By Elizabeth Loewer
Elizabeth reflects on her experience as a Residence Assistant in the boys’ dorm, HBR, after transferring there from the girls’ dorm, Wittlingen (Witt), at Black Forest Academy, TeachBeyond’s school in Kandern, Germany.
The best word I can find to describe this year so far would be JOY.
Working in a boys dorm was not a scenario I had ever imagined. In fact, last year, my co-RA Emily and I were talking about how some of the other female RAs in boys dorms are such perfect fits and so great at their jobs (like the inspiring RA I work with now). Emily said, “Yeah, some RAs I could picture in boys dorms, and some I just couldn’t. Like you, I mean, you would never be in a boys dorm!” Well, Emily, you shouldn’t say such things when God is listening. I wholeheartedly agreed with her, though, and when I first found out I would be moving to a boys dorm, I was surprised, intimidated, and very curious to see what God was thinking.
Of course, a transition always brings some loss and role redefinition, but truly God has granted me a gift of a year. I prayed for laughter, and God has lavished it! (As my co-RA Chris likes to remind me, I should have added the caveat of laughter in socially appropriate limits.) We have laughed freely as a staff, and I am awed by these friendships I had no idea were coming into my life this year.
And the boys. Well, they have certainly contributed to the joy and laughter. I never knew boyhood was so delightful! I’ve been saving a few quotes for you that have made me smile:
“Guess what I bought today: Sushi socks! Sushi with socks on them. I mean, socks with sushi on them!”
Running into me between classes while I was running errands at school: “Hi, Elizabeth! Look at my shoes—they’re two different colors!”
After I caught him riding a skateboard down the hallway during study hours: “I’m sorry. I’m done now. I couldn’t help it; I just saw it there and had to ride it.”
After the guy next to him let out a hearty belch: “You are in the presence of a lady!”
“Elizabeth, look!” This is my favorite quote because it can be followed by any number of impressive tricks. Like sucking their lips into the vacuum cleaner while doing chores. Or flipping a water bottle into the air to land upright. This one is usually followed by 15 minutes of rhythmic thudding noise as they practice down the hall. (Did you know that there’s even a virtual game of this bottle-flipping trick? Things I will never understand.)
Because my bedroom is private but I have a lounge/living room that’s open to the guys: “You don’t have a bed. Do you just sleep on your couches? Because that doesn’t seem very comfortable.” I responded that RAs are mythical creatures who don’t actually need to sleep but just patrol the halls at night.
“They didn’t have clichés back in the ’90s.”
When trying to write a short story for English class about a female protagonist: “OK, I guess I could ask you for advice, since you’re technically a woman.” This one made me laugh out loud! “Um, thank you?”
“Can we go clothes shopping this weekend? I need a new profile pic.” I guess they aren’t so different from girls after all…
Which brings me to the question that my coworkers, supporters, HBR boys and Witt girls have all asked me this year: What is different about being in a boys dorm than a girls dorm?
Well, here’s a little list I’ve collected so far:
- Boys are not louder, just a different pitch of loud.
- We drink more milk—120 liters per week!
- They need snacks to tie them over between dinner van (the van we take to pick up dinner) and dinner.
- Preparation for Christmas banquet mostly involves playing soccer and video games, instead of painting nails or curling hair.
- They clean up pretty nicely (even if they don’t spend all day getting ready like the girls did). And even on formal occasions we have to shout “HBRRRRR!!” for pictures.
- Bacon goes in everything.
- They eat ramen noodles out of bowls the size of serving bowls.
- We have fewer leftovers.
- Birthday traditions are a little weirder.
- Arm wrestling matches occur at the table. Full-out wrestling matches occur everywhere.
- I never have to carry anything heavy.
- At Witt, we had to make announcements about not flushing what should not be flushed. (Once our pipes got clogged because a girl had flushed a towel down the toilet—no, not a paper towel, a towel). At HBR, we have to make announcements about not missing.
- In both dorms, we ended up taking a dorm outing to Roman ruins near Basel. With the girls, we visited all the historical sites and took a tour of the museum. The boys just climbed all over the historical sites. They didn’t even make it to the Roman bath ruins because they got distracted on the way, but that didn’t matter to them a bit!
- And despite the differences, some things are surprisingly similar:
- Girls and boys both burp.
- Girls and boys both giggle. (I love it when these boys giggle.)
- Girls and boys both listen to Justin Bieber and the Frozen soundtrack.
- Girls talk about boys; boys talk about girls. (Someone once told me that teenage girls talk about boys much more than the other way around. This is a lie.)
- Boys get chocolate cravings too.
- Girls and boys both stress about homework and friends and about being liked. They both get homesick sometimes. They both worry about college and the future. Both are figuring out who they are and how to live in this crazy world, and both want to be loved and known, even if they show it in different ways.
Although in this blog I’ve mostly shared silly, light-hearted things, I also love these boys for their strength, their tender kindness, their discipline and creativity, their sense of justice and protectiveness, their courage to grow and to risk being new, their willingness to let others in, and for the layers of their stories that I’m only beginning to touch.
I am starting to realize what an extraordinarily sweet spot I am in – female RA to a houseful of teenage boys. There is something unique about being a role model and caretaker across genders. There is a way I can affirm and guide and encourage that’s different from what I could offer the girls, and it’s different from what I would offer were I a male RA. It makes me think of and pray for the mommas who are missing their sons right now. It makes me think of and pray for the two brothers I am missing right now. And it makes me very, very grateful for the 24 precious HBR boys I get to live with during this gift of a year.
Is God calling you to serve missionary kids in a school like Black Forest Academy? Search for open positions at http://go.teachbeyond.org.