We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
Despite free falling into a new culture and given challenges day-by-day, Summer Service Intern Mariel Shilling is ready to teach English and break down cultural barriers. You can find Mariel at the Forodhani Secondary School where she is surrounded by her Zanzibari students who are excited to learn.
“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown”
As I flew to Zanzibar, I realized that I had no idea what to expect. Google searching the island only lead to gorgeous pictures of beaches and recommendations for tour groups. Also, from the little outside research I did I only learned about how to dress and what language to speak. I realized that I knew nothing about the layout of Stone Town, where we would be living, or most importantly about the Zanzibari school system. I was flying in blind.
Despite the unknown, I was still excited to spend 6 weeks on a beautiful island using my skills to teach English and break down cultural barriers. As soon as we arrived, we were thrown into a whirlwind of touring Stonetown, visiting everyone’s work sites, Swahili lessons, and group bonding. While it all felt a bit chaotic, I definitely learned a lot about the islands culture, how to get around Stonetown, and the girls I am living with in a short amount of time.
The last stop on our whirlwind tour was my worksite, the Forodhani Secondary School. Both Lis (another AUA volunteer) and I are teaching at Forodhani. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when entering the school, but it was some combination of a warm welcoming, a detailed class schedule and curriculum, and an organized orientation. Once we actually entered the school, we were greeted very warmly and thanked profusely for our time. Unfortunately, a class schedule and orientation did not follow. Instead, the headmistress (Queen Latifah) casually asked us what we wanted to teach, how many classes, ect. and then began to make us a work plan. Despite the welcoming environment, I left our visit feeling very under informed, overwhelmed, and scared to start teaching the next day. Once again, I was flying in blind.
The next day Lis and I anxiously made our way to Forodhani for our first day of teaching. Once we arrived the teachers informed us that each class was 90 minutes long, and what we should be teaching on that day. Slowly but surely, we made our way through our classes that day, attempted to get a schedule for the whole week, and eventually got an overview of the syllabus. After our first day, we still felt a bit uninformed but the good news was, we LOVED teaching!
The rest of the week was a combination of lesson planning, teaching, grading, and working to figure out exactly what we were supposed to be doing at the school. I now have a newfound appreciation for teachers because it was undoubtedly the hardest week of my life. In the end, I will be teaching 12 English classes a week! This week I had the chance to meet with every one of my classes and they are fantastic! They respect their teachers, value their education, and are really excited to learn. One class even asked if I could stay and teach them during their recess hour. They make all of the stress worth it!
Despite the fact that I flew into Zanzibar knowing little to nothing about the island and started teaching with little to no information, in the past week I have already learned so much and feel very at home in Zanzibar. While I still have a lot of figuring out to do, and teaching is still a bit stressful, I know that with time and some deep breaths it will all work out. Also, to celebrate surviving our first week, the other volunteers and I spent our weekend on “Safari Blue,” which is an ocean Safari through sand bars, islands, caves, and with tons of snorkeling! It was definitely a great way to relax and reward ourselves after a busy first week!
During the rest of my time in Zanzibar, my goal is to embrace the “hakuna matata” lifestyle and enjoy everything I can. Despite being the hardest week of my life, it has also been the best! I absolutely love teaching and Zanzibar and I cannot wait to continue working here for the next 6 weeks!