Teaching by the Sea: My Caribbean Workspace

Teaching by the Sea: My Caribbean Workspace

4 min read

Many people when they think of Grand Cayman, or the Caribbean as a whole, imagine grand, luxurious vacations, surrounded by palm trees and turquoise waters. But something that may not come to mind is working. Or what’s more… teaching. Alas, contrary to my photos on Instagram, my time in Cayman has not solely been spent galivanting atop white sand beaches…I do actually have to work! Crazy, I know.

While my friends and family back home know me as a high school Spanish teacher, this year I am actually not teaching high school…nor am I teaching Spanish. I am teaching Physical Education at a Montessori school “by the sea.” It is a year-long substitute position and has so far been an amazing experience! While I continue to seek out a Spanish role for next year, I am lucky to be where I am and after you see my workspace below, you will be asking if YOU can teach PE at my school!

My Drive to School

The school where I work is about a 15 to 20 minute commute from our apartment, a “long” commute by island standards but a short commute compared to the 35 minutes I used to traverse across the WI/MN border to Somerset! Any given morning you will see me cruising on Esterly Tibbetts Highway and past the lonely airport in our baby blue Fiat 500 or atop our snazzy scooter sporting my pink helmet. With the morning light streaming through the palms and the warm Caribbean breeze, the ride to school is quite an enjoyable one! 

Outdoor Space + Weather

In the US, PE is a subject that is taught almost exclusively in the gymnasium. At my school in Cayman there is no indoor gym space for PE class; rather, we count on the weather being beautiful for the kids to play their sports outside on the grass or the court. Let me just say that the distrust I have garnered towards the weather while growing up in Wisconsin remains strong here in Cayman. While yes, we are currently in the tropical storm season, I swear it must rain 9 days out of 10…sometimes for an hour, sometimes just 5 minutes. But we are not talking about cute little sprinkles…we are talking full on torrential rain that results in screaming, running children with wet, muddy shoes. Everyone assures me that this weather is “not typical,” but I remain wary and always come prepared for the elements. My mom taught me well! 

The PE Shed

Though cute and seemingly innocent, let me just say that PE equipment is not the only thing residing inside this shed. While opening up the door in the mornings to take out what I need for the day, I have come across lizards, frogs, scorpions, and even snakes. Alas, I still go in and take out all of the equipment like the hero that I am!

My Office

Being that the great outdoors serves as my “classroom,” I do not have a room that belongs just to me this year. La Maisonette (named as such because it was previously the French classroom), serves as my office area and work space. It was actually made from shipping containers! I share it with another teacher and have a desk with lovely green views out my window. Most days I watch the chickens and iguanas graze in the yard and on particularly clear days, I can even spot a sliver of the ocean to the left of the blue classroom building. 

An Unbeatable Lunch Spot

In my experience working at schools, there are one of two places where us teachers choose to eat our lunches: hiding out in the peace and quiet of our own classroom with the door locked and lights off, or in the staff lounge with our fellow teacher friends. I never considered a third option…a picnic table on the beach accompanied by the ocean breeze and the occasional hermit crab. The third option I am describing is my current lunch lounge at my school by the sea. Somehow I seem to be the only teacher taking advantage of this space and quite honestly, I am loving it!

Walking Break

The school is situated on one of the most picturesque roads in all of the island. It is calm, quiet, surrounded by trees and beautiful homes, and runs right alongside the water. I often take walking breaks up and down this road for 10 to 15 minutes just for a quick respite from the work mindset.

My Go-To Work Snacks

Being outside all day every day calls for nutritional reinforcement. While the most obvious necessity while working in the heat is plain old water, I have also become a huge fan of coconut water. Not only does it provide amazing tropical vibes, it also restores hydration and replenishes electrolytes. Some of my other pick-me-ups that are widely available and cheap on the island are plantain chips and cassava chips. I think they are healthier than potato chips…at least that is what I tell myself.

Teaching in Paradise

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about my Caribbean workspace and what it is like to teach by the sea! (Thank you Ms. T for the idea!) While I definitely miss my SHS family and the work I was doing there, I am so lucky to be at a school as lovely as this one and to be teaching in-person in this bubble with hardly any COVID restrictions. There is so much about my teaching adventure that I did not share in this blog. If you have questions about teaching or working in Cayman, please reach out! 

As always, thanks for reading! Subscribe below for the next edition of Island Diaries by Kate.

A Uniquely Cayman Summer

A Uniquely Cayman Summer

There ain’t no summer like a teacher summer. And there ain’t no teacher summer like one that is spent marooned on an island in the Caribbean amidst a global pandemic. Where to even begin? 

