International Student Teaching
Ecuador, Fall 2011
I hope this email finds you well, and getting ready to enjoy Thanksgiving break!
I can't believe I have already been here a week, though a lot has happened since I arrived. I am sure I won't remember to include everything in this email, so here is the link to my blog, where I'm trying to update every few days: joyebeth.wordpress.com. I haven't been able to update as much as I would like, since my computer broke almost as soon as I got here. The IT people have been so great trying to fix it, but the hard drive is unfixable. I ordered a new one today, so hopefully by the beginning or middle of next week, I should have a working computer. It's definitely been a frustrating ordeal since I have quite a bit of work that I need to finish up, but I will manage!
You don't have to put that first part on the website, I'm sure no one wants to hear about my technology woes!
My stay so far has been very enjoyable. I am staying with one of the librarians at the school, named Maria Jose. She lives with her husband, son, mother, father, and brother in a nice home in Tumbaco, which is right outside of Quito. I was worried about living with so many people, since I've grown accustomed to living by myself all semester, but it has been very nice so far. I have my own room and bathroom, which is very nice, and the house is in a gated community with security on-hand 24/7. There is also a maid that comes three times a week to clean the house. I could not have asked for a better living situation during my stay here.
My host family has been extremely accommodating. Everyone speaks English, with the exception of Maria Jose's father, but we communicate well enough through gestures and with other members of the family translating. Family is very important here, with almost everyone living with their parents until they get married. Since I am staying with the matriarch of the family, there are always family members over to visit. It's an open door policy in our house, quite literally, since none of the doors are ever locked.
The school is amazing. I'm finally starting to find my way around pretty well, it's such a large campus! My teacher, Chiza, has been very helpful. She is a great teacher, and I've already taken pages of notes with things that I want to bring back to my classroom. I think she feels bad that I've been put in a math classroom, but we have been working together to come up with a small unit that will allow me to make connections between math and biology. We have planned that the last week I will do an algebra review with applications in genetics. I am very excited about my lessons. Researching for it already has me thinking about genetics from a different perspective.
Chiza has also introduced me to the biology and health teacher, so that I can go observe them throughout the week. I have already observed the AP Biology class here a couple of times. I really appreciate that Chiza wants me to have the opportunity to observe these classes as well.
There have been some cultural differences that I have had to get used to. For example, the students rarely ever raise their hands to ask questions, but rather just yell out ''Chiza, Chiza!'' All of the students call their teachers and even administrators by their first names, which is also very different. Also, interruption of speakers or teachers is not uncommon here, so no one really bats an eye if their thought is interrupted. These are definitely things that I have had to get used to!
I haven't been able to do a lot of sightseeing yet, since I've mainly been trying to get into the swing of things. Maria Jose and her husband Oliver took me to the Old Town in Quito this past weekend. It was a very quick driving tour around the city, but it was really neat to see all of the plazas and churches lit up at night. The statue of the Virgin Mary was neat to see lit up and towering over the city. Oliver told me that it is the only depiction of the Virgin Mary with wings, which I found very interesting. Oliver was an excellent tour guide, he was telling me all sorts of interesting tidbits of information as we were driving around. We are planning to go back to the Old Town in a couple of weeks, during the day so I can actually go into the churches and museums.
I didn't know beforehand, but I have actually come to Ecuador during a very exciting time of the year. Fiestas de Quito starts next week, and it is supposed to be a huge celebration of another year of independence. There are bullfights, food tastings, and parties all over the city. I can't wait to see what all it entails!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving! I will talk to you next week! We are going to the craft market in Otovalo and the leather market in Cotocachi this weekend, so I'm sure I will have a lot to discuss!
I hope you are doing well!
Last week was both very exciting and eye opening for me. Most Ecuadorians don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but Colegio Meñor does observe the holiday. Usually, the students have a half day of classes and then the teachers have a potluck together at the school. This year, Colegio Meñor has been implementing the Character Counts program, where there are six pillars of characters that everyone at the school strives to live up to. The pillars are Caring, Trustworthiness, Fairness, Respect, Responsibility, and Citizenship. As part of this, the school decided that we would share our Thanksgiving dinner with schools in the area that are less fortunate. It turns out Colegio Meñor provides a lot of assistance to different schools around Quito. The school we went to was in Tumbaco, where I live. It was very shocking that just 10 minutes from the very nice neighborhood that I live in, the roads are not paved and the houses are falling apart.
I had a really good time at the dinner, the kids were so excited for us to be there. The school was definitely the worst school that I have ever seen. They were just starting to build a bathroom for the students, right now they have an outhouse type structure at the very back of the school. (I go into a lot more detail on my blog post about the school, if you would like to read more about it http://joyebeth.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/turkey-and-futbol/). After this experience, I know how much I have to be thankful for!
