Archive for September, 2011

And on to the village!

Monday, September 26th, 2011

This week finished out really well, actually—we continued talking about politics, which led to some really good discussions that I enjoyed immensely. Also, Rajoelina, the president of the HAT (the transitional authority here) was invited to the UN this week as head of state, and there’s all sorts of diplomatic recognition coming in (and with it, probably a resumption of foreign aid, which is in many ways the important part, because 75% of madagascar’s budget is foreign aid money, or was before the crisis), which I’ve been following partially because it’s really interesting, but also because I’m writing a paper on it this weekend. Yesterday afternoon we had off, so I went and did a bit of shopping with some friends—bought two skirts, and went to a grocery store (bought some swiss cheese at an exorbitant price, but it was delicious and so worth it), and found the used book market here in tana, which I fell in love with. The books aren’t actually that cheap (I asked for Asterix, but it was something like $10 or $15!), but I would love to talk to the guys working there someday, and it would be a great place to explore market networks—I think they all know the stock of every other little shop, and you can ask one for something and he’ll go find it somewhere else in the market. So I’m definitely going to be returning there. We tried to take a taxi-be back to the center, but got on one going the wrong way, so ended up getting quite a tour of tana. I realized that though I know a couple of neighborhoods really well, I don’t know most of the city at all. And some of the parts I don’t know are really nice, so I think I’m going to make an effort to go explore more. Perhaps I’ll take mostly empty taxi-bes around until I find a good area, and then get out and explore… Anyways, I then went to a friend’s house to change before dinner (we were going for Indian), and then my host dad called and said he wanted to go out with my friend’s host dad, so that I should go as well. So we went to dinner at this so-so Indian place (but they had cheese naan, which made me phenomenally happy), then stupidly WALKED at night to café de la gare, this very nice and very vazaha place that our dads were at. It wouldn’t have been so bad but I had my purse with me, and we’ve been told over and over again not to walk at night. It passed without incident, though, and we met our dads at the café. We sat there for a couple of hours with them, their boss, and their boss’ boss, who was this crazy French guy. I’m sure we presented quite a picture, these three young white girls sitting with these obviously older Malagasy men, but we were having so much fun. Other people in the program joined us there, and then we all went to two different clubs together. Yes, I went clubbing with my host dad last night. I’ll be honest, though, it’s pretty nice being there with Malagasy men who are protective of you, because when guys start to creep, they remove them! We met this American woman named Laurawho had done an SIT program in Tana years ago, and then Peace Corps in Gabon, and now she’s working for some health care organization here. Small world! It was actually a really fun night, but if I’m going to go out again, I need to take a break in the middle of the day because going from 6 am to 3 am is just exhausting…
Today I’m just chilling at home, working on a bunch of homework. Next week we go to the village stay, which I’m both excited and terrified about. I’m going to be alone in a village, where there might not be anyone who speaks French, for a week… and there aren’t going to be any creature comforts, including perhaps cell phone coverage (although my host family has a phone number listed, so maybe…) but at the same time, that’s how most of the Malagasy live, and I want to really experience it. And I was just talking about how I would love to be fluent in Malagasy so I could just sit in people’s kitchens and study how they construct the unified public discourse in private (we talked about this a lot in collective memory last semester, and it seems very apt here), so this is my chance! I’m finding that though I can’t really speak Malagasy very well, I know enough words and phrases that I can follow a lot of conversations, and body language does so much… and my Malagasy definitely will improve! I know my French has, because I don’t let myself speak English with my host family, even though my dad was speaking it last night. I’m sure there will be a long blog post when I get back, but don’t expect any communication from me until October 7th!

Back Where I Started

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

After five months in Australia, one week in Missourri, and another three weeks hanging out with Ryan I now find myself right back where I started, in my apartment in Fredericksburg. It was here that I first hatched the plan to go abroad over a year ago, and from the desk I am currently sitting at that I filled out and filed all the necessary paper work that enabled me to travel all those thousands of miles away.

Since being back at school almost everyone who I have run into me has asked me about my time in Australia. I have run into people who I wasn’t even that close with who have made comments to me about my blog and how much they enjoyed following it, and I have been surprised, bashful, and flattered every time I have encountered this.

