When I was teaching fifth grade online, I created Google sideshows to help teach vocabulary. One of the words was “emerge”. To help anchor the word in students’ minds, I showed a short video clip of a hippo “emerging” from a calm body of water. The kids gasped as the beast opened its jaws – mouth, teeth and watery tongue eventually filling the entire Zoom screen.

I feel a bit like that hippopotamus, taking a deep breath of much-needed air.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been living in an ‘intraverse’, close to home, but intensely focused on my work with 19 teachers from 16 countries. During the teacher exchange, I highlighted the salient points of “Chico’s life”, but the vision of “my life” was on the periphery. Every day was busy driving a van, getting an aspirin, solving small problems, and making sure there were 19 teachers in a classroom at Chico State. Some Saturdays I drove around for hours, taking hotel teachers to Walmart, to Ross, to Best Buy, to Shuberts, to Upper Bidwell Park.

When the attendees arrived at the end of January, I thought the biggest hurdle of their visit would be avoiding COVID. Yet no one foresaw a global conflict.

Teachers attended seminars on lesson planning and classroom management, but we knew it must have been hard to focus when part of their brain was obsessed with “what ifs.” There were moments of reflection, but each managed to stick to the tasks (and joys) at hand.

In this we were united.

After excursions, spontaneous shouts, dozens of last-minute shopping sprees and deep goodbye hugs, the last of 19 teachers passed through the gates of Sacramento International Airport security checkpoints. The breezeways were always busy, but I could feel the silence in my brain.

My friends from Chico asked “what are you going to do when they’re all gone?”

The only logical choice was a nap followed by another nap.

Sunday came and my feet meandered. I noticed that my yard was filled with daffodils. The freesia had arrived. My rickety garden gate had finally collapsed one windy day. I filled two buckets with weed and made a mental list for an oil change, a dentist appointment and a visit to Magnolia Gift and Garden.

Monday arrived and I reached campus late morning. The familiar path seemed strange, as if everyone had disappeared while I was lost in my world within a world. Another breath of fresh air and I remembered it was spring break.

With the stillness came the sadness – the loss of closeness to the 19 friends who had recently become my world. But there was more.

The world.

For six weeks, I had been surrounded by some of humanity’s finest – teachers focused on improving the world for students; exceptionally intelligent people who accept cultural differences: courageous travelers who dance spontaneously whenever they hear music.

They left. They sent notes when they got home. I cleaned my desk, called my mom, went to the movies.

For some of my new international friends, returning home means uncertainty. Their brains are filled with new teaching strategies and also worry about inflation, commodity supply chains and the future of their children. One of our participants can expect to hear missile fire a few hundred kilometers from her home.

My time with the group of international teachers is over. The work of praying for the best for each of them continues.

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