Good Morning! Or Is It Goodnight?

Oh, the struggles of time zones.

Communication is one of the key components when working with an international partner. Especially since I’m working with a very new program that is changing and evolving, I need constant conversations with my Mikono Yetu partners in Mwanza. However, the idea of how large the time difference is proving to be a difficult one to truly understand. Currently, Mwanza is about 8 hours ahead of Ontario’s time. As I write this, it is about 1:00 am for me and I’m preparing to go to sleep. In Mwanza, the day has begun.

(Look at how many time zones there are!)

I teach lessons at 6:30 am to accommodate the time zone, but emails and texts on WhatsApp can be missed when they are sent at the wrong times. For example, if the girls cancel an upcoming lesson (at 2:30 pm their time) during their workday, I won’t get that notification until I’m awake and ready to teach. Additionally, if I send an email past 8:30 am, there is no expectation of getting a response until the following day (when I’m asleep). This causes a broken chain of communication where conversations happen slowly over the course of a few days rather than a couple of emails that are responded to right away.

OC] Not a morning person : r/comics

The other unspoken aspect of teaching remotely across the world is the energy difference. Most days, I just have enough time to splash water on my face and start the lesson before the 6:26 am time hits. I usually don’t have enough sleep as I’m nocturnal when it comes to my work schedule, so it takes a couple of jumping jacks to prepare me to be energetic. The Eagles, though, have been awake for hours and blossom with energy.

I’ve learned how to match their enthusiasm to make lessons more engaging, but it certainly takes practice if you’re not naturally a morning person. My favourite icebreaker/ warm up for my lessons is “Guess My Slang!”, where I pull out some silly English words and some words that Canadians use every day. This creates a chain of conversation between the girls as they strategize which word means what, meanwhile I’m given a few moments to collect my thoughts.

The Key To Learning? Grit.

Many believe that our environmental influences have nearly full control over our rate of success. I challenge this belief with the fact that our acceptance of failure, our grit to persevere, has a stronger impact on how (and whether) we succeed in life.

The Eagles group continuously impresses me with their enthusiasm to improve their English skills. Keep in mind that this is an optional opportunity for them to take on, on top of their regular classes and other commitments. Moreover, I am impressed by the comfortable environment in which they are learning with one another.

Specifically, the pronunciation of certain English words is a very difficult concept to comprehend to non-native speakers (ie, not pronouncing a strong E at the end of ‘fine’). Regardless of the vowel / consonant agreement lesson my partner Azadeh gave to the girls, it is a skill that is improved with time. From my own present experience with learning Spanish, mistakes in my personal pronunciation are incredibly frustrating. This especially holds true when I say the word incorrectly out loud, and I hear a couple laughs from other students that can properly pronounce the words. It is a feeling of shame that washes over me when I hear my classmates judge my learning and it discourages me from wanting to practice and speak out loud (aka, the only way for me to get better at it).

However, the Eagles group is one of the most supportive learning environments I have worked with in all of my educational volunteering experiences. They love to show me their verbal skills in English and appreciate when I give them tips on how to improve their readings. Even when one girl makes a mistake that the stronger speakers knew, they laugh it off as a group and correct their pronunciations as a team. I am far more cautious of making mistakes and become embarrassed when my own Canadian accent fails me, but what is the point of being embarrassed about learning? They have taught me the art of laughing off mistakes and finding joy in learning something that is foreign to the way I have grown up. In other words, they teach me to embrace mistakes rather than hide from them.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Albert Einstein

After much reflection on this experience, I decided to research some of the best methods of learning. Below, I have linked a Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth regarding the ‘growth-mindset’ and how grit contributes to success in life. Duckworth explains how grit is crucial to learning anything in life, regardless of your IQ, physical appearance, wealth, etc. It is a quality that science has yet to explain but is the base of a person who can see long term goals and have an abundance of endurance to work to achieve said goals.

The Eagles group has a long-term goal of having the ability to share their messages on an international platform. They also wish to teach others in their community how to speak English. These are both goals that are being achieved as a team. In my opinion, they have immense grit and are improving their English skills by staying dedicated to these objectives. It takes dedication and discipline to take on extra hours of lessons to maximize their English skills. I believe that this is one of the many reasons why they are so accepting of mistakes and have growth mindsets (aside from their mutual respect). Their long-term goals are group oriented and they wish to see one another succeed. They are encouraging one another to make it to the end of the marathon. This is contrary to being in competition and shame when practicing the lessons that I give to them.

Overall, the Eagles group inspires me to make some environmental changes within my Spanish class to see how the growth mindset affects my own improvements until April.

I would highly recommend watching the ted talk and reflecting upon your own reaction to failure: Do you let it expand your brain or do you quit your goals in shame?

If you would like some tips on goal setting, check out my previous blog post –

Getting Started!

After only having a couple of meetings with the Eagles group, I can’t describe the excitement that I have for this program.

The pure happiness felt on both ends of the zoom call radiates from the smiles I see. I can already tell we will collaborate perfectly!

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

It was wonderful getting to know more about what the Eagles group specifically works on. Each girl has a category regarding female empowerment to relate their news videos to. Some examples are how girls can be creative while making money, altering traditional norms to empower women, stories of powerful women, and the role of Islam and Christianity that concerns women.

Since some girls missed the first lesson and some missed the second, we focused on establishing S.M.A.R.T goals both meetings for what we wanted to achieve together throughout the next six months. At first, we had to explore what exactly a S.M.A.R.T goal is (which was new information to me as well), and then eventually we decided on the main desired outcomes.

A goal without a timeline is just a dream.”

– Robert Herjavec, n.d

The acronym stands for…

S: Specific

M: Measurable

A: Achievable

R: Relevant

T: Time-Bound

The S.M.A.R.T goal template helps refine many aspirations to be exactly how specific we wanted to get with the goals. I learned that by giving examples, the girls were able to make both personal and group goals. It is much easier to display what you are looking for as an answer if you provide your own first.

I encourage everyone to research how to produce your own S.M.A.R.T goal to keep your schedules organized, goals clear and your mind at ease. I’ve started applying these goals to tasks not even related to school work and I’ve definitely noticed an increase in my productivity. It is quite fascinating that I’ve already learned such an impactful technique only a couple short lessons into our journey.

Often, the best way to learn something is when you have to teach it yourself!

Here is a quick video that I find very helpful when trying to understand how to use S.M.A.R.T goals.