My Home: Third Year

               For my third year extension with Peace Corps I moved to Diego and served as the Volunteer Leader for the north of Madagascar.  The following is a video of the Peace Corps regional office, transit house, and my home.  Enjoy!

              Here is a video of my house that I lived in for my first two years of service in Vondrozo, Madagascar.

The Beautiful Islands of St. Marie & Ile aux Natte

ile natte madagascar beach view
View of Île aux Nattes from the bay.

            I took my last vacation in Madagascar on two small islands off the eastern coast of Madagascar; Île Sainte-Marie and Île aux  Natte.  St. Marie has been on my ‘To Do’ list since I first arrived in Madagascar and I was extremely happy to finally get the chance to see it.  The island, though it brings in a lot of both international and Malagasy tourists, doesn’t have too much of a touristy feel to it and one can easily get away and be immersed in the Malagasy way of life there. 

TEFL and What it Means on the Ground

tefl teaching practice student teachers madagascar
This is a picture of all of the children who volunteered to come to school during their summer vacation so that my stage had the opportunity to finish our practice teaching. This was on the last day of practice teaching!

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we learn to throw around a lot of lingo, most of which are acronyms. During the first few weeks of training, I remember being overwhelmed listening to more experienced volunteers and staff leading sessions in English, yet I had no clue what they were saying because there were so many letters being thrown around. Now, as an expert with this Peace Corps lingo, I am going to explain to you one of the most important acronyms that played a huge role in my service; TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language. 
The first goal of Peace Corps is “to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women”. In order to make sure Peace Corps is meeting this goal, in 2014 they began a pilot program in three countries aimed to make sure education volunteers were trained to teach English as a Foreign Language. One of the pilot countries for this program was Madagascar. 

2 volunteers giving exam during tefl practice madagascar
This is a picture of another Peace Corps Volunteer and me giving our final exam during practice teaching. This was my first time giving an exam where everything had to be written out on the chalkboard.

The TEFL program consists of three main components: online learning modules, technical sessions with assignments, and teaching observations. The online learning modules begin prior to entering the country, and continue throughout your entire service. They are completed quarterly, and generally consist of watching a video or reading a worksheet, completing a small assignment, and writing on a discussion board with your fellow volunteers who arrived to country with you.  
During Pre-Service Training (PST), there are 10-12 weeks of daily technical sessions which prepare trainees on skills they will be using during their service. Examples of sessions include: how to teach reading/writing/listening/speaking, how to promote gender equitable teaching practices, how to work with students with special needs, and how to handle large class sizes. Sessions are taught by senior programming staff and volunteers chosen to be trainers. The teaching observations are spread out throughout a volunteer’s service. All volunteers must have a minimum of ten hours of practice teaching experience completed during PST and they must be observed in their own classrooms at site a minimum of two times, typically once a year. If all of this is completed, the volunteer is awarded with their TEFL certificate at the end of their service. 
So, what is the TEFL certificate actually used for? During our service, we are completing the certificate to prove that we are meeting the first goal of Peace Corps and we are actually providing our communities with trained professionals. After service, it can be used to teach English in other countries. In fact, many volunteers continue to teach English after their service is complete.  

english class madagascar
These are two of my 11th grade classrooms, both of which benefited from the fact that I was a trained TEFL teacher. They asked me many technical questions that I would have had a hard time answering had it not been for my fellow volunteers and the technical training I received as a result of the TEFL program.

What is the difference between TEFL and ESL (English as a Second Language)?  TEFL is used to teach students English in a place where English is not the native language. Essentially, they are learning English the same way as we learned Spanish or French in high school. On the other hand, ESL is used to teach students the native language of a country. For example, students who have recently immigrated to the United States are often put in ESL classes so they can learn English. For this reason, TEFL is not used to teach English in America. It is only used to teach English abroad in countries where English is not the native language. 
What does the TEFL certificate do for someone who has no prior experience teaching? The majority of Peace Corps Volunteers are chosen to be education volunteers. While many of them have a background in teaching, there are also many who have never taught in a classroom before. The TEFL program prepares volunteers on the basics of teaching, gives them experience in a classroom prior to going to site, and allows them to exchange ideas with other volunteers throughout their service.   
What does the TEFL certificate do for someone who has a lot of prior experience teaching? I have my Master’s in teaching and spent a lot of time prior to my service teaching TEFL in other countries. I was extremely thankful for this program because it helped me become better-rounded as a teacher and it helped prepare me for what it is like teaching TEFL in Madagascar.  I learned a lot from the Malagasy staff about teaching English, I learned a lot by watching my peers teach, and I was able to return to the training center twice to share my experiences with other new volunteers.