This summer has presented me with some experiences I would have never imagined I would partake in. Between getting stung by jellyfish in bioluminescent waters, suffering a turf burn while playing Gaelic Football, and accidentally becoming a “VIP” at one of the hotels on island, I barely had time to process! 

Let’s start with the jellyfish fiasco. In the northern part of the island around Rum Point, there is a bioluminescent bay. Bioluminescence is the emission of light from the high concentrations of bioluminescent phytoplankton that live in the water. When you move the water (with your hands, feet, or a paddle), they activate and emit a beautiful blueish-green light. There are professional,, organized excursions in Grand Cayman that take people kayaking and snorkeling through these waters at night so as to experience the amazing glow-stick-hued water. But why pay for a tried and true, organized excursion when you can go on a DIY bioluminescent tour on a friend’s inflatable raft? 

We set off after sunset with our two friends from Argentina; drinks, sandwiches, and our inflatable raft in tow. After driving around 40 minutes to Rum Point we unloaded and proceeded to douse ourselves in bug spray as the mosquitos had graduated to the level of “savage” as we like to say. With the raft inflated and refreshments on board, we flopped ourselves onto the raft sporting our sexy water shoes and headed out to sea. With only 3 paddles amongst the 4 of us, I found myself in the “princess role” sitting at the top of the raft looking out at my dark ocean “kingdom”.

Our DIY excursion started out beautifully with all crew members in high spirits. Our friends showed us how it was done and took the first turn snorkeling in the bioluminescent waters. Amazing, I thought. Can’t wait! Once they had climbed back into the “boat,” it came time for Bryan and I to take the plunge into the night sea. 

Showing no fear, feeling on top of the world, I curpluncked myself into the water and as soon as I did, my feet abruptly hit the ocean floor. What! It’s so shallow! I had been warned about the jellyfish that lurk near the ocean bottom in this bay so I immediately bounced up, lifting my feet to tread water. Nope…too late. Ahhh! I screamed out. The jellyfish had gotten me. I felt a shooting pain up my leg and immediately propelled myself forward wanting to swim in the other direction as quickly as possible. I was afraid I would encounter more of them in my path.

I yelled for Bryan a few times, trying to get his attention, thinking maybe it had happened to him too. Bryan was unreachable, he had his head in the water as happy as a clam and totally oblivious to my sudden distress. I swam to the raft and let our friends know I was coming back on board. Hurling myself onto the raft, I exhaled and shivered at the breeze –our friends deeply concerned, me deeply embarrassed, and Bryan deeply enthralled by the bioluminescence without a clue that I had left the water (at least one of us had fun in there). Finally, Bryan got light of the situation and boarded our “vessel.” He had mistaken my thrashing movements for me having so much fun with the bioluminescence that I wanted to create as much light as possible. Ay-yay-yay. 

After my traumatic run-in with the jellyfish, I resumed my princess duties of sitting at the front of the raft, nursing my “wound” (a few angry red slashes on my calf) and waving at the village people. (Just kidding, we were the only crazy people in the bay that evening — there was no one to wave to.) There we were, in the middle of a dark bay, wet from snorkeling in the jellyfish infested waters and hungry for our gourmet sandwiches. We began eating them there on the raft when suddenly we realized we were being blown away out to open water. The wind, while subtle, was powerful and if we didn’t act quickly, we would be well on our way to Cuba. 

The three amigos jumped into action with the paddles (the princess poised at the front of the boat) and booked it back to shore. An easy task it was not…at least I don’t think. I did not partake in the paddling. After a hard fought effort, the raft bottomed out on the sandy shore and the now disheveled members of the DIY bioluminescent excursion deboarded onto solid land. 

Thankful to be alive we celebrated our return to the shore with more sandwiches, a round of sparkling seltzer (for badasses only), and some more bug spray. We made ourselves at home on someone’s dock and parked our butts there to drink in the starry night sky and glassy black water…a peaceful end to an exciting night! 

In reflecting on this experience, here is what I will tell you…if reliability and safety are your top concerns, you should probably pay the money for the organized bioluminescent tour. BUT, if you want a kickass story and some hilarious memories, find someone with an inflatable boat and have yourself an adventure! Major thanks and shoutout to our friends Pablo and Lu for an unforgettable night!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more stories from this Summer 2020! 

Ok, but no one mentioned sharks

Ok, but no one mentioned sharks

If you have been keeping up on my blogs, you know wildlife has been front and center during the larger part of my island adventure thus far. Between mice, lizards, chickens, crabs, and the many colorful reef fish, I have truly bore witness to the good, bad, and the ugly of this island. However, just as I would have never anticipated seeing mice inside my hotel room on Seven Mile Beach, I also never anticipated what I am about to share with you in today’s blog. Keep reading for an exciting installment of Island Diaries by Kate. 

