Science, Students, and Ship Life

Susan Waldron entered college with the aspiration of becoming a doctor. But as her university studies were coming to a close, her path changed direction. Susan decided to use her science degree to become a high school teacher. A few years later, Mercy Ships entered the picture, and Susan was able to combine her passions for teaching, science, and medicine on board a hospital ship in Africa.

Susan answered “yes” to God’s question, “Are you willing to sacrifice everything to follow me?” and volunteered on board the Africa Mercy as a teacher for 3 years. In this episode, Susan talks about the joys of building relationships with her students, her love of taking “field trips” to the lab and hospital on the ship, and her candid worry about coming to volunteer as a young, single woman.

Susan has as much energy in the classroom as she does in this episode and will motivate you to live a life that impacts others.

Mercy Ships has brought hope and healing to those who need it most for over 40 years. Using hospital ships, we are able to provide safe, free surgical care to those in need and bring medical training to healthcare workers living in the countries we serve.

Looking for a way to join our mission of bringing hope and healing? Partner with us through a gift, volunteering with us, or by joining us in prayer.

 

                       

New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the New Mercies, a podcast by Mercy Ships, where we’ll take you behind the scenes and on board our incredible hospital ships that are transforming lives all over the world. We invite you to join us each week as we sit down with our crew, patients, volunteers, and partners to hear their stories of life-changing hope and healing.

It’s the back-to-school season and today we get to hear from another Mercy Ships Academy teacher. Susan Waldron set out to pursue a medical career but changed course to become a high school science teacher. When Mercy Ships entered the picture, Susan got to experience life in the hospital while doing what she loved most, which is teaching teenagers. Susan taught on board the Africa Mercy for three years and is here today to tell us all about it. Here is my interview with Susan Waldron or Miss Susan to her students.

Raeanne Newquist:

Susan, we are in the heart of going back to school. We’ve got kids who have started school on board, and we know kids all over the world are going back to school right now. So, we’re hearing from some teachers and are so excited to hear from you today, as you did teach onboard the Africa Mercy for about three years. So, Susan, welcome to New Mercies.

Susan Waldron:

I am so excited to be here. And it is fun thinking about all the back-to-school things, the new energy of a new school year, and stuff. So, I’m excited to be talking to you about school on the ship today.

Raeanne:

Yes, so much fun. Was teaching overseas something that you always wanted to do? Or how did this process come about for you to be teaching with Mercy Ships?

Susan:

In college I started thinking about what I wanted to do, I actually didn’t even know I wanted to be a teacher. I was originally planning to go into the medical field and because of that, I had heard about Mercy Ships. Then, kind of over college, I realized I was not interested in the medical field, that is not the direction I needed to go. And kind of found that out a little bit late in college. So, all of a sudden, I have a semester left and thought, what am I going to do instead of going to med school or PA school or whatever? So, I went to all these different career fairs — I just needed to find a job, I needed to figure out the next step of my life. So, at that time, I had been working as a TA for a class in college and really loved that. And so, I thought, you know what, I’m going to look into teaching. I’m going to try that for a year and see how that goes. Well, I go to this career fair for educators and at that point, I knew I was looking for a teaching job. I had gone far enough in the program towards getting my certification and had been looking into that. Well, Mercy Ships has a table at this career fair for educators with all these different school districts. I was kind of overwhelmed. I didn’t really know which school districts to talk to you. And so, I found them. And I asked, what are y’all doing here? I was thinking about maybe doing something with you guys in the medical world. And that was the first time that I heard about the academy on board the Africa Mercy as part of Mercy Ships. Because of the way I was doing my certification, I needed to teach in a public school in Texas for at least a year before I was fully certified and ready. Mercy Ships said I need to be fully certified, that’s what they look for. And so, I was like, okay, I’ll go teach for a year. And maybe I’ll think about this later. Well, I ended up getting my teaching job for a year and honestly, on bad days, teaching is hard. And I would come home from school some days thinking, what am I doing with my life? And in my mind, I was like, oh, yeah, if I was overseas, living some cool venture, that would probably be more fun than what I’m doing right now. Maybe that’s what I should do.

