Monday, July 30, 2012

Plan Ceibal and the Meeting of the Uruguayans and Americans

Plan Ceibal was an initiative sponsored by the Uruguayan government to make sure every child had a laptop no matter whether they lived in the campo or Montevideo. It started in 2008 with the campo since it was easier to start in the less populated areas. It sent a message that they cared about the people in the campo. For some children, it might be the only laptop for the entire family. This organization is not part of the government, but works long with it. Ceibal stands for "Conectividad Educativa de Informática Básica para el Aprendizaje en Línea". The symbol of Plan Ceibal is the ceibo, a typical Uruguayan tree. While there, we learned about its implementation, challenges, and future endeavours.

Playing around with the laptops
When we returned, our Uruguayan hosts were waiting for us at the hotel, and we had lunch together and caught each other up on what had been going on. It was so good to see my host. The last time we were together was in February in Boston when she was leaving to go back home to Uruguay. After lunch, we got together to share our experiences with the first half of the exchange and our hopes for this one. Then, it was time to bring the gifts I brought for my host's school. I bought all sorts of educational/cultural things like a picture dictionary, flashcards, educational games and more.
Felt like Santa Claus!
Here is a picture of the group before we headed out towards Montevideo.  

US-Uruguay Educator Exchange 2012

Here are a few more pictures from the rest of the night. We ate some dinner together, and then went out to the theater to see "Perdidos en yonkers". It was good because I understood most of it except when the little boy was yelling. It was nice to see theater. It has been ages since I've seen something in English or Spanish. A great way to start my weekend.

English Immersion Day Camp

After coming off my candombe experience, I had to work on my presentation for the English Immersion Day Camp. I was so happy to be put into the group that was in charge of a workshop on Language and Culture - my specialty! I decided to talk about the American Council on Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the 5 C's - Communication, Culture, Comparison, Connections, and Communities.

Presenting about language and culture. Thanks ACTFL!
To show how I incorporate culture into the classroom, I gave two examples of some of my favorite lessons. Instead of separating culture and communicationas two different topics, I integrate them together all the time. In my honest opinion, there is really no excuse to not teach culture. Some might complain that there is no time, but if you combine the three together, you can do it. It just takes a little creativity. Instead of using generic Juan and Maria, look up something about an interesting topic which will also give more authenticity to the lesson. Use the Spanish Royal Family to discuss the family, the Aztecs legend of los Novios to teach the past, and gauchos and cafeteros to teach about daily routines.

I recommended that an English teacher could substitute a lumberjack or a cranberry farmer from Cape Cod, Massachusetts for the cafetero and gaucho. It would require the students to investigate and dig a little deeper in our American culture. It's the regional level where our "culture" becomes more our own because it's based on where we live. English students need to learn about the regions of the U.S. (which actually can make us very different even though we are from the same country). just like my students need to understand that the countries of Latin America are not all like Mexico.

We left early that morning and met up with some other English teachers who sat with us on the bus to practice their English and to share experiences as teachers. For a few, it was the first time they ever spoke with a native speaker of English. We got to the ranch that we were holding the Immersion Camp in and began with the ice breakers. They were a lot of fun, too.

Great to share experiences together

Then, each group began to present on such topics as technology in the classroom, backward design, language and culture, and interactive/engaging lessons. At lunch time, the Ambassador of the US to Uruguay to come visit us and congratulate us for all our hard work.  

It felt great to be able to share our experiences and to bond with teachers from another country. Being a teacher is something only few can understand. It doesn't matter where we are from or what circumstances we teach in, we are all united together in our desire to teach the next generation and to opening their eyes to how beautiful the world really is. We are also bonded by the difficulties present in our job which is why we need to learn from each other so we can make our piece of the world that much better.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 18th/El 18 de julio

El 18 de julio was the day that Uruguay signed the Constitution that confirmed that they were independent from Argentina. However, they really don't do anything as a country to celebrate other than to take the day off of work/school. There were many people on the Rambla that day enjoying the nice weather. My Uruguayan host told me that the only time they are truly patriotic is when the national team (or el Celeste) is playing in the Copa America or the World Cup. She noticed that Americans are much more patriotic.

