One afternoon, we took the young people of the CDETB MAP school to visit the Irish Ombudsman for children. Halfway into a presentation in a cheery room filled with colorful bean bags, the woman presenting was just finishing up explaining how the Ombudsman was there to protect the rights of children in Ireland. One of the ways that they do this, she told us, was by taking complaints by children themselves about public services.

“Does anyone have any complaints they would like to say?” she questioned.

For a while, no one spoke. While I’m sure she wanted some actual answers, this question was one that probably was often followed up by some small concern, or even silence. But then Mewael, an older student in the front corner of the room, murmured something.

“What was that?” came from the presenter.

“My name. I didn’t have my name.” Mewael answered.

It turned out that something went awry with Mewael’s papers when he came to Ireland, and he spent many weeks without them. They got lost in the system, and so he lost his name.

Not only did he lose his country, his culture, and all familiarity, he lost the one thing core thing that shouldn’t be able to be taken away. He didn’t even have a name. It’s incomprehensible. Everyone deserves a name.

In Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, everyone does have a right to a name. Mewael had a valid complaint, one that he could take up with the Ombudsman’s office he wanted. Mewael and his name deserved to be recognized.

Something else is also recognized every day at the school. When I was first introduced to one of the classes, they were told to tell me two things: their name, and where they are from. At the school, these two things are very important. Their names are known, and so are their nationalities. It was vitally important, to the point that I was quizzed on naming these two things about a group of students on my second day.

Here, nationalities and identities are important. Something that astonished me in my first few weeks was how so many teachers connected their lessons back to the students’ identities. A discussion on flags included the home flags of everyone in the room. Computer class assignments compared home countries to Ireland. “What’s this in Romanian? Tigrinya? Pashto?” was a regular question from teachers. Yes, a lot of focus was on Ireland, but they didn’t have to leave behind their lives in the classroom. It was all integrated.

However, they were more than their countries, and they in turn changed how I saw those places.

To me, Romania is a pair of sisters offering me gum and snickering at my bad Romanian pronunciations as we dance to Romanian pop music.

Kuwait is a teenage boy who likes to add in worksheet answers razzing his friend (‘Muhammed has bad hair’ showed up once) and asks me where Captain America lives.

China is a young girl who parades around the school meowing and singing “E-I-E-I-O” while playing peek-a-boo around a couch.

The world is this school, a multitude of personalities and cultures all coming together in one beautiful chaotic classroom.


I entered the classroom on the third floor of the school, and greeted the students as they walked in and grabbed a seat. We were a couple of weeks into the City of Dublin Education and Training Board’s Youth and Education Service (CDETB YES) program, and the young people meandered into this afternoon class after trying to catch a few more words with their friends. Notebooks were pulled out, the workbook turned to the next page. They knew what to expect. They were here to learn English, and I was here to help them accomplish that. I was there to teach. I had no idea that my own ignorance was going to become the lesson. It was only a lesson on time, after all. Something I was well accustomed to and understood. Time doesn’t change.

After a few minutes, instead of the students being asked questions, they were questioning me.

What time do you wake up?
When do you head to work?
What time do you eat lunch?

All my answers were wrong.

“Eight-thirty,” I replied.
“No, what is it class?” countered the lead teacher.
“Half eight!” Chorused the students.
“Twelve fourty-five,” I replied.
“No, it’s quarter to eleven!”

Adding into my confusion, military time is used across the country and I now had to figure out what 18:00 meant. I didn’t really know time at all. Or at least Irish time. Being in another country where English is one of the official languages and spoken regularly, I thought the language would be the same. I was in for a surprise.

Irish English differs considerably from American English … and I was expected to teach myself the Irish way as I taught it to the young people.

Coke became cola-cola in the worksheets and in my speech. What’s the craic? replaced What’s up? and JP surgery replaced doctor’s office. Tennis shoes became trainers and sweatshirt became jumper.

Teaching English in a foreign country required more than my American English. Even though the countries shared a language, the language wasn’t the same. I found myself learning alongside the students, attempting to make myself more culturally and aware of the Irish style while trying to teach at the same time. Never beforehand had I seen so evident how much more defines our conversations besides our language. It’s the local slang, the expected interactions, the shared knowledge of Dublin that truly made a difference in my daily interactions with my students.

My failure to tell time correctly also reminded me that while I may be the one they call teacher, they are filled with immense amounts of information to share with me as well. I’ve danced to Romanian pop music, eaten Eritrean Injera, and played Chinese video games. This school truly is a melting pot of different cultures, and I’m learning not only Irish culture but the multitude of cultures from my students as well. Truthfully, this teacher spends most of her time learning.