lunes, 26 de mayo de 2008

A photo montage of these days and times...

I hope you enjoy this little photo walk through some of the great moments I have experienced in these last Spanish months...

These pictures were taken in Granada on our way up the hill to the Alhambra...we had great weather and amazing adventures during this trip to Andalusia.

These are from a vacation Jackie and took for Puente del Mayo to Andalusia. Here in Spain, schools often have holidays on a Thursday and then take the rest of the week off for vacation as well. They use the word for bridge, "puente", to refer to these nice travel holidays:) I have to say...I have grown fond of such Spanish traditions! For this trip, we went to the beaches of Malága and toured the cathedrals and flamenco halls of Seville...We ate mountains of tuna in olive oil, tasted red wines, paid way too much for hotels and saw such marvel as the tomb of Cristobal Colón, which besides the whole genocide thing was a really cool experience. One of my favorite moments on this trip was probably eating tuna and tomatoes on the floor of our posh hotel in downtown Seville because we could not get a room at any hostels in the area and had overspent our budget tremendously....when we were out at the flamenco show at night, ants invaded our room, and we tried to shove them out before the cleaning ladies came in the next day...I am sure that they realized a couple young travelers had been in the room the night before eating a cold dinner on the floor to save money. Such is life, eh.

Seville was a sight to see, and I wish that we would have had more time in the city to explore. Malága was nice for the beaches, but the city was nothing to write home about...I got my first sunburn of the season this weekend, although the tan is all gone by now as we have seen interminable rain and 40 degree weather in Ávila for the last two friends around the Residencia told me that the Americans and English have brought the rain to Spain. I am not sure that I should believe them;)

And, I cannot forget to mention some of the wonderful people that have flavored my days and nights in Ávila...I have had the chance to make friends with a wonderful girl named Noeila, who is here with Jackie and in this photo...She is Catalan and speaks four languages fluently. Noeila tells beautiful stories of Catalan culture, her parents who are bread bakers in her village, and her hopes to return home next year to teach music in her own region of Spain. Catalan is this beautiful blend of French and Spanish spoken in the north-east regions of the country. I could listen to her speak Catalan for hours on end...
Then, there is Wiz...the wonderful English girl that moved onto our floor a few weeks into our stay here. Wiz is from Liverpool and speaks a very particular version of English--which she says is the real deal; I am still not sure about this;) I have learned a ton of new "English" words from this girl:
Meanger: bad person.
I won't be arsed: I can't be bothered.
Boss: something really really really cool.
And the list could go on:) She is on the far left of the picture below. Also in this photo is Kim, who Jackie and I met on the beach in Malága on vacation. Strangely enough, Kim is from Fort Wayne, graduated from the School of Education at Indiana-Bloomington, and went through the Cultural Immersion Program in 2006! She worked on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona through IU and had an equally great experience in our program. Kim now lives in Madrid and teaches English at a private academy, and she has offered to get me work here in Spain teaching English if ever I want to come back for a longer time to live. A tempting offer, eh? Kim came to visit us for a weekend in May, and we had a great time together. I feel lucky to have met some really special people during my stay in Spain--El mundo es un pañuelo (what a small world) to meet an Indiana girl on the beaches of southern Spain.

Here are some photos from a trip I took with a fellow teacher and good friend, Belén, and her son
Javier. Javi is one of the brightest most empathetic young boys I have met in long time. I got along wonderfully with him during our trip to Salamanca, and as we walked the streets, he taught me about all the different buildings in the city, the different periods of architecture, how to tell a Gothic cathedral from a neo-Gothic cathedral....he is 10 years old and already planning his solo adventure to the USA to visit me:)

This represents just a fraction of what I have had to the opportunity to see and experience these past months, and can do no real justice to any of it. I look forward to the moment that I get to sit across from family and friends and let conversation reveal all that these digital forms of communication just cannot express.
Love, Kate

Reflections on American Identity

Thoughts from a New Vantage Point...
I have been a critical American for many years now, always ready and willing to judge the actions of my country with an eye for the injustices that have been trespassed within the United States and through our foreign policy abroad. My travels prior to this trip helped to deepen my understanding of the suffering American policies have inflicted on great parts of Latin America. I am deeply grateful for the perspective my experiences in countries such as Guatemala and Mexico have given me. With this said, I am profoundly proud to be American. I always have been so and believe I will remain proud until the day that I die.

