Tag Archives: education

Instead of A Résumé

Mixco Viejo Kakchikel Fortress Ruins

Mixco Viejo Kakchikel Fortress Ruins

Someday someone is going to have a stack of résumés on a desk. He or she’ll pick up mine early one morning or late one night when he or she really wants to pick up coffee instead. This person will read the frame of my professional life and try to surmise if I’m worth the interview. Let’s say that I am, for the sake of the argument. When I get called into an interview and maybe my hair’s still a little wet from my morning shower and I’m wearing a suit I only pull out a few times a year, I’ll sit in front of this person with my shoulders pushed back—because I’ll have reminded myself that good posture is supposed to be a good sign. This person will ask me what makes me qualified and prepared for the job. My whole body will want my mouth to say, “Guatemala,” hoping that just that word will transfer all my knowledge and experience into this person’s mind The Giver style. My second urge will be to ask this person to read my personal travel diary even though it’s in Spanish—a next best option for explaining how this summer abroad has changed my life. The truth is, some of the things that give us the best preparation for a path in life, including a career, are often too gigantic to synthesize into a 12-point, Times New Roman, single-spaced blurb.

Even if I say this summer has changed my life, I wonder if that’ll mean anything to the person who interviews me. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t blame that person. See, the thing is, when every adult in my life said to me before I left, “You’ll have the time of your life,” it’s not that I didn’t believe them—I just didn’t understand them. How could I? We throw absolutes and hyperboles around so much that we don’t realize how much meaning we strip away every time we use “life-changing” to describe our pizza, a new album, or a newly discovered bookstore. Let me jump off this train back to my point. For half of my life, I’ve wanted to be a teacher and a writer. I’ve made it my ambition in life to work as hard as I can to do both jobs well someday. Three years ago, after tutoring ESL students every day after school for a semester, I knew I wanted to work with English language learners, so I stopped cramming for Spanish vocab quizzes and started asking about the more intricate grammar. Two years ago when I took my first Latin American History course, I also knew that I wanted to write about Guatemala, a country with a history so painful that it floods the land’s beauty with blood like dye in water. Studying and spending my summer in Guatemala has brought my dreams closer within my reach.

Mis padres de Guatemala

Mis padres de Guatemala

In Guatemala, I’ve learned what it means to be a language learner. My Spanish, although not perfect, has improved faster than a student athlete on steroids. But man, has it been a hard go of it. It’s not just a matter of learning the conjugations, idioms, and sentence structures. It’s not even as simple as using them in regular conversation. It comes down to this: when you’re nervous and flustered at the post office, on a tour, when your schedule changes, or when you’re so lost that you duck into a “Chicken Champion” chain restaurant just to ask directions, can you convey what you mean like a normal human being? Now while I can’t assume the ontological position of (all of the conditions of) an English language learner, I can grasp a heck of a lot better their challenges. I know how scary it is when you don’t have time to strategize sentences strung together in your head. I know what it’s like to struggle with a grammatical structure that absolutely doesn’t exist in your native language. It’s difficult when you concentrate all your energy on just understanding and you have none left over to create a thoughtful response—and I know how it feels when someone mistakes that for disinterest. Worse, I know the sense of helplessness when you realize instantly that you’ve just made a grammatical error and there’s no time for you to let the native speaker you’re with know that you know the correct form without stalling life—but you wish like crazy you could let them know you know.

A Guatemala Ciudad

A Guatemala Ciudad

Living in Guatemala, even for a sneeze-worth of time, has taught me what real poverty and terror can look like for a lot of folks. Frankly, I don’t even like to talk about it too much when my audience can’t see my eyes and know for certain that I’m not bluffing or speaking glibly. Because in addition to these conditions, I’ve seen in Guatemala what it means to enjoy and succeed in life. I’ve seen what it means to have dozens on dozens of different cultures crammed into one environment, and what it actually means to coexist.

