy pearls. The day ends with a big dinner where everyone talks about current events, life updates, and what they’re thankful for.

Clearly, Mawlid and Thanksgiving have very different roots. Nonetheless, the ways that they’re celebrated are not too different from one another. Loved ones come together to cook and to share a meal. Families and friends spend time together and have great conversation. There are many things that connect all people regardless of origin. Love of family, friends, and great meals are just a few.

By Brielle Powers

As my study abroad program ended a little over two weeks ago and I am now back in the United States, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect upon my experience in Cape Town. I was lucky enough to volunteer with Teach Out for the majority of the semester and gained valuable insights that I hope to take with me back to DC. However, many of the questions I have asked myself regarding my experience have yet to be answered. One of them being, what does it mean to be doing service or volunteer work in a foreign country?

Especially in a country such as South Africa, where the consequences of colonization are still very prevalent, the topic of Western volunteerism is very controversial. While many volunteer programs are successful because they are run and managed by locals within the community they serve, there are an endless flow of volunteers from Western countries that spend just days or weeks at a service site only to leave the community waiting for the next group of volunteers. Therefore, when deciding where to volunteer I wanted to choose an organization that wasn’t temporary. Teach Out is not only a permanent volunteer organization but it is primarily comprised of South African students who are dedicated to improving public education in South Africa.

With this in mind, and after having lengthy discussions in class regarding colonialism and it’s modern day implications, I began tutoring with Teach Out with an open mind. The other American students on my program and I would often talk with each other about “White Saviorism” and what it meant for us as white, Western women volunteering in South Africa. So, in the past few weeks I’ve been reevaluating why I wanted to volunteer while abroad in the first place and whether or not I felt I was able to make a difference while there.

Service has been part of my everyday life since high school. As a member of Epsilon Sigma Alpha at GW, most of my weekends consist of helping out at food banks or with National Park Service. So to me, doing a service project while studying abroad was a given. However, the more I reflect on my time at Usasazo High School, in ways I have never done after serving in DC, I wonder if I had any right to be there. What were my intentions? Did I want to volunteer just to make myself feel good? Was it out of guilt for my own privilege?

I still don’t have a clear answer. While I would like to think my volunteer work was purely altruistic, any of these motivations could be true. And as far as whether or not I was able to make a difference by tutoring, I believe my experience allowed me to be a small part of a large influence on the student’s lives. The UCT students who make TeachOut successful and who dedicate time and effort to the Usasazo students will surely continue to make a lasting difference in their lives. And having been able to be just a small part of the bigger goal of improving education in South Africa assures me that the work we did made a difference.

I think the most valuable thing about my the service I did while abroad are these realizations. My study abroad experience would not have been the same without Teach Out. I am eternally grateful for all that it has taught me and the wonderful relationships I was able to form through the organization. And even though I may have learned much more than I was able to teach at Usasazo, I still believe it was meaningful. I now have the opportunity to take what I’ve learned back with me to GW so that I can be a better, more conscious, volunteer and do more meaningful service in DC.

By Megan Gardner

If there’s anything I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that Murphy’s Law is very real. Everything that could possibly go wrong, will go wrong. However, it teaches lessons that can’t be taught in any other way. You learn quickly that nothing is solved by being passively apathetic. Unexpected challenges will pop up and all you can do is adapt to the new circumstances. It can be difficult to accept a certain turn of events, but it is necessary to overcome particular obstacles. Besides, these road bumps often end up being the most memorable parts of the journey. They make something that was supposed to be mundane become an adventure.

Two weeks ago, my program was returning to Tunisia from an excursion in Italy. The entire journey was only supposed to take an hour. But, it did not go as planned. We were scattered across the airport terminal for hours before learning the flight was cancelled. We sat in plastic blue seats, shared overpriced snacks, and swapped stories for our last grand Italian feast together.

Last semester, my friends and I planned a weekend hiking trip in the north of China. We traveled overnight for hours by bike, metro, taxi, bus, plane, and train to get to the mountains. What we didn’t plan, however, was a hostel. We thought that there was a town full of hostels at the top of the mountain. After hours of late night trains and planes, we hiked for 10 hours up the mountain with all of our bags to find beautiful views, but no town and no hostels. We wandered around tiny villages until we stumbled upon a woman who offered us rooms and a hot dinner. At the time, we were all exhausted and starving and thirsty, but it ended up being the best meal of my life and one of the most memorable experiences in China.