We are a conflict-ridden, divided country with a confused history of the highest hopes of equality, diversity and co-existence mixed with war, genocide, persecution and slavery. It has always seemed to me that my generation has the opportunity to let the evil die and manifest these highest aspirations of our founding fathers. The people of my country come in all shapes, sizes and colors, speak a diversity of languages, worship most every world religion and have ancestral roots running through all continents on the planet. We are a young country—a toddler, really, in the scheme of human civilization. At this moment in history, we are a very powerful child on the playground of world politics, and it remains to be seen if we, as a nation, can maneuver our way humanely, sanely and intelligently through the 21st century. While I remain skeptically hopeful of America's possible contribution to a better future, I remain honored to call such a seat of world diversity, potential and power my home.

Being in Spain, a place with such strong history and past, has given me tremendous perspective on the United States. Through the conversations I have had with friends and acquaintances here, I have gotten a well-rounded vantage point on how my home is viewed through Spanish eyes. Funnily enough, in many ways their perspectives have helped me to have patience and empathy for the process of United States of America…I have regained a bit of hope that we might still have the ability to be the nation we set out to be. From a Spaniard’s perspective, we are a young empire still learning how to manage our own creation, and the world order we set out to create is, in many ways, a more honorable one than past European empires. As my friend Gustavo often says when we talk about world politics, “The world is a playground, and there will always be a stronger dog on the field. What will the stronger dog fight for? What will be his conquest—gold, fame, power, religion, equality, justice?” He says, “I would rather the United States hold world power than a Communist China”…and with a different political sentiment in Washington D.C., I would completely agree.

The upcoming elections in the United States are a grand topic of conversation here in Spain. I cannot go 5 minutes talking to someone I have just met without being asked which candidate I support…and no one is referring to McCain. It seems assumed here that no American in their right mind would re-elect a Republican to the White House at this point in time. I have to say, I hope the Spaniards that I have met are right.

I believe I will return to my country from this trip grateful for the experience to see my home from a distance. This distance has given me the ability to both criticize and love my home—to see the numerous flaws we Americans (and our government) possess while also acknowledging the potential for change, equality and justice we have the ability to create within the United States and throughout the world. In the end, I think it is in the hands of our people to embrace our diversity and not fight against it. If we are able to do this, maybe there is hope for the world at large…at least these are some of the hopes that have come to me in Spain.

Other large shifts in my perceptions of home have included my perception of “old” and the rich historical heritage the European cities possess. This ties in to the aforementioned concept of the USA being a child in the picture of world history. I understood this to some extent before this journey, but it has really become apparent to me while being in Spain that by and large Americans do not understand what “old” really means. I have also come to realize what aspects of my home mean the most to me—community, friends, my family, my career. I love the people I have met here, but miss my community, friends and family daily. Also, I love the experience of working in schools here in Spain, but I am glad to be an American educator. While our system is flawed and in need of resuscitation in many ways, I think education in our country offers a more progressive road to success and aims to more deeply develop the human mind than what I have seen in my weeks of teaching in Spain. With this said, there are great lessons I will carry with me back into the U.S. classroom from my experience abroad. Including how to use dictation and drills well, which I cannot believe I now want to use in my classroom! In the end, I know that I will come back a more well-rounded human being ready to embrace my country and my life at home.

Immigration in Spain...

Not unlike the United States, immigration is a hotly contested subject across Spain. In recent years, Spain has transformed from a country of people leaving to find better lives in other parts of the world to a place where others seek refuge and find opportunities for social and economic betterment. Today, foreigners making a new life can be found in all parts of Spain, with immigrants from various parts South American and African countries being the highest rising and most contested groups.

In my quest to understand the issue of immigration in Spain, I have read an editorial from this week’s local newspaper, researched the issue in online articles, had in-depth conversations with host nation residents holding differing opinions and even gleaned popular culture for the comedic side to this hot button issue. What I have found is that much like the United States of America, Spain is confronting one of the most difficult aspects of our globalized, 21st century world: the inevitability (and in some cases economic viability) of immigrant populations coupled with the difficulty of managing the integration of these groups into society. It seems that everyone has a different take on exactly what the Spanish government should do manage this problem, but all seem to agree that action must be take to ensure that foreigners arriving to Spain want to integrate fully into Spanish society.