Las chicas de la mañana a Los Patojos

Las chicas de la mañana a Los Patojos

Chicos de la tarde de Los Patojos

Chicos de la tarde de Los Patojos

At my internship at Los Patojos, an alternative school full of love, creativity, excellence, and bossness, I’ve learned what it means to invest in your students as much as you wish to be invested in, to work long hours, plan lessons and then roll with it when plans change, and to collectively find a great idea and run with it while laughing your eyeballs off. My readings, lectures, and class discussions have taught me the intricacies behind culture and fighting against systemic oppression. In a phrase, from Guatemala I’ve learned how to respect what’s different without making a scene and then to keep working for a better world. All of this and more, I’m sure, will help me as I work as an English or History teacher in a Latino community. Maybe I won’t know a Dominican accent that well, the details of a small regional culture from Ecuador, or the exact chain of events in Mexican history. Still, this trip has made me aware enough to be on the look out so that I can learn.

Lago Atitlán

Lago Atitlán

And as far as writing goes, as kids say these days, the ideas are literally everywhere (no figurative meaning for that “literally”). The mountains look like sleeping dinosaurs covered in moss, the fog floats around the highlands like a sea of clouds, the lakes seem like massive craters in the moon filled with water, and the people have more passion to work for a better Guatemala than any metaphor could explain. The historical, political, sociological, and emotional knowledge I’ve gained has given me what I needed as I write my creative thesis (and hopefully someday novel) about Guatemala—things like jokes, facts so unknown to outsiders that you could never Google them, and belief systems that I’d never learn at my home library in Pennsylvania.

Cerro de La Cruz en Antigua

Cerro de La Cruz en Antigua

In Guatemala, my life has changed and certainly for the better. I think of my professors and teachers who gave me a boost to where I am now, and I know that whenever I see each of them, I’ll have an uncontainable grin and tell them, “I learned so much,” and I know they’ll understand. I know they’ll grin and nod back at me because more than anything, Guatemala’s taught me how to be a grown-up. More than once I’ve realized that I’m not on some guided tour through life anymore with snacks and hugs provided by adults with name tags—rather I’m on the precipice of having to be an autonomous human being that has to participate in the world without a provided prompt.

Dos Mundos Reúnen

Dos Mundos Reúnen encima de las ruínas

A thousand points if you figure out a way to convey that all with sincerity and passion in a 12-point, Times New Roman, single-spaced blurb, because this is one for the books.

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Filed under Abby in Guatemala, Central America

Ben Franklin, We’re Not In Pennsylvania Anymore

Antigua Collage

Hi! Thanks for coming! Please, take a seat! Let me say that I’m just happy you came to hear about my summer study abroad in Guatemala. This origin story will only take a few minutes, I promise.

The only way I might’ve guessed two years ago B.C. (~before college~) that I’d study abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, this summer is if I had run my hand along a spinning globe until the bumps under my fingers slowed down and by chance I landed on it. Let’s be real, folks. I’m from a small Pennsylvania town outside of Valley Forge and Philadelphia, and I study English and Secondary Education–you wouldn’t have guessed Guatemala as my summer study spot either.

So then why, right?

Serendipity is the shortest answer. The Spark Notes summary might say that I signed up for a Latin American history class on a whim during my first semester in college, which sent me in a different academic direction than I had planned. In one semester, I felt my stomach drop in surprise like it was dropping down a canyon. My brain clouded with dust as everything I thought I had known about the United States’ interactions with Latin America swept away and new information settled. I know my professors got a kick out of how frequently my eyebrows shot up and I went, “Really? That happened?” To them, I was late to the proverbial party like a kid shouting the obvious, ‘Smoking is Bad For You,’ at today’s doctors. The history of Guatemala struck my heart more than any other, and I can’t express how much I really, really mean that.

Penn State Schreyer

My thesis at the Penn State Schreyer Honors College focuses on the U.S. involvement in the 1954 coup of the Guatemalan government and the subsequent thirty-six year civil war and half-century of corruption, violence, and economic inequality. Didn’t know that happened? Yeah, me either. [If you did: 10 points. Count your points at the end of the summer for a maybe-theoretical prize.] Turns out we’re not alone–most Americans have no idea about the coup or even where Guatemala is on a map. (It’s right here.)

Guatemala Map

Because of my thesis, I searched all over my friendly, neighborhood interweb for a study abroad program in Guatemala. In a way, all of my research and coursework over the past two years has been preparation for my summer abroad. I’m as “prepared” as one can be to step into a new world. I’ve got my multiple canisters of bug spray (you have to wear it all the time, from when you shower in the morning to when you get ready for bed). I’ve got my versatile clothing ready for hot sun, cool rain, or hot rain. I’ve read all the travel notifications, reviewed my verb conjugations, and packed my vitamins.