You could say I am becoming something of a snorkeling enthusiast. I actually went to somewhere other than the supermarket to purchase a new mask and flippers. They still are not what you would call the top shelf when it comes to snorkel gear, but they are a step up from where we started. Anyway, I have been doing a bit of research online on what spots on the island offer the best snorkeling conditions – pretty reefs, lots of marine life, safe for beginners, etc. One such place is Eden Rock that can be accessed from Eden Rock Diving Center in the center of Georgetown. They rent scuba and diving gear but anyone can go there with their own equipment and use their ladders for water access. This is where I decided to go one Monday afternoon around 3 or 4 pm. I swam out about 5 minutes from the shore toward the buoys and quickly found myself in an underwater maze of coral formations, dark, eerie caves, and impressive drop offs. I was surrounded by a wide array of fish, some more intimidating than others. Barracudas and tarpon, as cool as they are, are still not my favorite sea critters to hang with. But they do take my breath away when they enter my field of vision.

With no real end-goal or sense of time, I flippered aimlessly, suspended over the stunning coral formations. I peered down into the dark crevices and grottos with a twinge of unease as I imagined what could be lurking in their depths. Can you imagine that people willingly swim down into those passages? There are freedivers who even go without oxygen. I can’t even watch that play out in the movies. I still feel a sense of panic when I think about that scene in Miss Congeniality two when Gracie is trying to save Cheryl and Stan from the sinking Treasure Island pirate ship and they all go like 10 minutes without breathing somehow. 

As I was swimming, I could see a point in the distance where the coral dropped off and formed a deep and dramatic cliff. I neared its edge and marveled at the contrast of the jagged coral and the smooth sand some 30 feet down. I ended up being very grateful for this space that separated myself and the sand below. As I scanned the ocean floor, my eyes caught something dark and rather large. A barracuda? Another massive tarpon? An inoffensive sea turtle? No, no, and no. Kate… that is a goddamn shark.

I froze. I yelped into my scuba mouthpiece. All alone, “far” from shore, just me and the shark. This is where an experienced snorkeler would have gotten excited or curious and stayed to investigate and take in the scene. This is also where I, Kate, someone who can count the amount of snorkel sessions she has completed one one hand, booked it out of there as quickly and stealthily as humanly possible. Before turning to flee, I was able to make out the shape and size of the shark. It wasn’t huge but it was significant in size. It had a wide head and long body, maybe 5 o r 6 feet. My brain did what it could to record a mental image but all my energy was focused on “escaping.” 

My flippers started pumping, my freestyle arms were put into action (thanks Reedsburg Raging Rapids for preparing me for this day), but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I swam smoothly and quickly, constantly checked over my shoulder to ensure this aqua beast was not actively pursuing my human flesh. Of course, this shark most likely did not even see me and if it had, it would not have been the least bit interested in eating me. But try telling that to sole-snorkeler Kate who had been immersed in anti-shark jaws culture from a very young age. The Kate who is scared of swimming alongside muskies. On my way back to shore, about a 5 minute swim with flippers, a couple more barracuda darted in front of my strokes and I mentally communicated to them “don’t f*ck me with me guys, I am very fragile right now.” 

Finally, I made it back to the ladder, climbed up, and saw another group of snorkelers. I went to chat with them and timidly broached the subject of sharks. “Oh yes, of course. Many sharks have been spotted in this area.” As if it were the most obvious and well-known fact. “In fact, someone just spotted a hammerhead here the other day.” I described to them what I saw and they responded with “Wow, you are so lucky!” What? Did they say lucky? What are these people smoking? 

After the conversation with the other snorkelers and a little search on Google, I tried to figure out which shark it was that I saw at Eden Rock. Honestly, it very well could have been a hammerhead as I noted how wide its head was and its overall size. However, It is probably more likely that it was a nurse shark which is commonly spotted around coral reefs. While these two types of shark look nothing alike, my memory is already so warped from this little traumatic siting that I honestly couldn’t tell you for sure. Next time, I will bring my GoPro and try to capture one on camera! 

You may be thinking, “What? You’re going back there?” On my frantic swim back to the shore I thought the same thing, that I would never go snorkeling there again. But after a bit of research, it is clear to see that these sharks are not dangerous. As long as you don’t do anything stupid like try to feed them or touch them, you are more than fine to share the reef space with them. While I was mightily terrified by this experience, I also felt excitement and exhilaration. I totally get the appeal. While snorkeling (and hopefully one day while diving), I totally lose sense of time and stream of thought. It is as if I am operating solely on instinct and curiosity…just like a fish! I am exploring an underwater world that would otherwise be completely unknown to me. I have to understand that if I want to be a part of that world, I have to accept that sharks are sometimes included in the deal (but only for the lucky ones!) 😉

Thanks for reading and keep swimming people! 

