Experiences like these defy simple explanations, people so often ask me “So how’s Micronesia?” A question I still haven’t found an adequate response to. It eclipses most adjectives our language posses and even with a novels worth of prose I would struggle to do it justice.
Teaching, the primary focus of this experience, has been an adventure that has created several of my life’s most awkward moments, it has terrified me and it has almost broken me. Twice. But it has also given me a sense of purpose that I can never imagine will be overshadowed, it has spawned moments of fairytale joy and Olympian triumph
I have loved few things more than I do my little students. Arriving every day to a seething mass of children ecstatically screaming “good morning teacher Josh!” is a magical thing that unfailingly plasters a smile on my face for hours. Days spent working towards the breakthrough ‘ah hah’ moment with a struggling student, playing games that have every student laughing and smiling, or the unique moments like having to collect machetes and knives from sheepish students as they walk in. My best days and my worst are memories that time could never steal. Moments more powerful than any in my living memory, just for those this whole thing has been worth it.
But then I’ve also met people here from every continent, I’ve met American teachers seeking a change of scenery, I’ve met college graduates fleeing adulthood at all costs, I’ve met Asian Jesuit Scholastics with two months training in English giving everything to a class they know very little about, and I’ve met people who seemingly exist on a different plane of existence to the rest of humanity. They are almost to a man the best people I have ever met. Something about being as close to marooned as you can get in modern times forms friendships and bonds stronger than I’ve found before.
This community has gotten me through the toughest of days – the days where you fall on the walk to work and wear a mud stain for the day, then the lessons fall flat and you’re scrambling for an activity that’ll work, then it’s fish heads for dinner, and you go back to your room and find ants have colonised your bed. Those are the days everyone has here, and they’re the days where someone would run you down a new shirt, or slide you a piece of paper with a lesson idea, or make you some ramen noodles their parents just sent in a package, or lend you their spare sheet. Everyone’s problems become yours here, selfishness is rare and stunning acts of kindness are standard practice. You become a better human just by existing in their company. Leaving them all will be one of the hardest things I might ever have to do.
And never forget the Chuukese people, this mind boggling society who’s identity is evolving so quickly that it changes completely if you walk 5 k’s down the road. Their culture is a root cause of my frustrations and their behaviour does little to engender comfort. Their many imperfections are laid out for the world to see. But you would have to search for an awful long time to find a more generous, kind and enthusiastic people. I have been embraced by their hospitality even though they have nothing, I have been welcomed into homes, feasted for and been profoundly thanked for doing them the honour of letting them do it. I adore this little community, faults be damned.
Halfway through I might have professed to having not changed markedly, I still felt much the same, I thought for sure any change would be like some grand epiphany. But Chuuk, true to its nature, changes those who serve here gradually. And the fallacy of that previous mindset is becoming ever apparent to me. My transformation has been profound. A month back home in Australia served to highlight just how profound a change it had already been, and that was four months ago…
I will leave this island a very different man than I was when I arrived. I see the world differently, I act differently and I think differently. From an entirely different perspective. Small changes like a totally new definition of a pothole(just look at a photo and you’ll understand), or a new, far more flexible definition of the word late where it couldn’t even be used till you’ve been waiting at least 40min. But there have been big shifts too; Learning the value of the simplicities of life, changing how I measure and evaluate a person, learning how to live life in the moment, and the amazing benefit of doing so, and even as much as re-evaluating my idea of the path to happiness.
In short, this has been the most unexpectedly beneficial experience of my life, it has transcended any possible expectation or imagining I held prior to leaving. The feeling of genuine value and appreciation in the community you feel from everyone here is a rarity scarcely found in today’s self-absorbed world, and you in turn begin to measure your worth by your students success and your students attitude. The personal fulfilment and personal transformation that are also assured make it an experience who’s likeness couldn’t exist almost anywhere else.
For me I turn to one far more eloquent than myself to summate my feelings on Chuuk and my year here; Twain says; “the events of life can be split into two simple categories, the ones that matter and ones that don’t.”
This feels like it matters, this matters an awful lot.
Josh Conlon – Micronesia 2016