A different attitude, a different climate, a different culture, a different mindset. Nigel Wright, a 2013 EMU alum is living in Zambia and experiencing all of the benefits and struggles of a foreign culture. Based in the capital city, Lusaka, Wright spends his days teaching science to fourth graders at a community school.
Wright approached me last Spring and mentioned his interest and eventual acceptance into MCC’s Serving and Learning Together program (SALT). He said he needed an opportunity to travel, to see the world, and to get his hands dirty by throwing himself into a difficult social atmosphere – a social atmosphere that differed from the norm.
“A big challenge has been maintaining control of the classroom without knowing the local language very well,” he said. There are over 70 languages spoken in Zambia. The tribal tongue dominating the region in and around Lusaka is Chinyanja. Wright acknowledged that his students hesitate to act up in the classroom when they know that they’re being understood.
But teaching in a country where classroom sizes surpass 50 heads on a regular basis, and corporal punishment dominates the disciplinary actions is not easy. Classroom management, especially for a person like Wright who has had limited classroom experience before this assignment, proves to be a learning experience.
Corporal punishment is, by law, illegal in Zambia. But that does not mean much. The differences of the cultures are not lost on Wright.
“I make kids do push-ups or sit in the dirt rather than beating the day- lights out of them, but most teachers use the rod to discipline. I remember being a trouble-maker at that age so I can appreciate those kids for keeping school interesting.”
As part of the SALT program, Wright has also been and will continue living with a host family for the entire year. He says he has developed a good relationship with his family – a single mom, her four sons and two grandsons. In fact, along with the learning experience of teaching, the host family experience has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his year abroad.
Wright will continue to live in Zambia for the remainder of the SALT term, which ends in July of this year. Along with his recently found hankering for John Steinbeck novels, he expressed advice for anybody interested in pursuing a similar post-graduation story.
“I would encourage anyone to do it, especially if you learn better outside of the classroom. A one-year commitment is easy to make and gives you time away from the States to think about what comes next.”
-Chris Yoder, Staff Writer; photo Nigel Wright