Perhaps the best thing you can do when you come to one of our communities is to remember that you are moving into a small town which is probably quite a bit unlike any you have known in your life. It is your responsibility to learn how to fit into the community. Do not be quick to pass judgment on things which are unfamiliar or which you do not understand. This actually transcends cultural boundaries – this is just a good sense anytime you are moving into a small town. Take the time to learn about your community and its residents. While you are going to be very busy those first few months, take the time to get out and walk around, go to the post office, store and other public areas in town. Meet people and start to get to know more about them as they begin to know more about you. While your role in town is largely defined by your job, it is important for you to develop relationships that go beyond the walls of the school or your housing unit. Consider taking the time to volunteer to host small "get-togethers" like crafting nights or movie nights.
The Inupiat, Central Yu’pik, and St. Lawrence Island Yu’pik people have occupied this area for centuries, this in spite of one of the harshest climates in the world. The culture is rich and varied and, despite reports to the contrary, still very much in effect. It has certainly changed, but you would be mistaken if you thought that your village was simply a rural Alaskan community as opposed to an Inupiat, Central Yu’pik or St. Lawrence Island Yu’pik village. You are not expected to abandon your values and assimilate those of the community, but to be open to learning about the values of the community and reflect upon how they impact your job as a teacher.
While almost all our students begin school speaking English, Inupiaq and Yu’pik is still widely used in many of our communities. Most of the people who are in their late 40’s or older grew up speaking Yu’pik or Inupiaq. These languages may still the primary language for many of the elders in your community, and, though they may speak to you in English, they are thinking in their first language and translating into English for your benefit. There are many local colloquialisms that may prove puzzling initially, but you will quickly become accustomed to this. These speech patterns are possibly the result of a literal translation of Yu’pik or Inupiaq to English: languages that do not mesh neatly. It is not a mission in our district to eradicate these speech patterns, for they are valid and accepted forms of communication. We do, however, use specific lessons to point out the importance of being able to communicate at a variety of levels and in a variety of situations. It may be helpful to pick up or look through a book or two on English as a Second Language in order to prepare yourself.
It may take you a while to become accustomed to the communication patterns in your community. Nonverbal communication is very important. As a sign of deference, in some villages students may not look you in the eye while addressing you. You may find children in your classroom raising their eyebrows and scrunching up their noses at you from your first day. They are not making faces at you, they are just answering yes or no (raised eyebrows for yes, scrunched up noses for no). Some people say that you will know that you are truly feeling comfortable in this environment when you find yourself unconsciously answering in the same manner. In general, the people in this region communicate in a much more relaxed manner than people from the lower 48. They are comfortable with silence and do not generally feel the need to fill conversational gaps. They also seek to avoid losing their temper. If you find yourself in a potential confrontation remember to stay calm and focus on the crux of the issue. Outspokenness is not necessarily an admired character trait. Be cautious expressing strong opinions, especially regarding the community or the people, until you have had a chance to acclimate yourself and have gotten to know several people. The most important communication tool you have at your disposal during your first few months is your ability to listen.