Friday, April 13, 2018

My Daughter's Adjustment to Life Abroad

As a teenager, it is hard to leave friends and family behind and start over in a new place. Especially when you are in high school. I thought it would be easier for my daughter if she went someplace warm, with lots of family, somewhere she had been before-so in July of 2017 she went to live in Guatemala. At first, there were lots of tears, arguments as to WHY, and negative thoughts. She had just finished her Freshman year in Maine, and was in the top 10 percent of her class-and here I was, sending her to a place she visited every Summer vacation but had no real firsthand knowledge about. Granted, she is a dual citizen of the US and Guatemala, due to my being American and her dad being Guatemalan. I explained the positives, warm weather year round, a different school experience, additional fluency in the Spanish language, new friends, and a closer proximity to her dad's side of the family. The negatives of course were leaving home, her grandmother, her Dad, her friends, teachers, brother and nephews and a whole lot of things that only she understood. She was worried about her grades, school in a foreign country and how well she would do. To make matters worse, the Guatemalan school year for Guatemalan schools is January to October. I planned on making her start school in July, halfway through the year and to make matters worse, repeat her Freshman year. Basically that was a trial run for her, and while the first month or so there were plenty of tears and frustrations, she eventually found and made new friends, joined the school band and began playing a new instrument called the Lira which took the place of her beloved flute she played in band back home. Her grades were decent, and she actually graduated from Basicos, 7-8-9 grade education, got a class ring for it, and took entrance exams to get into the private school she is currently in now. Due to the Guatemalan system, the Ministry of Education made her learn some new classes and took her US transcripts and applied them to equivalent Guatemalan classes. As a 10th grader now, her new school assisted with this so she would be current and up to date. Amazingly, she finds school harder in Guatemala than back in Maine, due to the number of classes and the strict grading. Perhaps not all schools are like that, since I know the public system is not very good unfortunately. For years, she wanted to be a teacher and had advanced classes back home, which actually help her out math-wise here. While in Guatemala she discovered a new career, that of graphic design and architecture which is what she is pursuing. Back in Maine, a 4 year teaching degree would have left her in debt as the costs ran about $25,000 yearly not including room and board. In Guatemala the University of San Carlos is low cost or free, although you will need to pay for materials and other incidentals. There are also some expensive schools there, for expats and their families, so it all depends on where and what you want to study. It makes me sad to know that her friends back home are studying but also doing drills to protect themselves from a shooter situation in the school. You don't see that in Guatemala, and schools are pretty much locked down with security guards or huge metal doors. Yes, there are dangers from gang members, robbery and other things you will find in a large city in any place in the world. And the traffic accidents with both vehicles and pedestrians are on a daily basis, which is scary. But she can study and concentrate on her studies, not on whether someone will come in to shoot her during class. After the Florida incident, there were 3 students, all known to her, who were arrested for threatening/terrorizing the school. And that is just in her school, other reports throughout Central Maine and Maine in general showed a rise in bomb threats, shooting threats etc... which is sad because schools were evacuated or closed. So, I'd say after some tears and pretty decent arguments she has adjusted okay, and looks forward to going back to visit friends this November. She also knew that if she wanted to return she could at any time. But she gave it a shot, and found out that she likes it and wants to continue where she is. I am happy that she has adjusted nicely and fit in with other students and is doing well in school despite the challenges. Moving from a small city in Central Maine to a huge city like Guatemala City also has its own set of challenges and advantages and disadvantages but I'll leave that for another post.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Life Changes-The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It seems like forever-or at least a long, long time ago that I last wrote in my blog. It's one of those things that you say, you'll get around to doing it but you keep putting it off until finally the day comes and you realize that so much time has gone by that you don't really know where to begin. These days I spend my time between the US and Guatemala, I wanted to retire here eventually and due to health issues gave up my full time job last year. Trust me, getting old is NOT fun. But the writing was on the wall, I couldn't continue doing what I loved due to changes in the workplace, more demands, and my body refusing to keep up with it all. Rather than get the pink slip, I left gracefully. My way, the way I needed to do it so I could at least feel that the time I was there meant something. At home, I can pace myself, take a break, sit, stand, or lie down and not have to worry about completing the daily workload. Fibromyalgia and Myofascial Pain Syndrome along with arthritis really make things difficult sometimes, and I often have to take a break not just when my aches and pains are unbearable but also when my brain gets a bit foggy. There are good days, not so good days, and days I feel like a truck hit me and I will lie in bed all day and wallow in self pity. Days I let the housework go because I couldn't do it AND work. I had to make choices, which went on for years until I realized I needed help with housework, day to day activities, and dealing with the depression from all of this crap. You can only hide behind a smile for so long until you crack, and eventually I did. But it's all good, because I know eventually it will make me stronger in the long run. Right now Easter week is upon us in Guatemala, and while much of the country is still rooted in Catholic traditions, there are processions in the city center and in Antigua, Guatemala. Yesterday the church in my colonia (aka neighborhood) had a procession around the streets carrying a Saint while singing hymns. This is also vacation week for many here in Guatemala and the schools are closed (kind of like April Spring Break) and everyone heads to the beaches. My 16 year old studies here in a private school (which is why I am here so often!) and is glad for the week off. So, as time goes by life changes. Things happen, some of which we have control over, others we don't. We have to go with the flow, take things as they come and see what the future holds for us. My daughter certainly never imagined that her Freshman year in Maine would be her last at her high school. But, given the violence that has been happening in schools back home it was important that she be able to study without worrying about getting killed at school. You're probably laughing and thinking but Guatemala? Isn't that one of the dangerous countries? And I have to admit, yes it is-but any place can be dangerous in the world today. The key is being aware of your surroundings, avoiding dangerous areas and situations. School violence is a common occurrence in the States, here it is not. Just a few weeks ago after the Florida shootings 3 students were arrested from her old high school in Central Maine for threats made, and others in surrounding towns as well. Teachers are showing her former classmates how to do lockdowns and defend themselves in an active shooter situation, something no child should ever have to learn in school. Life here, life there-things change, people change, attitudes change. But in all situations, life goes on and we make the best of what is given to us. Or we become a leader, and change things to make life better for everyone. Here's to a great day, new beginnings and new challenges ahead!