If I would have to describe my year of teaching in Chuuk with one word, it would be humbling. In particular, there are four things that I lived through this year that have had a lasting impact on how I view our world.
Watching the sun rise behind the mountains of Weno at 5AM from the pier at Truk Stop while the birds are catching their breakfast straight from the sea, the little fish jumping away in perfect unison, as in a well-rehearsed act at Sea World. Hearing about my host mom’s gardening problem: too many sprouts of papaya trees are popping out. Seeing gigantic bats on a mangrove, looking for their next hang out spot. Catching a glimpse of a small shark, blue star fish and Nemo while snorkelling. Diving with an eagle ray inside a ship wreck. The sound of waves of the turquoise water, climbing a palm tree to fetch coconuts, seeing all of Weno from the top of Mt. Octopus. Being stranded in a storm in the great Pacific on a boat that’s out of gas, seeing the effects of the drought… To me, whose natural habitat is basically an ice cave, this completely opposite environment and its inhabitants have made me amazed in countless occasions so that I am truly humbled by the wonders and powers Mother Nature and have gained an increased respect for Her.
Not only is the nature the complete opposite of what I am used to, but so is the culture. The rules and norms of the Chuukese have forced me to adjust my behavior and to think about what values and mannerisms are the ones I am and am not willing to compromise. On top of that, I am one of the only Europeans, and the only Finn on island. Generalizations are something I avoid making, but in this case I can quite confidently say that people here have little to absolutely no idea of the background I come from. I have never felt as alone as in some of lowest moments I’ve had during this year. Being subjected to such a drastic change of everyday life with what has sometimes felt like the complete lack of support has humbled this young lady who prior to Chuuk thought she had mastered the art of adjusting to different ways of living within another culture. That realization might have hit my ego hard, and admittedly, it wasn’t easy to get my big head humbled in this way, but in the end, I’m thankful that it was.
Back at home, I was definitely well-traveled compared to the average of my age group. Compared to the expat group of Chuuk… I have some way to make to reach the average. I am so honored to have had the chance to listen to the stories of these people who have seen and done so much. People who have sailed all over the Atlantic, people who have been tour guides in North Korea, people who have learned Swahili in Africa, people who have been called to help the Afghan refugees after serving in the Peacecorps in Afghanistan, people who have literally dedicated their lives to improve the education of the FSM, people who have taught sex workers to apply a condom by using their mouth in Thailand, people who have made it their life goal to travel the world although they never, not once, went abroad with their families when growing up. These Citizens of the World have taught me so much and I am forever grateful to have met each and every one of them.
Finally, I am amazed and humbled by the unique bunch of young men and women I teach every day. Life in Chuuk is, more often than not, difficult, and like anywhere else in the world, it is the toughest on the teenagers. However, out of what my students have told me, they swallow all the hardships and have no choice but to be strong and endure it all. Too see them work hard on class work only to hear their father died over the weekend makes me admire their emotional strength and feel ashamed of the petty things I complain about on a daily basis. In a community based environment, they do anything to make sure the people around them are doing well. They may be shy, but nevertheless they openly share their feelings and stories about their lives and count you in their family. I find this truly admirable and it is all thanks to them that I have been able to feel welcomed in this foreign land and that we have been able to build a relationship far from a regular teacher-student relationship. I will miss them so much.