St. Gregory students embark on annual migration to Kenyaby kenya on Jun. 05, 2013, under Life
Editor’s note: Students from St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson travel to Kenya for three weeks every summer, where they teach in rural schools, help build classrooms and learn about life on the other side of the world. For the next three weeks, St. Gregory students and Dean of Students Fred Roberts will share their experiences in their Dispatches from Kenya.
June 4, 2013
By Fred Roberts
St. Gregory College Preparatory School Dean of Students
I am in London’s Heathrow Airport surrounded by travelers in cultural dress and speaking languages that divulge hundreds of different homelands. While I am sure the same could be said of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport or New York’s JFK, here in London we are the visitors carrying passports, therefore making the experience just a bit more exotic.
The travelers in this airport, which has the population of a good size town in America, are all headed to different parts of the world. Possibly a family trip to see grandparents in the ‘home country,’ a business trip, tourism, and maybe even a clandestine mission of espionage and worldwide domination, just like the movie I watched on the last flight.
I, on the other hand, am not on a trip but my annual migration that begins at the end of each July after using up every last day of the summer break I am allowed. I can’t compare this to the wildebeest migration of the Serengeti or the caribou of Alaska, but considering that this is the ninth trip to Kenya with St. Gregory students, this is definitely a part of my personal annual migration.
I prepare for my migration in early August, sharing stories of my last Kenya experience with students and teachers at St. Gregory. Many express an interest in joining me in the next migration, and I have visions of a ‘herd’ of twenty or more on the next trip to Kenya. As the months pass, however, my herd shrinks in size for a variety of reasons. Concerns with international travel, the expense, the time, or the enormity of the trip takes a toll on the original group of potential travelers.
By January the size of the herd has shrunk in size, but has grown considerably in terms of commitment. Those remaining are the fittest, the most curious, and in some cases the most headstrong in making sure that they are fully prepared to be a part of this migration. And just when I expected our numbers to grow no further, one or two others with newfound vigor (“I finally convinced my parents to let me go!”) will become new members of our herd.
Which brings me to the present, now with 12 enthusiastic and excited students poised to board our next flight from London to Nairobi to experience the climatic three weeks of this year’s migration. For this group this means teaching English, math and science to classrooms full of excited students in rural Kenya. These Americans will be stepping well outside of their comfort zones and into leadership roles for which they may feel quite unprepared. Yet like the strongest members of any herd, they are capable of navigating the responsibilities handed to them and realize that they are indeed prepared.
This doesn’t mean that it will be easy and that at times they won’t struggle. Like any new teacher, they will at times find themselves frozen in front of the students who are looking at the teacher for guidance and knowledge. The fear only lasts as long as it takes for a student to ask the first question, which the American gratefully answers, thus having an opportunity to show that they do know what they are doing. The lesson proceeds, more questions are asked and answered, and the teacher’s comfort zone begins to expand. In the days to come the American teachers are faced with more complex challenges, furthering their opportunity to push their boundaries even more.
As quickly as it began, our time in Kenya will come to an end. We will ask each other where the days went, as we recount our many adventures together and our immersion in a culture very different from our own.
The life lessons can’t be quantified, and it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly what these students have learned, other than a firm command of the greeting Habari yako? Mzuri sana! (How are you? I am fine!) But much like a migration, both as individuals and as a herd, we know that in our hearts we have completed a valuable journey, one that will help us on the many journeys to come. The students’ departure from Kenya will begin a new migration, which for some of this group will be the final year of high school or the first year of university. I will conclude my migration in late July in Tucson, and after a few day’s rest will begin assembling a new herd of intrepid travelers to begin yet another migration the following June. Until that time, however, we still have many miles and adventures ahead of us, which we will share with you every day.