Archive for the 'From Abroad' Category

Home Safe and Sound… But Changed

use 3The students from our first-ever, COED-led study abroad trip to Peru have returned! After a month in Peru, all seven students have written extensively on their experiences as part of the course. However, you’ll find that their adventures outside of the classroom were just as educational.


Read on to learn more about Claire, Addy, Sara, Amy, Liz, Amy, and Carrie have learned in their own words!

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Value Friendship

maureen cummings blog picBy Maureen Cummings – We stood, fifty-seven strong, in the rays of what photographers refer to as golden hour in the quiet aftermath of a storm that left our study group to be the only visitors at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece, a place where thinkers like Socrates used to share their contemplations.

One of particular interest to me was an aphorism shared by our guide, “Value friendship.”

We sat, fifty-seven strong, that same evening in a restaurant resting on a hilltop in a room that was bright red, but dimly lit. It had tables and chairs and couches and candles. It had a wheel of local goat cheese for each person paired with wine that seemed endless.

While dinner carried on and new dishes appeared every ten minutes we talked for hours, each of the fifty-seven falling into one of about six tables that filled the entire venue. At our table conversations bounced from our favorite books to movies to the time Angelo sent himself to the principal’s office in first grade. We covered siblings and college involvement, and most who know me have already rightfully assumed I brought up the Christmas letter of 2007. We discussed majors and the suddenly all too real question of what each of us wants to do with our degree of that major.

At my turn, I spoke extensively of my excitement towards education and my love of middle school only in response to the table’s mutual cringe as each person considered what a creature he or she had been in that stage of life. I cracked my usual jokes of how middle school was my self-proclaimed peak, despite my 12- minute mile time and inability to make a fairly no-cut drama production, and how I just had to return to it.

While the joke was its usual hit being that self-deprecation nine times out ten kills, I then took a more serious take on explaining my excitement for the future. This began with a reflective acknowledgement of what I had been taught in this stage of my life.

In middle school I learned a lot. I learned about democracy and polynomials. I learned that it was weird to have swung a deal with the track and field coach so that I didn’t have run and could just throw the shot put. I soon after learned it was okay to not be involved in everything, which led to my immediate retirement from track and field.

I learned to be insecure and to resent the three to four inches I stood over the average boy my age. I later learned I didn’t need to be the prettiest one or even one of the prettier ones. After my braces were finally off, I also learned I wasn’t going to be one of the prettiest ones.

(I learned to make jokes instead, so no pity needed there.)

In English class, I learned I loved the underground language of literature that went beyond the surface-level story lines. I learned to relate to and fall in love with characters in books, a consequence of this being the afternoon I spent sitting in my room crying when characters’ dogs died. I learned how exciting the 20 new words introduced on Tuesday vocabulary days could be for my writing.

For the most part, I learned I loved school, which I am so obviously grateful for; however, of all things middle school taught me, I am most grateful for how these years showed me how to have and how to be a friend.

In middle school, I learned how to hold someone’s hand when her grandparent passed away. I learned how to help someone study to make the test less stressful. In the course of these years, I learned how to have expectations for how I wanted to be treated, and when these expectations weren’t met I learned how to forgive. I also learned that that was easier said than done.

These were new lessons because for the first time they were led by my own understanding of what I wanted friendship to look like in my life, more so than in my younger years when every decision was monitored and behavior required more reinforcement.

I grew to understand the importance of calling to see how someone’s day was and while doing so I learned how to listen– for hours.

I realized non-negotiable truths about the expectations I would have for myself in regards to being a friend. I saw how my closest friends loved me, and I promised myself I’d do the same back to them, for however long they would have me.

I learned that I would fail to uphold these all the time, so I also had to learn how to ask for forgiveness.

I would never deny that middle school was awkward. One year I accidentally wore my shirt backwards on picture day. In preparation for that very same picture day, I had my orthodontist switch out the rubber bands in my braces so that they would color coordinate to the outfit I had chosen, so it wasn’t even a lack of effort. I actually tried really hard.