The study abroad office here at Mary Washington encourages those of us who have already studied abroad to take an active role in promoting the studying abroad program. To this end they put out an email advertising two opportunities to do so early this semester. They held a study abroad photo contest asking for photo submissions from student’s time abroad. Each student was allowed to submit up to three high resolution photos, and ten winning photos were to be selected and then printed on canvas, framed, and given a permanent home hanging in the study abroad office. I submitted three photos, two from my trip to Thailand and one from Sydney. Much to my surprise two of my photographs were selected among the ten winning images! Ironically neither of them were taken in Australia.

Me and my kitty friend La La will forever hang in the Study Abroad office

Monks praying, forever in the study abroad office

Even with the promise of having my face forever hung in the study abroad office, they just couldn’t get enough of me, and after seeing a small sampling of my photos, I was asked to sit on a study abroad panel discussion for the first UMW discovery day in September. Since I was already going to be there giving a tour for the Washington Guides, I figured why not. The panel ended up being me, a male senior who had just returned from being in China, and a friend of mine Sara, who had done a faculty led summer program in Italy. Out of the three of us I was the only one who had kept a blog, so I put my blog up in the background on the projector and scrolled through all my images for an hour while we took turns talking about studying abroad and how to go about it. At the end of the presentation a high school senior from Fairfax County came up to me and told me that she was very interested in going to Australia to study government. I almost laughed in her face, because the ideal place to do that would be Canberra, but as that is also a location I wouldn’t wish upon my fiercest of enemies, I cautioned her against it. I ended up chatting with her for a good twenty minutes after the panel discussion was over and she asked me all sorts of questions about flights, transferring credits, places to go in Australia, and how to do it all on the administrative end. I ended up giving her my phone number, email address, and the name of Bill Bryson’s book on Australia so she could be sure and understand the horrors of Canberra before she committed to going there.

In addition to becoming the poster child for studying abroad at UMW, I have also been killing myself trying to graduate early by taking 18 credits this semester in addition to working a job part time at a restaurant downtown to repair some of the damage that Australia did to my bank account. I have been doing all of this with about five inches less of hair.


Right before coming back to school I decided I needed a change. So, the Friday morning before Hurricane Irene hit I went and got my hair cut by a woman named Irene, whose birthday was that day. Hows that for a coincidence?


So the plan for now is to survive this semester, get an internship for next semester, graduate in may, and get on with my adult life. (which will probably involve moving back home, such is the state of the economy these days) I’ve started looking into programs where I could go abroad again to a spanish speaking country and teach English for a year or so if I can’t find a decent job in the US. I might even end up chasing my boyfriend ( I will never get used to using that word) somewhere as his career moves him around. Who knows?

As this is my 89th blog entry I think I am going to say that this venture in blogging is officially finished. What started as a way to keep my mom informed of what I was up to while I was half a world away, ended up becoming a passion of mine and a scrapbook of my adventures abroad. I never intended for it to be widely read by my friends, or for anyone to discover that I am an atrocious speller, often hopeless at punctuating, and occasionally funny, but this happened anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised that it did. While I probably won’t post again on this blog space, I hope to have another blog in the future when something more interesting than working every weekend and reading english literature till my eyeballs roll out of my head is going on in my life.

I would like to thank everyone who ever took the time to skim one of my incredibly verbose ramblings for stopping by and allowing me to share my experience with them. I had a blast living this experience and writing about it, and despite the occasionally misspelled word I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Thanks and g’day.


Saturday, September 24th, 2011

The Philippines (with Sebastian – German, Magda – Polish, and Nils – German)!  Our transportation started off shaky (literally)…our airplane hit an air pocket and we fell, sending everyone free-falling for a few seconds.  It was so scary, but all I could do was laugh! We arrived at 11:30PM on Friday, August 26.  We bought bus tickets for PHP400 (US$9.44) and drove about 2.5 hours to the city of Manila.  We arrived at about 3AM and there were still so many people out and about, it was amazing!  Our first hostel was disgusting, but we really had no choice due to the time.  It cost us each US$4.24 for the night and we had two bunk beds and a fan.  We weren’t really in a room, just an area with a grated fence put up for privacy.  I slept with all my clothes on, including my shoes. 