Since everything was closed we took a tour around Montevideo. Here are some of the pictures.

View of Montevideo in the back

Nice little park with a great view

The work of Joaquin Torres Garcia, founder of Constructive Universalism

The door of the old fortress that protected the city

Beautiful church

Teatro Solis

After, we went to a vineyard owned by the Bouza family. We had a great lunch and bought bottles of wine as souveniors.

Got some great Tannat, one of the most prominent grapes in Uruguay

We got back in the afternoon, and I went to relax a bit. After, I decided to go out since it was turning out to be such a nice day. I decided not to take my camera since I already had taken pictures of la Rambla. While I was running, I all of a sudden hear music. I realized it was candombe, the Afro-Uruguayan music that is featured during their 40-day Carnaval season. I ran up the street to where the people were. It was just like in I had seen in videos about Uruguay. There was a group of men (and only one woman) playing different size drums while the women (and one man) were dancing in front of them. You can watch all the videos you want, but there is nothing like seeing it in person. The music was so strong that I could feel the vibrations of the drums. It was hard to stay still. It was if the music was inviting me to dance. I smiled when I looked up to see children on a balcony playing drums and dancing. I did not expect to see candombe that might, and I was so happy to have gotten to see it with my own eyes. I didn't have a camera to capture the moment or to prove I saw it, but I have my memory and that's enough. I was very lucky to have seen it since the groups don't really play in the winter. Candombe check. {insert smiley face}

Day 2 - Orientation and Mercado del Puerto, and Tango

After a good night's sleep, I was ready for the first true day of orientation. It began with an introduction to Uruguay with some facts and information about the country. My favorite part was the comic strip of Cristian Dzwonik. It's a cat like Garfield, but from Argentina instead. I've always wanted to use tiras comicas. I remember one of my Spanish teachers put them at the bottom of the tests. Clearly, it affected me. Click here to find more Gaturro. I like these ones, and I think these are totally appropriate for level 1 or 2.

Here is another one called Brutish English. It would be fun for the kids to look up the words in Spanish that Gaturro guesses wrong. Here is a sample.

Then, we had a guest come into give us a lecture about the Uruguay Education System. I think that is one that needs it's own post to go through similarities, differences, challenges, and reforms.

We went from there to the Mercado del Puerto where we had some lunch. Here is a video of the actual place. There the famous Uruguayan medio medio drink was made famous - which is a mix of champagne and white wine. We had that with some typical Uruguayn fare.

Meat and Provolone Cheese

Flan with Dulce de Leche

Here is a video of the market.

After we went to the Embassy, but no pictures, and nothing really to report there. It was nice to check off another Embassy I have visited.

Finally, we ended our day at the director's home for some refreshments and light snacks. It was a beautiful apartment. To top it off, she invited tango dancers to her apartment for us. It was so nice. Although I have always thought of tango as strictly Argentinean, Uruguay does share it in common with their neighbor since they have the Rio de la Plata in common. Even Carlos Gardel, the King of Tango, is believed by Uruguayans to have been born in their country laying claim to one of the most influential figures in the history of tango.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

First impressions of Uruguay

After a long 13 hour flight (15 if you count layovers), I finally arrive with the other participants to Montevideo. The airport was nice and neat only having been built recently.  We were received by one of the directors of the program who had a bus waiting for us. At that point, it was the first time that I was meeting the other people in the program. We come from all different parts of the United States which is interesting in and of itself since I don't really know what it's like in other parts of the country.

Once I stepped out of the airport, I could see my breath which is a true indication of how really cold it is here. Yes, it was cold, but nothing I couldn't handle. Especially if the sun is out. We drove along the coast which was stunning. Although you would think I would have a tendency to compare Uruguay to the United States, I am constantly comparing it to the other South American countries I've been to - Ecuador and Colombia. Both of which have the Andes Mountains. Also, I could definitely see more of the European influence especially in the style of houses.

Driving into Montevideo

We arrive to the hotel, and although I was very tired, I took the opportunity to actually run/walk the Rambla. (I ran 3 miles and walked 2.5). I know how much I ran because they have these green markers which indicate the meters.

