Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Last week Susan and I had a great time helping out on the advanced student leadership retreat at the CMI campus at Arrak. It was a last minute thing because the Student Development department has lost a lot of employees this summer (see my previous posts) and we wanted to give moral support to the staff and students. We really didn’t know what we were doing, but it seemed like a great escape, and the CMI student leaders are wonderful and entertaining. Being around them reminds me of why I came here, and makes me happy to still work at this crazy college. Anyway, the retreat was great fun. I have a collection of funny experiences from the trip that I’ll share briefly below:
There are dorms at the Arrak campus, but the rooms were not very clean, and Susan had a tent, so we decided to camp on the beach by the lagoon. Tide was low and the night was warm and beautiful when we pitched the tent. We put it high on the shore so we wouldn’t wash away. Then after talking for a couple of hours, the wind started blowing like crazy and rain started pelting us. We struggled toget the top on the tent, and it helped a lot, but the wind still whipped the rain up and under it a little. The storm passed over quickly and the rain dried out fast. Then we were awakened at 3am by the high tide lapping at our feet. It was a good thing we woke up and moved the tent inside the campus gate or we really would have woken up in a pool of salty water. Needless to say it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I've ever had!
The next morning we heard this catchy little tune on the CD player during breakfast. It was the hip-hop song, “Sorry, Blame Me” by Akon. It’s a great song, but it repeats the phrase “You can put the blame on me, you can put the blame on me, you can put the blame on me, you can put the blame on me.” at least 20 times in the song. Then, because it’s their current favorite song, our students put the CD player on “repeat track” mode and let it go all day for 3 days. They NEVER tire of their favorite song. So after about the 15th time hearing it, I had memorized the chorus, after the 25th time I could sing the verses, too, and after the 40th time listening to it, I was ready to “put the blame” on whoever turned that song back on again. The students turning it on would just look at us, smile apologetically, and say, “Sorry, it’s my favorite song!” I heard it again this week and just laughed.











Breakfast was interesting. While Susan and I ate cereal, our students ate platefuls of Ramen with Ham and Onions mixed in, doused with ketchup. Sounds like the makings of a heart attack for me, but they loved it!














Risi and Agnes brought their kids/grandkids along for several of the days and they were just absolutely adorable. This picture is of Robinson (age 7) and his brother Junior (age 5). They were so clever and so sweet. Susan asked Robinson what his name was, but she couldn’t understand what he was saying, so she asked if she could call him “Blueberry” since he was wearing a blue shirt. He said, “Fine, then your new name is Blackberry” (she was wearing a black shirt) and he named me “Raspberry” because I was wearing a reddish shirt. This is a kid who has probably never eaten any of the above berries (they are not native to tropical regions), so I was so impressed that he even knew what they are! Those boys were SO cute and kept us well-entertained.
During the day we had discussions about Service-Leadership and also prepared for the SS105 “College Experience” class that the student leaders are the mentors for. Since they will be teaching the class, the new leaders needed to get comfortable and familiar with leading discussions and activities, and Susan and I (as new faculty advisors for the SS105 mentors) needed to find out what the curriculum was. Anita and Ellie will help us a lot, since they’ve been through this before. We did “mock-lessons” on learning styles, time management, goals, and resolving problems. It was good to see the growth and confidence in the new student-leaders and the way that the returning student leaders really took initiative and helped all of us learn our roles in the program.











That night, the students made a fire with coconut husks, wove palm mats (they taught me how) to sit on around the fire, and roasted marshmallows on sticks from coconut trees. They brought two ukeleles and we sang all kinds of songs together from “Kum By Yah, My Lord” to campfire songs, to Christmas Songs, to traditional Marshallese songs. It was just such a cool and very authentic experience to be together in this remote part of a tropical island singing with Ukeleles. That spell was broken the next day when the students brought a laptop on a very long extension cord to the campfire and we watched the “Charlies Angles” movie while enjoying our rural setting. It was a strange mix of traditional and modern island life.

By Day-4 we had run out of leisure activities (we had previously exhausted all other possibilities: snorkeling, playing cards, looking for shells, listening to the same song over and over and over again on the CD player, etc…), and we had finished the training so it was a good time to come back. It left me a lot more optimistic and happy about the coming semester. After faculty orientation (2 days with faculty and administrators) I was pessimistic again, but today and yesterday we assisted the Student Leaders to run the student orientation, which was lots of fun and it cheered me up again. We have some great new students as well as fantastic returning students.
This week is registration, and next week is the beginning of classes. I can’t believe the summer is almost over, but the weather never changes, so it’s always summer here. It truly does feel like a time-warp. But it’s a good time-warp, and I’ve adjusted to “island-time” and not caring so much that everything runs efficiently. This is a good thing, because had I not adjusted, I would be so frustrated with how inefficient everything is here. But in exchange for a lack of efficiency and time-consciousness, there is much more of a sense of the importance of personal relationships with others and the community. No one is independent. This has its benefits and drawbacks, but for now, I’m quite happy about it.

I have to go home and sew some curtains for my new office now. I moved to a bigger space that will accommodate more students during office hours, which I’m really glad about. It’s coming along nicely, and I got some beautiful tropical print fabric today. I’ll post a picture later. Cheers, Britt