Saturday, March 19, 2011


I don't read the news. I don't get newspapers. I don't access news websites. Apart from the brief period of time I was trying to watch the Colbert Report online daily, I get most of my news from Facebook (results on the Bachelor or American Idol, Philadelphia sports news, and the death of celebrities---all the things my generation finds important). But with recent changes in my ability to access my News Feed, I was off-line for almost a week. The same week that I traveled to Shanghai for an ACAMIS meeting and some observation and collaboration with elementary art teachers at local international school, and was thus cut off from the morning bus discussions--another news venue in my life.

A week later, I don't understand the magnitude of the natural disaster in Japan. Like an ostrich, I've buried my head in the sand, refusing to seek out information. I am not sure I want to understand the weight of the event.

Because of my traveling, I spent the first school day after the disaster at Shanghai American School, Puxi campus. The student body was more diverse than my school, especially among Westerners. Not knowing the kids' backgrounds, I couldn't identify the passport country of the Asian students. Until they opened their mouth. A few sweet kids, while working away on their art projects, would just start talking to me...

          "Did you know about the tsunami in Japan?"

          "My whole country is destroyed by tsunami."

          "Did you know about the earthquake in Japan? I'm from Japan. My uncle, aunt, and grandparents are there,
          but they're safe. There's no tsunami coming for now."

My heart broke, hearing their little voices. The fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty. Everyone in the school was affected, regardless of passport country. Many had been to Japan, all knew someone from Japan, and a few had loved ones currently living in Japan.

Yet I couldn't help but wonder if students in my home country even knew about the event. Did it affect school? Did it impact their childhood? Did they have any understanding of what was happening on the other side of the world?

I don't remember any global concerns from my childhood. I have some memories of US news: the Unibomber, Oklahoma City bombing, OJ's white SUV and trial, and September 11th in 10th grade. Perhaps some awareness of hurricanes in the states. Even living through an earthquake in San Francisco.

In college, there was the tsunami off the coasts of Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.
          My first memory of a tragic event outside of my passport country.

Did nothing happen before that?

Certainly the world has become smaller, as information travels around the world in seconds. Tweets, pictures, and streaming video. I just finished reading Little Women and marveled at the letter writing from Europe to North America. The cost of travel, the sacrifice of relationships, the limited information. This week, a coworker from my school who lives one apartment building away here in China is in Ethiopia with his wife, picking up their son. Many miles away, they sat in the lobby, chatting with a family from my parents' church who are also adopting from Ethiopia, through the same organization, and ended up in country at the exact same time.

My circles are so small, and intersect over and over again.

          My brother's first friend from Pennsylvania currently teaches in Japan.
          I have four students from Japan.
          And did I mention yet that in Shanghai, I was staying with my friend from first grade?
               She is in her first year teaching internationally, and ironically teaching first grade.

In first grade, did I know Japan existed? I certainly had no connection to the country or its people.

My first grade students live a very different life. A few weeks ago, one American boy was walking with his dad past a mural in the secondary building. The mural has been there as long as I've been at the school, and he has probably walked past it hundreds of time. But it struck him in that instant---he was looking at famous landmarks from around the world. And he knew them, by name. I don't know all the names of the places, but at seven years old, he told them to his father.

At the end of the day on Monday, the school I was visiting in Shanghai observed a moment of silence for Japan. I sat there and prayed for the country, for the people, for the ones I know. The little children, grieving for their country.

And that is what it means to teach art.abroad


Gretchen said...

very beautifully written Steph

Every Day is an Adventure said...

You did an amazing job putting the emotions into words. Very well written...

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