me brown lemur andasibe
Me with a Brown Lemur in Andasibe

           Lemurs, one of the most well known animals in Madagascar, are just one of the many animals that are indigenous to Madagascar.  These primates, looking something like the mixture of a monkey and a dog, can be found across the whole of the island, though most of the species are contained within small localized areas.  “Madagascar is so important for primates that primatologists divide the world into four major regions: the whole of South and Central America, all of southern and southeast Asia, mainland Africa, and Madagascar, which ranks as a full-fledged region all by itself,” says Russell Mittermeir (primatologist and Conservation International president).  There are 105 different species and subspecies of lemur in Madagascar, 90% of which are endangered. Here are just a few of the different species that I have seen.

diademed sifaka andasibe
Diademed Sifaka in Andasibe

Challenging Gender Roles in Madagascar

peace corps madagascar glow camp flage camp

         What is a leader?  A leader is a role model.  A leader is powerful, brave, influential and responsible.  And in Madagascar, a leader is predominantly male.  In Malagasy culture, men hold the power as the head of the household, the bread winner, and the decision maker.  One morning, I started my tenth grade English class the way I always did, by asking the date and introducing the topic of the day: Opinions.  When we were practicing debates, I jokingly asked my tenth graders who was better, men or women.  I was shocked when the majority of the class including the girls immediately decided the answer was men.  When I asked why, I got a variety of answers all leading to the same thing.  Men are leaders.  Men can have whatever job they want to have.  Men can continue to go to school.  Men can make rules.  Men don’t have to worry about getting pregnant.  When I played devil’s advocate and said women can also do those things, the response was unanimous, “Not in Madagascar.”  In that moment, I recognized a need for gender equality and leadership training. 

A Look Inside My Malagasy Wallet

Malagasy money as it normally looks.

            In all countries, money plays an important role in the lives of its people.  In Madagascar this role, and the relationships it creates, exist in a large degree in the market place.  Whether it be with your favorite person to buy chicken from, or your carrot and green bean lady who always picks out the freshest veggies for you, or your pepper lady who always has a colorful array of peppers stacked in neat piles upon her straw mat on the ground, or the owner of the store who, though you rarely buy anything from him, always wants you to stop and chat so he can practice his English.  These experiences and relationships are a corner stone to many people’s lives on a daily basis. 


alley baobab panorama sunset morondava
Alley of Baobabs sunset 

Morondava is one of the most visited towns in Madagascar due to its proximity to two of Madagascar’s most iconic locations, the Alley of Baobabs and the Tsingy of Bemaraha.  It’s a medium sized beach town nestled on the west coast of Madagascar that is well worth the visit.  Though there isn’t much to do in the town itself, this laid back Malagasy town offers a glimpse into Malagasy life, great white sandy beaches, and access to some of Madagascar’s greatest attractions.

Install: Best Region Ever Region

rainforest of the southeast

The Best Region Ever Region
(Peace Corps Volunteers slogan in the Sud Est region)

southeast madagascar peace corps volunteers halloween manakara

Part of my new position in Peace Corps Madagascar is to install the newest volunteers into their new sites.  For this most recent install I requested that I install some of the volunteers in the Sud Est region and was extremely happy when I got it.  Not only was I able to install new volunteers in

Great Hospitality Brings Great Friendship

(Part 3 of a 3 part series on Hospitality)
You can see the rest of the series here: Part 1 & Part 2.
kids hanging out at my house
Kids hanging out at my house
"Tiavo ny namanao tohaka ny tenanao.” ~Malagasy Proverb
                  (Love you friend as yourself)

            One of my fondest memories of my time in Vondrozo was the friendships that I had.  Not just with my best friends at site or the kids that were always hanging out at my house, but with everyone. 

5 Things Malagasy People Do to Make You Feel Welcome

(Part 2 of a 3 part series on Hospitality)
You can see the rest of the series here: Part 1 & Part 3.