We left the next morning and found a 7-11 where we ate some breakfast and decided our game plan.  We were to the tourist police who helped us decide where to go (Puerto Galera, then to Sabang).  We took a taxi (US$3.56) then a train (US$.28), then a bus (US$3.96), to finally arrive at Puerto Galera in time for dinner (the port that would take us by ferry to Sabang).  We rode a tricycle (a motorbike or scooter with a side car for passengers) to our hotel (ride US$2.36 per passenger – a ripoff – and hotel US$5.92 pax).  The room was SUCH an upgrade from the last, we were so excited!  We all took showers, then went to dinner across the street at an authentic Filipino restaurant run by (what looked like) children.  We had delicious Filipino food – what looked and taskted like crispy spring rolls and a noodle dish (with Red Horse beer).  Dinner cost us each US$5.21, which was mostly for all the beer we had.  We crashed in our beds at about 9:30 (bad idea).  At about 2AM we all woke up, but shortly went back to sleep.







The next morning we got up at 9AM to catch a ferry to Puerto Galera.  We ate at 7-11 again, then proceeded to buy the 3 different tickets just to get onto the ferry (total US$7.17).  We waited FOUR HOURS at the pier for our boat.  The one we originally signed up for filled up, so we were forced to wait for the next one (so frustrating!).   We ran into 3 German girls who were going to White Beach (who go to school with us) and they were escorted to the front of the line (having brown hair definitely made me feel ugly that day).  The boat ride over was VERY rocky due to a typhoon (Typhoon Mina) – I was concentrating on NOT getting sick (my efforts paid off).  We arrived in Puerto Galera about 1.5 hours later and took a Jeepney to Sabang (the water was too rough to go straight there).  A man asked us if we needed a room, so we followed him to a hotel right on the beach where we decided to stay (US$9.47 pax for 2 nights).


That night, August 28, we went to a touristy restaurant that served American, German, and Filipino food – we ate delicious Filipino food (pork pesto, some others) and drank quite a few beers.  We walked down the street to a karaoke bar (that had a band playing instead of karaoke that night) and had a few more beers.  I would not have passed a sobriety test that night…good thing I wasn’t driving!

The next day, August 29, we hired Money, a local, to drive us by boat to a beach.  Money first took us to go snorkeling, which was GORGEOUS!  The colors were much more vivid than in Fiji, I wish I had an underwater camera!  He then took us to Puerto Galera so he could buy food for a BBQ while we shopped.  The boys were the big spenders, buying t-shirts, shorts, and glasses.  We went to a beach where Money cooked us pork, chicken, rice, and a yummy Filipino mixture with onions, soy sauce, jalepenos, and green peppers.







We went swimming, then Money made plans to meet us for karaoke and to go to a disco at 8.  We went home and showered, then went out for a few drinks at the bar downstairs.  Money arrived and we headed to a bikini club – girls had their underwear on and were walking around on stage.  All the girls for sale were being held in the back.  I asked the pimp, the girls were about 20 years old.  :-/   We headed to the karaoke bar where Madga and I sang Spice Girls and the boys sung the Beatles.  We went to a disco, but it cost PHP50 to get in and noone was dancing, so decided to go back to the bikini club.  It was sad, really, they all looked so bored walked around in their underwear on stage, waiting to make their money by selling their bodies to the old white men later in the evening.  Magda and I had enough, so we stated leaving, then the boys followed.  That night, Nils was so sick (I think because we never really ate dinner, just the BBQ at 2) so I tried to leave to get him food but the door WOULD NOT OPEN!  The doorknob somehow broke and would not turn.  I was trying my hardest, but could not open it.  We went to sleep, then in the morning sent Magda a text saying, “help us, we are stuck in our room.”  I (cleverly) removed the hinge pins from the door and Sebastian pushed it in, feeling very manly.  We gathered our stuff and left ASAP! (to go up to Magda and Sebastian’s room).  As we were waiting around, Money shows up.  He (rudely) asked Sebastian for money for his “sick mother.”  We left and ran into the pimp frmo the bikini club who had brought the boys two shirts with the club logo on them.  They were SO excited (cost them US$23 for two).  We went to the pier and bought our tickets to leave, then had some breakfast nearby.  In Sabang, there are TONS of old, ugly men with young Filipino girls.  That morning, we saw an old, ugly woman with a young Filipino guy (she was from Florida).


The boat ride back (for me) was better than the first, but the rest of my group thought it was horrible (Sebastian threw up).  I was sitting in the very front with a nice breeze, which probably was the determining factor.  We got back to Batangas and had a coke, then jumped on a bus to ride back up to Manila (2 hours, US$3.95).  We found a decent hotel in Manila (the best in our entire trip), so booked in for the night (US$21.82 pax).  We headed to the Mall of Asia, one of the largest malls in Asia…didn’t really feel like we were in the Philippines after stepping inside.  We were surrounded by Gucci, Burberry, Adidas, etc., with prices the same as what is in the U.S.  We took a Jeepney (US$.18) and a train (US$.28) home, then went to bed (after taking a nice hot shower).


