Saturday, May 31, 2014

A little Peru in Boston

Last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Peru, but just because I am home in Boston does not mean that the learning has stopped. It's a matter of paying attention to find the international in the local scene. This is what I found in my town that celebrates Peru.

1. Cooking class

It's not often that I see a cooking class offering Peruvian food even in such a international town such as Boston. Most of the time what's offered is a class on Mexican or Spanish cuisine so when I told about this class, I immediately signed up especially when I found out there were only 10 spots. It was a school night, but since it was so unique, I could justify it to myself. My husband and I got to the kitchen that Monday night, and there was chicha morada, a purple corn drink, already waiting for us. It was delicious. Then, we went into the kitchen with the rest of the group where we got down to business. The first job was to make the ají amarillo paste which was the base for the appetizer, papas a la huancaina. After, we helped cut up the beef and vegetables for the lomo saltado which was going to be our main course.

Our chef was a young man from Peru who had studied in culinary school, met an American girl, got married to her, and moved to the States. It made me smile to see how seamlessly they switched between English and Spanish. I definitely hope to keep in touch with him. I would love to find some way to have my students learn from him (if this isn't Community strand I don't know what is!). Not only did I learn about the dishes, but I also learned the right way to chop food thanks to him although I don't know if I will ever be as good as him.

Anyways, back to the food. I didn't eat my typical after-school snack because I did not want to spoil my dinner. By the time we were ready to eat, I was starving, but after taking the first bite, I realized it was totally worth the wait. My Peruvian friend said he wanted to cry because it reminded him of home - the food was that good. Our compliments to the chef!

Luckily, we didn't have to wait to long for dessert. The chef came up with the dessert on his own. It was grilled pineapple with chicha morada ice cream topped with chopped apples. It was simple and fabulous. A great end to the night.

I am so glad I went. It was a great night out, and I learned a lot in the meantime. I hope that there are more classes like this offered so I can learn to prepare them at home so Peruvian can be the norm and not the exception.

Peeling the skin off of the peppers

Telling us about the food

Papas a la huancaina

Lomo saltado

Grilled pineapple with chicha morada ice cream
2. Local companies

A few years ago, when Toms shoes were starting to grow in popularity, I told my students the story of Toms shoes and how the creator was influenced by a trip to rural Argentina where he saw children running around with no shoes. (Also reminds me of Shakira's Pies Descalzos foundation.) I told the students that it's not a coincidence that the label for Toms shoes looks like the Argentinean flag. The goal of Toms shoes is to donate a pair of shoes for every pair bought from them. It's an inspiring story of how Americans are trying to make a difference in Latin America.

Last weekend, I learned about a local Boston start-up that is selling apparel so that they can donate a portion of the proceeds to partner organizations who then help provide people access to clear water. Their mission has affected such countries as Bangladesh, Rwanda, Peru, Haiti, Kenya, Tanzania, and even United States.

The company is called Janji ( They had a booth set up in the hall where I had to pick up my bib for the road race I was going to run the next day. I was excited to buy a shirt that says "Run for Peru" with a llama on it. I know that if I wore it to school the students would DEFINITELY ask me about it. It would start a conversation about how local people are making a difference in the world. My hope is that maybe they can be inspired to do the same.

Fun shirt! Definitely a conversation starter.

As the summer approaches, try to look for opportunities to keep learning right in your own backyard. It's easy to do! What are you waiting for?  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Speed Dating - Spanish Style!

It's Friday and the second to last period of the day when my Spanish 4 Honors class walks in. You would think that they would be out of energy and exhausted from the week they had. Despite these odds, I had just the right activity to get them engaged and prepared for the Interpersonal Common Assessment that awaits them next week. Once the activity began, the energy was so high and contagious that I ran to get my department head so she could see what was going on. It's one of those classes that makes all the struggles of being a teacher worthwhile.

Let me back track a little before I explain the activity itself. Next week, the students have their Interpersonal Common Assessment which the department will use to make sure that our students are meeting the targets we have set for them. This is the prompt for all Spanish 4 Honors classes. Of course, the students have been anxious about it all week.
  • In pairs, you will have a conversation for 2 to 3 minutes in which you discuss current environmental problems that concern you and your partner (endangered animals, climate change, energy, contamination, etc). Each   partner should speak for an equal amount of time. You will discuss the problem, your thoughts/impressions about it, and your recommendations for the future.
  • You might answer the following questions-but you are not limited to-: What problem are you the most concerned about? What happened and/or what is happening? What do you think should be done about it? What will the world be like in the future?
  • Speak slowly, clearly, and feel free to correct yourself. You must speak spontaneously, ask and answer questions. It is a conversation that will be filmed and you can’t use any notes.

