The end of the school year is approaching, and with it the end of my first year of retirement after 43 years of teaching French to high-school students.
I loved teaching at Brattleboro Union High School and knew I would miss it, so I tried to savor every moment of my last year with my students and my senior advisory group; on the last day of school, just three hours before graduation, I rushed to finish filling three huge dumpsters with old files and pack up a few boxes of keepsakes to take home.
But I didn’t quite retire completely: this year I co-led an exchange between BUHS and a technical high school in Cartago, Costa Rica. Traveling with students, when they live with families in a new culture and a new language, is like time-lapse photography: they grow from one day to the next. Suddenly they realize that aspects of their lives they’ve always taken for granted can be different for other people, and that those differences can matter a lot, or perhaps not at all.
As we waited in the San Jose airport for our plane home, we formed a circle on the floor and students shared what they’d experienced during their stay in Costa Rica that they thought would make a difference in their own lives. One student noted the physical warmth of her hosts, who held hands and embraced and kissed each other a lot by New England standards. Several students commented on the closeness of their extended homestay families, with cousins and aunts and grandparents constantly in and out of the house; one said his family helped their widowed grandmother, who was well into her 90s, stay on the family farm, where she cooked lunch every day; no nursing home for her. Another student said that while Americans complain about never having enough time, and rush around striving for more – more time, more money - the Costa Ricans she met seemed to value enjoying the time they had with their friends and family.
And those students had made lasting friends - though some might not even know it yet. In fact, just the week before this trip, I’d received an email from a Swiss participant in a former exchange with BUHS. Through Facebook, I helped her locate her American partner – from 1982.
Traveling with students and helping them learn about themselves and their place in the wider world and make lasting connections with people in that world - for me, that was teaching.