A Strange New Environment

School Daze with Kaia

Before leaving Australia, we often wondered how Kaia would react to being placed in a strange new environment so foreign from what she’d become accustomed to. Especially, one with a new language being added to the mix.

We wouldn’t have to wait long as, only four days in to things, way back in Vina del Mar, Chile the gang from Scooby Doo would help give us our answer.

There after a single afternoon of listening to Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Scooby banter on in Spanish, Kaia had an epiphany of sorts.

“They don’t speak very well,” she said pointing at the television. Such would be our first indication that Kaia was on to the fact we “weren’t in Kansas anymore”.

Walking the old train tracks home from town

Today, three months on, and two weeks into her ‘pre-scholar’ enrolment at El Colegio Maria Louisa, in Paraguari, Paraguay, it’s safe to say the shoe is firmly on the other foot. Now it is Kaia’s many pint sized classmates thinking the same thing about their new blonde classmate from the land of kangaroos.

Based on my own still limited Spanish interpretative ability, such would be the general description used by the school director to introduce the school’s newest (and, to date, probably the only foreign) student and her parents as we stood with Kaia at the back of her class that fateful first Monday. Because judging from the daily stares we continue to get around town, it’s pretty obvious they don’t get many gringos in these parts.

And the gawking pack of ten onlookers huddled around Kaia as she dawdled away in the courtyard

Close Encounters

sandbox (with mommy beside her, of course) after we arrived on our second morning seemed to only confirm this. Most just stared and watched, some offered doting compliments in very broken English, while others were so moved by the novel sight before them, they felt inclined enough to touch her blonde locks. It was safe to say the new kid on the block, was a hot commodity.

A hot commodity for which it was the scheduling intention of eventually building up to three hours a day by the start of the second week. Slowly, with one hour stints for the first three days, followed by two each on Thursday and Friday. “We’ll go slow and see how she takes to it all,” would be the let’s-not-get-too-far-ahead-of-ourselves-consensus between mom and dad still somewhat uncertain as to how things would pan out.

Under teacher Gabi’s watchful eye

But, in the end, Kaia would prove ahead of the curve seemingly hell bent on filling her three hour daily quota as soon as possible with class time involving Play Doh, painting, singing and dancing followed by more physical activity on the playground more than enough to tempt her fancy. And all this, of course, in the absence of any English whatsoever. Three months spent in the relative absence of any playmates her age, it seems, has left a bit of an impression on the girl.

She apparently enjoyed it all so much she’d exceed that first week’s Thursday’s limit by an extra thirty minutes before going the distance of Friday. A Friday that would see her walking up on stage with her class for an end of the day song and dance routine as part of a school group assembly paying tribute to, of all things, fathers for the coming Sunday’s Father’s Day.

Time seemed to slow to a surreal crawl as we watched this little creature (that I still often wonder when her parents will be coming back to claim) take her place on stage and begin scanning the roomful of people larger than any she’d ever been a part of before that day.  The sudden beaming smile and frantic waving in our direction that came next warmed a corner of my heart I didn’t know even existed. At the same time, it suggested we may have underestimated the coping mechanisms of young children and, in particular, our rapidly maturing three year old.

It was almost the perfect Father’s Day present, but the truth was I’d already received it.

A young mind at work

I’d received it very night of the week leading up to that moment…and every night since.

It’s called the sweet, unadulterated sounds of complete silence. The silence that apparently comes in the wake of an exhausted three year so wiped out by the end of every day she can barely finish her supper before passing out in a catatonic state amidst the early winter darkness of not

Mi amigos

even six o’clock.

That Friday afternoon, along with her slowly but ever expanding Spanish

vocabulary, was all the proof we needed that Kaia had adapted and adapted well. Now, with the sounds of school bells ringing blissfully in our ears, it seemed mommy and daddy had a bit of homework of their own to do.

Homework that includes settling back, taking a deep breath and learning to do the same.









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