On a happier note, the family that I'm staying with are all huge fans of the soccer team LDU Quito (or Liga). Liga is vying for the Copa Sudamericana, and there was a semifinals game at home last week. It has definitely been my favorite experience so far! I feel like American stadiums would have a fit if they saw the types of things that people bring into the stadium here. Oliver, one of the people I'm staying with, even made a joke that if there was that much smoke (from all the flares and fireworks) at an American football game, they would have already brought in the fire department, police, and ATF, and NASA.
Fortunately, Liga won their match that night, and also won their match in Argentina on Tuesday, so they will be advancing to the finals! We should be going when they play again; I can't wait!
The students in my classes are starting to work on a special project where they actually have to mimic the motion of a carnival ride on a coordinate plane. Chiza informed me that it is a requirement this year for everyone to incorporate one student technology project into their classes, so this what she's using. She had me talk about amusement parks and the different types of rides to set up for the project. I showed a video with a lot of different examples of rides the students could use. The program the students are using is actually pretty neat. I had to quickly teach myself how to use it so that I could help the students with their projects. I've never done any sort of computer programming before, so I've definitely felt a little out of my element!
The thing that I have had to help the students with most so far in this project has actually been vocabulary. The students will often come across a word in their books that they don't understand, and I will have to find sometimes creative ways to describe them in English. Chiza compared learning math to learning another language, so it's hard for the students to not only learn the concepts, but to learn them in English adds even another challenge. As someone in another area that has a very specialized vocabulary, I feel like I will be more conscious of how I describe and introduce new terms to my students after seeing how difficult it can be for students.
This past week has been pretty slow-paced, but there is a special program for Fiestas de Quito tomorrow afternoon and then we have a long weekend! I'm going to Otovalo this Saturday and then we'll probably go to Old Town on Monday or Tuesday for some Fiesta de Quito celebrations. The celebrations have actually been going on all week. You wouldn't believe how many students have missed school this week for parties or bull fights.
Have a great day!
I hope you have been well! I apologize for not emailing sooner, to be honest, I didn't have that much to write about last week. Maria Jose and her husband moved into their new house last weekend, so I didn't really get to do much on our extended weekend last week.
The rest of last week was spent in the computer lab with our classes. They had to create their own program to make a working carnival ride. The students have needed a lot of help in the lab (sometimes asking me how to do things that I don't have a clue about) but I am very impressed with some of the programs that these students have created. There have been ferris wheels, bumper cars that crash into each other and then burst into flames, roller coasters, towers of terror, and a variety of other rides. It's been really great practice with inquiry since this is a project that the students have had to do completely on their own. There is a help function in the program, but often the student will have to redesign the commands to fit the needs of their ride. I've dealt with a lot of frustrated students over the past week, but it has been so rewarding when they yell out my name to come watch their creation that actually works.
On Friday after school, Maria Jose and I took the bus to the Old Town in Quito. Maria Jose is the International Commissioner for the Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) in Ecuador. She also is the troop leader for Colegio Menor, and there was a camp this past Saturday. She needed to pick up the berets that are part of the Girl Guide uniform. I got a quick walking tour of the Old Town, and got to see the Quito Virgin during the day, which was really neat.
We then met up with Oliver and his Uncle, who is a professional artist, to pick out fabric for the couches at Maria Jose and Oliver's new house. I really enjoyed helping them pick out fabric, and Oliver's uncle was hilarious. He is the first person from Ecuador that I've met who has actually been to Kentucky. He didn't know Bowling Green, but he thought Kentucky was really beautiful.
After finally choosing all the fabric for the house, we had to rush back home to get ready for the Colegio Menor Christmas Party. The party was at the Marriott Hotel in Quito (which just so happens to have about 8 of Oliver's uncle's paintings in the lobby.) I don't forsee myself ever going to a staff Christmas party like that again. There were about 200 people there, with beautiful decorations, a huge dance floor, and BINGO. We started off the evening with a three course meal. I love the cooking at my host family's house, but this was the most delicious meal that I've had since I've been here. There were several rounds of BINGO after dinner, but unfortunately I didn't win any prizes. When the DJ started up the music, everybody danced. And I mean everybody. The only time people weren't dancing was if they needed a break. Even the administrators were out on the dance floor, which I really enjoyed.
And just as a fun addition, during dinner I was seated next to one of the Physical Education teachers, Leo, who is from Mexico. It just so happens that he is a huge Green Bay Packers fan! I was really surprised/excited to meet fellow cheesehead so far away from home!
I will say that some of the other student teachers may have forgotten that they were at a staff Christmas party, taking advantage of the complimentary drinks, and subsequently falling down on the dance floor later in the evening. I want you to know that I represented WKU very well, and had an amazing time dancing until about 1:15 in the morning!
Staying out so late on Friday night definitely made it hard to get up Saturday morning, but it finally worked out that we had a car to go to the handcraft market in Otovalo. I will update you on this on Wednesday, along with my experiences teaching solo these next three days.