On breaks I would go and fill out little pieces of My Mercy Ships application. Well, then finally, I made it through the end of that year, and actually loved it loved the school I was at and so kind of by the end of that year, I was like, you know what? Mercy Ships looks like a really cool thing, but I’m not ready to commit for that long. And they do ask teachers to make a two-year minimum commitment. And I thought, you know what, I am going to stay here learn how to be a little bit of a better teacher. And I don’t think I’m going to quit my job for two years. I’ll go find something fun to like travel and do over the summer, but I don’t think this is for me. And so, I moved on and forgot about it a little bit. And then all of a sudden, I think it was maybe like halfway through the end of my second year of teaching, I went to this mission’s conference with my church, and not a single person at this missions’ conference knew about Mercy Ships. But I remember sitting there and just really listening to some speaker and hearing the Lord really speak to me and say, hey, are you really willing to sacrifice everything to follow me? And I remember sitting there and almost wrestling with the Lord and being like, okay, God, what are you calling me to give up? And I remember God saying, I want you to go home and turn in your application for Mercy Ships, it is now time. And I remember sitting in that chair, listening to this pastor speak about what we can give up for the Lord and how anything on this earth anything this world has to offer, any sort of success, or financial security or anything, Jesus is so much better than that. I sat there and kind of wrestled with God and thought, God, I don’t think I can do that. I don’t think I can quit my job for two years. I can’t do the whole raise support thing; I just don’t know about this. And I remember feeling like the Lord just very clearly said, I’m not asking you to quit your job for two years, right now. I’m just asking you to go home and turn in your application. And so, I did, I went home, and I said, Alright, Lord, I can turn in an application.

Raeanne:

You mentioned that you got your certification before you went, and that Mercy Ships said you have to be certified. That’s a great thing for people listening to know that all of the teachers in the Academies on board our ships are certified teachers, they are professionals. They’re volunteers, but they’re not people who say, hey, this would be fun to try teaching for a year. No, you guys are certified professional teachers, and our schools are phenomenal. The academies are absolutely incredible on board. So, I love that you mentioned that. I think it’s so cool that you had all this science background, because your trajectory was medical school — you wanted to be a doctor. So, you are currently a science teacher, but you were a science teacher on board for about three years. Before we get more into the specifics of teaching. Tell us a little bit what that was like for you. Having wanted to be a doctor now to be teaching in a hospital environment on a medical mission in West Africa? Did you have moments of thinking maybe I will go back to medical school, or you know, what was that like for you?

Susan:

The fact that it was teaching on a medical ship was just one of the small ways of the Lord confirming this is what I was supposed to do. I had wanted to be in this hospital environment, I wanted to see surgeries and watch people get healed and see the transformation that happens in that, and I love science. In addition, I love kids, I love students and I love those lightbulb moments of watching a kid not understand something and then learning some new pieces and watching them put the puzzle together in their minds. But then it was so cool to get to take my students on field trips. Every year I took my students on a field trip down to the lab on deck three in the hospital. And they are looking at different blood samples from the patients and showing us somebody who had malaria or something, and they’ve got like these slides of different bacteria that might be present in some sort of sample that they’re testing for. And that was so cool to get to be teaching those sorts of things in the classroom to my students, and then take them on a field trip down to the lab a couple of staircases below.

That was one of the best things about the ship — you can go on field trips all the time! I took the kids on field trips down to the engine room, we went on field trips to the lab, we went on field trips out to the dock… It was just amazing to get to watch all of that and watch the students connect all those pieces in their minds and see that everything they’re learning in the classroom is actually real life. And this is why we’re learning it.

Raeanne:

What an opportunity for young people to learn in such a hands-on way. It’s just incredible. Well, you taught the junior high and the high school students, specifically science on board. So, tell us a little bit about your students. We hear a lot about little kids being on board. But what is it like to deal with teenagers and to get to teach them? Tell us about your students.

Susan:

I would say the students on board are just phenomenal. And I really do love teaching high school. I mean, I was teaching at a high school before I came to the ship and just really enjoy getting to work with high school kids. They are a little different than the really little guys and elementary kids in the sense that you can just have more adult conversations with them. I feel like I can connect with them on a little bit deeper level. They’re ready to start thinking about their future and what they want to do and kind of seeing more purpose to what they’re learning in school and getting to make their own choices about things. I remember having a conversation with another teacher on board one day about how you just have such a different student teacher relationship than you would in a normal classroom.

One of the fun things that everybody did on Friday nights was go down to the dock and play Frisbee and I am the world’s worst frisbee player — it was not my thing. But I showed up there and all of the junior high and high school kids asked if I were coming, and I said yes. And it was so fun — you’re teaching these students in the classroom, you’re getting to really challenge them and push them academically, but then also, they’re the same people that you’re running around on a Frisbee field with and then all of my students were encouraging me! And so, it was just really cool to get to interact with them in a way where you’re their teacher, but you also have a deeper relationship with them.

