New Zealand native takes over teaching at local school
Ula Lologa is a long way from home. Thousands of miles in fact. But the second-grade teacher at New Town Elementary School in Waxhaw doesn’t miss her native New Zealand as much as you might think.
Lologa is part of Visiting International Faculty, a Chapel Hill-based organization that is the nation’s largest teacher exchange program. The program is one part of the Union County Public Schools system’s current focus on Globalization, Innovation, and Graduation. “I applied to VIF because I’ve always wanted to work overseas,” she said. After an interview on Skype she was recommended to New Town Elementary.
Like others in the VIF Program, Lologa is here on a three-year visa. Her contract comes up for renewal each year.
Although she misses her friends and family, she Skypes with them as much as she can. “I came on my own, and didn’t know anyone, but I’m really enjoying the adventure of meeting new people here,” she said. Lologa plans on staying if her contract is renewed.
The first two to three months in North Carolina were hard, she said, because “everything was so different.” Even the language barrier was tough. But she’s getting used to it. “When I use slang, people ask, ‘What do you mean?’ a lot.”
When Lologa got to North Carolina she had nothing to furnish her apartment with, but colleagues donated furniture and blankets.
“It’s amazing,” Lologa said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without the generosity of people.”
Lologa comes from Masterton, a small town outside Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. “It’s very rural there. We have lots of sheep … you know we’re known for our sheep!” she said.
Lologa earned a Bachelor of Education with majors in Music and Drama. She originally wanted to be an actress but saw teaching as a way to integrate her love of music and drama into her love for children. “I love to sing and act,” she said.
Lologa shares her experiences with students by comparing New Zealand with the U. S. whenever she can. Recently, she conducted a taste test for students and faculty of vegemite, a yeast extract spread which is eaten on crackers. “Some enjoyed the taste, while others really didn’t like it!”
Lologa communicates with schools back in New Zealand and with parents by writing a blog which she updates every week.
The school schedule in the U. S. is different from schools in New Zealand. Students go to school there from 9:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m versus New Town Elementary’s hours of 7:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m. “I had to get used to getting up earlier,” Lologa said. “That was tough.”
And unlike the August through June schedule in America, in New Zealand, students go to school from February through December. Terms are broken down into ten-week “blocks” with a two-week break in between. “We don’t have as many holidays as the U. S. For example, we don’t celebrate Veterans Day or Thanksgiving. And this time of year at home, we’d be winding down the school year and it would be summer.”
While the U. S. classifies students into grades, in New Zealand, they are referred to as “years” similar to the system in the U.K. Students go to preschool, until Year 1, which is the same as our kindergarten. The system is broken down into primary school, intermediate school, and then college (what we call high school). When students graduate they can go on to university.
In New Zealand, teachers cover all curriculums. For example, there are no separate art and gym teachers. “I’m used to teaching all subjects,” she says.
In the U. S. teachers accompany children to the cafeteria and have a 25-minute lunch with them before going directly back to class. In New Zealand, students are given ten minutes for lunch, then fifteen minutes of recess. Teachers rotate supervising the children while faculty eat together. “I do miss that,” she says.
In her spare time, Lologa enjoys traveling. She’s been to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Fayetteville, and Wilmington, where she has distant relatives. She is planning a weekend trip to Savannah soon. She is single and lives in Matthews.
Lologa especially likes what she describes as the Southern hospitality here. “I really appreciate the kindness of people,” she says. She also enjoys shopping. “You have so many outlet malls!”