I read Kelly’s blog post on our recent family dinners experience with our students and it was TOO good not to share….
“Recently, Ashley and I have been trying something new. For the past month or so, we have been going to different student houses for dinner, in hopes of better knowing our students, their families, and what is most important to them. Amongst other things, this has been incredible, eye-opening, hilarious, awkward, humbling, and moving. There have been heartbreaking times, such as when one student asked if we still wanted to come once he admitted that he lived in a shack. Of course, we assured him that we did and he was so proud to bring us to his home later that week. There have been frustrating and even scary times, including when many of the roads in the township were not drivable or when I have met unwelcomed guests in the streets. On the way to one dinner, it seemed that we would have to postpone the event because all of the roads near the student’s house were undrivable and it was unsafe to walk. In this case, the student grew so visibly upset at the thought of cancelling the dinner, that I soon realized how much this meant to her. We eventually found a back road and were able to have a fun, relaxing dinner with her family.
Despite these frustrations, and at moments because of them, there have been hilarious times as well. In any situation where you are a foreigner, and I suppose any circumstance in which you are invited to an unfamiliar home for dinner, there are bound to be some comical moments. Or moments that you find comical at a later date once you’ve recovered from the shock, such as one dinner in which we noticed that our food was completely covered in roughly a hundred hairs. Sometimes, you have to grin and bear it, even if that grin will include enough hairs to create a medium-sized furball. It is all part of the experience, as is trying new foods, embracing awkward moments, and truly breaking through with our students’ families.
The last piece of this experience is by far the most important, and the reason why we will continue going to our students’ homes for the next few months. The food that we cook or they cook (depending on the family and what they suggest) is a significant aspect of the experience and allows us to share our different cultures with one another. However, the opportunity to talk with our students outside of school walls, to joke with them, watch TV with them, play with their cousins, discuss problems within the township, hear about their hopes and dreams, learn of their family’s experiences during Apartheid, discover how the Apartheid era still impacts them today, and discuss plans for the future—this is what it’s all about. This, amongst countless other reasons, is why I applied to the Fulbright grant. This is real. And raw. And lasting.
When I see my student’s family grow embarrassed because rain is leaking into their shack, I better understand what challenges they face on a daily basis. When I see a proud mother look at my student after hearing everything she has been doing at school, I see how much of the parents’ hopes are invested in their child of the “Born Free” generation—hopes that they were unable to fulfill themselves due to the Apartheid era. When I visit a student who is essentially the head of her household, I realize all of the pressures that she must face that I never even considered at her age.
What I have found most telling of all, though, is how the students react to these visits. Now that I have laughed with their families, high-fived their little brothers, and I have shared a meal in their homes, their confidence has grown and they have expressed their struggles, hopes, and dreams more openly. While continuing these visits will undoubtedly enrich my experiences over the next three months, I am also painfully aware of how they will make it harder to leave. Of course, that is no reason to discontinue them. I am sure these home visits the next few months will be equally as incredible, eye-opening, hilarious, awkward, humbling, and moving, and I am excited about the experiences that I will have with my students. Hopefully, these experiences involve less furballs in the future.”