Raeanne:

Well, you have the opportunity to live life with them more than you do at your school in Texas, because you’re not going home with your students in Texas and having every meal with them and going to church with them or hanging out on Friday nights playing Frisbee. But when you’re all living together as a community on board the ship, you see your students outside of class time, all the time and it’s totally different. What are some other differences that you experience teaching on a ship, as opposed to in a traditional classroom on land?

Susan:

In so many ways, it’s a totally different and incredible experience that you just really can’t compare. In the academy, we have a really great curriculum, and they have a lot of structure to it. And we’ve got your typical calendar, and you’re making your lesson plans, and you’ve got your standards that you’re teaching through, but in so many ways, it’s so different. I think one of the first things that I remember when I first got there was just how small your class size is. I’m used to teaching in a classroom of 20-30 students, and so much of what I did as I was teaching was getting students to talk as a teacher, I think one of my favorite quotes is, “the person doing the talking is often the person doing the learning.” And so, my goal is to always be getting students to talk about what they’re learning. I can stand up here and talk all day long, but I really want my kids to learn it, I want them to be the ones that are talking about it and discussing it and explaining it to each other. And so, I had so many different games or ideas or whatever, that worked great in a classroom of 30 students. And all of a sudden, I got to the ship with a class of three kids. And all of a sudden, all my games didn’t work anymore. And you get really creative, okay, how can I make this game work, even though we can’t switch partners seven times and explain the same thing to each other because there’s only three of us here. That was actually super fun getting to come up with really creative ways to engage in a class of three students.

Raeanne:

Oh, that’s very cool. Well, Susan, can you give us a highlight from your time teaching? I know in three years you probably have many highlights! Give us a highlight from your time teaching on board.

Susan:

I know that question is always so hard — how much time do you have, I can talk for hours? I think one of my highlights every year was getting to take our students on the Junior High / High School retreat. I know it was a highlight for students and it was a highlight for the teachers. It was just such a great time. So, every year, all the junior high and high school teachers together will plan a retreat for the junior high / high school students. It’s a three-day retreat, we find a location to stay at off ship. So, we actually take them in country, we go stay at a hotel or one year, we found this retreat center that some different mission groups had used, and it was right on the beach. And we would plan out the theme of the retreat, have different devotional times and different sessions for the kids just to reflect on their own lives. It was a bit of a spiritual retreat, it was not an academic thing. And so that was such a highlight because you really did get to know the students on such a deeper level. And I think that was so special, because as a team of teachers, we just prayed into that retreat so much. That would be a time that the Lord would really show up in the lives of our students and he would be speaking to them. That would unify them together as a group, it was just really incredible. And we got to do some really fun stuff too. We took the kids on hikes. We one year we were in Senegal, and we went on this whole ropes course with zip lines and rope swings and we took the kids out there and did that. So it was just so fun. And then it was just so sweet to see them connect with each other on deeper levels and get away from the ship for a bit and take a break and just kind of be restored and refreshed.

Raeanne:

Mercy Ships is so intentional with the development of the kids that are on board and not just academically, but also spiritually and also socially and to take those retreats is so special. We actually heard a couple of weeks ago from Justin Brunenkant who was the Chief electrician on board, and I understand one of the speakers for the Junior High / High School retreat in Senegal. So, I love that other members and other crew people are involved in the lives of students as well. We also heard last week from Mike Kirchner, who is currently the science teacher on board. And he was sharing with us a little bit about what it’s like to be in his 60s teaching, and I don’t want to say retired because he is so active, but in some ways, you know, retired from traditional teaching in the United States to go do this job. Now you came kind of in the opposite situation. You came as a young, single woman to serve. So, tell us what that was like for you personally.