In Tuesday’s local paper, an editorial was printed titled, “Immigration and the Correct Political Mind”. I found this article interesting because it discussed the fact that in many areas of Spain, negative behaviors, such as drug use/sale and crime have concretely risen with increased numbers of immigrants while also acknowledging that this is not the case for all immigrants that arrive in Spain seeking a new life. This honest article presented the question of how to find the correct political mindset when it comes to integration—one that does not give way to xenophobia or racism while also supporting the idea that immigrants in Spain need the desire and the initiative to integrate into Spanish culture.

Between the years of 1995-2005, Spain has experienced the highest increase in immigration of all European countries; of its total growth in this decade, 78.6% was due to immigration (Alfieri, 2008). With such a marked increase of foreigners coming to Spain to stay and make a life, it is no wonder that most Spaniards hold strong opinions about this issue. While research has shown that the presence of immigrants has positive economic effects for Spain, many citizens are not convinced that the presence of immigrants is a positive thing for their country (Alfieri, 2008). Specifically, people that I talked with about this issue seemed concerned about the increasing presence of Latin Americans and moros, or people from Islamic backgrounds, usually coming from North African countries. Many people said that immigrants from Latin America (Colombia was frequently mentioned) come to Spain and refuse to step outside established Latin American communities. People mentioned an increase in gang violence saying that groups such as the Latin Kings now have a strong presence in major cities like Madrid. They also brought up the fact that Spaniards are having to compete for jobs and government resources with foreigners, and in a country with socialized healthcare, education, etc. this poses a huge problem in the eyes of many. In addition, to these immigrant groups, friends of mine from the Canary Islands discussed the increase of West African immigration, which is a whole different story in the opinion of many. Immigrants from countries such as Senegal pack boats full of people fleeing famine and destitution to make the arduous journey to these Spanish islands. Many die in route, and bodies are found in the ocean and on shores of Africans that do not survive the journey. Those that do survive arrive dehydrated, exhausted and often need medical attention. An article from last May, discussed the arrival of 259 African immigrants by boat in one day in the Canary Islands; two months prior to this there were two other waves of immigrants back to back, 372 one day, 314 the next (Fraerman, 2008). For apparent reasons, Canary Island officials are calling on the state to do something to help control this immigration crisis they are facing.

The most concrete solution that I encountered while learning about immigration in Spain came from the editorial I read in the newspaper. Author Sagardoy Bengoechea stated that Spain needed to take its lead from other EU countries such as Germany and France that have been dealing with immigration problems for a longer time than Spain. He discussed the fact that in Germany, immigrants have to take an integration course, which includes German language, culture, history and law. If they do not participate in this course, they are fined 1,000 Euros. Similar systems of control and integration have been established in France in the last two years (Sagardoy Bengoechea, 2008). In regards to the problem of African immigrants arriving by boat, I read that the more resources are being given to the Canary Islands to patrol their oceans, but in the end it is impossible to build a fence in the sea (Fraerman, 2008). Much like this issue in the United States, the reasons for immigration (inequalities in home nations and globalization) must be stabilized for real change to take place.

Essay on the European protests to the Bejing Olympics in March...

Hello all. As part of my work for IU, I have been writing lengthy field reports of IU. I have decided to post parts of these that seem interesting and worthwhile to me. Below is an essay I wrote on the protests that took place in London and Berlin in early April when the Olympic flag passed through Europe. Cheers.

Human Rights and the 2008 Olympics.

Written April 10, 2008
As I sat down in the teacher’s lounge Monday morning, the local newspaper headlines caught my eye: Prueba de fuego para la antorcha a su paso por Londres. I proceeded to read the article, and when I got home I searched the BBC website for more information about the upcoming Olympic games and the world’s reaction to China’s human rights record, specifically relating to their history with Tibet and freedom of press/speech abuses. The amount of information that I found about this issue was overwhelming and gave evidence to the global nature of this matter. As I read through the articles online, I found more information about last Sunday’s protests in London and also found more recent news feeds about the Monday’s protest in Paris as the torch continued its journey. In London, at least 35 protestors were detained while the torch was put onto a double-decker bus to keep it safe; over 100 protestors tried to overtake the bus without success. In Paris, protestors succeeded in extinguishing the flame several times (Olympic Official Calls Protests a Crisis, 2008). In London and Paris, individuals put themselves on the line to demonstrate their alliance with Tibetans and other minority groups facing violence and repression from China’s government.