The trips themselves were incredible, but these happy accidents are what made them so memorable. I never would have remembered a canceled flight or basic hostel, but memories of sitting in the airport swapping stories with friends over the cheapest bottle of airport wine and memories of wandering around small Chinese villages will stick with me forever.

So cheers to the missed flights, the late trains, the broken down cars, and the poorly planned plans because they are what make travel worthwhile.

By Megan Gardner

There’s always a moment when a new place starts to feel like home. It happens slowly and it’s often too difficult to notice until it’s done. Eventually, the sight of a coffee shop near your apartment starts to be comforting. The broken sidewalks feel familiar. The chipped paint on the outside of the building is inviting.

However, it’s not only the place that composes the home. The community creates a sense of belonging within that place. The people who surround you make the unfamiliar environment feel welcoming. Inevitably, there are moments when you’re abroad where you’re completely and utterly confused about everything, but it’s the people that help in these moments who become family. It’s moments like fighting off wild monkeys on a mountain peak in Zhangjiajie or bartering with merchants in the middle of the Sahara or being stranded and starving in an Italian airport for hours that help to build these relationships. Retrospectively, these moments are the most cherished.

The first home away from home that I found was in DC, but thanks to the Global Bachelor’s program, I feel like I have dozens of homes scattered across the world. Paris, Shanghai, Palermo, Sidi Bou Saïd, and Tunis are all my homes away from home. Each study abroad group has felt like a family that I can reach out to for help no matter where we are in the whole wide world. Initially, they help you sail confidently into the unknown until you’re able to navigate them yourself. Eventually, those unfamiliar waters become a home.

By Brielle Powers

Though I may technically be the “tutor” on Saturday mornings at Usasazo High School, I have become a student in so many ways during my time in South Africa. Beyond my classes at UCT, in every interaction I have here I am constantly questioning, absorbing, wanting to learn more. I’ve come to realize that engaging with the community is not always about the service rendered but about the knowledge gained.

As a TeachOut tutor, I can’t help but think I’m learning so much more than I could possibly teach. In the past few sessions, we’ve worked on figurative language, debating, and poetry. Since I studied the same concepts at their age, I try my best to employ the same methods and tricks my previous teachers used to help me. But some of these efforts are to no avail as I continue to struggle to relate to the students. However, I think I am making some progress and the students are becoming more receptive to me.

On one Saturday, there was a miscommunication about whether or not there would be a tutoring session and we had only a few students in each class. This made the session less intimidating than the ones in the past and it was nice to be able to have one-on-one time with the students.

As the students were completing their worksheets and we had finished reviewing the elements of a sentence, one of the Grade eight students raised her hand. She said she didn’t understand the difference between a direct and indirect object. So logically I told her how I remembered the difference -- through a rap I learned in the seventh grade.

As I was signing “a direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives that action of an action verb,” I could tell she was starting to understand and she was able finished her worksheet without assistance. Some of the other students like the song and I was able to go around the classroom with ease, seeing where they needed clarification.

Another one of the TeachOut tutors has been tutoring English at Usasazo for almost two years now and helps guide me as to how to explain the concepts to the students. She handles the class so well and is extremely passionate about helping the students pass matriculation, which is South Africa’s version of the GED, a standardized test that students must pass in order to graduate high school. She has taught me a lot about the South African education system and about how programs like TeachOut are integral for public school students who don’t necessarily get the extra help they need in overcrowded and understaffed classrooms.

While I have been making small achievements towards connecting with the students, I’m eager to do more, to get to know them better, and to help them pass their exams. I find myself spending a lot of my time talking to the other tutors. While the students take practice quizzes, I ask them about their high schools and why they started tutoring at Usasazo. I think exchanges like this are what makes community engagement so impactful. Having the ability to talk through and compare and contrast experiences enable us to learn from each other. We are all teachers and students and should take on each role by being open to learning new things, eager to ask questions, and willing to share our own experiences.

By Lisa Maina

Working with Equipe Aidons les Talibés has been very interesting but there has been a recent hiatus in the management of the organization. Because of this, program development had slowed, and I haven’t been able to work with Boukom and his team in the last few weeks. However, I knew still wanted to give back to the community and was restless to find another organization to work with in the meantime. With the help of the incredible program directors here at CIEE Dakar, I was quickly placed at another volunteer post, one I am very excited about.

