Summer is actually still several weeks away, and so my blog post title doesn't really deserve that exclamation point.
And yet, here's the exciting news about this summer: I'm going back to South Africa! Yay!
Longtime readers may remember that I went to South Africa back in March 2012 as a chaperone on a school trip, and that it was really an amazing trip. Since then, FGS has been developing a relationship with a girls' school there; actually, the relationship kind of already existed before then, because a woman who was acting head of FGS for awhile was then, a year or so later, the acting head of this other girls' school. (Okay, it needs a pseudonym -- maybe SAFGS, for "South African FGS.") But the relationship has been growing since then, such that a teacher exchange has developed over the last couple of years. Maybe "exchange" isn't the right word, since we're not taking each other's places temporarily, but perhaps "collaboration" is the word.
All of this development has really been the efforts of a good friend of mine who teaches history at FGS; she's incredibly invested in the burgeoning relationship, but she also recognizes that it won't last if it's driven by a single person. So last summer she took one of our librarians with her on the trip, and this summer she's not going at all. I am! The plan is that each FGS teacher will potentially go on two such trips, as the junior person and then the senior person. So this summer the librarian is returning as the senior person, and I'll be the junior person; in other words, I may get to go back next summer as well, although SAFGS is taking a wait-and-see approach, which seems perfectly reasonable given that there's a brand-new head of school there.
Anyway, I was actually not going to apply at all, just as I didn't apply last summer, in large part because my history teacher friend is -- in my humble opinion -- pretty colonialist in her approach, even though she's also very good-hearted. And she kept pushing me to go because the girls at SAFGS are apparently terrible writers, although amazing speakers, and she wanted me to go sort out the English department there. But there was no way in hell that I was going to show up and say, "Have no fear, the American is here! Bring me your problems so that I may fix them." Um, no.
But here's what led me to applying this summer after all: Two teachers and a librarian from SAFGS were visiting FGS for a couple of weeks, and I had a great time getting to know the English teacher, who is lovely. And somehow it came up that I am the journalism advisor of our online student newspaper ... and she said, "You know, the students at SAFGS keep asking for an online student newspaper. They really want one, and the faculty would really like one as well as an additional challenge for our top students, to get them writing in another context. Would you consider coming to SAFGS this summer and helping us get our newspaper started?"
Would I? Of course I would! To be asked to do something specific that the students and faculty actually want is an entirely different kettle of fish. Of course, even then my history teacher friend, in giving me her feedback on my application before I submitted it, said that I should add that I would do writing workshops there to help the English teachers get better at teaching writing. Again, no. Instead, what I added is that I'd be happy to do anything else that the English department asked me to do.
I'm not sure how many other teachers applied -- not very many, I think because there's such a strong sense that this entire exchange is under the history teacher's firm and opinionated rule -- but maybe her not going this summer will change that attitude. (She did tell me last week that she's feeling really blue about not going this summer and is feeling like other people are now benefitting from something she started but no longer gets to enjoy.)
I got the good news of my acceptance to the summer exchange on Friday, which was nice because just the day before I'd gotten a "sorry, but no" email from the Great Jewish Books Teacher Workshop that had been my solace when I got rejected from that administrative job back in January. The "sorry, but no" emailed didn't hurt my feelings at all; this was the first time they'd offered it, they got an overwhelming number of applications, and their funding source required them to give priority to teachers at Jewish schools, so there's nothing to feel personally rejected about. And now that I'm going to South Africa for two weeks in August, it's a huge relief not to be spending the last week of July away from home.
The first time I went to South Africa, I did a lot of background reading so that I would have appropriate context for what I was seeing. This weekend I was thinking about what I could/should read this summer to prepare for this trip, but I also didn’t want to abandon my Jewish studies for the summer – and voila, an idea was born. So now a bunch of books on Jewish history and experience in Africa and specifically in South Africa are winging their way to me from Amazon and the public library. (See the booklist at left.) And, as though it were a sign, just this weekend, Tablet magazine published a long-form first-person piece by novelist Anne Landsman, "My Parents' Israel, My Apartheid: A South African goes home to Israel."
In a way, this reading list will be a bit of a digression, but in another way it’s a continuation of the impulse I was expressing to the rabbi the last time we met, of trying to make Judaism and Jewish identity a core aspect of every part of my life. So if I’m going to South Africa, naturally I’ll be interested in the Jewish experience in South Africa.
Unfortunately, the way the two schools' calendars work out, the librarian and I will be returning home from our exciting journey just a few days before opening meetings begin. At least the jet lag will work in our behavior, since we'll be inclined to get up really early, and it's the having to get up early that's always one of the challenges of starting school again.
The two other things that are on my summer calendar are a week-long visit from the nieces (yay for Aunty Camp!) and a week-long intensive program in diversity education that I'm going to with some other FGS folks. Plus, D's mother wants to work out a visit, either at her place or at ours. Thank heavens I'm not teaching summer school! I'm really excited about all of these plans, but it won't be the most easy-going summer ever. But who cares?
Summer fun begins five weeks from now! Except that this is a useful lie I tell myself. There are five more weeks of classes, but the work afterward -- grading final exams, running a college-essay-writing workshop for rising seniors, and going to closing meetings -- are hardly what we would call "summer fun." But last year I decided that, in my head if no place else, it was going to be summer once classes were over, and that turned out to be a remarkably enjoyable fiction, so I've decided it's the new norm.