By Ariela Moraru, WT Micronesia volunteer 2015-2016
Ariela is a free spirit. Originally from Transylvania in the heart of Romania, Ariela was a WT volunteer in Weno, Chuuk, Micronesia (2015-16). She taught literature to five 10th grade sections at Chuuk High School and co-facilitated Chuuk Women’s Council’s Young Women Empowerment Program. She’s lived in Romania, the US, Paris and London, and travelled to over 30 countries.
Life is for experimenting and multiple identities. Why be one thing and live in one place for your whole life? Why not be the teacher, the dancer, the writer, the researcher, the soul searcher – you name it. My soul cannot be defined by a nationality and cannot be contained within the borders of one country. I’m so much more. I’m an explorer. I’m a free spirit.
Last year I traded financial stability and a life of routine at a law firm in the City of London for feeling alive and doing something meaningful: I signed up to be a volunteer teacher in Weno, Chuuk, Micronesia, a small island in the Pacific, without knowing much about it. Do I regret not piling money in my bank account for a year? No! What do you think you’ll talk about more when you’re old – your job and savings or your moments of temporary insanity?
It was not an easy choice or transition though. What helped me was having a laid-back attitude and people who believed in my craziness. I accepted it didn’t need to be perfect or the best choice at the time and I just gave it a try. I wanted a change, I’d been meaning to make a difference for a while and it sounded good. It was only a new stage or adventure I was going to learn from a lot either way – my next identity I was going to explore. Life’s about personal growth. I accepted it might take some failing before I got it right and was ready for whatever came my way. Although I did teach before, I had never taught in a public school, but I knew I was no quitter and was going to do my best.
It turned out better than I expected – it was awesome! Here’s what I miss about Chuuk:
1. My Students: such innocent souls. I taught literature to 170 10th grade students of different English levels, from advanced beginner to advanced. And the cute things they say and don’t even realize it like (looking at your armpit): Teacher, where is your fur? Teacher, have you ever been kissed? And that’s a genuine question. Or how they rush in and give me a hug because they missed me during the four-day weekend. Or when they braid my hair. Or when they surprise me with their maturity. Or touch me when I realized how strong they were and what they’d been through. How they’re shy but yet always ready for a picture. Or then they bust out some break-dance moves. They’re so talented – dancing, singing, playing ukulele, tattoo design, you name it.
2. Island vibes: it feels like a little Jamaica in the heart of the Pacific with all the reggae remixes and beats minus the daggering since there are no clubs or partner dancing, like Common Kings or my friend local VIP Franko Alafanso who makes even religious music sound amazing. All the kids seem to have a speaker jamming in their backpack so streets are filled with music.
3. Amazing sunsets and yoga: sunsets will always surprise you. Such strong colors. No sunsets in Europe will ever do. Watching them while doing yoga on the water tank or on the dock by the ocean will touch your heart.
4. Fifty shades of blue teeming with life: the depths of the ocean hide incredible marine life or WWII shipwrecks. Your heart will leap with joy the first time you find Nemo or a sand dollar. All you need is a dollar-dollar: really! You’ll have to trust me on that one.
5. Your own private beach for $5: forget about the French Riviera or any popular beach destination that has hundreds of people sitting on top of each other. This is the real deal. And you can have it for as little as $5. The picnic islands are a short boat ride away. Get ready for some grilling and chilling.
6. Sa mwéngé or sharing food: I’m always surprised how no matter how little these people have, they always share everything: food, flip-flops, phones. Genuine kindness. The collective culture means we’re all one big family. There’s always food for everybody, usually rice, chicken, fish and taro – funerals, village festivals, Women’s day, wedding or just walking on the street and random people inviting you in to eat something.
7. Bio-luminescence: if you’ve not seen it before, add it to your bucket list. At night the ocean is alive and you will turn into this beautiful angel as you swim in the ocean with every stroke. No wonder people’s imagination created mermaids.
8. Fruity times: mangos, papayas, pineapple, sour-sap, tangerine, bananas and coconuts. I’ll miss my papaya trees outside my house that kept me happy for my last two months here. I’d have papaya every day for breakfast. The good thing about papayas is that not all the fruit gets ripe at the same time. It’s almost like it’s timed.
9. Micro-life/keeping it simple: though sometimes it’s tough, there’s something soothing about living at a micro-scale. Your whole universe suddenly shrinks, you bump into people you know everywhere. You’re the jungle VIP and people show genuine appreciation and gratitude for leaving your family behind and coming to teach their kids. Your commute to work is a roll down the hill. You sit in your kitchen and little red birds are chirping in the breadfruit tree. You don’t feel any stress that you’re missing out, there’s somewhere you have to be, something you have to do, someone you have to be. You just are. You don’t have to pay a million bills, have huge to do lists, 300 types of washing powder to choose from at the mall. I’ve had 5 skirts, 3 muumuus and 5 T-shirts all year, 2 pairs of flip flops and one pair of hiking sandals. No high heels. Do the 20 colors I’m wearing match? Who cares? Is my mascara running? What mascara in this heat? Keep it simple.
10. Lying on the floor or on the desks in the middle of the day and not getting any weird looks: if it’s hot, women just lie on the floor and no one thinks it’s weird. It’s a sort of Chuukese siesta when the heat is on.
11. You’re beautiful: no, it’s not James Blunt singing to you. Here people are truly fascinated with white skin. So they’ll compliment you on your beauty – every day. Forget that you’re wearing ripped clothes and no color coordination or make-up, drenched in sweat, hair all freezy. At the beginning of my service I was joking about coming to Micronesia if you need an ego booster.
12. Not feeling cold: maybe I had lived in the UK for too long before coming here, but I always felt a bit chilly there, in the ACed office or even during the summer. In Chuuk I loved the year-round summer nights or going for a swim in lukewarm water.
13. Meaning: not that I’m planning to lead a meaningless life from now on, but I guess here in Chuuk was the first time since I graduated and started working that I felt I was making a difference in someone’s life and that it wasn’t about making money or status or fitting in or climbing the corporate ladder.
Oh, and the $1 cab rides, the free American citizenship (since everyone thinks any white person is American) and so much more. Oh Chuuk! Sigh.
If you know there’s more to life or if you’re unhappy in your current situation, just make a change, whatever it may be. Good will come along the way. Things will fall into place.
Being a migrant for me is a journey of discovery – of self and others: who I am and what unites us as human beings and citizens of the world. Read more about Chuukese culture, learnings from my experience in Micronesia, culture shock, reverse culture shock, teaching challenges, a day in the life of a volunteer in Chuuk, and general life rant on my blog: www.arielfreespirit.wordpress.com. For a closer look (student videos, Talent Show, my Micronesia), check out my YouTube Channel.