But man, oh man, you can bet that I’m anxious. I’ll miss my family and friends. I’ll miss French toast with maple syrup and knowing the best places to go running. Most of all, I’ll miss my sense of secure comfort. Ben Franklin, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Pennsylvania any more. In Guatemala I don’t have home field advantage and I know I’m going to need a generous learning curve. Guatemala also represents my “Big Plans.” It’s the essence of everything I’ve said I’m going to do for two years, so you can bet that now that the someday is tomorrow, there’s a small voice in me that can’t sleep that wants to whimper “just kidding” and curl up in my hometown. But it’s a small voice–nothing a little bit of humming and crossing my fingers can’t fix.

Tomorrow I go to Antigua, Guatemala, to study through the University of Arizona a whole new language, history, and culture until August 8th. I’m excited and terrified to finally step into the world I’ve read about for two years, and I know my time’s sparser than chips in a complimentary bag of Lays. I’ve got exactly fifty-six days and nights in Guatemala, and every week I’ll post my stories. Wish me luck as I head out. Like I said, I’m just happy you stopped by to hear what I have to say.

Cheers.

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Filed under Abby in Guatemala, Central America

Amigos, Friends, Same Thing

One of the things I was most scared about for my study abroad trip was making friends. It sounds so first-grade sometimes, but I really didn’t know how I was going to do it. Especially in another language. However, I have managed to prove myself completely wrong. I have made friends in almost everything that I have done here. In class, playing sports, on the bus, at home, going out, traveling, you name it. It’s been the greatest part of living here. My Ecuadorian friends mean the world to me now. They have taught me way more than I’d ever learn inside a classroom and have begun to inhabit a very special place in my heart.

One friend I’ve made here has taught me something huge about myself that I never knew before. I learned that I actually find so much joy in teaching others. I’ve always known I could be a teacher if I ever wanted to because my entire family consists of teachers, but I never thought I’d enjoy it. However, I’ve recently been shown otherwise. It is obvious that I am in Ecuador right now to learn Spanish; but, a lot of students my age also enjoy the fact that I can help them learn English. At the beginning of the semester, I became part of a diversity club on campus that partners up a native Spanish-speaker with a native English-speaker to have conversations every week. These talks are half in Spanish and half in English so that each partner can have an opportunity to practice their second language and learn from a fluent speaker of that language. It’s a great resource for practice. On top of this opportunity, my closest Ecuadorian friend, Santiago, and I have this friendship where we can ask each other anything and are both more than willing to help the other with whatever they need. For example, whenever I don’t understand a detail of why Ecuadorians use one word over another, I just ask him and he sits down to explain it to me. So, a few days ago, Santiago and I had our first conversation in English. He is a little bit shy, and he hasn’t ever asked me to talk in English with him before because he is still in the beginning stages of learning the language. But that day, we hung out for over an hour speaking in my language for once, and I found such joy in my heart in helping him figure out words he couldn’t understand or expressions he didn’t know; seeing his face light up when something finally clicked in his head was irreplaceable. Teaching him my own language was actually incredible, and I absolutely loved doing it. One of many things that I can add to my list of Things-That-I-Have-Learned-About-Myself-Abroad is my love for teaching those who genuinely want to learn. If it wasn’t for some of my Ecuadorian friendships, I never would have known about this part of me. How cool is that??

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Filed under Kassie in Ecuador, south america, Uncategorized

Lifetime Impact

This study abroad experience has had a substantial impact on my academic and professional goals, but not in the typical sense of “now I know what career I want” or “now I know what graduate degree to get.” Rather, it has given me the courage to not settle for something I don’t believe in or don’t have a passion for. This experience abroad has given me the confidence to ***cliché alert*** reach for my dreams. Let me see if I can explain myself.

