"So, where are you from?"
This has to be the most common question that I heard during my first week in Bethel. It seems that in Alaska, more than other places I have lived, people are interested to know where you are from. But this is a question with some hidden motives. Depending on how you answer, some of the seasoned teachers may think that you are up to the challenge of living here or decide quickly that you'll be in for a rude awakening.
During my first week, I chose to claim Palmer, Alaska as home. Its not a false statement. I'd lived there for 5 years prior to moving to Bethel. Because of my time in the state and through visiting several villages in the Norton Sound region, I was fully aware of what I was getting myself into when I stepped of the plane in Bethel. It was interesting to see people's response when I told them where I was from. The most common follow up question was, "Why did you leave there to come here?" I've learned since then that many teachers view the Anchorage and Mat-Su valley as more desired areas to be located at. I understand why they would think that. The mountains there are amazing, there is an abundance of outdoor activities that a motivated person could spend time exploring. And not to mention, there is a Cost-Co there. Whats not to love, right?
Well, my reason for choosing to come to Bethel is an interesting story. I did not ever plan on teaching here. Quite frankly, the idea of living on the tundra was not very appealing. I would rather have lived in a smaller village on the coast. But I got a phone call late in the summer asking if I'd be interested in working with primary students in Bethel. After several conversations with different teachers and the site administrator, I decided to accept the position. The only problem was that I'd only have two weeks before I needed to be on site for first year teacher orientation. Two weeks. That is not a lot of time to get things in order. I had a lot to consider and plan for in that short time frame. I have a house in Palmer that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with. I had to give my notice to the school that I would have been working at during the upcoming school year. I had a car to try and sell. Friends to visit. Mountains to climb. Trips to take.
It was a lot to try and cram in to such a short time. But it also didn't help me prepare very well for getting to Bethel. The most obvious problem that I had when I left Anchorage was that I didn't know where I was going to be sleeping that night. I was pretty sure that I'd be put up in a hotel for the first few days, but after that, I hoped that something would come up.
The orientation was a packed first several days. Because of the schedule that was planned, I didn't get a chance to do much networking and searching for a place to live. As a result, the last day of training came, and again I didn't know where I was going to sleep that night. Fortunately there was a district office employee who connected me with a teacher at the high school who might have an extra room. As a reminder, I own a house in Palmer and had grown used to my own space and having my own things. When I got to the house where I would be staying for the immediate future, I learned that there were 5 other first year teachers living there. Because of the size of the house, it wasn't a bad looking deal, just a full house. I was not very excited to be living in such a setting. But got to know some of the teachers in the house and decided that I could make it work this year.
I've been very thankful how everything has worked out since that first week here. When I think about the friends that I met and the first few mini adventures, it reminds me of camp as a kid. The people that I sat next to during orientation have become good friends that I have spent holidays with, visited with on weekends, sat in airports with, and snowmachined or walked to see.
The people here as much as anything else make it a wonderful place to be. Building relationships with people have been an experience that I value and would not trade for the comforts of road system living. I've been able to spend time with such a variety of people: new teachers, seasoned teachers, district office employees, community members. Because of these people, Bethel has become home for me.
Now, when people ask where I am from, I'm happy to say Bethel.