Unexpected Joys… of Teaching Abroad

My entire life I’ve known that I was NOT destined to be a teacher. My sister considered going into education when we were picking college majors, but the thought never even crossed my mind. Therefore, when I decided to do an internship in a French high school while living in Strasbourg, I was very hesitant. I was exceptionally nervous as I entered the school. I was surprised to find just how much older I felt, just 2 years out of high school myself. My eyes must have been wide with horror as I dodged yelling students that had no shyness about shoving into each other. I also felt quite invisible, suffering from poor French and a significantly shorter stature than the average student.

But I reached the classroom where I was slated to be an assistant and I was welcomed with open arms. The teacher I was assigned to was excited to have me and “an American perspective” and as soon as the students were allowed to ask me questions, they were very inquisitive. From that great start, going to the school has only gotten better. I became re-adjusted to the noise and maturity level of high schoolers and now I even look forward to greeting their enthusiasm with lessons and explanations of American culture.

At first I did a lot of observing, but after just a few weeks the teacher I was shadowing suggested that I come up with a lesson to teach. The students in that class spoke excellent English…. so I titled my lesson “surviving casual encounters”…. and proceeded to teach them American slang. They wrote down every word I said and offered up their own contrast to French slang, so as I taught, I also learned. The lesson had been so enjoyable for me that I decided to offer outside oral practice for the students and went on to also lead debates for the students during class time.

I was not destined to teach… but it has happened anyway and I’m glad it has. More than ever now it has made me determined to apply to the peace corps and continue spreading english as a second language. Certainly teaching in an under developed country will be a very different experience, but the principle of spreading language remains the same- not to mention the chance to keep expanding my own secondary language skills! I’m glad that I’ve discovered how fulfilling teaching can be and hopefully when my internship ends in a few weeks it will mark the beginning of my opportunities in this area, rather than the end!

Pinch me, I must be dreaming

Today one of my longtime dreams was fulfilled. I visited Mont St. Michele (still here actually). The experience of approaching the Mont as it loomed out of the fog was surreal. I took an enormous quantity of photos and my mouth might have been gaping wide open the entire time. I was in just as much awe four hours later when I watched the tide creep up to the island and flow past at its alarming speed. I am having the most amazing time and looking forward to taking advantage of the hotel to take an outrageously long shower tomorrow…. but what next?

Alright, that’s a dream fulfilled. A stomach happy. A bucket list item crossed off. But the point for me is to keep on dreaming. I desperately wanted to see Mont St. Michele and now I have seen the second highest tide in the world cutting off one of the only two part time islands. I guess that means I ought to set my sights on visiting that other island, in Asia. It’s a new and vague goal… but the idea is that I let my fulfilled dreams themselves inspire the next dream.

On a simpler dimension, I have visited three areas of France, so clearly the only logical aspiration is to visit a fourth and a fifth part of France. That forth area will actually be taken care of as soon as next weekend, as I venture forth on a school trip, during which I’ll even be trying foie gras (with considerable trepidation due to both anticipated taste and animal rights claims).

Dreams have to build off of each other, so that each one is more grand than the previous and life can continue to hold its wonder and mystery. It’s the dreams that keep wanderlust alive. And some days it seems that wanderlust is what’s keeping me alive.

Image (internet photo- mine haven’t been uploaded yet)

Cultural diffusion- exploding out of the textbook

I still remember clearly during first week of global history in my ninth grade year, over half a decade ago now (A long time when you´re just about to hit twnety)… During one of the first classes my teacher introduced a list of terms that were going to be important during the year and foremost among them was cultural diffusion. I don´t think a single week went by without it coming up in class. It was soundly pounded into our skulls… so thoroughly in fact that all these years later as I wandered into the city center of Cordoba, Spain, that word popped up in my mind once again.

I walked through the historical Sephardi Jewish section of the city and then stepped through a Moorish style doorway into a cathedral that used to be a mosque that stood on the ruis of an older cathedral and was just a stones throw from a Roman victory arch. There was more history and cultural diffusion packed into two city blocks than most areas of the world can boast over huge tracts of land. Sure, there had been war and destruction involved in those culturl clashes, but each had taken from the other and some level of cooperation had also existed during some points over the millenia.

Even though Catholic mass is held in the building today, it still looks distinctly Muslim until you reach its Christian heart. Rather than knock the mosque down and build anew, the christians recognized how amazing the building, the Mezquita, already wass and simply expanded on it. And it really is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever had the pleasure of wandering through. The Muslim style arches are a sharp and foreign reminder of the past, but also convery pure beauty with their gold detail and unique stone structures create a distinctive striped pattern with brick and sandstone (?). Most remarkable were the countless pillars that filled the interior. It´s so easy to imagine Moors from an age past kneeling among the pillars to pray and filling the enormous space with their solemn religious observance. It´s a kind of beauty that doesn´t need to be lavish to take my breath away.