On March 24, 2008, the Olympic torch was lit in Greece where it traveled the country for 5 days before being taken to Beijing, China on the 31st to begin an 85,000-mile journey around the globe (China Defends Tibetan Crackdown, 2008). As a symbol for solidarity across all political lines, the torch has become a point of contention and conversation for people of all nations. Last month was the 49th year anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation. China’s presence in Tibet has marked a dark period of religious and cultural repression in the country including the sterilization of women, one-child policy enforcement, the death of the Tibetan language and numerous efforts to undermine Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dali Lama who has been in exile in India since 1959 (Human Rights in Tibet, 2008). A resurgence of violence against Tibetans was seen last month, and as Beijing gears up to host this summer’s Olympic games, human rights activists across the world have taken this opportunity to focus on these injustices, which have been steeping for many years. Tactics including police barricades and changes in the Olympic torch’s route have been taken to avoid protestors who are trying to extinguish the torch and force China to change its position on a free Tibet (along with other groups advocating for oppressed minorities within China). (Protests cut short Olympic relay, 2008)
The protests in Paris and London have been the most drastic displays. In both cities, protesters were arrested after various attempts to put out the torch’s flame. Many banners reading “Free Tibet” and supporting the freedom of various minorities repressed under China’s current government were dropped from buildings across the cities. While the relay in San Francisco, California went off without such large demonstrations, protestors were present and the route was changed at the last minute leading to a more muted sense of celebration than what usually comes with the appearance of the Olympic torch. (Olympic Official Calls Protests a Crisis, 2008) The torch will continue on its tour around the world until reaching China at the end of June. Before reaching Beijing once more, the route carries the flame through Tibet. Given this past week’s resistance to this ceremony, I am sure the world will be watching during these months leading up to the Beijing Olympics.
Here in Spain, I have had several conversations with friends and colleagues about the coming Olympics and the protests in Europe. Many seem to feel pride that people within the EU are willing to a take stand against the human rights abuses of the Chinese government. One teacher at school told me that he thought that Britain and Germany’s governments were on the right track by declaring that their heads of state will not be attending the game’s opening ceremonies on August 8th unless China changes its current position on human rights. Another teacher told me that she believed internally that the Spanish government felt the same way but would not make it public. Within the United States, all three presidential hopefuls are urging President Bush to refuse attendance on the same grounds as the leaders of the European countries have done (Clinton Urges Bush Olympic Action, 2008). Jaques Rogge, head of the International Olympic Committee, has said, “The torch does not belong to Beijing or China. It is the torch of humanity” (Olympics to Rebound from Crisis, 2008). In other interviews, Rogge has been quoted saying that the IOC has no right to tell China how to handle “sovereign issues” such as Tibet and other human rights allegations that stand before them (Olympics to Rebound from Crisis, 2008).
This issue interests me because the Olympic games, and the torch’s journey to Beijing, are symbols for global human solidarity. However the fact that the games are being held within a Communist China (with a less than favorable human rights record) brings the reality of the world’s injustices into the limelight of global media. As the torch continues on its way to Beijing for August’s games, the flame will pass through Tibet. This choice has been criticized, and some have said that the plan to carry the Olympic torch through Tibet aims to paint a picture of peace and harmony in this region that does not exist in reality. This year’s Olympic games are urging countries (and individuals) around the world to take a stand on human rights issues in a manner that does not come about often. Being in a different part of the world while all of this is happening has given me an even wider perspective on this issue and the interconnected nature of this planet and its nations.

Through researching the Beijing Olympics and the world’s reaction to the beginning of the torch’s route, it has become clear to me that the world’s eye is on China and the way in which the 2008 Olympics will unfold in this infamous country. It has also brought to my attention the fact that it is impossible to divorce current world politics from any kind of relationship and contact between the nations of the world. Because China has been closed off to global media for so long and because they are a rising Communist superpower with a marred public human rights record, this year’s games carry even more symbolic weight. In researching China, Tibet and the other groups who feel oppressed by China’s regime, it seems to me that the world needs to use the Olympic games as a way to urge China to rethink its policies regarding human rights. All of this learning is important to me because I now have a wider perspective on the relationship between Western countries such as Britain, France, Spain and the USA and China. I can now more fully see what a tenuous relationship exists between the West and the East, and I understand that for constructive change to be made sensitive, intelligent communication between all the world’s nations must be initiated.

domingo, 25 de mayo de 2008

In retrospect...