As I thought about how I was going to prepare them, I came up with the idea of speed dating - Spanish style! First, we moved the chairs to face each other. Then, I told them that one student was to remain in his/her seat while the opposing student rotated. This allowed for maximum number of pairings because I want the students to be able to talk with anyone in their class and not just their best friend or the person closest to them. It forced them to use communicative strategies to get their point across. While they were talking, I was able to walk around to make sure they stayed on task. 

The unit we are on has covered a lot of themes. First, we started by learning animals. Then, we talked about how climate change and other environmental diasters are causing them to go extinct. The students each made a poster saying what needs to be done to prevent the extinction of an animal from Latin America since it's so sad for them to lose their wonderful biodiversity which is what makes them so special. Also, we talked about various environmental problems in Latin America in regards to climate change and energy and discussed the possible solutions to these issues. Finally, the students wrote a formal letter to the President in regards to the existence of zoos. The class was divided in two - half writing in support of zoos and the other half opposing them. I did that on purpose because it made for an easy debate since the topic is so controversial.

Their prompt reflects everything that we have covered in the unit and gives the students the liberty to discuss the topic they feel the strongest about. To practice, we started the "speed dating" with endangered animals. They talked with three different people for 2 minutes each. Then, they spoke about contamination. After, alternative energy. Finally, they discussed zoos.

Speed dating - Spanish style!
4 topics X 3 partners = 12 pairs 
12 pairs X 2 minutes each = 24 minutes of spontaneous Spanish at the intermediate level!!!!

I could tell by their faces and body language that it was a success, but I asked them anyways - Do you feel prepared for the Common Assessment? I got a resounding "Sí!!".

It is always a challenge stepping out of your comfort zone with something new, but the results will speak for themselves next week. 

Feliz viernes a todos!!

Friday, December 6, 2013

La Selección Colombiana y la Copa Mundial

(Note: I wrote this post a two months ago. The show is not on Unimas anymore. It disappeared without too much warning ahead of time. The first 49 episodes are available on Hulu Plus Latino which you have to pay for. Colombians living in the United States know that there should be more episodes than what was shown because in Colombia, there were over 80-something episodes. I, along with many others, am very disappointed that I couldn't see the end of the series.)


A few months ago, I somehow stumbled upon a Colombian soap opera called La Seleccion on the channel Unimas. My husband was so excited because the show told the stories of the players who brought so much pride and joy to all Colombians in the late 80s and early 90s. I was excited to find something we could both watch together and enjoy. He could relive those years, and I could get caught up in the drama all while practicing my Spanish.

La Seleccion  follows the career of four of the players who formed part of the team who brought glory to Colombian soccer. The show shows where each player came from and how they got to play for the national team. The four players are - Carlos "el Pibe" Valderrama, Faustino "Tino" Asprilla, Freddy Rincón, and Rene Higuita. Each man represents a different part of the country - Valderrama from Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, Asprilla from Tulua in el Valle del Cauca, Rincon from Buenaventura on the Pacific Coast, and Higuita from Medellin, Antioquia.

It was great because I really got to learn about the different Colombian accents. To be honest, before meeting my husband, I didn't know Colombians had accents. Now, I'm really good now at picking out a Paisa accent thanks in part to Magnolia, Rene Higuita's girlfriend on the show. I also realized how many Colombian colloquialisms I've learned in the past few years. If I didn't know them, I don't think I would have followed the show as well as I did.

The best part was during the commercial breaks when my husband would explain different things to me that I didn't know, but that all Colombians who watch this show would. Here are some of the things I learned. 

1. Throughout the show, they are constantly playing this song. I better learn it because I think it's the equivalent to Sweet Caroline for us Bostonians. SI SI COLOMBIA, SI SI CARIBE!!

2. In 1993, Diego Maradona was retired from playing professional soccer, and Colombia was doing well in the qualifying round for the 1994 World Cup that was going to be held in the United States. Of course, the press wanted to know what Maradona thought about Colombia's chances against Argentina in their World Cup qualifying match, and this is what Maradona said  prior to the game in which Colombia beat Argentina 5-0 in Argentina.

Here are the highlights from that game.

And here is Maradona applauding Colombia.