Maybe that´s just an example of modern cultural diffusion… my culture has been touched by enough others that I find so much appreciation in a place so different from “conventional Western architectural beauty”

Maybe We´ll Meet Again Someday

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It´s true that I travelled a lot before this trip, but this experience has added so much more to my understanding of travel. I have learned that we travellers really are a global community. I´ve had conversations this week with people from nearly every continent on earth and asside from the occasional language blip the conversatio nhas flowed easily every time because we all recognize in each other kindred spirits. I know I sound like Anne of Green Gables by using that reference, but it´s incredibly accurate. We all want to see the world and learn by doing, so here we are in Europe, or in any hostel in the world, sharing our passion with those near us and with a worldwide network of thousands, maybe millions of other like-minded people.

My first night I bonded with an Austrial girl, two nights ago I learned a little latino dancing from a Columbian guy, and last night I sat in the common area chatting with two Argentinians and three Canadians. Now we´re all taking off in opposite directions, but we experienced enough imediate connectio nthat we all exchanged facebook information and if we all keep travelling maybe we´ll meet again. I certainly hope we´ll meet again. I´d love to show off my corner of the United States to a person who will enjoy it for the culture, or visit Buenos Aires and experience that parts of the city that the locals love.

Hopefully as I continue to travel my network of backpackers will continue to grow, whether I travel alone again or with a companion who likes this community just as much as me. Maybe one day I´ll even travel with somebody I meet on the road!

In Real Life Now

You can study all you want, but there are just some things you don´t pick up in a classroom. I consider my comand of basic spanish to be pretty good and I´ve had teachers that did a great job of introducing cultural aspects too, but now that I´m in Spain, there are still some important things I´m learning on the fly because the real world is trully the only place to complete your education.

Last night as I spent the evening with a handful of students from South America that I met in my hostel, we were engaging in a conversation that cxonstantly switched between languages. I asked one of the native spanish speakers where he was from… and got an unexpected result. First he looked at me in confusion and then everybody else teased me because I had used a form of the question that was so formal that they didn´t realize what I wanted to know at first. The way people engage in real life is not equivalent to the textbook! I was told not to use the informal tu form with any strangers…. but among young people here it´s always used. Somebody I don´t even know just used it to address me mere minutes ago! (he laughed because I used a grammatically incorrect response though).

Studying human interaction can be a life-long pursuit for us all, especially when crossing borders and learning new languages! It´s great seeing this with my own eyes and learning be doing (and by making mistakes).

True Local Flavor

Travelling looks like a series of locations, doesn´t it? When we go home we post a batch of monument pictures, smiling tourist shots, and the occasional food picture on Facebook. And those are often the things we talk about when recounting our trips.

However, when you stay in one location long enough you start delving a little deeper. You take it slow and start getting to know the locals, trying to use the language, and walking down streets that have zero international recognition. I think meeting the local people is the most important element of getting to really know a place. For me in France, I´m getting a feel for how realistic the Alsacian people can be and how strongly they value family. During my current trip to France, I´m seeing how lively the people are, from waiters who are just a bit too forward to flamenco dancers that have immense pride in the dancing they do and the tradition they keep alive.

Although I visited many jaw-dropping sights yesterday, going to a Flamenco show (a true Spanish show; not the tourist version) was still the highlight of my evening. Everyone could feel the raw emotional power of both the singing and the dancing. The dancer used her whole body, moving her feet rapidly and flourishing with her hands as well as letting her face show her emotions. I´d like to think I came away from the performance with just slightly more understanding of the art of flamenco and a greatly increased appreciation of it.

Rocking the Solo Life (La vida sola)

I have arrived in Madrid on my first ever solo trip! So far it´s going well, although it´s a little nerve wracking at times. I had to take two planes and three metro trains to reach my hostel, but once I did I was able to start experiencing Madrid, a trully beautiful city.

I´ll admit that I did get lost once when I set out to explore, but I just stayed calm and it wound up working out wonderfully because I stumbled upon the anthrpology museum, which is free to students such as myself. I spent the rest of the afternoon in there (getting thoroughly spooked out by the 8 foot skelleton that was discovered in Africa and the mummy) and in El Retiro Parque, which must be at least the same size as Cebtral Park in Manhattan. It was an interesting dichotomy- one place full of death and history while the other brimming with life as people jogged, played music and enjoyed each other´s companyn in the sunlight.

As I went about these adventures I felt an enormous sense of pride to be able to accomplish this on my own. Traveling solo is certainly a diferent experience, but so far I´m liking it because I get to make all the decisions and do exactly what I want. Many people asked me before leaving if it was a safe idea…. and the truth is that being alone is never 100% safe, even at home, but I checked the statistics and violent crime here is incredibly low, so as long as I keep my valuables in inside pockets and maintain sobriety, I think I´ll be okay. The other question I was asked was whether I might get bored staying in one place for nine days. To that inquirey I just tried not to laugh. Madrid is full of more activities than I could posibly do in just 9 days and I can´t wait to try to hit as many of them as possible. Maybe I´ll even go to Toledo for a day!

It´s possible that I´ll get lonely, but I think I´ll be too busy to be lonely! And I have yet to meet my hostel room mates. It´s possible that I´ll find a freind after all.

What are your thoughts on solo travel? Have you done it? Would you ever do it? Any wisdom you wish to share? I´d love to hear from you!