A Shaky Start?

Firm ground. I’d like to say that Fulbright Orientation last Thursday and Friday set my feet on firm ground. But I’ve come to learn that everything is a bit shaky around here, from the ground itself where a fault line dictates that earthquake instructions are woven into welcome ceremonies, to my certainty that I will be able to accomplish the mission I’ve been invited here to do, as the work continues to evolve both in my mind and within my truncated timetable. So far, the best solutions to deal with these out of control feelings have been talking to the solid and outspoken educators from around the US who make up my cohort, heading down to the Fulbright office for a well-grounded cuppa famous Wellington coffee and some sense from Pip and the rest of the staff, and taking of my shoes to reconnect with the earth. That happens a lot around here.

First day at the University, where advisors Craig and Pine insure that I will be able to return and swipe back in.

The keys, I am learning, are strength and adaptability, both in buildings and humans. In my last post I mentioned how good choices among people and places made all the difference in camping. As our campervan experience stretched on, we came to realize that the conversations and hidden gem campsites were under our noses, though I’m not sure we ever acquired the golden ticket to campervanning or could offer any solid advice to others hoping to jump behind the wheel. But I would suggest that the conversations along the way are the best guide to what’s next.

A group conversation about the Treaty of Waitangi at the marae.

So, conversations. I love listening to the other teachers in my cohort talk about their work. There is passion here, and reassurance, and a rekindling of a belief in the commitment of smart and dedicated people to education across the US. While I see this passion in my home school, I also see the wear of the daily work of teaching. The fact remains that teaching is one of the hardest jobs. It’s easy to get down on yourself, to try working a little harder or better or digging deeper to spur on the forward momentum of a child who struggles for reasons that seem so beyond your sphere of influence. And it can be heartbreaking, at times. But teachers get up every day knowing that they may change the lives of the children they work with in unsuspected ways, and that they may never know they have accomplished this. So, to my cohort and all the teachers out there, you are amazing. Please continue to get up in the morning and do what you do, even on the days you are not sure what you will accomplish.

Sunrise over Lake Matheson. Beautiful even on a cloudy day.

Conversations at Fulbright NZ also give me hope. All the experiences of orientation, from the night in the marae to the scholarly presentations on and open discussions about history and language to the significant effort required to join us all in one song, I couldn’t feel better prepared or supported. There is a lot going on at this organization. Big brains everywhere. Some arriving in country, some popping in for a visit, many big brains sticking around to run the place. I feel like I’ve joined a network that will actively help me pursue not just my line of inquiry for the next few months, but also future endeavors. I’ve never been associated with a group of people so actively dedicated to the mission of their organization and cognizant of it in all of their interactions, and it’s really quite wonderful. So, I’m feeling settled in this way. Which is good, because Pip has informed us that we aren’t allowed to leave.

Carving is an integral part of expressing story and history beautifully here.
Outside the marae before departure.
Remarkably in sync in this waka photo.

Finally, conversations at the marae. Scholars, grad students , and teachers all traveled about 30 minutes outside of Wellington to Waiwhetu to be welcomed in the Maori tradition. I learned how to hongi and listened as Maori elders welcomed us in Te Reo, only breaking into English to talk about the cold and the president, though I don’t think these references are part of all traditional welcomes. We learned about wakas and were allowed to climb into them in order to practice our strokes. If the river had been longer, we might have synced our paddles. Joe and I had a lengthy conversation with Martiu who served as our guide through the marae experience. I’m formulating ideas about comparative work on the teaching of contested history in schools, and Martiu shared his thoughts on Maori education, coming back to strength and adaptability as central to worldview. No changing the past, he admonished. So, might as well work toward the future. With a recognition of the systems of power that exist, from education to government to all the places in between, Martiu recognized that his people have adapted throughout history, figuring out where power lay not just in systems but in individuals. He spoke to the strength of the community as defined by its members, not by external forces creating a single definition of power. He reminded me that most of what I am looking for will come from conversation, and I hope ours continues.

Some of the many faces of our guide, Martiu.

This week brings meetings and Victoria University orientation. Yesterday, I finally moved into permanent housing. Today, I turn 54. I can see the busyness of the city from the picture window of my apartment, and right now the clouds are throwing shadows across the downtown before they skirt off to the northern sea. I am a 10 minute cable car ride from the hubbub, 40 steps to my front door once you climb up into the neighborhood. What a gift, this perspective I’ve got from high in the hills, though I’ve also worked hard for it. Time is also a generous present. I think I’ll take off my shoes and go for a walk.

The view from my picture window.


  1. Love reading of your experiences both emotionally and academically! You a strong lady, you have so much to give your colleagues and then in turn your students.


  2. This is wonderful, Susannah. I grew up on Capri Dr. and was in Debbie’s class, if you don’t remember me. I am the reading specialist at Ashland Middle School. I am so enjoying reading about your adventures and about what you are learning. Thanks for sharing all of it!


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