Teaching English

(By Erica Ause)

Outside of my role as teacher for the team’s children, I am also an English teacher for a few groups of people who work at the hospital. This role has been a huge blessing to me, and one of the things I look forward to most each week. It has helped me make some dear friendships and given me an opportunity to peek into the Burundian culture. One group I teach are the medical students. This is open for any and all students who want to give their Monday night to English. The class ranges from about 2 to 15 students depending on the other things they have going on like exams, being on-call, or classes. For some, this is a chance to practice English simply out of interest. For others, it is vital as they have chosen to write and defend their theses in English. This is not an easy feat, but for those would like to study in another country, a competence in English is just short of necessary. This is the most relaxed class I have because I never know who will show up! One day, we had only two students, both of whom I know well. So instead of studying English we played ping pong in the student center for an hour, speaking only English of course. Another time we had so many that we split into two groups and worked on two different skills based on level. This class is full of students around my age who show me their passion for those who live in rural Burundi. They love their patients and teach me about the differences between life in the city and life here in Kibuye. They have also taught me cultural things I would not learn otherwise, like how people date and how to throw a party.

Another class I teach is a group of hospital staff. These four men are learning English to either be accepted into a master’s programs abroad, find jobs dealing in international relations, or for the sake of their role at the hospital. This class gives me some insight into the generation that already has children, and who grew up and work in rural Burundi. This is a different outlook on the world, and one that I am blessed to be privy to. From them I have learned how one shows respect to different people (for example, the students are always the ones who erase the board, never the teacher), when it is appropriate to ask a question in class and when to stay silent.

The third group is the most structured, and time sensitive class. The four men I teach are a part of the PAACS (PanAfrican Academy of Christian Surgeons) residency program that has recently started here in Kibuye. PAACS is an English based program, so although these four speak Kirundi and French at the hospital, all their conferences and tests are in English. This class is half me teaching English, and half me learning more about surgery than I will ever need to know as we review from their 2-inch-thick textbook. We do practice tests, presentations, language lessons, and a lot of speaking. One day, before they headed to a PAACS conference in Kenya, I turned my house into a "restaurant" to allow them to practice the vocabulary needed for that setting. I asked them to provide some of the foods they often eat, but which I had never tried. The wife of one of the residents brought supplies to our kitchen and taught me how to make the dishes. We made Ugali which is like a ball of dough made from hot water and casava flour as well as Ndagala, a small fried fish cooked in oil and lemon. We then enjoyed the meal around the table, and it was delicious. It was a wonderful time spent together, using conversational and restaurant vocabulary, learning about each other’s cultures around food, hearing stories about their childhoods, and discussing some of their fears and excitement for their trip to Kenya.

One thing I know for sure is that the best way to learn language is through speaking about anything and everything. This means that “English class” can range from a lesson to a dinner together. I just love when language learning and friendship overlap. Spending time with all these students has been one of the most fulfilling parts of life here, and I am so grateful for the relationships I have made through it.

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