kenya been

Sep 09

“success is not about making money, it’s about living the life you wish”

Jul 31


It’s all over.

From counting day every day, posting on my tumblr everyday, forgetting to post, going to all these different places, teaching, and everything in between it’s been an amazing year and a few months.  I came to Kenya June 6th not knowing anything or anyone.  I arrived at the airport at night, found a short skinny man with my name on a piece of paper… and the rest is history.

I set out exactly what I wanted to do and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.  I impacted the school, the kids, and the program.  Together along with the other music teachers we improved our program, raised the level, I instilled my values as a teacher, and had some fun on the side =)

From learning how to ride a motorcycle in Zanzibar, road tripping to Uganda, bungee jumping over the nile, petting cheetahs, seeing all the wildlife a person needs to in their life time, the adventures seem to pile on.  Being on national television twice, the inside cover of the newspaper, and meeting and playing with Riccardo Muti are just a few of the adventures that highlight this unpredictable year.  One day  when I am home in NY and I have a real fast internet connection, I’ll add some pictures that the world hasn’t seen.. haha!

From having 0 friends a year ago, I look through my phone book and can’t even remember some of my contacts.  I have established a great rapport with my school the faculty, the students, and made friends that I will keep in touch with for years to come.  

I’ll miss this school.  Everyone here has treated me with the utmost respect… and maybe too much!  For my students:  I’ll miss them more than they will know.  When you don’t have many friends in a country, I would reach out to my students.  No matter if they were 6 or 16.  The students would always tell me, “Mr. Andrew, why are you always telling us your problems…?”  We’ll if they read this… maybe they’ll understand =)  They were there for me as I was there for them.

As everyone knows in my school, I’ll only be a 3 hour matatu ride away living in Nairobi.  And if Thika Road finishes… maybe an hour and a half!  I’ll be the Head of Music at Nairobi Academy, and during my spare time trying to be an awesome squash player.  

I feel like I have done a good job, and now the reality sets in that I am all done here.  It’s extremely sad.  I feel empty, but I feel accomplished.  It was amazing meeting and having Gillian Clements here.  She started the program in 2006.  She is a tremendous person, and she started this beautiful strings program here.  The program is all set for the next strings teacher; Rachel Nesvig.  She will do a terrific job, I am sure.  She has the right personality and attitude to succeed here.  It’s really sad to walk around school and it be so quiet.  The reality sets in that my work here is done, and I am no longer the strings teacher here.  I never thought I would be so connected, but it is what happened.  

I am happy I left on a good note, and if this is the beginning of my teaching career, I would say I am off to a good start.

Jul 22

lala salama.

I spent a couple of hours with the kids tonight making decorations for the music room, and my laptop was sitting there playing music.  I come home to open my laptop there’s a note that says, “Night Mr. Andrew.”  with one of my students initials.

I’ll miss this place.

Jul 19


Mvt III.

Oh boy.  These days I forget I have a blog.

From the last post, countless things have happened to me, I can’t even remember them all.  I guess that’s why I should keep my blog more serious like I used to!

Here are just a few things:  Went to Uganda, went to Lamu, bungee jumped over the nile river, white water rafted, slept in a rat infested room, flew in a private plane from a school, got a new job as a head of music at Nairobi Academy, met Rachel Nesvig (the next teacher in the line at MKA Strings), have a new apartment in Karen, played with Riccardo Muti and met him, was in the newspaper and on television, performed the Handel Halvorsen Passacaglia with Rachel in Nairobi, and probably a million more awesome things that I am forgetting.  

Anyway…. I was meant to come home June 6th, but I figured I would extend my stay until August 17th, and it worked out well, because I’ll be moving to Karen in September.  I will start teaching at Nairobi Academy September 12!  They have sweet squash courts, a great music room, and I have a great apartment!  I will try to bring my cello over in September too.

I have a lot of mixed emotions now that the strings program at MKA is out of my hands.  I am extremely pleased with it, I think it has improved since I got here, and that’s all I set out to do.  I wanted to inspire the kids, have a great relationship with them, try out new things as a beginning teacher, and now that I am wrapping up my year and few months… it feels as though I have been teaching for some time now!  The program is in great hands, and the kids are responding great to our new teacher and my new friend Rachel Nesvig.  The extra long layover period that we had here was fantastic, and very good for her.  It’s the longest layover period in MKA strings history but I hope that with every year our program gets better and better.  I think in the coming days I will try to write more about the program and my feelings for it.  In one year I have become so connected to these kids, country, school and everything else.  People say Kenya is addicting… and it is that and much more.  I absolutely treasure these kids.  From standard 1 to Form 4, they’re more than students to me.  A teacher once told me when I go into the teaching world, don’t be their friends, just be friendly….. but when you move to a different country not knowing anyone, and it is a boarding school…. the 1st graders become your best friends =0  Even if your day is awful, teaching is going badly, knowing that these kids smile when they see is win win situation for everyone.  If you ever need a breath of fresh air, these kids will help you out.  

