So yesterday I won an award. Was nominated for four.
I was voted by the student body at Vytautas Magnus University a likely candidate to be the funniest professor, the best orator, best foreign professor and best all around professor. I took home the prize for Best Foreign Professor. This time around the award was a large hourglass which takes about a half hour to cycle through. Last year was an engraved globe and the year before a sculpture for the desk. Third year in a row I’ve won this particular prize.
As a foreigner living abroad, you’re never sure how you’re going to fit in. You don’t know if you’ll make friends or be able to communicate effectively. Especially in a foreign language speaking country.
Especially as a teacher.
When I came here, it was after a year teaching English in a high school in a small Hungarian village. There, I felt I was pretty ineffectual. Sure, I did my job, got along with my colleagues and the students seemed to like me, but there was something missing. I was existing but I wasn’t living.
When I left there, and came to Lithuania, I stayed for a couple of months in the capital of Vilnius and when I said I was moving to Kaunas, everyone asked “why?” Vilnius had more of everything. It was bigger, more international — it still is. It’s got all the imports from America (KFC and Subway and Pizza Hut are only found there). But my job was in Kaunas so I moved west and settled into my flat in the old town.
When school started I still wasn’t sure of myself. Now, instead of teaching English, where really, all I had to was speak, I was going to be teaching actual subjects. This didn’t scare me. No, I was scared because the people I’d be teaching to didn’t speak English as a first (and sometimes even as a second) language. Yes, they all had to pass an English test to enroll in school, but we all know you can cram for a test and then forget everything the next day, so I had no idea how this was going to play. Add in a completely different cultural history and a significant age difference and I was scared. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to share with them the excitement and enthusiasm I had for my subjects. I wasn’t sure if they’d actually learn anything.
Now, nearly four years and 8 semesters later, it’s all good. I’ve gotten emails from students letting me know how they put knowledge learned in my classes to practical world uses (including impressing dates with what they knew about film history and science fiction).
And last night, when they announced my name – not only as the winner of the Best Foreign Teacher, but as a nominee for best over overall, I felt a surge of pride and welcome. I felt like I belonged.
And it felt good.