Being a public health major, with a particular interest in global health, I was drawn to this program in Senegal because of the chance I would have to witness the health system in action here. When the opportunity to work at a health post in suburban Dakar was presented to me, it felt like fate (sorry that’s cheesy). This post was constructed by the Red Cross and operated by Red Cross volunteers until it was offered to the local government. Now, it is operated by two government-paid clinicians, that perform the maternal and child health functions, and several volunteer clinicians, that offer first aid and pharmaceutical services. My point of contact at the post is Cheikh Faye, an impassioned, energetic volunteer that spends basically 22 out of 24 hours a day helping the people in his neighborhood.

My first day volunteering started with a 40-minute bus drive to the outskirts of Dakar in a region called Pikine. Luckily, I was travelling with a student that had been volunteering at the post for a while, so she knew exactly where to go when our bus broke down still about 20 minutes from our destination. This wasn’t my first time on public transport in Dakar, but it was definitely my longest, with loads of traffic, standing, and confusion until we were forced to take a taxi the rest of the way to the post.

When we finally arrived, we received a warm welcome from Cheikh, then we got right into the work. The other student volunteering there already knew the ropes, so she showed me around. There are 4 offices, 3 for family health and 1 for adult consultations, 1 pharmacy and 1 research lab/classroom all on the premises. Right next door to the post is a Red Cross operated primary school and across the street is a delicious restaurant that we frequently visit after long days seeing patients. My duties that first day were to learn how everything works at the clinic and pick it up as quickly as I could.

I work with Cheikh in the adult consultation room where we check in patients for the entire clinic, perform first aid duties and occasionally do mini-surgeries for kids and adults. As consultations for children 0 to 5 years of age are free, we have a lot of newborns and toddlers come into our clinic where they are weighed and sent to the family medicine offices. That is my absolute favorite part, especially last week when I got to weigh a week-old baby, oh my goodness she was so small and quiet it was incredible. Anyways, check-ins are easy enough minus the language barrier. Because we are outside of urban Dakar, many of the clients don’t speak any French and most speak only Wolof. As I have been taking Wolof classes since my arrival in Dakar, I can ask basic questions, hi, how are you, what do you want, what’s your name, and so forth. However, it’s the responses that usually pose a problem. Sometimes they have a specific card that indicates when they should be coming for visits and depending on the type of card I can figure out whether it’s a family planning visit, post-natal or adult consultation, but other times the client assumes I speak Wolof, is disappointed when I don’t, and we just wait for Cheikh to translate.

I also had to quickly learn how to clean and wrap wounds, which is simple enough but more than anything, I had to get used to seeing open wounds and blood without reacting too harshly. Though most cases have been mild, occasionally we’ll have to remove a birth control implant which involves making a deep incision into the client’s arm, squishing out the plastic implant and picking it out from the inside of the arm with some forceps. I wouldn’t say I'm rather squeamish, but that definitely shocked me watching it for the first time, especially as the procedure was done with several other patients waiting in the same room, very little anesthesia and relatively little light. In fact, conditions in the clinic are adequate for the needs of the community but insufficient compared to standards most of us are used to. When the other student first arrived at the clinic, there were no gloves for any of the clinicians in the office, meaning wound cleanings and procedures were done with bare hands. The bed is ripped up and the scale is very outdated; the tools used are limited and reused from patient to patient; and the clinic only provides antiseptic and the cleaning gauze used, so patients must buy wrapping gauze, ointments or any other necessities at the pharmacy next door.

What the clinic lacks in supplies, though, is made up for by the incredible staff that work their butts off every day to ensure the health of their neighbors. Cheikh and his colleagues are at the clinic as early as 8 am, work there until 2:30 to 3 pm, afterwards do home visits for clients that can’t make it to the clinic, then go home to their own families but are usually still on call for any emergencies. My first home visit, we went to the home of these women that are taking care of their elderly father/husband. He had fallen from a flight of stairs and has unable to walk since, but he was also experiencing severe decay of the skin on his left foot. Cheikh explained the likely cause of this necrosis as a result of the fall creating a sort of paralysis and the lack of movement decreased blood flow to his extremities. Since that first visit, Cheikh has made himself available everyday to remove the decaying skin, perform physical therapy to increase blood flow and do routine cleanings to stimulate skin regeneration. Other home visit clients include the family of a woman who unfortunately died after one of her procedures. Cheikh still visits the family members to check in on them and keep in contact as often as he can. Though I haven’t spent as much time with the other clinicians, so I am unaware of their schedules, but I know it takes a really courageous heart to do the work they do and take care of not only their neighbors, but many of these clients have become their friends, further indicating the quality of their care.

