A productive day in San Miguel ends with a wonderful dinner followed by quite a few games of billiards with some locals. The conversation evolves into a discussion about a possible universal love for the musician Bob Marley. Each person shakes their heads, agreeing to the statement that they enjoy listening to his music. The people shaking their heads include people from all over the United States and from Panama City, Panama. However, a friend from San Miguel expresses that he has never heard of this musician, Bob Marley. Our brains begin to churn as we realize our understanding of the cultural differences between the “Gringos” (me) and the San Miguel community is far from complete.
These differences were exaggerated as each teacher, myself included, began to write our lesson plans. We discussed choosing a vocabulary list of sports for the children to learn, however these children have not been exposed to skiing, gymnastics, and other such sports. An easy mistake as a teacher in a foreign country is working with structures and role-plays that mirror the teacher’s society and culture and do not take into account the culture of the community around. As I planned the activities for the Kinder Elementary class in San Miguel, my creative ideas included using objects such as play-doh and having the children bring in photos of their family. These ideas were squashed after asking what materials the children has access to in the classroom.
There are other examples, like when trying to organize lesson plans involving the vocabulary used for professions. Some important words for the children to learn include farmer or mechanic. A fireman is a profession that a child in the United States would learn as a toddler, but a child in San Miguel might never have been exposed to this profession. These examples emphasize the necessity for the Kalu Yala Education program to ensure they make an effort to understand cultural differences.
Whether it is in the classroom or just hanging out at a friend’s house, these cultural differences are inevitable. My experience, in the short time I have been in San Miguel, enlightens my understanding of how many different cultures there are around the world. Each place has different values and customs that are important to the community members. As a teacher, I believe that it is important to get to know these customs and ideas in order to have success in the classroom.