Back to School…In More Ways Than One

August 21, 2021

By Emily

The first day of school is always hectic and little anxiety provoking. But the first day back to school on a hybrid schedule after being in confinement and doing online schooling for the majority of the school year was all of that and more. Making sure we had the right kids going on the right days and knowing who was being picked up when and who was supposed to be meeting online when and then repeating this ever-changing process every day for the first week was enough of a challenge. Then add to the mix my integration into the secondary school and the month of July was a whirlwind! But let’s rewind a few months and remember where this all started…

First day back to school
Happy to be back on campus

In January as Aaron and all three kids started the new school year, I was left wondering, what about me? What is my role here? Surely God didn’t bring me halfway around the world to just stay at home alone. Over those first few months, I was challenged to trust, to have patience, and to let go of what I thought should be happening in order to accept what was happening and what may or may not happen. It was tough. And I began to think that maybe I was not meant to work at the school or even to be a counselor in Mauritius. Maybe I was brought here to do something else. Then in a flash, COVID hit (again), and suddenly I went from being home by myself to being home with the whole family. I became a full-time teacher, tutor, caregiver, and cook. This transition brought a different kind of stress. No longer was I searching for purpose, but instead I was hyper focused on a single purpose—to keep our family running and the children learning while Aaron worked to figure out how to teach his students online. It was a dramatic and unexpected shift that brought many challenges, but it also helped me appreciate my lack of obligations and commitments outside the home. Maybe there was a purpose in my waiting after all.

Despite my appreciation for the role I could play in our family, being home all of the time took a toll on us mentally and emotionally. But with June came a renewed sense of joy and hope. It helped that we were able to get away for a few days and have a change of venue. Being able to see the ocean again (even if technically we weren’t allowed on the beach) and explore the island a little more gave us a boost to keep going for the rest of the month. We also got newborn foster puppies, and who doesn’t love puppies?! We currently still have two puppies, Pumpkin and Bean, who we will take care of for a few more months until they are old enough to be sterilized and adopted. Aaron and I were also finally able to get vaccinated in June, which was a relief after several failed attempts.

Visiting the Albion Lighthouse
Sneaking to put our toes in the ocean (shh!)
Hanging out by the pool
Bean
Pumpkin as a baby and now
Pumpkin
Finally Vaccinated…
And, yes, they used comic sans font on the cards!

Confinement definitely brought high points and low points, and while I was grateful for it, I was also grateful for the opportunity to join Aaron and the kids in their return to school. This too, however, came as a rapid change—and of course, it coincided with Aaron and all of the children having new school schedules as well. In a span of a week, I went from not knowing when or if I would be joining the Lighthouse secondary team to giving a professional development workshop and meeting with students on a weekly basis. It also meant learning a whole new system for how the school and the student care team operate. The logistics of keeping up with Microsoft Teams and learning how to find student schedules and how to schedule meetings with students was challenging enough, but then I realized that often I didn’t even know based on a student’s name whether they were male or female since so many of the names were unfamiliar to me. I was quite literally back IN school, trying to figure it all out.

The first day that I went to campus to meet with students, I admit I was nervous. What if I had lost my counseling touch after such a long hiatus? What if I couldn’t effectively build relationships with these students from other cultures? What if they just didn’t like me? What if I went to the wrong room? What if…what if…what if? As I prepared to meet with my first student, I took a deep breath and said a quick prayer—steadying myself to just be. Then they came. One by one they actually came. I met with only three students that first day, but as I packed up to leave, I felt full. This, I thought, is my purpose. I was meant to continue my work as a counselor, to sit with young people who are struggling, and to offer a glimmer of hope and healing where sometimes there is very little. During the month of July, I met with almost 20 students, some multiple times, and I still have a wait list of more to see. Even though these students are young, many have experienced grief, loss, trauma, and pain that is far beyond their years. There are others who struggle with anxiety and belonging, often feeling alone and like they have no one to talk to. Still others struggle with depression and thoughts of self-harm. Although my conversations with these students have been brief, they have moved me, some lingering in my thoughts well after the meeting.

The secondary school building at Lighthouse

When I think about it, it seems incredible that this has all happened in such a short amount of time. It is even more amazing when I consider that I really only have one partial day a week that I am able to be on campus due to the fact that at least one child is at home every day on the hybrid schedule. My “work” days usually involve dropping off Aaron and two kids at school early in the morning, returning home to supervise the third child during their online class, and then dropping that child at a friend’s house so that I can rush back to school in time for several 20 to 40-minute sessions with students before collecting my own children again at the end of the school day. I also zoom in for weekly care team meetings and complete scheduling, paperwork, and other administrative tasks from home. Through it all, I have been so thankful to be surrounded by a supportive group of colleagues and other moms who make it all possible. And even though it is hectic, I believe it’s worth it. My heart has always been with those who are struggling, and if I can positively impact the life of at least one student who is struggling, then to me, it’s worth all of it.

So as I write this and prepare to continue this hectic pace for the third and final trimester of the school year, I am encouraged and hopeful for the months to come. Turns out, I have been able to connect and build relationships despite differences in culture, despite limited time, despite being new at Lighthouse, despite it all. I love what I do, and I never cease to be humbled by the privilege I have as a counselor to be trusted with people’s most vulnerable thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It is an immense responsibility, but it is also a great honor and opportunity to know and love others. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about.

With peace, love, and gratitude until we meet again…

TeachBeyond Team Retreat:

During our trimester break at the beginning of August, we were able to go on a team retreat with the other family serving with TeachBeyond here in Mauritius. We went to Otentic, an eco-tent experience, where we enjoyed “glamping” in fancy tents, equipped with wooden floors, real mattresses, flush toilets, and hot showers. We also had authentic Mauritian meals prepared for us three times a day, so we weren’t exactly roughing it. During our stay we enjoyed kayaking, hiking, and a boat ride to Ile Aux Cerfs where we got to hang out at the beautiful, almost deserted beach. We also had the opportunity to connect virtually with TeachBeyond leadership. We are grateful to TeachBeyond for sponsoring this retreat for our team. It was a great opportunity to share with one another and get away for a brief holiday!

The tents
The whole team!
Trying raw sugarcane straight from the fields
“Hanging” out in the hammock
The tent bathroom
Kayaking on the river
Fun at Ile Aux Cerfs
Brave explorers on a hike
Beach time (look how clear the water is!)
Helping paddle the kayak
An octopus at the beach
Boat ride

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