I have taken this opportunity to focus more on what I can obtain from this experience rather than analyze my impact on the community. Because I’m learning so much every day and I’m very naïve when it comes to the field of health administration, I doubt I can have much impact other than the occasional help I offer on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. I stand to gain a lot of knowledge not only on health practices, but also on the health system in Senegal, diseases in the region, maternal and child health routines, world perspectives on health, cultural aspects of medicine and so much more, all information I can use in the future to then help make an impact on the international health community.

By Lisa Maina

As I discussed in the last entry, this semester I will be volunteering with Bokoum Djibril and his organization called Equipe Aidons les Talibés (EAT) in order to improve conditions for orphaned students of the Quran. These children are known all over Dakar as everyone is approached by at least one each day. When I asked my host family about their opinion of the issue, they were equally as distraught as I was but at the same time disillusioned because they felt helpless in finding the right solution to save these children from their unfortunate situation.

One of Djibril’s main goals is to change the way in which people view Talibés. Obviously when you see children begging in the streets, you are likely to view them as sad, helpless, and powerless. This perspective is heightened by their soot-covered clothes filled with holes and their bare and dirty feet. However, Djibril firmly believes that people should not see them as depressed and helpless, but rather focus on their hopefulness and potential as children to get out of their situation. Additionally, we should recognize the strength these kids have that brought them all the way to Dakar without their families and spend each day on the street just to get an education. For these reasons, Djibril has focused his organization on providing opportunities for Talibés to experience their childhood like so many other more privileged children.

In order to do this, EAT reserves full days with children of some Daaras in order to allow them to spend time with other Talibés learning, playing and eating, rather than begging. My role in the organization thus far is to help program fun activities for the children along with another American volunteer. Two weeks ago, that meant choosing and organizing games that we would play all together during a day that we had reserved with them. Though this sounds simple enough, we had to account for the language barrier when considering how to give instructions for the games. We are both proficient in French, but the Talibés have only just begun their French lessons, so communication is either in Wolof (of which we are both novices) or gestures. This cut out a considerable number of games we could play, especially games that could help their learning.

Eventually we settled on a couple games that required little instruction or ones that could be easily translated. A crowd favorite was Duck, Duck, Goose, though the Wolof words for duck and goose were very long. In this case, we settled for “Muus, Muus, Xaj” which translates to cat, cat, dog. After a few demonstrations, the kids were running around, ducking their heads, and having a blast. For the rest of the day, we helped with general logistics, serving food, practicing French and having a good time with the kids.

Playing "Simon Says".
French lessons taught by a volunteer professor.
Talibés eating a dinner provided by EAT volunteers.
Us demonstrating Muus, Muus, Xaj.

Moving forward, I plan to be an ambassador of EAT, selling merchandise to people that want to support the cause and raising awareness of the organization. This way, we can fund more activities for the kids and implement more programs to help the children. One program I am particularly interested in is the mentorship program Djibril has just started drafting. This program would pair each Talibé with a volunteer who would vow to provide clothes and food. Each day that the Talibé would work the street, he would work in the direction of his mentor’s home, meet him or her there and they would provide a meal as well as anything else necessary before the Talibé returns home.

Right now, this program is being designed but it is facing a few difficulties because of logistics and lack of volunteers. In order to implement the program, we need to work out an adequate system to register volunteers willing to participate, ensure quality involvement, establish contractual agreements to confirm length of participation, as well as get enough funds to kickstart the program. As a team, we are working together to develop this initiative, brainstorming appropriate regulations, contracts, and potential blueprints for the plan of the program.

Additionally, the EAT team has been working on establishing more structured French lessons for the Talibés with teachers for each level. This has also been challenging to implement because of logistics and lack of resources. Such resources include certified French teachers for each level, space for lessons, practice material and so forth. It has also been difficult to ensure that the children would retain the information, as these lessons would only occur the few times a month EAT is allowed to work with each of the Daaras. Though there are many challenges to overcome before implementing these lessons, at EAT we know education is one of the most powerful tools these kids can be equipped with, so we are doing everything we can to make it possible.