2. Rene Higuita was so much fun to watch on the show, and he was just as entertaining in real life. He is most for for being "El Loco". In a friendly game against England in 1995 in Wembley Stadium, he kicked the ball in such a way that he looked like a scorpion.

3. One day, my husband told me that I needed to see a documentary called "Los Dos Escobares". I watched it on Netflix and definitely shed a few tears. The story tells of the infamous Pablo Escobar and the soccer player Andres Escobar who was part of the national team during its glory days.

Pablo Escobar and others like him were fans of the Colombian teams, and they had influence over how the teams were managed because of the money they invested to build up the teams. Andres Escobar was a player who played for Colombia's national team and Atletico Nacional, one of the teams of Medellin. There were high hopes that Colombia would do well in the 1994 World Cup. However, when Andres Escobar marked a goal against his own team by accident, it dashed all hopes of Colombia advancing to the next round. Many drug lords had placed bets on that game, and many of them lost money because Colombia who was favored to win against the United States lost the crucial game.

After the game, Andres went back to Colombia, and on the night of July 2nd, he was shot dead after an incident in the parking lot of a night club in Medellin. It is widely believed that his death was related to the auto-goal.

It is tragic, and many Colombians still mourn his death. The show did not want to handle such a sensitive topic so it was left out of the show deliberately. I'm glad I watched the documentary so I could get a real picture of what happened.

5. Carlos "el Pibe" Valderrama really needs no explanation. His hair says it all. There is no one like him. First, he was the captain of the national team during the golden years. He is known for his necklaces and bracelets which he always wore. Also, back in the early days, he wore his socks really low. The actor that plays him in the show wore them the same way. Finally, he was also famous for saying "todo bien, todo bien."

On a final note, as a Spanish teacher, I am really glad to see programming that is entertaining while at the same time teaching me something about the culture. I hope that Unimas and/or Univision try to diversify their offerings to include great shows like La Seleccion.


While we were watching the show, the qualifying rounds for the 2014 World Cup were being played. It seemed like such a great time to have the show on the air because it helped remind Colombia of its glory days while at the same time getting the fans psyched for Brazil 2014. The Colombian national team hasn't qualified since the 1998 World Cup. This new generation of players have a good chance of bringing glory back to Colombia again.

Yesterday, FIFA published the groupings. One step closer to Brazil. Now, let's hope Brazil gets those stadiums done in time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

MaFLA and NHAWLT 2013: Colombia and Uruguay: Integrating Culture into the Curriculum

As promised here is my Power Point presentation of the workshop titled "Colombia and Uruguay: Integrating Culture into the Classroom.

Thank you to all the people who came to my workshop. I hope that you learned a lot about these two countries and that you will be able to incorporate them into your curriculum.

Colombia and Uruguay (Youtube) - Final by sratoro

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What I bought on my summer vacation

The best part about traveling is going shopping. This is what I bought in Peru and Colombia this past summer. 

1. Colombia - As you can see it was mostly food products. All of it was divided between two suitcases. 

Supermarket sweep! Lots of shopping in about an hour!

I love juices so I bought a special pitcher that mixes the pulp so it all doesn't sit at the bottom.

Anything related to coffee

Beverages - lots of coffee, hot chocolate, and tea

Arequipe and obleas - great combination

Cookies and crackers


This is all related to bocadillo / fruit paste


So, everytime I go to an airport in Latin America, I buy this candy. Note the difference between Colombia and Peru. I think we have 11 bags of them between what I bought in Peru and what my husband bought in Colombia.
2. Peru - Here I had a bit more time to go shopping in Peru. I really tried to buy unique things there.

Bought some more textiles. My favorite purchase - the alpaca blanket which I know will come in handy this winter. 

I bought a little Torito (which brings good luck- they are everywhere in Peru), the Incan sun, and a really cool mask. 

Here are some little knickknacks I bought in the tourist shops. 

Lots of books! Although I'm not sure when I'll have the time to read them. 

This will remind me of the Andean woman weavers we met.

In Colombia, as you can tell, I only did food shopping. I had to make sure my husband and I had enough food to last us until our next trip. Since I know I am going to go to Colombia again, I didn't have the pressure to buy lots of souvenirs whereas in Peru I did. I'm very happy with all my purchases especially the ones from Peru because I hope to use them in class as decoration and as a resource. 

