BEULAH, Northern Michigan, USA - For the first time, Benzie Central High School has a foreign teacher visiting on staff.
Betty Osei left behind a husband and two teenage children in Accra, Ghana, to come to the United States. She is in Benzie County for one year on a Fulbright Exchange grant from her native Ghana, a sub-Saharan African country. So far, the experience has involved as much learning as teaching.
First, there was the difference in weather. Osei believed it was too cold in northern Lower Michigan by early October. In Ghana, the temperature stays at around 80 degrees year-round.
Even more significant are the obvious cultural differences - especially when it comes to dealing with students, she said.
"The one thing is the behavior of the students, that's one thing that strikes me very much," said Osei.
When students in her algebra class have not completed homework, for example, some are not shy about letting Osei know. On the other hand, students in Ghana are typically ashamed to come to class unprepared.
"Here they just snap it at you, 'I haven't done it, I won't do it,' " Osei said. "Sometimes it's just a shock. I just stand there and don't know what to do. ... Every time I call home, I say, 'Oh my God, the kids here!' "
Osei has good things to say about her students, too. American teenagers with their tendency to be more outspoken are more likely to participate in class, she said. Osei said students in Ghana are hesitant to speak up even if they know an answer.
"(Here), they are very free, they say what they want to say, they say just how they feel," she said.
Fortunately for Osei, other teachers at Benzie Central are available to counsel her on discipline and sometimes another teacher sits in class with her.
Osei's principal, Pete Olson, is sympathetic to the teacher's situation and said staff is working with Osei to ease her culture shock. Despite her impressive education in Ghana, where she has completed years of post-graduate work, teaching here is different.
"Those students, many of them are not motivated, don't care, don't do homework and come to class unprepared," Olson said. "That's something that we take for granted, that she doesn't really have to deal with in Ghana."
And Osei doesn't understand some of the basic fundamentals of the American classroom, Olson said. For example, she used to turn her back on the students while writing math problems on the board. Teachers have been working to help Osei learn to incorporate an overhead projector into her lessons so she can keep her eyes toward her students.
"Technology-wise, I think they're way behind us, you can't take anything for granted," Olson said.
Olson said Osei has recently been cautioned to relax a bit in class, not to worry about teaching constantly, and talk to the students more about her life back in Ghana.
Osei speaks fondly of life in Ghana, but she also notes the country is poor. According to www.ghanaweb.com, the country's per capita income in 2002 was $290.
"Back home you can get classrooms where the windows are all broken," she said. "Here they have everything, and they don't appreciate it. I keep telling them, 'You have everything here and you don't appreciate it!' "
Her principal believes that's the sort of lesson that would be valuable to students in between math lessons.
"That's just the kind of thing she needs to share with our kids," Olson said, "They need to hear that from another place."