SIDE NOTE.  Uganda is a crazy place.  I was tear gassed, road motorcycles everywhere, slept in a room with rats, bungee jumped…. to name a few.

So the end is coming.  Gillian Clements who started the program will come this weekend, and our school term ends this month.  I am just as sad as the students here, but I’ll be back!  I’ll come to visit since I’ll only be about 3 hours away from MKA.  I can never forget MKA…. it was one of my first teaching experiences and one of the most important I am sure.  I’ll post a bunch of pictures of what has been happening… and one of these days when I am home in New York I can post a lot more.  I just have thousands of pictures…..!!!

Feb 23

"Every class, every conversation, is a chance to learn."

The past month has flown by and been extremely busy!  I am in the middle of interviewing for different programs and what not, we are on the cusp of a midterm break, and I have to take the GRE exam again and try to get a better score.

This weekend Kenya has the Young Musicians Competition.  I have been asked to judge, so that is extremely exciting!  It’s funny.. the thought of judging DDR competitions just came into my head… I never did that, but for some reason it popped into my head.  I wonder if they have DDR machines in Kenya.  

I am excited to be at the competition, to see the talented musicians of Kenya, and also network with the music community in Kenya.

I have been reading a lot more about the music education program, El Sistema, and it amazes me with every article/essay I read.  

Eric Booth.  

Don’t mess with Eric Booth.  Check out what books he’s written.

If you are at all interested in education, read anything this “teaching artist” writes, and either your jaw will drop, or you’ll keep saying wow.  Or maybe I’m just a geek about education.  El Sistema is just such a positive, and innovative way of teaching individuals.  The word community pops out at me when I hear of El Sistema, and from that the students learn together, from each other, and from every experience.  The one thing I really enjoyed reading in one of Eric Booth’s essays was the fact that when a person walks into one of these El Sistema Programs, every kid will go to that person and try to learn from them.  To quote his essay, “Every class, every conversation, is a chance to learn.”  To have that mentality is a beautiful thing, and eventually when I have my own program I will instill that from day one.  There are so many philosophies from El Sistema, that if you incorporate them in your teaching skill set, it will transform you students and you as a teacher. Your students will no longer be students, but the will be artists, students, and teachers.  One does not have to fully embody the El Sistema approach, but if a teacher can learn the basics and the philosophies, it will make that teacher such a powerful “teaching artist.”  

Feb 20


Senior School.

Sun or the moon?

Senior School.

Sun or the moon?

Feb 06

I am in charge of a string program… but I want to START a string program.

A lot has happened since the last time I updated.  I met a whole bunch of tremendous people, I am judge for the Young Musicians Competition, we have a really good string orchestra now, and I have been applying to schools and programs to get ready for life after Kenya.

I’ll start with the people I met…  We had some visitors from the US, and he was headlined by Ashley Bryan.  He wrote about 40 children’s books, and has done a whole lot more.  Wikipedia has tons of information about.  He came along with some other people, a very intelligent doctor, two women that have a foundation that provide books and libraries for schools in Kenya, a 19 year old student that wrote a book at age 15, and a psychotherapist.  All of these inspiring people are all connected to Mt. Kenya Academy in one way or another, and now are even more connected.  We went to the Serena Mountain Lodge, where we got to know each other and watch animals from our hotel rooms.  It was amazing listening to Ashley Bryan…the man could recite poems like no other.  He had so many poems, he had one if you dropped your fork.  He is like a character out of a movie.  Anyway, I had an amazing time, and it was great getting to know the Superhero team of Ashley Bryan.

I keep thinking about what I want to do after my tenure here in Mt. Kenya Academy.  So many things come to mind.. do I want to go to school, get a masters and a doctorate?  Do I want to stay in Kenya and make a difference with string music, and pioneer cello?  A lot of me wants to build an awesome orchestra here in a school, and pioneer cello.  At the moment music is growing in Kenya, and they don’t have too many string programs.  If someone were here, and did a string program/orchestra correct in several years one could make a school orchestra famous in this country!  They could play everything from standard literature, and then even fuze traditional Kenyan music.  I would love to make something like that happen.  Just make an unbelieveable string orchestra that would knock people off their feet here in Kenya.  Sure, one could start an amazing program, like one of my teachers David Beck, and it could be great.  But in places like New York…. you are competing against incredible teachers/players.  I am not trying to sound like a cop out, but here since there aren’t many string programs, it’s taking advantage of the opportunity.  I know I could do it, I just need the interest among the students, the time in their busy days to put the practice in, and of course tons of help from the school/administration.  I know it could happen at Mt. Kenya Academy, especially with the talent at the senior school at the moment, but for some reason I don’t see the seriousness at the school for string instruments/orchestra.  Maybe it’s because the lack of a steady teacher?  I try to preach to the students to be serious and to take orchestra serious and it’s slowly working but the thing I’m talking about would take years for it to happen.  You would have to start a lot of students, hope that they stay at the same school, continue with the instruments, and then by the time they are high school, you will see a fantastic product.  

