From your first days in the US, what do you remember when you arrived and do you have any memories from your first impressions of the US that stuck with you?
My first impression about the US was that it looked very clean. And also, the public transportation seemed to be very efficient. But when I went to work, because I came to teach in Philadelphia, I was very shocked about the way the students speak to adults and how much they seemed like they didn't appreciate free education.
What do you remember about your first week and what were you doing during your first week in the United States?
When we arrived in the United States, because we came as a group of teachers to teach in Philadelphia, we were taken to the Sheraton Hotel off on Chestnut Street in Center City. And during our first week, since it was during the summer, we came in August. The air conditioning was extremely cold for us, and I did not understand why I had to wear a sweater when it's hot outside, but yet the rooms were extremely cold. But I also remember because I still hadn't acquired the taste of food in the United States, and I was pregnant then. I liked to eat a lot of tomatoes. So I'd walk to Wawa across the hotel and buy some tomatoes and then walk a couple of blocks on Chestnut Street to buy some mango juice.
Was there anything that you ate, in the US when you first came here, that was brand new to you?
Yes, McDonald's. McDonald's was food I'd never eaten before, like a burger, and the fries, which we call chips in Kenya, seemed, something familiar, but the burgers were not. I did not like the consistency of the meat, the taste of the meat, just everything about it wasn't right for me.
What were some of the biggest cultural differences or similarities that you noticed between Kenya and the United States?
So one of the cultural differences that I saw that really shocked me was, since I was using public transportation then, when I started teaching in September. When I'd get into a bus with elderly people and there were students sitting, the students did not get up to give the seats to the elderly people. In Kenya, that's like a given. You have to get up and let the elderly person sit. Some of the similarities that I might remember would be, how much people like to drink hot stuff sometimes. And then also, the type of education. The math never changes. The math was the same. It's just the level at which I was teaching the math was a little different based on the grade that I was assigned.
Is there a specific memory that, you're surprised you remember about your first, days in the United States?
Yes. So while we were in the hotel one night, the fire alarm went off and we had been trained and been told because in Kenya, we don't have those kind of drills. We'd been told that if that goes off, you just get up and leave the way you are. But one of our colleagues. managed to dress up in his full suit and carry both his suitcases. So as we were running down the steps, and I think we were on the sixth floor, as we were running down the steps with our pajamas and our nightdresses and our lessos (a type of African garment), he was running down the steps with his suitcases. So when we got down on Chestnut Street, everybody was laughing at him and making jokes about him, not trying to save anybody, but his suitcases.
When you think about your first days in the United States, is there anything that makes you smile, laugh, or cry about?
My first days in the United States, I felt homesick. I was missing the food in Kenya, the transition was a little bit difficult for me because I had to go to an apartment and stay by myself for a little bit. And then also I had to figure out where to buy mattresses, where to buy utensils to use. So it wasn't that easy and I didn't have a car. I had to rely on public transportation and most of the time I didn't even know where I was going. But it eventually all worked out.
Is there anything else you'd like to share about your first days in the United States that you think made it unique or things that made it easier, things that made it harder?
I think it was important for me to learn how to use public transportation, much as I didn't like it, especially during the winter, because sometimes I'd be standing outside for almost half an hour waiting for a bus or a bus that left. But it made me appreciate more owning a car and just being able to afford to pay for a car. And then also, it was also important for me, in the beginning of my career, teaching here to understand why the students were behaving the way they were, so that I can stop having certain misconceptions about them. And that has helped me over the years to be able to teach them and also support them with some of the difficulties that they go through.