The next morning, our last day, we decided to go to a famous church to see a life-sized Black Nazarene, then to a market.  As stated, Manila is disgusting.  There was human feces on the sidewalk, trash everywhere, and the whole city was a shanty town.  We walked and walked, trying to waste time before needing to leave for the airport.  We ate lunch at Hong Kong Tea House, which was pretty good (US$2.60).  We went back to the hotel to stay out of the rain (crazy rain, we were so lucky to have no rain in Sabang), then grabbed a taxi to go to the airport.  Our driver was obviously a novice and looked petrified to be driving on the expressway where he had to stay in his lane and could not honk every five seconds.  Two hours later, we finally arrive near the airport only to be pulled over by the police!  Apparently, green cabs are not allowed to drive to the airport.  The cop said we needed to give him money for the ticket, which I thought was weird.  He said he would drive us there for PHP1800, so we gave him PHP2000 total (he put on the meter and it only reached 1100 and the ticket cost 1200…he received plenty) (US$47.33).  He tried to stop us from going into the airport but we literally had no money left.   We checked in to find out we needed to give HK130 for a terminal fee (stupid) *US$16.69).  We ran into a bunch of people from our school at the airport (mostly Germans), which was funny.  Our flight back was good (1.5 hours), and we took the bus home, which was cheap and a nice ride.  We sat at the very front on the top of the double-decker bus.  :)


All in all, it was a wonderful trip with a wonderful group!  Total spent for 6 days in the Philippines: US$303 (including flight)


Price List (USD):

Coffee – $.70

Snickers – $.99

Beer – $.89

Soda – $1

Meal – $2


Rockin Oxford Lyra-style

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

So after a week in Oxford, I can say I feel considerably smarter. And yes, I will admit everytime I punched in the door code to get into the college, I’d be smug about it. We got our own dorm rooms at Univ, arguably Oxford’s oldest college (there’s 39 of them total). Since they want to maintain the historical integrity of the building, the dorms rooms are stuck wherever you can fit them—as a result, some kids got hobbit holes with low ceilings and others got rooms that looked like hotel suites with bay windows. I was lucky enough to get a room in the corner overlooking the library and a little quad. I had a couch in my room also, with a sink and a huuuge desk. Didn’t bring my laptop to get the full studious-collegiate-you-know-Oxford-experience. We were served breakfast and lunch everyday in the Great Hall, which looks like the exact one from Harry Potter. There were portraits of scary old men glaring at you as you ate, but nothing could diminish from the taste of British bacon.

And of course another bucket list-er was achieved!

13. Punt on the river.

For all of you that don’t know, punting is basically steering a flat rickety boat with a long pole—that’s it. No oars and it tips easier than a canoe. I volunteered to start us off! Granted, I secured the lead by crashing into other people’s boats but hey, what can you do right?

Ramming speeeeed!


Through the treeees!

The most rewarding part of the day was not falling out of the boat! Switching punters was the challenging part…as the boat sits extremely close to the water and rocks with the slightest shift in weight.

Oxford was an amazing little slice of a city filled with little shops that cater to the students—a four level bookstore, cafes with cheap fare, collegiate wear and sketchy clubs. There was a burrito place that played American music–don’t judge me, burrito withdrawal is a serious problem. We did visit The Eagle and the Child, a pub that C.S. Lewis and Tolkien used to frequent. I didn’t exactly catch inspiration to start writing my papers or anything….but it was a good effort, right? We also saw the famous shrunken heads at the Pitts River Museum! Incredibly creepy but AWESOME.

View from St. Mary's bell tower...3 pounds to climb it. Worth the views!

The highlight of the tourist-y things we did….yes, get ready for it….I climbed the Harry Potter staircase. Yessir.

For those of you that are not Harry Potter fans. First of all, you need to evaluate the direction your life is going. Second of all, this is the staircase that the first-years waited on to be sorted. Remember when Draco first introduces himself to Harry? The very same. It’s in Christ Church, which is a college in Oxford as well as an actual church. We weren’t allowed to walk on the lawns and the “helpers”/tour guides wore bowler hats and cute little suits.