My First (True) Week As An Islander

My First (True) Week As An Islander

Gone are the days of cohabitating with rodents at the Comfort Suites. I am free! And so are all my fellow travellers. Everyone at the hotel tested negative for COVID and we were released on Monday, June 2nd after 17 days in government quarantine. The staff and volunteers who took care of us during our stay were very kind and helpful but I was beyond ready to bust out of my fifth hotel room and finally see Bryan up close and not from a hotel window! Now that I have spent a full week outside the walls of quarantine, island life is feeling a bit more real to me. Cayman still has many regulations in place to prevent the spread of COVID but even so, Caribbean life has been treating us well. In this blog I will share with you what life has been like reunited with Bryan in my new home!

New country, new hobbies? 
I don’t know about you guys, but I have never in my life lived within walking distance to a beach with a reef where you can snorkel. In St. Paul I lived next to a Super America which was cool. In St. Cloud I lived near a convenience store called the Slide-In Mart where they sold gyros alongside bongs…also pretty neat. But never have I been able to leave my house in a swimsuit and flip-flops, carrying only a towel and a snorkel. Well, I guess I could have if I was going to a themed party or something. MUCH stranger things have occurred in St. Cloud, MN. Anyway, snorkeling is one of the new hobbies I am referring to. I never thought it was something I would love doing ever since the Disney Cruise in the 2nd grade when I didn’t realize that snorkeling was not the equivalent of scuba-diving and I basically inhaled a gallon of salt-water. 16 years later I am finally ready to try it again and now I can’t get enough! Literally a three minute walk from mine and Bryan’s current apartment is Smith Cove — a small beach with a reef that is just a short swim from the shoreline. It boasts all kinds of beautiful marine life! As a lake girl, I kind of forgot that fish can actually be other colors than that grayish-green lake color. So far, I have seen: parrot fish, surgeonfish trunkfish, yellow jack, four-eye butterflyfish, blue tang, a needlefish, and many more! Of course prior to this week I didn’t know the names of all these. When I was leaving the beach the other day some beach-goers asked me what kind of fish I saw and I told them “blue fish” and “long pointy fish.” Rookie mistake. I went right home to explore http://www.snorkelstj.com/index.html where Caribbean fish are indexed by color, shape, and size. Very elementary but good for someone like me! I feel like I should create some flashcards and quiz myself before and after snorkel sessions 🙂

Snorkeling is definitely the safer and easier of the two hobbies Bryan and I have been trying out in Cayman. The second hobby is…(drum roll)… Skimboarding! It might as well be called “skin-boarding” as my legs have not been this scraped and skinned since my soccer days playing on artificial turf. A skimboard, (pictured below), is basically a shorter, wider version of a surfboard. But instead of starting in the water like a surfer would, you take a running start on the shoreline. To be honest, the end-goal of skim-boarding has not made itself apparent to me. I think you are supposed to stay on your board long enough to catch a little wave and hopefully not fall in the process. We have been watching some YouTube tutorial videos and hopefully can gain a better understanding in the coming weeks and months. But for now it is kind of fun just to run and jump and fall in the water (if we are lucky). The scraped skin has been the result of falling on the sand and pebbles on the beach. The best part of an afternoon of skim-boarding you ask? Rewarding yourself for falling 50 times by watching the sunset from Veranda Seven Mile Beach accompanied by some cocktails and ceviche. Worth it! 

Not ALL new

Moving to a new country doesn’t mean you have to reinvent yourself. My preferred form of exercise is still going out for a run. However I have traded Mississippi river views for ocean views. And instead of running in a comfortable, cool climate, I am powering through 90 degree tropical heat. That means running a quick 2 to 3 miles instead of 6+ … Cayman does have a marathon in December and I am contemplating signing up. But after only 25 minutes of intense sweating, I am wondering how in the world I will ever adjust and run 2-4 hours straight on this island. I have until the end of August before they hike up registration fees, so we shall see how I progress this summer! 

Being that I am not working (in the traditional sense) this summer and international travel is still closed indefinitely, there are no major upcoming events to anticipate and no set schedule I need to follow. This means that my days will be filled with snorkeling, reading, and spending too much money at the grocery store. Not a bad way to spend a summer, right? One thing that IS on the agenda for Bryan and I is moving to a new, BIGGER apartment on July 1st that is MUCH better suited for two people (AND for visitors…wink-wink, nudge-nudge)! We are both very excited about this new place as it will be great for the both of us as far as location and amenities are concerned. Until then, I will be taking full advantage of our proximity to Smith’s Cove and filling my days with sun, sand, and booze…oops, I meant books. See you soon — much more to come! 🙂 Happy summer my beautiful friends and family <3