I’m not sure if I would want to start a program from scratch, or continue a program like at Mt. Kenya Academy.  Sure, this is the place one can do it, but with a new teacher in sight, it won’t be me.

I hope I have made a lasting impression… and I hope to continue to make an impression in the next 4-5 months.

One of my goals in life to start a program, and to see it come to fruition.  Maybe it’s right in front of me and I didn’t realize it…  

I know what I want.  I want to start a string program from scratch in Kenya, but with an American educational system structure.  The students start in Standard (grade) 4, and continue the instrument all the way through.  Sure the students in the school that want to learn at an older age can, but when those students clear, and the Standard 4’s are the older age, that’s when one will see the program taking off.  I guess you would have to say, the only time you can pick an instrument is Standard 4, or you miss the opportunity to play an instrument.  If you want to play an instrument at an older grade, maybe an option is to play privately until you are the level of the program, and then you can join.  I guess also, you need a school that usually has students go from Grade 1 to clearing Senior School.  For example, if you started a policy in MKA that you must start in Standard 4, by Standard 8 you will have great students…. but not all of those students go to the Senior School.  And I’m not sure if our attractive Senior School String program, would be enough to sway them to go to the school.. or would it?

Jan 27

You call this work?

Man…  4 months to go, and it feels like yesterday I was here with Zach..

I love living here, and I love teaching at Mt. Kenya Academy.  When you see the finish line, it makes one realize a lot of things.  A few of those things… how amazing this job is.  I wake up, and JUMP out of my mosquito net wrapped bed, I get to teach the most interesting and willing to learn kids.  Now that all of the students are so used to me, it’s great seeing how they’ll great me everyday.  How the little 6, 7 year olds will jump on me, punch, and kick me….in a good way.  Being able just to play basketball with the kids before my lessons at the Senior School, or jump in the pool, play soccer or rugby… where else are you going to get that!  I know if I was working at a public school back home, I would just be teaching till 3, then going home.  Plus the views from this school are breathtaking.  I mean… nestled in the Aberdare Mountains…?  Come on…

We’ll see what happens with programs and schools, but one option is to stay in Kenya, and possibly find a job in Nairobi..  the reason for this?  One plan I have is to stay in Nairobi teach music, but more importantly teach cello to Kenyans.  At the moment there aren’t really any cello teachers in Kenya.  I want to start cello in this country, and make the cello a thriving instrument… much like the “rock guitar” is in Kenya.  What better way to start, than in Nairobi.

Another option… is of course go back to school.  I am looking into University of Miami, and of course the big one…. the Abreu Fellowship, as part of the El Sistema program.   Hopefully in a few weeks I’ll have more on all of this.

But again… it’s going to be hard to leave this place, I have really grown attached, and who couldn’t be…. Sorry people.. I have the coolest job.  Tomorrow I get to go on a trip with Ashley Bryan a famous writer, his friends, to the Serena Mountain Lodge, where you can see wild animals from your hotel room.

Jan 12

Coolest names in Junior School:


Zawadi (gift in swahili)




Jan 11

All I want is a routine.

So things have been a little stressful lately…  The music room isn’t done at the junior school, so we will wait until it’s done to teach the lessons there.  Well…thats not very stressful actually.

I’m working on getting my roster for junior and senior school, and I think we should have that done tomorrow.  I think I’ll only accept a certain amount of students, I’m “weeding” out the students that don’t practice and that just take music to take music.  I mean… I know one kid takes music because the two girls he likes takes music… he’s a good kid, and wants to learn cello, but I have to tell him I can’t take him.  Maybe if he starts practicing!!!  We can put him in next term.  

The general feel of senior school is great, sure I miss the Form 4s that graduated A LOT, but that’s how teaching goes, every year a class leaves.

I have this GRE test coming up on Thursday, and I am not looking forward to it.  I probably should have scheduled it much later, and really studied for it, but I’ll take it, and talk to the admissions at Miami.  Hopefully everything else outweighs my score, and they can cut me a break or let me retake it in a few months.. who knows.  I mean.. they take really dumb football players in ivy league schools.  Although, I would be entering the world of academia again.  Who knows.. the dialogue between the professors have been good.  I have spoken to the head of music education, the Dean, and the head of Graduate Admissions, and they have all said good things.

I’m just eager to get back into a routine, and get back to teaching.  I’m going to limit my numbers big time, so that I can focus more on quality.  At first I thought the best thing would be to increase numbers, but it just can’t work here, based on the facilities and resources.  I’ll cut the numbers, and get these kids playing real well.

More to come.

Jan 10

Jan 09