Teaching Students about Your Host Country
By Rachel Yanac1
The steps were steep as they descended into the dank, underground tunnel. The beams from our flashlights barely cut through the blackness as we reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the main chamber. We were there — inside the Tomb of Jancu!
No, my five students were not trying out the latest interactive computer game. We were actually exploring a real, pre-Inca burial chamber high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The following week, on a trip to the small natural history museum in our town, my students were much more interested in seeing the artifacts that had been found in the tomb. Now they were not just looking at old pieces of pottery and decaying textiles — these things had belonged to a mighty warrior who was buried long ago in the Tomb of Jancu!
At left: Ade (guide and author’s husband) and three students at a monument celebrating a Peruvian naval hero.
Teaching overseas provides wonderful opportunities to make lessons come to life. We live in countries that boast a wealth of historical, cultural, and geographical resources, and we lose a powerful teaching tool if we do not take advantage of these resources.
However, learning how to develop a program that capitalizes on these advantages without taking away too much time from the necessary curriculum can be a frustration, especially for new overseas teachers. For that reason, I would like to share some of the things that I learned in my three years of teaching in Peru.
First, plan to work with a national guide. This can be a friend, an employee at your center, or anyone else willing to give a bit of time to share the riches of his country with your students. They will learn so much more from someone who grew up in your host country, who understands the culture and the customs, and who can excite them with personal stories and incredible field trips that you did not know about. That is how my students and I ended up in the Tomb of Jancu.
Second, remember that flexibility is the key ingredient to making your program work. Many times our best lessons and activities happened on the spur of the moment, like when we heard a band marching down our street and we ran outside to watch, or when the favorite presidential candidate came to town and I cancelled afternoon classes so the kids could see him in person.
Finally, think about the academic subjects that you teach and how the resources of your location will fit into each class. Here are some examples from our program.
At right: The Huaraz Mini School students pose behind a pre-Inca monolith.
Spend classroom time studying the history of your host country; then take time to visit places such as local museums, archaeological sites, and monuments to national heroes.
Spend classroom time studying the history of your host country; then take time to visit places such as local museums, archaeological sites, and monuments to national heroes. Taking the field trips after the classroom study makes the visit more beneficial for the students because they understand what they see.
Study the geographic zones of the country as a whole (coast, desert, mountains, jungle), and take advantage of trips your whole class makes to another part of the country for conferences or other branch-wide meetings. Be sure to learn the names of prominent geological features visible from your classroom or town. My students memorized the names of the mountain peaks that we see from our windows, an exercise which provided the added advantage of teaching them several words in the Quechua language.
Find a book of flora and fauna native to your area, and look for specimens while you are on field trips. Once again, this activity often teaches your students words in the indigenous language of your area. Our plant identification book even describes the native health remedies that the plants provide.
Many geographical features have interesting legends about how they were formed, and often these stories also focus on interesting points of the native culture. Ask your guide to recount the legends, and then have your students write or act out their own. Assign students to write about their field trips, and record the history they have learned. Older students can then edit the stories and produce a newspaper to send to relatives. The grandmas always love this!
Get a calendar that lists the holidays of your country, and also be aware of special holidays celebrated in your area. Ask your national guide to explain to your class why this day is special and how the people celebrate. If it is a patriotic holiday, go see monuments of heroes who defended the country’s freedom. Visit the cemetery on All Saints’ Day so your students can see how local religion influences this day. Let them get involved in the fun aspects of holidays, such as the water fights of “Carnaval,” an important Latin American festival.
At left: Guide with two students in the cemetery observing Peruvian customs on Todos Santos (All Saints’ Day).
Make sure your students are aware of the culture of the indigenous groups where their parents are serving. Have a linguist talk to them about the religious beliefs and how these influence the people’s daily life. If possible, visit a village during a religious festival. Ask the students how they would share the gospel with the people they see there.
This list of ideas is certainly not exhaustive, but it should offer a foundation for planning your own academic program based on the rich resources of your host country. Carefully planned, the lessons will enrich your current curriculum rather than stealing valuable time from an academic schedule you are trying to keep. So, start planning, and have fun!
Permission is granted to copy, but not for commercial use.