All in all, there is a lot to do to change conditions for the Talibés of Dakar and I look forward to providing any help I can. If anyone is interested in this organization, visit their Facebook page for more information (!! Also check out their merchandise if you’d like to support the Talibés of Dakar!

By Megan Gardner

My family always taught me to respect the sea. We spent nearly every weekend by the water, whether it was fishing or boating or swimming together. They regularly reminded my brothers and I that, while it seems peaceful, it is unforgiving and we don’t truly understand the power that it holds. I’ve always kept the strength of the sea in mind, but it wasn’t until this semester that I ever considered the magnitude of its power, nor the power of the sand.

This semester, I’ve been studying the migration crisis in the Euro-Mediterranean space. Since I arrived, I’ve been studying the Tunisian democratic transition process and the factors behind outward migration. A week ago, I arrived in Italy to study the realities of the system from this side of the sea. I have been attending lectures, visiting migrant welcome centers, meeting local NGOs, and visiting legal clinics. In one of these lectures, a founder of a local NGO spoke about the common migration routes from Sub-Saharan Africa to Southern Europe. We followed the process from beginning to end and spoke about the threats at each step. We were all familiar with the perils of crossing the sea, but not many of us were familiar with the dangers of the sand. He mentioned that almost four times as many people die crossing the Sahara than crossing the sea. These numbers aren’t publicized, because they are unknown. There are no existing NGOs that monitor the Sahara for migrants because of the inherent dangers, both political and natural, in the area. We can only speculate the numbers based on migrant accounts. In a separate conversation I had with my professor, Mounir Khelifa, he warned me “not to underestimate the power of that sand,” while motioning to the Sahara.

In Sicily, the strength of the sea cannot be forgotten. The rocks that act as a barrier from the water are hidden by graffiti from artists reminding the public of the thousands of migrants who have lost their lives in pursuit of a better future. The desert and the sea have the power to take life and the power to provide opportunity. Their decisions are ruthless and dispassionate. My conception of the power behind the sea and the sand has shifted. Not only do they hold a such a raw, primitive power, but they also hold a deeper power. They represent an obstacle on the path to a better future. When I watch the sea or walk through the desert, it’s impossible not to think of both their beauty and their puissance.

By Megan Gardner

Tunisia is and has always been in the crossroads of many great civilizations. Each of these civilizations have helped to shape and form the unique cultures and society of Tunisia today. They simultaneously identify as part of North Africa, part of the Arab world, part of the Mediterranean Basin. Their land has been claimed by the Amazigh, the Romans, the French. Each have left lasting marks on the cultural landscape of the country. Just last week, my group went on an excursion to the south of the country. In just a few days, we saw a Roman amphitheater, rode camels in the Sahara, and stayed in troglodytes that were inhabited by the Amazigh for centuries.

In every country I’ve studied in, there’s been a clear preference for either coffee or tea. When I studied in France, there was a clear preference for coffee. Each street is lined with cafés and terraces where people enjoyed sipping on their coffee while watching the world go by. When I studied in China, the obvious favorite was tea. Instead of cafés, the streets were adorned with tea houses and tea shops where people would spend hundreds of yuan for a few good cups and a great experience. Unless I wanted to spend a significant amount of money, it was nearly impossible to find any coffee that wasn’t instant. In Tunisia, I’ve found that neither tea nor coffee is as blatantly favored. It is just as common to see people sipping mint tea as it is to see people enjoying a strong coffee in each café.

A country’s predilection for either tea or coffee may not be culturally significant. However, in each of these countries I’ve studied in, café culture is an integral part of the larger culture. Cafés are a place where all people gather together and discuss everything from grand concepts to simple chit chat. Everyone partakes, everyone speaks, ideas are exchanged over a hot drink. In Western societies, such as France, this drink tends to be coffee. In Eastern societies such as China, this drink tends to be tea. While the origins of this difference is probably about the agricultural feasibility of each crop, today, when each product is readily available at the market, it represents an interesting cultural divide. A schism where Tunisia finds itself in the middle. Like so much in the Tunisian culture and Tunisian history, its caught in the crossroads. It teaches Arabic and French. It eats croissants and harissa. It’s stuck between the coffee-lovers and the tea-lovers.