I knew when I started this that I would struggle with regularity, but I did not think that I would up and forget about the existence of my blog project for a whole two months of life here in Spain. I sit down to write late on a Sunday night of my last full week in Ávila, the place I have lovingly and sometimes painfully called home over the past two months. I don't know exactly where to start with this at such a late date and late hour of the night, so I will just write and see what comes out...let's begin with my crazy kids.... This is a group of my 1st level, secondary students doing a conversational English "party".

It has been a powerful experience to walk into a private Catholic school in a small Spanish town and teach groups of wild adolescents in my second language. Spanish schools are broken primary, secondary, and bachillerato. Within both primary and secondary, there are 4 levels. I mainly worked with secondary 1-4. I have had days where I feel completely defeated after teaching here--over taken with the frustration of not having my own language at my fingertips to express the details of thought and feeling...but on these days I have always learned something and walked away a better educator in the end.

Of all the work that I have done with my students, the part I am the most proud of is a research project on various US states that I put together for the 4th level classes I have been teaching. My 4th level students (15-16 yrs. old) were really interested in learning more about specific regions of the United States, so we worked together over a 5 week period to research certain states in groups, make brochures about their states in English, and last week they gave oral presentations in English on their states. I really enjoyed this process with my classes, and it was especially interesting to see students who are not accustomed to group work learn to work together. Unlike American schools (and especially Key Learning Community) my students here were not used to being given the opportunity to work in groups or do research based, long term projects. So, along with learning about their certain state, I felt like each student was also exploring a whole new way to look at learning. A way that is not based in their prescribed national textbook. I was lucky enough to find an English teacher in my school, Belén, who wanted to work "outside the box" with me. I feel like the classes that I worked with on these projects got so much more out of their time with me than any other groups.

The rest of my classes were mostly based around oral English practice, conversation and pronunciation. We played a lot of tongue twister games, learned some of the more regular rules of English pronunciation and we also spent a fair amount of time critiquing my Spanish...which was sometimes good and sometimes bad. I have had to kick a lot of kids out of class for lack of respect, general craziness...behavior issues that I never faced in the States. This was quite a task for me to face in Spanish, but I am alive and well in the end! While I am aware that the students I have taught in Spain have a lot of the same adolescent angst tendencies of students in the States, I have to say that after 8 weeks of teaching, I look back on my students at KLC with amazement and respect. I am amazed at how much more mature they seem to be than the students in Ávila. Don't get me wrong--I have met some really special kids here, but I feel like there is something to the struggle of life many of my students in the States have faced that gives them perspective that my students here just haven't experienced. I feel like because this is such a small town and because kids do not usually have jobs in Spanish culture, they grow up much more slowly...except in the negative ways of smoking and drinking...there are 12 year olds that smoke outside of school on break. I could never quite get over this being a normal thing....

With all of this said, I have forged meaningful relationships with many students in my classes, and I hope to see some of them in the United States one day in their future travels. I also had to opportunity to develop activities with the primary program at Las Nieves, and I have gotten to accompany classes on field trips to different areas of Castilla-Leon. I was also lucky enough to develop good friends with several teachers in my building; two women in particular have become good friends of mine, taking me on day trips around this region, introducing me to their families, taking me out for amazing meals, and generally extending hands of friendship in times when I have needed the extra support.

Now that it is all said and done, I can already feel the new perspective on education that this experience has given me--a perspective that can more fully acknowledge the benefits of American schools while holding the important lessons I have gained from working internationally. I have included some photos in this post of my teaching experiences with Las Nieves...
These are from the field trip I took with Las Nieves to Atapuerca--the archaeological site of the oldest remain of human ancestors in Europe. The bones were found in the early 1900's when the English built a rail line to Africa. Also, there are photos from our visit to the Cathedral in Burgos.

martes, 1 de abril de 2008

wanderings and wonderings.