After a busy summer traveling, it's time to get back to work, but I return with great resources and lots of stories that I hope my students will appreciate. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Peru trip: Machu Picchu

2. Machu Picchu...

...was everything I imagined it would be. Our tour director really wanted us to appreciate the moment, so she put blindfolds on us so we couldn't catch a peek of Machu Picchu. She told us on the bus that the reason why she does this with her groups is because you will only have one chance to see Machu Picchu for the first time, and she wanted it to be a special one.

I started crying even with the blindfold on because I really couldn't believe it was all happening. Once, I took it off the tears flowed. Here's a video of me just after that moment happened.

After, our local tour guide Kosmo gave us a tour of the city. I was taking pictures of everything!

The Incans sculpted this stone to look like the mountain Wayna Picchu (young peak)
Wild llamas!
Beautiful stone work.
Honoring Hiriam Bingham who discovered the Incan city in 1911
Marvelous stone work. Just look at that!
Walking through the city
So happy to be there!
Our tour guide for the day, Kosmo
Utter beauty!
Luckily, we had another day at Machu Picchu which actually ended up being the better of the two days weather wise. Some of us had discussed hiking up Wayna Picchu, but it was sold out because it was high season. They can only have a certain amount of people on the mountain at a time which is why no one else was allowed go up the mountain. It wasn't always this regulated I was told, but with the rise in tourism, they had to do something to make sure that these sites would be preserved. Although we were upset not to go up Wayna Picchu, we did get tickets to hike up Machu Picchu mountain (which never appears in the pictures.) Supposedly, it had a better view. I wanted to try everything so I agreed to go. I was ultimately fine with not doing Wayna Picchu because I can do it if I go back to Peru. ;)

Climbing up the mountain was a way to experience what it would be like doing the Inca Trail without doing the 3 to 4 day trek. Boy was it tough!! It made me so glad that I was in shape, because it was physically challenging. I was soaked in sweat within the half hour. A few times I hugged the rocks because I was too scared to look down at the valley below.

While climbing the steep and narrow steps, I couldn't help to think about the Spanish climbing these chairs. They must have been cursing the day they stepped foot on South American soil. To be in a place they didn't know, tired and exhausted. How did they not just give up and go home? Meanwhile, the Incans who made the stairs could go up and down them no problem. I gained a new found respect for the Incans and had some sympathy for the Spanish who had no idea what laid ahead of them. It is so important for Spanish teachers to live the culture that they teach. There is nothing like first hand experience.

Great views!
Took this from the comfort of our train
Helping carry stuff for the hikers
You can see the hikers on the trail
My hat goes off to them! What an accomplishment!
Zoomed out so you could get an idea of the trail
My favorite picture! Couldn't have asked for a better day!
Heading out for the hike
I'm climbing to the top of that mountain!
Here we go! No turning back now!
Taking a breather. It was tough work!
This was my eye level. God, I love the Andes. 
So worth the hike! Being in shape pays off!
I did it!
We are about 1,000 feet higher than the city.
A closer look
Talk about confronting your fears!
The hike down
How long it took to hike up and down.

That wasn't it. Oh no, no. After making it to the top, I had a new found confidence. I had no fear going back down. I was ready for more. I pushed the boundaries, and I wanted to keep going. So after a hearty lunch at the lodge, two companions and I decided to do some more exploring. We decided to go to Intipunku (the sun gate) to see the hikers catch their first glimpses of Machu Picchu after spending 3 to 4 days on the trail. The views we got were nothing short of spectacular.

We are heading to where the clouds are on the left. That's Intipunku
A closer look of the Inca trail.
That winding road is for the bus which we took after the long day.
Hikers celebrating their huge accomplishment

The day at Machu Picchu turned out to be much more than checking something off my bucket list. I knew I was going to accomplish a professional goal, but I didn't expect I'd accomplish a personal one, too. There were more than a few times when I questioned what the heck I was doing climbing such a mountain, but I kept my focus and continued to put one foot in front of the other. I wasn't going to let fear and exhaustion win. I was so proud of myself for making it to the top, and the views were the reward for hard work.

It is so important for us teachers to have these moments too when we step out of our comfort zone. It helps us connect with our students who treat Spanish class as their own sort of Machu Picchu. It's one thing to say that they want to learn Spanish, but it's quite another to actually make it happen. They feel uncomfortable, they doubt themselves, and they grumble at the work we give them. They need us to cheer them on their way up to the top. We need to provide them with moments to enjoy the scenery on the way up because it gives them the motivation they need to keep going. Finally, when they make it to the top, they realize just how far they've come. To share in that joy with them is probably the best part of my job.

So, what's your Machu Picchu?