I hope you have a great week! Do you have a certain time in mind that you would like to meet for a debriefing this Friday?
I can't believe it's already my last day! I feel as though this month has gone by so quickly. I am definitely going to have to come back here soon!
Picking up where I left off in the last email, this past Saturday we went to the market in Otovalo. I don't know if you got to make it there when you were in Ecuador, but it's definitely a place you need to visit! We left Tumbaco around 10 in the morning and had to run some errands in Quito before finally heading out to Otovalo.
The drive was beautiful. Otovalo is about an hour and a half away from Quito, but the road in between is carved into the side of the mountains, so the views the whole way are just breathtaking. We passed where they are building the new airport, which is looking a lot safer than the current airport that sits right in the heart of Quito.
Along the way there were also hundreds of white tents scattered along the mountainsides. Oliver informed me that these were actually rose plantations. I had no idea, but roses are actually one of Ecuador's top exports. They talked about how they take so many beautiful flowers for granted here because they grow them very easily. Francisca informed me that you can buy roses of any color at the amazing price of $1 a dozen. She also told me about each of her three daughters weddings and how flowers are usually in abundance because they're so cheap. For her oldest daughter, they had 1000 roses and only spent a few hundred dollars on flowers. I can't even imagine!
Before getting to Otovalo, we passed through Imbabura, which is the "Lake State" in Ecuador. Imbabura is also the name of the dormant volcano that we drove by. Ecuador is seated in the Ring of Fire, so it's sometimes hard to tell the volcanoes from the mountains. However, Imbabura towers over a beautiful town situated around a sparkling lake. The lake was formed when all of the ice melted off the top of Imbabura. Oliver also told me that the volcano used to be much taller, but the last blast was so violent that it blew a large chunk of the volcano off the top.
As we drove into Otovalo, Francisca and Oliver were telling me how many of the people in this area still observed many of the traditional Indian customs. They told me about the traditional dress of the women, and how most people speak the language Quichua. There is a strong sense of tradition in Otovalo, which is why the market started here in the first place, because so many people would make a living selling their handcrafts.
The market itself is a maze of bright colors and hand made crafts of all kinds. It took us two hours to get through it all, and I came away with full bags and a lighter purse. Thank goodness Oliver was there with me, because I would have been an absolute disaster on my own. He even bargained with many of the vendors so that I ended up saving about $15 on all my things. I am most excited about the gifts I am bringing back for my family. I found an Incan mask carved out of lava for Adam, an alpaca and sheep mixed wool blanket for my mom, and a handmade Panama hat (which I was told these actually originated in Ecuador) for my dad.
After two hours of perusing through all the booths, we decided to start heading back home. We made a pit stop in Cayambe to pick up several bags of a cracker type pastry that is only made in Cayambe. They are delicious when topped with dulce de lece! At the same store, Oliver and I also bought some giant homemade string cheese which we gnawed on until we got to the restaurant we were looking for.
The restaurant is called Cafe de la Vaca, and is more of a hacienda turned restaurant. The views were gorgeous, and there were cows and ducks just wandering around the property. They specialize in dishes with beef and cheese, which makes sense, and Oliver said that if you come for breakfast you can go out and get your own milk straight from the source. I found this very amusing! We started off with Queso Fresca (fresh cheese with no salt added to it) and giant lima beans that you have to pop out of the shell to eat. For the entree, we all ordered the milanesa napolitina, which is beef topped with ham, cheese and tomato sauce. It was absolutely delicious. It also came with a broccoli and squash souffle, which tasted much better than it sounds, and an Ecuadorian version of cole slaw, which of course was not as good as back home.
The rest of the journey back was not quite as eventful since I was so worn out I slept most of the way!
This week I have been solo teaching all of Chiza's classes. Chiza is wanting to do a skills review, since they don't have enough time to finish a unit before Christmas, and they don't have finals until after break. She asked me to prepare three lessons over binomial multiplications, with Biology applications. Now, I'm not a math person, but I have loved teaching these lessons! The students have been really into the lessons and they have worked so hard (I took a picture of how intensely they were working today, I'll have to show it to you on Friday!) For the biology application, I showed them how to solve Punnet squares algebraically, and then had them practice using celebrity couples. They thought that the couples I chose were hilarious, like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, and Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Chiza admitted that she didn't know who half the couples were, which the students just could not believe.
Chiza said I did a great job with the lessons, and she told me she actually wants to continue using my lessons in the future! During our last block, Chiza surprised me by bringing in snacks for everyone and having a short party before lunch. It was very sweet and unexpected of her. I've really enjoyed teaching the students that I've met here, and many of them were genuinely sad that this was my last day.
I look forward to meeting with you on Friday and telling more about my experiences here!
Have a great afternoon,