by Hannah Davidson & Clara Randimbiarimanana
One of the best parts of studying abroad is the homestays, it is a special way to emerge into a new culture and also to learn in an unstructured and experiential way. Homestays are a period of time in which we are matched with a family and given the opportunity to live with them and get to know the culture through people that quickly become our extended family. Last week was our second homestay with CGEE after Soweto in Johannesburg. For this home stay most of us were matched with families in Katutura and Khomasdal, which are areas on the out skirts of Windhoek.
My host family is Tswana speaking and has lived in Katutura for as long as three or four generations. I only learned so much in such a short period of time during my stay there. My host mom is very passionate about social justice and women equality in Namibia and she was kind enough to share her experiences with me.
Like in many other countries, gender inequality is still a big issue in Namibia. Women sometimes are expected to follow certain social norms and expectations. One of the questions I was asking was about young Namibian women clothing standard. My host mom usually wears a dress, which looks really nice but I was just wondering if it was her personal choice. However, she said that it all started when she got married because dresses are seen as respectful clothing and “lady like”; thus her husband expected her to wear dresses even though she did not like it in the first place. Although I’m aware that not all Namibian women have had the same experiences, her story made me think about gender expectations in general and the way women internalize and accommodate to social expectations. The cultural values associated with gender sometimes start as simple as clothing, but can go all the way to what is the “normal” way for women to behave. Furthermore, we need to acknowledge the power dynamics behind the perception of gender role in general and the space of socialization such us: culture, background and family. Family is the primary place of perceptions about different concepts.
During my homestay, I see my mom doing most of the chores: cooking, cleaning, serving, etc. and I can’t help but think that this phenomenon is not exclusive to Namibia, because I see a lot of similarities in the household I grew up in. Each and every one in the family is assigned a certain role. The issue is that that’s where women start to develop their identity according to the type of family and culture that they grow up in. In short, my host mom experience is very unique and I could not generalize all the Namibian women as being the same. However, this experience made me realize about the socialization and formation of concepts like gender and cultural identity.
Throughout this trip I have met some amazing children, especially in the last week. We were staying with host families, and I had the pleasure of having an energy filled eight-year-old sister.
This week I also started at my internship, which means I met my 20 five- and six-year-old students. I am an education major, so many kids have come in and out of my life, always seeming to shake things up for me a bit, and make me look at things in a new light. But this was a different sort of shaking up that my past with kids hadn’t been able to prepare me for.
I walked in to my first day of being a real live teacher with a backpack full of tricks, a white skirt, and candy jar with a skittle for anyone who followed the rules. I left at noon with a backpack of broken and ripped tricks, a light tan skirt, and a full candy jar. Even a game of duck, duck, goose had miserably failed. My first day as a real teacher was less then successful, but it was only the first day and I had quickly realized that teaching these students in the same way I would teach a class of students in the US was not going to cut it. I left feeling unsure of how I was going to actually be a sufficient teacher for these kids.
|Hannah's host home for the week.|
As my week continued I felt blessed to have my host sister and mom to go home to. My host sister was rambunctious, but the cozy feeling of family and being loved gave me energy. Every night my sister would play with my hair as we would co-read a chapter book together. Being able to have this comfortable space to call home was probably why my patience continued to surprise me with my students.
I survived all three of my internship days with some sort of grace and I hadn’t completely wrecked the kids yet, so there were definitely positives in my week. I found myself comparing what my students and host sister knew and how they learned to students that I had worked with in schools in the US. My students here struggled to sit through a whole picture book and my host sister was taught subtraction in a way I had never thought of before. The idea that context has a direct effect on how students learn and actually do school has definitely been ingrained in my mind going to school to be a teacher, but seeing it like this was a whole other thing. Trying to consider if a book will actually fit in my students frames of reference or letting my host sister show me how she does her math homework are some of the things that I know are going to make me a better educator now and in the future. As I continue to learn (and struggle with) these children that are coming in and out of my life, I hope I can learn how to be the teacher that they need, rather then getting frustrated that they aren't the students I am used to.
This last week was one, that for most of us, we will share and grow from for many months. Although each of us had vastly different experiences, we were given an opportunity to learn and explore a new culture in a way that pushed us outside our comfort zones or made us wonder and question. This is something that is truly invaluable. We are so blessed to be welcomed into these families’ homes and lives.