Like many other languages, Arabic is hard. It challenges my abilities constantly. It’s empowering. It’s frustrating. One moment I feel like I have it, then the next moment I don’t. Arabic and I definitely have a love/hate relationship. One thing that keeps me going is my passion for what it provides me: the ability to delve into the profundities of Middle Eastern culture. Speaking with natives for two hours a day in Arabic was a daily homework assignment that required discipline, but for me it was also a great privilege. Being a language learner means becoming vulnerable. That vulnerability broke down a lot of social and cultural barriers and gave me access to the hopes and fears of real people. The study abroad gave me a chance to check my arrogance at the door and really understand people. It enhanced and complemented my world view giving me insight into issues I had previously not had. This is a main reason for my study of Arabic aside from the fact that I have really come to love the Arabic language.

I didn’t choose to study this language just to have a competitive edge on job or grad school applications or to sound exotic; I chose it because I have a genuine desire for it. My future has been determined by the study abroad because I am no longer afraid to pursue something I am passionate for because conventional wisdom says I should do something else. I don’t have to let others dictate to me what graduate degree to get or what career I am best suited for. This experience has taught me that there is no one pathway to success. There is no one degree to get or job to aim for. Every person is different. We each wind our own way through life. Why not wind your way doing something you love?

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Filed under David in Jordan, middle east

Several Shades of Gray

Perhaps everything in ones life can be measured with something as simple as the sixth-grade mathematics.  We learned of an object known as an open line segment.  This theory may sound too simple to be accurate, but upon closer inspection, one may find clarity in his/her circumstance. Too often do individuals obtain ideas throughout their lives, and place them on either Point A or Point B.  This black and white mechanism disregards the difference and the beauty that can be found in each moment because on an open-ended segment, the answer cannot be found on the two opposing points, but rather in the space between.

On this segment, people will never fully have one trait or another, but rather some degree of that characteristic.   The gray area that exists between the opposite ends of the segment is where one’s reality lies, for the perfection of an ideal composes the opposing points.  When one polarizes the complex nature of social situations, he/she creates a stereotype that places an idea of a person or thing into the box of an ideal.  It is necessary to examine that which cannot be defined because if we do not, then we gain a satisfied yet inaccurate judgment of others rather than a well-rounded understanding.

On this studious adventure of mine in Costa Rica, I have discovered that when my reality changes – all that I am left with are my philosophies – the ideas that compose the nature of my existence.  What I know about the world becomes somewhat invalid because I cannot view this new place through the same social lens, so my ideas have been whittled down to the original figures of love, persistence, positivity, and other things that are inherently human. When one says that they want to study abroad because they would like to find out more about themselves, I believe that is essentially what they are describing.  Because when one’s surroundings change, it is true character that will stay the same.

The past month has filled me with insights that have begun to expose the shades of gray surrounding many of the prevalent social issues, such as social health care, education, and gay rights.  Continuing to discover the specifics of these things has been a motivating factor for me recently.

Social Health Care

In brief, this country is run on a social health care system in that everyone – including those that work here from Nicaragua have access to it.  During my first weekend here in Costa Rica, my group and I went on a tour of a coffee plantation, and explored the park of a legendary waterfall.  Our tour guide, Gustavo, shared his thoughts about this feature of Costa Rican politics.  He used to be opposed to the system, but his sister was then diagnosed with a terminal case of thyroid cancer.  Not many survive from this ailment, and because of the health care system – she was not only able to receive a treatment that cured her, but also was able to receive substantial financial aid.   Something that she would have spent the entirety of her life without paying off was reduced to something that the government took as their expense.

My home-stay mother can offer another perspective on this topic.  Her view is more negative due to the fact that many qualify for the same degree of assistance that there is not enough present to adequately handle problems that arise.  As she sees it, if she were to get sick, it may take three years to receive satisfactory attention.  The complicated nature of this issue is apparent – and as controversial as it may be – there is no black or white answer.

Education

Costa Rica is known for their phenomenal education system, but every system has its flaws.  Upon arrival, I believed that the system must be very respectable because the government of this country does not have an army – it chooses instead to finance its educational institutions.  As a result, the literacy rate is much higher than that of other countries, such as the United States, and it places a great deal of pride on these facilities.

Today in class, we discussed the experiences of several education students that have been working in the school systems now for about a month.  Notably, they have been working at selected private and public institutions in a small radius within San Jose.  They offered several takeaways:

1)   Without going into excruciating detail – the standard of literacy is sufficiently lower here than it is in the United States.

