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Teaching in Pohnpei, Micronesia

Listed under Volunteering Opportunities in Micronesia.

  • Photo of Teaching in Pohnpei, Micronesia
  • Photo of Teaching in Pohnpei, Micronesia
  • Photo of Teaching in Pohnpei, Micronesia
  • Photo of Teaching in Pohnpei, Micronesia
  • Photo of Teaching in Pohnpei, Micronesia
  • Photo of Teaching in Pohnpei, Micronesia
Photo of Teaching in Pohnpei, Micronesia
Photo by Ben Sander
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Most people when they hear the word “Pohnpei” and immediately think of “Pompeii” in Italy, but there is another Pohnpei in the world and it is a small island in the South Pacific. It is part of the island group, the Federated States of Micronesia, an independent country that has been ruled by traditional, Spanish, German, and Japanese leaders and then was a protectorate of the United States. The island of Pohnpei is only 80 miles in circumference but has many tiny atolls around it, within but also outside the reef wall that creates a lagoon in the area.

I wasn’t on this small island for a vacation though. I was here as a volunteer teacher at one of the three high schools on the island. Beyond the adjustment to daily temperatures of more than 90 degrees and over 300 inches of rain annually (making the temperature feel over 100 degrees with the humidity), I was also faced with learning about a new culture while also learning how to be a teacher during a three week orientation. Somehow after three weeks of training and living with a host family everything fell into place and I became a high school algebra II teacher. Turns out the more times you get up in front of a classroom of 25 students the more relaxed you and your students become. Now this is not to say teaching is easy, because you constantly have to entertain your students and also pass some knowledge along to them in a language that many do not fully understand. By the end of the year many of my students had mastered math skills they should have mastered in the previous 11 years of schooling and even managed to understand some of the Algebra II.

Beyond the classroom Pohnpei had a wealth of opportunities. Most evenings on the island were filled by tennis matches against Pohnpeians or other expatriates or perhaps a friendly game of soccer. The games of soccer would often include moves taken directly from the ninja movies that were brought into the country - these moves often didn’t work but caused us to be distracted long enough for another player to score while we weren’t looking. Also, many times both on the tennis court and the soccer field, students would appear to either watch their teacher lose - or attempt to beat him themselves - which often lead to them being in more pain than I the next day when I saw them in the classroom.

Weekends would also be filled with activities. The amount of rain that falls each year creates many breathtaking waterfalls on Pohnpei which offer not only the chance to feel the power of the water falling off the cliffs but also the opportunity to feel like you had achieved something significant when you were hiking to each of the waterfalls. The best part of my time on the island was that often after a long day of enjoying the natural wonders of Pohnpei, I could stop by my host family's home and there would be an array of local food, including fresh tuna, breadfruit, taro, yam, and my favorite: homemade banana pastries. Besides hikes to the waterfalls, the ocean was just beyond the mangrove trees that surrounded the island. A boat could be taken to one of the many tiny atolls within the lagoon or perhaps via a visit to a patch of exceptional coral on your way.

Overall a year on a tiny island in the South Pacific is a great way to get away from everyday life and also learn about a new culture. Personally it was also trying a new challenge: teaching. The rewards were amazing, including memories of all those great tennis and soccer games, the blunders and successes of the many hikes through the jungle to get to a waterfall you know is there, the excitement of seeing a rare fish found nowhere else or a shark swimming just below you. Of course the biggest reward was the students, who still write to me to tell me about how proud they are they got an A in their first college course in math after taking my class in high school.

Ben organised his teaching through WorldTeach.

Written by  Ben Sander.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

come and you will see the beautiful island of POHNPEI and the people will treat you like a Prince.

Sounds like a paradise!

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