The last night of Oxford was lovely. We were served a super fancy dinner in the Great Hall with our teachers, (truffle soup to start us off with!!), dressed “smart” and played pool with the Brits in the Univ bar afterwards.

Perfect homework conditions---tea and a breeze

But no, English weather is terrible right?

In other words, Oxford was a successful mini-trip in the grand scheme of my big trip. I’d definitely be interested in going back, and highly recommend it!

Exploration Days 1 and 2, New Finds and the Opera!

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

I will get better at posting more often – I promise!! This past week has been super busy: lots of sightseeing, discoveries and my first trip to the opera! Before I dive into telling you about everything, quick notice: I will no longer be posting pictures here. It takes forever to upload them and I just have so many that I would rather create albums for everyone to see…so…you can see all my pics through ShutterFly here:

Anyways, without further adieu, off we go to talk about the last week!

Last Sunday, Kaley, another Fulbrighter named Luke, and I spent most of the day walking around the older part of the city taking pictures and enjoying the sites. We went to the Maidan Nezalezhnosti first, then to St. Sophia’s Cathedral, walked across the street to St. Michael’s Monastery, saw St. Andrew’s Church whose teal and gold spires took my breath away and wound our way down Andriyivskyy Descent which was lined with tons of vendors selling beautiful crafts (definitely going back there for Christmas gifts!!). After a delicious lunch of sushi and fried rice, we went to the botanical gardens at Taras Shevchenko University (sadly, kind of a bust) and walked past St. Volodymr’s Cathedral before heading home. I loved getting to see so much of the city and will be going to take tours inside each of the churches we saw sometime soon – the outsides were amazing, I can only imagine what the insides look like!! After sightseeing, Kaley and I found my new favorite store: a grocery store in Arena City called Furshet. Basically, it’s the Ukrainian version of Wegman’s (there is a cafe/restaurant inside and everything). It definitely trumps the other grocery store we were using.

Nothing really happened on Monday so let’s skip to Tuesday! I went down to my university, Kyiv-Mohyla (didn’t get lost at all, and figured out what classes I want to take for this term: Introduction to Public Health, Ukrainian and Protection of States’ Rights in the International Court of Justice. While searching for the right people to talk to in each department I made some new friends. I think what amazes me most about this country is just how genuinely nice the people are when you talk with them. At Kyiv-Mohyla, the students and faculty were more than helpful, showing me to the right offices and making sure my questions were answered. When I stopped at the drugstore on the way home, the ladies there were extremely patient with me as I tried to explain that I needed a hairdryer (drawings were needed but we got there eventually) and when they told me their store didn’t sell it, they walked out to the street with me and pointed out a store that did. The people here are simply, just amazing. Dinner was my favorite part of the day though, when I met up with another Fulbrighter, Vivica, and we tried out an Uzbeki restaurant. If you ever have the chance to try out Uzbeki food, DO IT!!! We had a fantastic rice dish with lamb and really good dumplings filled with minced lamb and spices that you eat with sour cream. End with a chocolate and almond pastry at a local French cafe and you can’t ask for a better evening! Or wait…maybe you can…which brings me to Wednesday!

Wednesday, I went to my first opera at the National Opera House with Vivica, her friend Robert and Kaley. Before meeting up with everyone, Kaley and I grabbed dinner at an Asian restaurant (in Kyiv, they don’t really differentiate between the different Asian cuisines…Asian themed restaurants serve Chinese, Japanese, Thai, etc.) and it was delicious – definitely going back there. We met up with everyone and I got my first taste of the opera. I loved it. We had seats in the first row of the balcony so the view was perfect. We saw Iolanta by Tchaikovsky. Even though it was in Russian and I didn’t understand the lyrics, the music and actors conveyed the story so beautifully that the language barrier didn’t matter. I’m going back to the opera again tomorrow to see La Traviata by Verdi. Hopefully, we get the same seats.

