Buka, Papua New Guinea

View from Sohano Island to Buka Island (Photo by Viktoria Ebner)

View from Sohano Island to Buka Island (Photo by Viktoria Ebner)

If somebody would have told me last year that I am going to work and live on a little island in the Pacific Ocean next year, I would have laughed about that person. Now, one year later I already live here for nearly three months. It is completely amazing. But let’s start from the beginning.

In June 2015 every student of the Pädagogischen Hochschule Steiermark, who was supposed to be a Primary School teacher, got an E-Mail for a job offer in Papua New Guinea. I thought, it would be a great opportunity to gain experience in teaching children in diverse ages and in a different area. That’s the reasons why I wrote an application.

I already have had some experience of staying abroad because I did an Erasmus+ semester in the Netherlands two years ago, but that was something completely different. Here in Bougainville, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, where it already takes you at least three days to reach the place, is it like living on another planet. The temperature stays all the time between 26 and 34 degrees and hardly drops during the night. The humidity is always between 75% and 90%. So at the beginning common tasks like shopping and cleaning are very exhausting because of the climate. But there are more difficulties to manage. To get all the things you need, you have to go to at least six stores and the market. Buka gets all goods, which are not produced and growing here by ship. Generally the ship is supposed to arrive every two weeks, but sometimes it simply does not. Products like milk, eggs, pasta and flour are getting rare and are hard to get at that time. So you have to store them like a squirrel. Things like cheese, bread, new clothes and other for me ordinary things are very expensive or not available. I never thought that I will have to pay six Euros for an ordinary chocolate bar. But actually you do not need sweets at all. The fruits are so sweet, it might let you think someone puts some sugar on it. Pineapples, mangos, coconuts, peanuts and bananas are sold on the big main market in town or in small stalls next to the street.

TEACHING

I am teaching three children from two families. The children are six, seven and nine years old. They go to the International School till lunch time and then I pick them up. We have lunch together and walk to our classroom under the house of one family. I am very proud of it because they built it just for my lessons. I teach them mainly German but also Maths, Arts, Music, Nature, History and Chemistry, in order to keep them on the same level as kids in Austria at their age. Every month I have a meeting with the parents to inform them about the progress the kids made in this month. It is very important for me to give and also to receive feedback from the parents in order to achieve the best results for the children.

My daily routines for teaching are preparing about 2 hours in the morning, teaching 3,5 hours in the afternoon and reflecting the day for half an hour. On the weekends I write down what has been done in the past week and prepare goals, which includes the curriculum, the worksheets and games for the following week. I include a lot of learning games and sport activities in my classes for them to combine fun and studying in one process.

Most of the time we work on working plans, which keeps them busy for a few days. That helps me to have more time for each child to help and explain. It also supports the children to get more independent in learning new things and planning their work and time on their own. To make it more interesting for them I inquire from them the topics they would like to deal with. Every two weeks I prepare some materials, which include all the subjects I am teaching from one of their topics. By the end of the week the children create some posters or other presentation materials, which includes information, pictures, drawings etc. and present their achievements to their parents. The children can show what they did. They are always very proud of their work. In my opinion it is very essential that they get used to speak in front of people and do not fear it. One topic of the last weeks was for example
“sea creatures“. The topics, the children choose, are completely different to the topics, children in Austria or Europe would choose. I have to adopt the environment around my current abode and teach about themes like reefs, dolphins and islands around our area.

MY NEW HOME

I am staying in a house with one of the two families. It is made out of timber like in Australia or New Zealand as you can see on the picture. The house is built on pillars to protect it from earthquakes. I already witnessed two earthquakes and it felt like I was lying in a hammock. Maybe you have already spotted the shells from sea turtles on the exterior wall. You can get fresh crocodile, sea turtle or shark meat here if you know somebody, who can catch it for you. In the garden grow palms and a lot of beautiful colourful flowers like in movies.

Rain is very important und essential to survive. The water, that everybody uses, is rainwater. Therefore we have our own water tank next to our house. For that reason we filter our drinking water with filters. In dry periods we have to be really careful with using the water. There is no toilet flushing every time and just showering once a day, even if it is really hot and you are completely sweating.

FREETIME

On my weekends I am into some activities with the families and other volunteers. We sit together, chat, drink and eat. Most of the time it is “pot luck” time. You do not know what “pot luck” is? I have not heard about it before as well. It means that everybody brings what the person wants to eat and drink and it is shared amongst everybody. I really like it and I am always excited about it, because you get to know all kind of cultures, stories and food from all over the world. Like an African friend of mine who made some Samosa (dumplings with meat and vegetables). This is now one of my favourite dishes.

I also had the chance to make some trips with my new friends. For most of these trips you need a boat or a car because there is just public transport (with pmv’s = small busses) to the city and back. The price for a boat per day is about 100 Euro. In the first moment it seems a lot, but the values here are completely different and you are willing to spend it for a nice day. On these trips you can find everything what you want: White beaches, reefs for snorkelling and blue sea wherever you look.

CONCLUSION

I think it was the best decision for me so far to come here. Bougainville is not an island, where you just go for vacation. On one hand it is difficult to get here for vacation because of the lack of infrastructure and on the other one nobody really knows where or what Bougainville is. Till now I can say that Buka is colourful, beautiful and traditional with a lot of nice people, who are pleasant,
warm-hearted, welcoming and willing to assist in any possible way.

I can just recommend you to go abroad for work. It is a great opportunity to get to know a new culture, because on vacations you will never have the opportunity to have a daily life routine in a foreign country, to get connected to the society and maybe as well get part of it. You also get much more open minded, gain so much experience and make new friends for the rest of your life. So start to plan, pack your things and get some new impressions.

Written by Viktoria Ebner

2 thoughts on “Buka, Papua New Guinea

  1. Hi my name ist Julia. I live in a little town called Stanz im Münztal in Styria.
    I study Elementare Musikpädagogik in Vienna and Klagenfurt.
    Is their also a chance for me?

    best regards,
    Julia Pichler

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