As a frequent traveler I often get an opportunity to talk to co travelers from different backgrounds, culturally and geographically. Being inquisitive by nature, I never let go of this opportunity to learn more from them, about their culture, their interests and belief system. There is a certain excitement in getting to know things you never knew about, especially when it comes from the most unexpected sources. Interacting with co travelers / other tourists not only makes the journey entertaining, but can also be an amazing learning experience.
I couldn’t get Rosella Kameo off my mind. We spent about 19hours together on a flight from Singapore to LAX. And what a journey it was! Rosie is an American married to Daniel who is an Indonesian. Daniel is an economist with the highest degrees an economist could receive. He has written many articles, delivered speeches internationally, and served as a visiting professor at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Rosie is an American who majored in English, obtained a certificate in teaching English as a Second Language, earned an M.A. in Library Science, and wrote a book on her own cross-cultural experiences – Light for the Journey: 75 Devotional Reflections from Cross-Cultural Experiences, published in 2012 by WinePress and reprinted in 2014 by Redemption Press. She enjoys blogging and is compiling cross-cultural stories for her next book.
When Rosie graduated from college, she was sent by the Lutheran Church in America to India for three years to teach English at Schade Girls Higher Secondary School in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. She had spent a summer in Norway before, but this was her very first teaching assignment and her first trip to Asia. I was super excited after listening to this and decided to interview her. As follows –
Q) What convinced you to leave a comfortable life in the US only to teach in India? How did your parents feel about that?
A) My father, as a professor of biochemistry at the University of Iowa, would always invite international students home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other festive occasions. This exposure to international students made me excited and curious about other cultures. I wanted to do what I could, to facilitate students in underprivileged areas and to contribute as I could to their schools.My parents were both teachers, and my brothers became teachers as well. Growing up in family of teachers helped me to respect teachers and value teaching as a profession. Because my parents knew that I was anxious to teach abroad, they were very excited about the opportunity I had received and happy to let me go, but only on one condition – that I would write to them every week.
Q) How many students did you teach in India and what did you teach them?
A) There were 1,200 girls in our school. I taught English to the higher secondary students and music and action songs to the primary school children.
Q) What changes did you have to make to your teaching style?
A) The teaching situation was different than in the US. I had to learn to adapt to the hierarchical system in India. Also, being an expat made a difference in the 1960s in terms of cultural exchange. I spent the first few months learning Telugu from a tutor. Learning the language was essential for me to fit in. Learning Telugu also helped me to understand why my students were making the mistakes they were in English. It is important to want to know the students as individuals to be able to establish a bond with them. I was frequently invited home to meet my students’ families, and I involved myself in their activities. At the school our dance teacher taught me classical Indian dance – Bharatanatyam – which I was asked to perform in public on different occasions. Because I lived on the school compound with the headmistress, teachers and students, it was easier for me to establish the rapport I needed to become an effective teacher.
Q) What was the major difference in teaching in India vs America?
A) In India students showed their respect for the teachers by standing in unity and greeting them. They seem more disciplined, whereas, in the US students tend to be more mischievous, relaxed and informal. The students I taught in India seemed to accept the teachers’ answers and didn’t ask a lot of questions. They were less vocal about their concerns and doubts. They knew their place in the hierarchy. In the US students are more demanding and do not hesitate to question the teacher or give feedback. They are very vocal about their needs and ensure that they are met. It’s more egalitarian, and the hierarchy rather flat.
Q) What was the major difference you found in terms of the education system between India and America?
A) Teaching material – India has a set curriculum and is very result- oriented where as in the US there is more emphasis on student-centered learning. In the US, students and teachers seem to interact more freely. Students are encouraged to be active in their learning, and teachers strive to be creative.
Grading system – In the US grading is more relaxed and not as exam-oriented. Students’ daily work, projects, and compositions contribute just as much to their grades as do the exams. Because the Indian grading system emphasized exams, there was rarely enough time to teach beyond the textbook.
Q) What factors do you think contributed to these differences?
A) In the US, individualism is a key value. Individual differences are acknowledged and valued. American children are encouraged to reach their own unique potentials. They are not taught to conform but to speak their minds – to be open and direct. This individualism helped to lay the foundation for teaching methodologies and teacher- student relationships. Asians are collective by nature – valuing the family and the group over the individual. After colonialism they still maintained a hierarchical system that has influenced their educational systems.
Q) Since you have been a frequent traveler, your son has had the opportunity to experience different school systems and academic climates. What was your major take away from him?
A) When asked to compare his educational experiences, our son expressed it in this way: In Indonesia the teacher always told us what we did wrong. In Australia the teachers always told us what we did right. In Indonesia the teachers pointed out our weaknesses whereas in Australia they pointed out our strengths. When we were living in Indonesia, the school principal once told us that they were having problems with our son – he was asking too many questions. When we moved to Australia, our son’s home room teacher told us that he was doing so well because he asked a lot of questions. His teachers there encouraged questions and praised him for being inquisitive. I also believe that my son was a better student than I was because he had the opportunity to experience different educational systems and to learn from teachers with different cultural and geographical orientations.
Q) What was your most memorable experience from the school in India?
A) I loved the friendship I enjoyed with my Indian teacher colleagues at the school. I was touched when one of my colleagues named her daughter ‘Rosie’ after me. The school also had a huge Alsatian dog named Perry Como. He and I became inseparable companions. He would follow me around the school compound and attended most of my classes, too.
Q) What advice would you give to aspiring teachers?
A) It is important to be flexible, to adapt to the local situation, to appreciate the culture, and to understand the students’ mentality. Teachers themselves should always be open to learning.
This was Rosie’s last book and you can follow her blog