            The Malagasy people are some of the most welcoming people I have ever encountered.  Their culture is one that fosters friendship, community, and hospitality.  In light of this I have put together a list of five things that Malagasy people do that makes me feel welcome here.

Two of the Malagasy language trainers greeting each other
1. Greeting
            In Madagascar greetings are an essential part of the everyday interactions that make up the

How to Say Hello Malagasy Style

(Part 1 of a 3 part series on Hospitality)
You can see the rest of the series here: Part 2 & Part 3.

            In Madagascar there are 18 official Malagasy dialects, and many more local dialects, that vary in both pronunciation and vocabulary from one another.  One of the greatest differences in the dialects is the way people greet each other.  In celebration of hospitality I have created a video of just some of these different dialectal greetings.  All of the videos are relatively the same interaction, with a few variations, of people saying “Hello. What new?” and responding “Hello. Nothing much.”

I’d also like to give a special thank you to the Peace Corps LCFs (Language and Cultural

Ankarana National Park

trail in ankarana national park
             Ankarana is a national park in northern Madagascar near the small village of Mahamasina.  It is known mainly for its tsingy, bat caves, and for being the home of the only known cave dwelling crocodiles, but the park is also steeped in the history of the Antankarana people that live in this area and has many taboos for those that should want to visit.  

A Country Disconnected

            What happens if a country becomes cut off from the internet?  It’s hard to think of that even being a possibility in this day and age, but it can happen.  Just a thing happened here in Madagascar just a few weeks ago. 
            Madagascar has three service providers that provide telephone and internet service to its population.  Just a few weeks ago Telma’s, the largest of the three providers, undersea line was cut and the provider’s entire internet service went down.  This would not be such a big deal with there being other providers, but Telma is used by a large majority of the people and businesses here in Madagascar.  This meant that places like the Bank of Africa, the Embassy, and most of the local internet cafes all went down.  A whole country seemingly came to a crashing halt.  It was reported that Telma had to run a new undersea line from South Africa and that the process would probably take approximately 15 days.  This put Telma in a frenzy to find a solution for its most prominent clients.  Fortunately, they were able to broker a deal with Orange, the country’s second largest provider, to siphon some of their bandwidth.  This allowed the Bank to come back online and more prominent offices to do limited work. 
            This all happened about a week after the internet went down but I was unaware of it till a few days afterwards.  Where I live, and in my regional office, we were down for the entirety of the time the internet was down.  Since our entire workload is based through the internet we were cut off from it all.  This is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.  It wasn’t that long ago that everything was done on paper or in person/phone call.  But it was something we all took for granted.  A world without internet is a little liberating and I enjoyed the freedom that it brought, but it sure makes things so much harder. 

In Death There is Life

 This post is part of Blogging Abroad's 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week three: Cultural Differences.

“As members of society, most of us see only what we expect to see, and what we expect to see is what we are conditioned to see when we have learned the definitions and classifications of our culture.” ~The Forest of Symbols

            Cultural differences can make it hard to find similarities between oneself and other people from around the world.  To the unaccustomed eye these cultural differences can seem strange, odd, or just wrong.  We are quick to judge cultural differences without truly understanding the meaning behind them. This is not exactly a fault of our own.  Each person grows up learning a certain set of values and beliefs and when these are challenged by something that seems new and different it is natural to brush them aside as unusual without acknowledging the fact that to others they are entirely normal.  We do this often times without even seeing the similarities.  

I Live in a Developing Country and So Do You

This post is part of Blogging Abroad's 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week two: The Danger of a Single Story.

Antananarivo 'Hollywood' sign, Palace, and soccer field in the capital

 My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.” ~Chimamanda Adiche

            When people hear that I serve for the Peace Corps in Madagascar they are often times astonished.  Astonished that I am ‘brave’ enough to live and serve in Africa.  They say things like

Tried Changing the World, but Changed Myself

 This post is part of Blogging Abroad's 2017 New Years Blog Challenge, week one: Global Citizenship.

Sunset over my high school in Vondrozo, Madagascar
“A clever man tries to change the world. A wise man changes himself and helps it spread to the world.”

            I have always seen myself as someone outside the box.  I find myself at home wherever I am; many times finding myself more at home away from home.  It’s just the way I am.  I have always found cultures and other ways of life fascinating (which is the main reason I studied Cultural Anthropology at university) and it has been a passion of mine to study and immerse my life in them for as long as I can remember. 
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