Thursday and Friday I just ran errands, so onto the weekend! On Saturday Kaley and I went on a Chernobyl tour…yes…a tour to see the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster and the abandoned nearby town of Pripyat. It was beyond amazing, so much so that I will devote my next blog post to talking about it! On Sunday, Kaley and I met up with Luke, another Fulbrighter Devin and our new Aussie friend Stefan to explore Kyiv some more! We went to the Kiev Pechersk Lavra which was amazing. There were so many churches all in one place it was crazy! While there, we went through the Lavra’s famous caves to see the mummified Saints. Really cool (until I started to freak out when we couldn’t find the exit…that wasn’t so cool). Also a little scary when the caves are really cramped and everyone down there is holding a candle. Lit flame + small space + every woman there wearing a head scarf = fire waiting to happen. After the Lavra and some lunch we visited the Memorial to the Holodomor Victims (to read about the Holodomor, go here) and I plan to go back and see the museum there. We ended with the Great Patriotic War Memorial (aka the WWII memorial), which was massive and a little daunting. Though I loved the two painted tanks they had there – very cool concept: painted with flowers and children are allowed to climb on them – my guess is to promote peace.

Finally, this brings me to this week. I had my first day of classes (which I will write about separately) and on Wednesday Kaley, Luke and I went to the National Museum of Chernobyl (which I will talk about in my “everything Chernobyl post” next).

So, that was my week in a nutshell…sorry to bombard you with such a long post! I will get better about posting regularly in the future. Promise!

Yet another fun-filled weekend ahead!

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Hello everyone!

Hope you are having a good week! Mine has been great! I was actually pretty busy with homework and reading the past two days, but there is definitely a lower level of stress here in Spain, which is good for me!

We’ve also had great weather here the past few days. Sunny and 70s! It’s definitely getting a little chillier, so I have to start bringing out some of my fall clothes, as I’m sure you are beginning to do back in the states too!

On Monday, I met some of my host family’s extended family. Rosi’s niece joined us for lunch, and she brought her 6 month old baby girl! She was so adorable, and she seemed to take a liking to me! Later that night, we had dinner with two more of her nieces. They were in their early 30’s and had been to the US before, so I was able to talk to them about a lot of different things, which was nice.

Again, this week seems to have flown by. Only one more day of classes tomorrow and then it will already be my weekend again! This one should be another exciting one for me! On Thursday night, my friends and I are going to an “Erasmus” party. For students here, “Erasmus” basically means a party for study abroad students. It is a chance for those students to meet locals, and vice versa. This Thursday the party is at Pacha, a famous nightclub with locations all over the world! Paris Hilton actually came to this club on its opening night! My friends and I have reserved a VIP table, so it will definitely be a good time!

Although it may be a bit of a struggle for us, on Friday, we are getting up early to catch a bus for the program-sponsored trip to Madrid and Toledo! Looks like we’ll be resting up on the bus ride there! Haha. We’ll be together in Madrid for three days (a day trip to Toledo), and we have a pretty full schedule! Some of the places we’ll be visiting include Palacio Real, la Plaza Mayor, and El Museo del Prado. I am so excited for this trip, especially since the whole program will be together and I’ll be with all my friends. It’s pretty amazing how close you can get with the people here in such a short amount of time!  

Just finishing up some homework and looking up the weather for Madrid so I can plan what to bring. Hope everyone has a good end to their week and a wonderful weekend!

Also, thank you very much for all the birthday cards I’ve been receiving! It’s so nice to receive mail from home when your thousands of miles away!!!

I’ll write again on Sunday!

Love, Jen

Healthcare Explorations

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Unfortunately, I got a chance to learn about Malagasy healthcare today… Yesterday, during a visit to one of the biggest newspapers in Madagascar (we got our picture in it!), as I was walking across some flat pavement, my ankle rolled. I’ve had ankle problems for a long time, so this is nothing that new, but I heard a crunch and it hurt pretty badly. It also scuffed up the skin on my toe and foot (I was in flip-flops) and was bleeding pretty profusely. Everyone saw it, which wasn’t too bad, but then they also saw me start to cry uncontrollably. The shock set in after a second, which meant that it didn’t even hurt that badly, but I just could not stop crying. I was laughing through my tears, and everyone was good about it (I’m not the first to break down in front of the group), but it was still super embarrassing. I’m going to be fine, but I went to a health clinic today (which was really interesting. It was completely empty—the doctor I ended up seeing was sitting at the front desk. And only cost $10 for a visit) and they told me it’s not broken, just keep it wrapped (also, the pharmacy does not have ace bandages) and ibuprophen to keep the swelling down. It just sucks because I wanted to walk around town today, as we had the afternoon off, but I ended up just sitting at the center. I think it should be better enough by Friday afternoon for me to go explore then, though. I’m going to quickly discuss my independent study project and try to get some direction now!


Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Not a whole lot to say today, it was a pretty routine day, but class was actually quite interesting—this week we’re talking about the political situation in Madagascar, which if you don’t know is in the middle of what’s called la crise (the crisis)—basically the former president was deposed and the HAT, the transitional authority, was supported by the military. The US government and most of the international community don’t recognize the HAT, because they weren’t elected, and so have cut off all non-humanitarian aid to Madagascar. Now it just so happens that we were lucky enough to be studying politics just as there was a big political event—the road map out of the crisis, which has been being debated for years now (the crisis officially happened in 2009), was just signed by almost all the major players. You can’t really speak of political parties as such here, there’s more politicians with supporters. Anyways, everyone’s talking about this road map, which promises amnesty for political exiles, but that’s still being debated. I won’t go on for too long because I’m still figuring it out, but there’s a sense of being in the middle of history happening, which is cool. Today we learned a ton of French vocabulary for democracy, and I managed to explain a first-past-the-post system in French (Ms. Zang would be so proud of me… the reason I say that is that sometimes is shocks me that I’m actually doing some of these things. Especially explaining abstract concepts in French, that’s one of my favorite moments, so I guess what this is is bragging to all of you… sorry), and then the people who do afrobarometer, which is a survey of political engagement and attitudes towards democracy in African countries, came to talk to us. They had a lot of interesting statistics, both about political participation and, what was particularly striking, what people thought about democracy. There was what at first seemed to be a lack of support for democracy, which shocked me, but then I realized how much a discourse of democracy as the only good system is a part of our culture.
On another note, I’m feeling a bit aimless academically right now. I’m interested in everything, but that means that I don’t have much focus. Everyone’s in the same boat, but I wish I had some kind of direction, something to try to figure out, some purpose. It will happen, I know, but I wish it would happen now so that I wouldn’t feel like I’m drifting quite as much. But to end happily, the baby took his first steps this afternoon! It’s nice to be enough a part of the family that that’s a really exciting thing for me.

English Mania

Monday, September 19th, 2011

I was informed recently that I will be hosting a one-a-week teachers class. I’m actually really excited about this (though it does take away my 1st planning period on Fridays :( ) because I get a chance to interact with the English faculty outside of my regular English classes or lunchtime. I won’t be teaching anything, just coming up with topics and facilitating discussions.

For my first class (which actually won’t happen for a few weeks because of the English competition and midterms) I’m thinking about showing this TED talk about English mania. It’s something that as an EFL teacher I’ve been torn about. On the one hand I love teaching English as a foreign language, and it’s my job – on the other hand there are times where I somewhat feel like a cultural imperialist.

I agree with many of his points, but I’m not sure I agree with his conclusion. The clips of the Chinese students yelling their goals in English were particularly shocking. I guess I don’t feel that I can agree with his conclusion because I’m inherently biased as a native English speaker who is already benefiting from the fact that English is the dominant language for global communication. Would I agree with his point if I had to learn Chinese in school starting in the third grade?

“Why English? In a single word: Opportunity. Opportunity for a better life, a job, to be able to pay for school, or put better food on the table. Imagine a student taking a giant test for three full days. Her score on this one test literally determines her future. She studies 12 hours a day for three years to prepare. 25 percent of her grade is based on English. It’s called the Gaokao. And 80 million high school Chinese students have already taken this grueling test. The intensity to learn English is almost unimaginable. Unless you witness it.

Teacher: Perfect!
Students: Perfect!
T: Perfect!
S: Perfect!

T: I want to speak perfect English.
S: I want to speak perfect English.

T: I want to speak –
S: I want to speak –
T: perfect English.
S: perfect English.

T: I want to change my life!
S: I want to change my life!”

My Korean students are in very similar positions to the Chinese students in this video -they have been learning English since elementary school, and they also have a test similar to the one mentioned in the video called the suneung (수능) that will greatly affect their future. If they don’t do well on the suneung, they probably won’t get into a good college, which in turn affects their ability to get a job after graduation, and regardless of what type of college they want to get into, a good portion of the suneung test is English ability. Is it any wonder that I have students who stress over English? It’ll be interesting to see what the English teachers, people who went through this education system and managed to still retain a love of English, think of this video.


Monday, September 19th, 2011
So my first week in Ireland came to a close. My dad and Deb left to Dublin on Wednesday, orientation was Thursday and Friday, and this weekend was left for me to meet some new people and have a few good drinks. I finally felt better by Friday and was able to get my student […]