Lizzie Offiler was one of around 40 students who chose to take LJMU English’s Working in the USA module in her second year with us. Here’s her account of her experiences working and living in America this summer.
On Friday 13th May 2016, I flew out to Boston Logan International Airport to begin my travels in America. I was greeted by my Aunt who I was to stay with for the entirety of the time I was working there. I have a lot of family in America and as a result, I have been over to visit my family more times than I can remember, but working there enlightened me to an entirely different experience to what I have been used to in the past.
I worked at two placements whilst in America, the first in an elementary school, which is the same age group as primary school. My second placement was in the following high school, that the children in the elementary school will eventually attend. High school is the last four years of secondary school (years 10-13) and middle school is the beginning of secondary school (years 7-9).
I interned at the elementary school for a total of five weeks. These were the last five weeks of the school year, and were full of excitement and fun things to end the school year. These events included Field Day (The American version of Sports Day), the Spring Concert, and the end of year Teachers’ play. The Teachers play content is kept as a secret from the children until they watch it. This year it was Frozen, and I was part of a group of Snowflakes that were supposed to portray when it was snowing, and meant I was on stage dancing rather a lot. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in these events and it was these things that made my time there especially unique.
The response of the elementary school children to me included probably the most amusing reactions. In the past I have been used to meeting friends of my cousins (who are all older than me) finding my accent ‘adorable’, but the children had a completely different reaction. The younger children did not quite know what England was when I tried to explain. One Kindergarten (Year 1) excitedly exclaimed that England is ‘that place in the Minions movie’. The conversation went as follows.
“Do you have a Queen too?”
“Yes we do.”
“Hmm…what’s her name?”
“THAT’S JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIE!”
The children were equally excited to find out that a teacher had actually seen said film and continued to try and talk to me about their favourite parts. The Kindergarteners also wanted to know if they could become a princess. I told them the way in which this was possible, but included that they could earn the title of ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’ without having to become married and continued to go around the class saying these titles followed by their names and watch their faces light up.
The First Graders (year 2) were probably the class I spent the most time with. They too had little knowledge of England with one of them asking me “What state are you from?” For Field Day the theme was the Olympics, with each class representing a different country. It just so happened that the first grade was representing the UK and all had to colour in their own Union Flags to carry. They also had to learn a bit about the country and this gave them more insight into just how far away I live. However, it seemed that the concept of just how far was not quite understood as one of them asked me if I went home to England every day.
As word got around the school that there was a teacher from England, a lot of the older students started requesting my presence in their lessons so they could meet me and hear me speak. There were a group of fourth graders (year 5), who I jokingly named my ‘fan club’, that followed me around constantly whilst I was on recess duty asking me to say ‘pip pip’ and ‘cheerio’: this occurred every day for around three weeks.
The most surprising thing to me was even the teachers had little knowledge of England, outside of London. I was already aware from my cousins that there is no Cadbury’s chocolate in the USA unless you go to a store that specifically sells English sweets and chocolate, where it is usually overpriced. As a result of this, Americans have no concept of what a ‘99 with a flake’ is, as they have no flakes. I tried to explain what these were as they do have soft serve ice cream. One of the teachers was especially amused by the way I referred to ‘popsicles’ as ‘ice lollies’ and exclaimed that she was going to try and adopt that into her own speaking.
Whilst in the States I had my 20th birthday. It was on a Monday so I had to go to work still, but I didn’t mind as I really enjoyed working at the school. Over the intercom there was an announcement that it was my birthday, to inform the entire school as they do with every teacher’s birthday, except little to my knowledge the entire school was already aware.
When the other teachers had asked my age and I told them that I would be turning twenty I did not expect anything special to happen. It seems a whole event was organised without my knowledge, as this letter had been sent home. Arriving on Monday I was surprised with all the children dressing up in Union Flags, as Harry Potter, etc, and constantly wishing me happy birthday throughout the day. Even the halls were adorned with British bunting and chairs with books by British authors and Beatrix Potter teddies of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle Duck. During lunch time I was surprised with a small birthday party and a cake. All the teachers were served their ice cream with a KitKat or, as they named it, ‘The American Flake’ and I was given a real flake bought from one of the imported British food shops. The teachers I worked closely with bought me presents of American food that I had particularly taken a vast liking to and a variety of other goodies which was very thoughtful of them. I had absolutely no idea that they had planned any of this and it really made the day very special and certainly a birthday I will never forget.
As you can imagine, the last day of school was a very emotional one. A lot of the older children, especially my fan club were very sad because they knew it was my last day. However, the first graders did not realise I would not be coming back. After I explained that ‘I have a Mummy and Daddy in England and I need to go back and see them’, they cried that they wanted me to stay and they needed me more than my parents did, which was even more heart breaking. Having an entire school saying they will miss you and begging you not to leave is so emotional and it was a day I admit I had been dreading. I knew I still had yet another placement to go to but I knew it would be entirely different to the experience at the elementary school.
To this day I still miss the memories I made at that school and the people I met. Some of the teachers I became particular friends with, or worked closely with were later invited to my Aunt’s for dinner and I am still in contact with them. Next year I will be returning to the US to attend my cousin’s wedding, and I have promised the school that I will return for a visit which I look forward to. An opportunity to work in the USA is very rare for a non-American citizen and I would thoroughly encourage anyone to partake in this module as it is an experience that will remain with you.