2)   English classes are highly valued – especially in private schools.

3)   Religion is present in the classroom in that occasionally – one must be Catholic to teach, and the teacher leads “prayer time” at one or multiple points throughout the day.

Another interesting point that can give a powerful look into the occupational nature of this country is an exit exam that students take after their high school experience.  The idea is somewhat like the SAT in that it includes questions that are non-major related, and is indeed a standardized test.  However, the outcome of this evaluation does not just give one a number to submit on a college application.  It actually limits one’s future occupation.  For example, if one does not achieve the score necessary to study communications, then that option is not a possibility.  One can take additional classes to become more proficient on the exam, and then take it again.  This, however, assumes that one will have the necessary resources.  Every society has constructs that control the success of individuals within its population.  I view this exam as a factor that sustains a socioeconomic cycle.  If one grows up in an underprivileged neighborhood, then there is an excellent chance that the educational capacities of that area will not be equal to that of privileged areas.  Immediately following high school, young adults take this exit exam, and have their possibilities minimized to some degree.  The underprivileged population may never gain the ability to study for a higher paying profession.  Comparably, in the United States, if one receives a bad score on the SAT, community college can be an alternative.  From there, one can enter into a more highly ranked institution.  Opportunities to step beyond the constraints of social class are more easily accessible in this regard.

Gay Rights

Before I begin – I should discuss my misguided initial impressions of this country. I had not yet experienced the social environment, therefore, my views were uneducated and ensnared by a stereotype.  Homosexuality was a word that I thought would never be mentioned in my household.  The opposite has proven true.  I have found that not only is it acknowledged, it is supported.   I am aware that my household may be an exception to the majority, but I never thought I would be living with a house of avid advocates.  Many individuals in my Costa Rican home are actively aware of the present social movements, and this has been a great resource to jump-start my regional education.

Weeks ago, I traversed to the Congress building where I received a tour.  Laura Chinchilla is the current President, and is the first woman to hold the position.  She appointed her version of “the cabinet” to establish the priorities of her presidency.  Those topics are discussed over the course of several months, and I came at the right time to hear about a few of them.  Gay rights, however, did not make it to her list.

The state of the human services agency that is run through the government may function gloriously, but my experience indicates that the leadership is somewhat unpopular at the moment.  This organization exists to protect people against the social inadequacies or injustices that government produces.  Currently, the man who is in the director’s chair believes that there is a cure to being gay.  He has proposed this cure, and has received government funding for its implementation.  The LGBTQIA group, or “Los Invisibles,” which is an easy translation, feels that their rights have been infringed upon.

In response, the LGBTQIA community organized a rally in the middle of San Jose that several members of my household and I attended.  It was made public via the news, etc.  Upon arrival, I expected there to be protest against the rally.  I expected this event to be dangerous to attend.  There was no noticeable protest – and in this place where I thought anger would be present – all that was visible was a peace-seeking community that had gathered to celebrate their difference.   We, as a single unit, marched to the Ministry of Human Rights.  Chants that were first sung into a microphone were then echoed by the moving mass.  As we proceeded, I witnessed the looks of hope and happiness displayed across the faces of the crowd.  My family and I stood next to a motorcycle that honked the rhythm of our Spanish chant.  The character of this populace possesses an indomitable spirit that seeks to enlighten a people, and revolutionize a legal system.

DSC01360DSC01405DSC01412

For if one chooses to see in black and white, he/she will gain a perception that will satisfy, but not exemplify existing complexities.  If one could merely see in these two colors, his/her image would lack the depth that shades of gray provide.  This country is struggling with the concepts related to health care, education, and gay rights, and much of this can be observably attributed to people living inside of a social box.  If one matures without the ability to question, he/she will inevitably become a product of the surrounding environment.  It is by starting the difficult conversations with people that one will find new and exciting perspectives that may challenge what he/she believes.  I advocate for these conversations – because even if offered a perspective that contradicts one’s own – it produces a more open mind, or a deeper understanding of a previous belief.  Hiding from difference will only continue ignorance, while embracing it promotes a future that can speak and operate across it.

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Filed under Central America, Dan in Costa Rica