Susan:

Yeah, I came to the ship just before my 25th birthday. I was still very young, figuring everything out. I had just finished my third year of teaching and then went and taught on a ship. And I remember really asking a lot of questions about that in my interview. I was like, okay, if I’m signing up to go serve as a teacher, and I’m working with all these families, am I ever going to have any friends on the ship? What is this going to look like? But the Mercy Ships crew is just phenomenal, and so diverse — there really are people of all ages. And yet we’re so unified in that, because we do all have the same vision and the same purpose of getting to bring hope and healing to people, it was just so fun to be on the ship and make friends with people across all departments. I became really good friends with a lot of the other teachers, some of whom were even younger than I was, and then we had others like our English teacher, she had been there for, I don’t even know how many years I think, I think maybe over 15 years, she’d been there for years and years, and was also in her 60s. And she became one of my dearest friends. And I just knew that I could always go to her, and she poured into me. And then I also had other friends that were nurses or people from reception, and we would go off on the weekends and go on trips, or go explore, go get brunch in town, or whatever. And so, all of that was just really fun finding community.

Raeanne:

I love that you candidly mentioned, when you were in your interview process, being concerned about going to work with all these families — am I going even have any friends? But the beauty of being on the ship is you’re really in a whole city. So, like you said, there’s a lot of nurses that are single in their 20s. There’s a lot of people in all different departments, you’ll find or your peers, not just in your own department, but outside of that. So, there is so much opportunity for relationships. And like you mentioned that diversity is so wonderful because you find that you are friends with people from all ages and stages, and also all different countries. Well tell us Susan, what is something that you learned from living on a ship?

Susan:

I think one of the things that I really learned from my times in Mercy Ships is just a new level of comfort in flexibility. I think before I came to the ship, I could very much see things so black and white. Getting to come to the ship and see so many people from so many different countries from so many different cultures that have different views on things and learning there’s a very different educational philosophy around grades and testing and all of that in countries in Europe compared to in the US, compared to in Australia. And all of a sudden, you’re building your classroom and you’ve got students from countries all over Europe and from Australia and from the US and from the Philippines and Brazil. And you’ve got to come up with a plan of how are you going to run your classroom in a way that works for everybody. And so, I’ve really learned to even just surrender so many of my own ideas and thoughts about how things should work in the world and say, that’s not actually the best way — there are a lot of other really good ways to get this done and educate students and glorify God in the process. That was really great. I will say I did learn a lot of other English words and pronunciations that are still English. My bunkmate was from Australia, and she was awesome. And so, we just would giggle all the time about different ways we would say words or whatever. I remember “queueing up,” I’d never queued up for anything in my life. Now I’m really good at queuing up for things, which means lining up. Let’s get in line and get things out of the boot of the car instead of the trunk of the car.

Raeanne:

I remember asking a British friend what she was going to do this weekend? And she said, well, I’m going to have a lie in. And then and I thought, you’re going to have a lion? What’s that? What she meant was I’m going to sleep in, you know, I’m going to get some extra rest, I’m going to sleep in, but they call it a lie in instead of sleeping. So, I thought that was great. But yeah, you do learn a lot of fun new phrases. And it’s really fun. So, Susan, how did you see lives change during your time serving on board?

Susan:

I did get to see that in so many ways. Lives are constantly being changed by what the Lord is doing through Mercy Ships. One particular life that I can think of, that I got to be a part of, was this sweet little girl named Treasure. And Treasure actually never came to the ship. Treasure was in an orphanage that Mercy Ministries had partnered with for the year that we were in Cameroon. It was actually my bunkmate Rachel, who signed us up for Mercy Ministries every single Saturday. It is an opportunity for crew members to go and serve in the local community in a way that is not necessarily connected to the ship. And so, one of our chaplains, Larry, lead Mercy Ministries every week and sometimes the Mercy Ministries go to the Hope Center where we have patients who are waiting to come to the ship for a surgery, or maybe they’re staying there for a few weeks until their post-doc appointment, or whatever. And so that was kind of part of Mercy Ministries, but also going out into the community and find orphanages, or local churches to connect with and say, hey, what can it look like to serve you guys? And so I got to be a part of that, which was totally incredible. We would go every Saturday, we would get up and go drive down the roads of Douala, Cameroon, and then turn off at this one spot, go down these little dirt roads and go out to this house where all of these kids were living. And there was this one little girl named Treasure that kind of became my friend over that year. And I remember she was really quiet at the beginning of the year. And she spoke French, and I speak English. But there was just a sweet sense of friendship between us. I got to the point because we did continue to go week after week, that she recognized me, she knew me. And so, we would get there and sing songs with the kids and share a story with the kids, we had a crew that would come and be a part of that with us. And so, they were doing things in French so that the children could actually understand what we were talking about. Anytime we would break up and play games or there was free time, Treasure would always find me, or I would always find her. And we would do crafts together. And it was just really cool to watch her light up over the course of that year. And there was the sweet friendship there that would not have been there if God hadn’t given me the opportunity to go to the ship. Yet the Lord allowed our lives to cross each other for that year that I was in Cameroon and so I trust that the Lord has changed her life and is working in her life. And I still think about her.