The Ramla here gives the Rambla in Barcelona stiff competition in my book :)

Another cool thing that they have along the Rambla is this place where you can do a little circuit training. I had a great view of the beach while getting in a little workout. I have to say the people of Montevideo are an active bunch. I would be too if I had a view like that every day!

After, I came back to the hotel to shower and eventually went out to find something to eat. I met up with a few other people from our group, got pesos, and got some food to go since we wanted to see the Ciudad Vieja. We walked down the main street Avenida del 18 de julio to get to the Plaza de Independencia. These are some of the cool things we saw in downtown Montevideo.

La fuente de los Candados

La Plaza de Independencia with Jose Artigas, the Liberator of Uruguay

Palacio Salvo
We worked up an appetite for sure, and so we went to El Restaurante la Tregua for some dinner. On my first night in Uruguay I had to have beef. It was amazing! Buen provecho!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Uggs for Uruguay

Okay, so I started to write this post before my trip, but then I got so caught up in everything that I never got to finish it. I was crazy not only trying to tie up loose ends with wedding stuff, but actually trying to buy gifts for my host/host school and shopping for whatever I needed for this trip.

The reason for the name of this post is because we were told prior to the trip that Uruguay is very cold in July. The seasons are opposite of what they are in Massachusetts. In the Northern Hemisphere, it's summer, and in the Southern Hemisphere, it's winter. I looked at the weather forecast and thought it's not that bad compared to a New England winter. I can handle 55 degrees during the day, 32 at night. Plus, there is no snow - how bad can it be?!?

Well, the main difference is the heating systems. I think of my classroom in the winter, and it blasts so much hot air to the point where I am opening windows in the dead of winter to get some fresh air. Supposedly, there is no heating in the schools in Uruguay. I was nervous that if what they said was true, then I might not be adequately prepared. Normally, I wear snow boots to school, and then change because I have to wear professional shoes for my job. In Uruguay, the teachers in public schools at least dress more casually because of the lack of heating. They need to bundle up and wear boots.

I have never in my life owned Uggs. I didn't want to be like everyone else or look like I was trying too hard to be a teenager. Since it is summer in Boston, it's next to impossible to find boots. Unfortunately, I didn't have many to begin with. So, I broke down and ordered a pair of Uggs online. Plus, I knew they were warm, and there was a good chance they were going to fit.

Yesterday, I finally wore them walking around the city, and boy was I glad to have them especially when the sun began to set and it got cold.

Monday, July 2, 2012

South American Ships Sail into Boston and Spanish Soccer

Can you see the Colombian flag?
In my future brother-in-law's apartment in Colombia, there is a painting of a ship over the fireplace. My fiance explained to me that this ship was very important to Colombians, and it meant a lot to his brother who had trained aboard the ship when he was in the Colombian Navy. La Gloria is a old ship from 1968, and it is a source of pride for the Colombians in the same way the U.S.S. Constitution aka Old Ironsides is a symbol and source of pride to Bostonians. La Gloria's sister ship, Las Guayas, is also in town. Las Guayas was built by the same company, but it is owned by Ecuador.

Las Guayas is in front and La Gloria is in back.
About to board ship
As we start to approach the ships, in true Latin style, music was playing. I think I heard Andean music coming from the Ecuadorian ship, and I know I heard Colombian music on the La Gloria. It was actually fun because as we walked around the boat we were swaying to the music.

Once we boarded the boat, we were given complimentary Colombian bracelets from Bancolombia encouraging us to get a loan and buy property down there. They were actual leather bracelets decorated with palma de iraca on each side.
Leather bracelets with palma de iraca
The ship was so beautiful. I was impressed with their attention to detail.  For example, the ropes are decorated with the colors of the Colombian flag, and the stairs have the name of the ship on every step.



After seeing the ships, we decided to go watch the end of the 2012 Eurocup match. It was great to see Spain win their 3rd major championship. (2008 Eurocup, 2010 World Cup, and 2012 Eurocup). This makes me excited for the upcoming Olympics which I will see in Uruguay.

I like the phrase Ecuador had on their sail - "Love life". I know I surely do. I love taking advantage of all the beautiful things Boston has to offer, and I love sharing special moments with the ones I love. It's a great way to go about the world.