Second blog in one week...I feel like a failure at this already. :)

Truth be told, I am tired here. A lot. Communication is proving to be hard--steep learning curve for the Espanol for me. I started teaching yesterday, and all I can say at this point is WOW. My school was not quite ready to receive me, and my language abilities were not quite ready to communicate in 100% Spanish, so it has been a rough start. With this said, I am supposed to have a schedule by the end of this week for what classes I will be teaching and at what levels. So tomorrow, I go to hang out with elementary school kids, who seem WAY more excited every morning to see me than the teens with which I am supposed to be working. I am still excited to be here though and know that I have so much learning to do through this experience. Vamos a ver que va a pasar....

I have not written since I took a three-day trip with a fellow IU teacher to Granada last week. It was an amazing time and much needed break between my student teaching experiences. We arrived in Granada in the morning of the 27th after an overnight bus ride from our northern city of Avila. On what little sleep Jackie and I were able to steal on the bus ride, we ate a wonderful breakfast at a local hotel and proceeded to wait in line for tickets to the Alhambra for close to 3 hours....

We felt like we had won the Grand Prize Game when we finally got our tickets and then realized that we had not even discussed the idea of walking the entire Alhambra and its surrounding gardens on no sleep. So with tickets in hand and bags under our eyes, we set out to see a true wonder of the world. I admit I was a bit delirious through the tour, but aware enough to marvel at the rich creation of Spain's Moorish empire. I can say with assurance that these people knew how to combine spiritual devotion with interior design. See my photos for details. The gardens surrounding the palace were lush and kept to perfection. All of this was set against a scenery of rolling hills, snow capped mountains and white stucco buildings nestled into the countryside. After the tour, we dragged our tired bodies to a local cafe for dinner...and went to sleep for the next 15 hours. It was possibly the best sleep of my life.

The next two days were a whirlwind of window shopping, garden walking, tapas eating, conversation having wonderfulness. We met some amazing people from all over Europe and had fantastic conversations about politics, global commerce and economics, the Colts and culture in both English and Spanish. I was proud of our friend-making and linguistic skills. My favorite encounter was with a couple that were in Granada to plan their coming wedding in August of 2008--she from Ireland and he from England. I told them that the salvation of the world could possibly be wrapped up in their ability to make a marriage work and blend their families. We had a nice cheers over that one.

Ok, much more to write but it is close to midnight here, and I must play with 9 year olds in Spanish tomorrow.

lunes, 24 de marzo de 2008

Wherever you go, there you are.

I write from my adorable dormitory, which is nestled in the city of Avila. It is a cold, sunny day here, and I just returned from my first walk around the city with Jackie (another teacher from IU) and our new friend, Felipe, who is a student from Shangai. Felipe is his nombre Espanol, and we are all managing full-on Spanish dialogue! He arrived yesterday as well to begin a 4 year program at at the local university. The language is coming back to me with more ease than I expected...

Here in Avila we are surrounded by snow-capped mountains and chunky trees with sweet-smelling pink blossoms. While walking the winding streets I finally exhaled, realizing that after two years of classes and planning and working I am here! My first impressions of this city are wonderful. The people are warm and handsome, the architecture is old and impressive. Stony, narrow streets lead me around for hours. And this enormous wall that surrounds the city is beyond belief. La Resedenica de San Tomas, where I will be living for the next 2 months is attached to a gorgeous cathedral and monestary. We share our meals with other students staying here, monks, and various people who work at San Tomas. So far, the food has been delicious, and I have opened my pallet to meat in order to fully experience this time and place:) If you can believe it, I just finished a lunch of beef and potatoes...I am eating little bits of meat here and there to reintroduce it to my system. So all of you that told me I would eat meat again one day can now say "I told you so" with clarity!

The journey hear was arduous, and I thank all friends who helped me to Chicago when Megabus never showed up in Indianapolis Friday. Flying through the night has its benefits when traveling, and British Air is incredible...but I arrived in Avila after day and a half without sleep. Thank god Jackie met me at the airport and helped me on the last leg to Avila when I was crossed eyed from flying and not sleeping. After a night's rest and our morning adventure, jet lag is setting in. Tomorrow we leave for a four day trip to Granada. Viva Espana!