Raeanne:

How are you different and because you volunteered with Mercy Ships?

Susan:

I just have such a different perspective of the world now. I think the Lord really opened my eyes to different cultures and different needs. Being a teacher in the academy on the ship, it was not part of my day-to-day life to go down to the hospital. And honestly, I really didn’t go down there that much. I would arrange things and take my students on field trips down there and so we did stuff like that, but I really did not do that on a regular basis that was really not actually part of my life. But you still are a part of it, and it was still all around you and you watch these patients come in just suffering and hurting and you watch them leave healed. And that really does just leave you with such an impact of wanting to be aware of the people’s needs around you. And I think even now, I’ve been off the ship now for two years, and even now I still see people and they don’t have physical needs that aren’t as present and obvious, but I just know that there’s so many spiritual needs, and even just emotional needs and just learning to really engage with people around me. Two of the countries that I served in were Guinea and Senegal, which are predominantly Muslim countries. And so, I actually learned quite a lot about Islam just being in those countries and learning about Ramadan and festivals that are of significance to the Muslim culture. Well, the neighborhood that I have moved into in Dallas, Texas, where I live now is actually very close to one of the largest mosques in North Texas. And so, I have a lot of neighbors that are Muslims. And that has been a really cool way to connect with them and say, I see you, I know part of your culture, I know about Ramadan, and getting to share that with them and build relationships with those neighbors in a way that I think I never would have been able to before.

Raeanne:

Absolutely. I know that there are probably teachers listening to this maybe considering, gosh, would I ever go do something like that? Or maybe there’s parents listening, thinking, would I ever take my kids to live on a ship? What would happen to their education? What would be your encouragement to any teachers listening to this considering going to serve with Mercy Ships?

Susan:

I would say if you’re thinking about it, if you’re praying about it, go! It will change your life. And if you are in a place where the Lord has given you this opportunity, take it and go for it. In the beginning, I wasn’t all the way sure that God was really calling me to the ship, I was kind of like, ooh, do I just want to go on this fun adventure or is this really something that God has for me? If it lines up, and that opportunity is open for you, the Lord is going to be faithful to use your life. And I would even say all of the things that I was kind of unsure about, professionally, like, am I going to like to be able to keep up my teaching license? And is this going to be good teaching experience? Is this going to look good on my resume? All of that, honestly, I think that as a teacher, teaching with Mercy Ships taught me so much, I didn’t have just a whole team of science teachers to collaborate with, it really forced me to kind of grow in my own lesson planning and strategies. And so now that I am teaching in a public school in Texas and a lot of skills I learned on the ship of improvising and differentiating, I’m using here. And so, yeah, even professionally speaking, I think it really grew me a lot. It was an amazing journey that the Lord gave me and is still using in my life today. And it gives me incredible opportunities to talk to students in my classroom now and be like, hey, before I came to this school, I used to teach on a ship in Africa. All my students in class know that and so that’s fun conversations to get to have with them and even just opening up their eyes that there’s more out here than just like the suburbs of Dallas, Texas! Right. So, teachers thinking about it, I would say yeah, pray about it. And if it works out in the Lord’s opening doors, say yes, say yes to adventures with Jesus!

Raeanne:

I want to make a t-shirt that says, “say yes to adventures with Jesus.” Well, Susan, I thank you so much just for your enthusiasm and your heart to teach and to grow the next generation. I know that so many students were blessed on board by you, and I know that you’re continuing to bless students in Dallas. So welcome back to school and thank You so much for sharing a little bit about your Mercy Ships journey with us today.

Susan:

Well, thank you so much Raeanne. It was so much fun to get to talk with you and relive some of the stories of my time on board. Really was an incredible experience. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Raeanne:

There is always a need for great teachers on board our ships go to mercyships.org/volunteer to see current opportunities. Next week a fascinating man from Kazakhstan will be sharing his Mercy Ships journey. You won’t want to miss DK and the story of his radical life change on board the Africa Mercy.

For more information about Mercy Ships go to mercyships.org and to keep up with the guests on New Mercies, follow us on Instagram at NewMerciesPodcast.