By Brielle Powers

The first time I volunteered as a tutor with TeachOut, it was my first time going to a South African township. I should mention that the night before my first tutoring session, I had also just spent the night in Camps Bay, one of the nicest (and wealthiest) beachside neighborhoods in Cape Town. A girl on my program was celebrating her birthday so we all decided to rent an Airbnb for the occasion. Since the exchange rate is about 14 South African Rand to 1 U.S. Dollar, it seemed like a steal for us to be able to stay in a beachside mansion for a night.

I mention this because it was the first time I was confronted with the gross inequality in South Africa. Despite having just spent the night in a beautiful extravagantly furnished home (did I mention it had a full pool?...amid the water crisis...AND heat?...a true rarity in cool Cape Town winters), the next morning I was on a minibus to Khayelitsha, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.

From what I had read before coming to Cape Town (and imagined from Trevor Noah’s accounts) I thought I had known what to expect entering a township. However, per usual, my expectations were off.

I pictured the townships as fenced-off, secluded communities away from the city. But as soon as I flew into Cape Town International and drove away from the airport, I realized this wasn’t true. In Cape Town, you can literally happen upon a township by taking a few wrong turns. There are fences (twenty year old remnants of apartheid) but they’re broken down, panels missing, giving the inquisitive passenger driving by a peek into a mini city.

There aren’t many of what an average American would call “homes” in the townships. They’re more like shacks, rectangular buildings held together by pieces of scrap metal and wood. Some with additional rooms added on, some stacked on top of others, some closed off with barbed wire fences. As we drive further in toward the school, we pass barber shops, food stands, braai (which is barbeque in Afrikaans) grills, and preschools. Goats and stray dogs mill around, digging through the trash on the side of the road.

Our tutoring sessions start early, around 9:00 am and despite it being Saturday, the streets in Khayelitsha are always busy with people milling around, kids running and chasing after each other, shop owners attending to their customers or rearranging their products. Once we get to the high school, we can usually see all the students in their uniforms hanging out before classes. My favorite thing about Khayelitsha is the strong sense of community you feel even just driving through it.

On the first day, I decided to tutor the English classes (as I haven’t taken a single math class since junior year of high school) and we split the students up into Grade 8 and Grade 9 sessions. Myself, along with another new tutor, took Grade 8 students first. When I walked into the classroom, I was first shocked by how many students were there. Though there were maybe only 10 or 15, it was crazy to me that high schoolers would willingly come to school on Saturday mornings just for extra math and English practice.

I remember once in high school when we had had too many snowdays and the superintendent was considering making us go to class on Saturdays to make up for the lost time. Everyone rebelled. Looking back, education is just another thing I’ve taken for granted my entire life, something I’ve seen as more of a chore or obligation rather than as an opportunity. Yet these students welcomed an extra chance to learn.

Our lesson plan for the day focused around sentence structure and identifying things like the subject, predicate, direct object, etc. Some of the kids seemed familiar with this already, so we took the opportunity to quiz them as a review. They were a little hesitant to participate at first, but I attributed that to typical high schoolers being “too cool” to be a teacher’s pet. However, it could also have been that they couldn’t really understand my accent when I asked a question.

One thing I’ve learned is that there is no one “South African accent.” In a country with over eleven official languages, a defined accent just doesn’t exist. However, most South Africans are taught British English and thus have very different pronunciations than Americans. To these students, who mainly speak isiXhosa at home and only learn English in school, my American accent was funny, something some of them only hear watching shows on TV. Although I enjoyed making them giggle and smirk, I instantly became aware of my foreignness, my whiteness, my alienation.

At this point, my biggest challenge as a tutor is making connections with the students. I think this stems primarily from language. It’s hard to feel like you are making a difference when you are not entirely sure the dozens of eyes looking up at you understand what you are saying. There are some tutors with TeachOut who live in Khayelitsha, who know isiXhosa, and who can show them that, yes, one day you too can go to one of the top universities in Africa. But for someone like me, who’s had a vastly different background, it’s difficult to find things in common.

In the next few tutoring sessions, I hope to work on this challenge a little bit more. By just putting in more effort to get to know the students better, to learn their names (and how to pronounce them correctly), and to learn where I can best help them academically I think I will have a much greater impact.