All joking aside, I hoped to explain to the table, that this is the part of middle school that passes us.  We grow out of it or, for some of us, we learn to embrace it. It’s those other moments that mattered. In grades six, seven, and eight the groundwork was being set for the first time for the type of person I wanted to intentionally choose to become. This was all a result of role models I was presented with and the lessons I observed based on the exposure I was given inside and outside the classroom.

Middle school is immature and loud. Middle school can be unkind and is undoubtedly filled with hormones, but middle school is also an opportunity often overlooked as we try to repress the darkness of some of our own memories.

So as I decompressed to the five others at my table this long list of reasons why teaching middle school English feels like my calling, I realize it’s much simpler than I’ve made it.

Earlier in the day when the six of us were part of the of fifty-seven standing strong, we were told the truth Socrates shared: value friendship.

In my few years into young adulthood I have come to know that there is nothing I appreciate more than the kind and selfless friends I am so fortunate to be surrounded and supported by. I have also come to know valuing friendship goes beyond cherishing people, but consists of respecting what it means to be a friend to someone else, which is something I began to learn in middle school.

Rather than the small speech I presented my table, I should have simply explained that I would love a job where I could talk about characters, words, and writing, but I would live for a career where I might be even a small part in setting someone’s foundation for how he or she plans to spend a lifetime valuing friendship. 

There’s a Rock in My Shoe

Rock in your shoe pictureBy Maureen Cummings – Don’t walk with a rock in your shoe.

A message to remember for college freshman, middle schoolers, first year teachers, my best friends, my brothers, my future students, my classmates, my professors, and for myself.

Allow me to set up a backdrop for this advice.

I recently have taken residence in the quiet, hilly and foreign neighborhood of Baulduina in Rome. I’m enrolled in Italian I because prior to coming here my only vocabulary word was Ciao. To think living in a new city that speaks an unfamiliar language — planning trips, budgeting money that somehow seems to be exponentially more limited each day (Sidebar: Sometimes it’s ok to dip into the school supply funds to support your gelato needs.), memorizing new public transportation routes, existing without constant Internet connection, and leaving the comforts of home life — without learning the language is to completely ignore the social context of the experience.

Making friends has always felt natural to me. This may be one of the few positive consequences of a loud personality. Not having friends has never felt natural to me. I’ve done this once before when I started college in a new city knowing no one. There are the positives and there are the negatives to this sort of aloneness. To see one’s self outside the context of a friendship or family and to just exist as an individual made up of whoever those people helped you become is incredibly eye opening. It has shown me more than once what type of people I choose to surround myself with and what kind of person I choose to display myself as.

Within my first few days in Rome I had found a group of girls that I decided to test the waters with. Experiencing people for the first time for me sometimes feels like a, “Do they get it?” test. I note what people laugh at and if our humors can align. I see the pace they walk at to confirm we can move with a purpose and minimize downtime when we have but 110 days to experience the eternal city. The list goes on and on, but as these new people are checking boxes on my own list, I know there are boxes my personality traits must also be checking for them.

On the second day of this group’s togetherness, this being the first time we dare to acknowledge that we are going to hang out again together and that all parties have agreed that enough boxes were checked to make this to day two, we walked to the local grocery store. As we’re walking, I begin hitting topics about what home life looks for different people, who also has two older brothers, majors, potential career ideas, and everything else that is usually answered followed by a smile and nod to fill the empty space before someone else can think of a new question.

Within moments of the uphill hike, a small and seemingly insignificant pebble gets kicked into my shoe, obviously noticed by no one but myself. Let me remind you these people walk with a gusto that I can typically appreciate when my shoe is rock- free. As we are booking it to the store and holding polite conversation the rock begins to take over my every thought as it is piercingly sharper every time I step down on my right foot. I keep walking so as not to interrupt the flow of conversation. Information is being exchanged and occasionally a good joke is being thrown down, but in the most dramatic way my mind can’t escape the sharp little rock.

As we progress on the journey everyone is adding their two cents and getting their boxes checked while I draw up scenarios of what would happen if I stopped to remove the stone, or if I should tell everyone to stop for a second, or if I should power through. I removed myself from conversation and became quiet. I’m not quiet.

I opted to stop. I let the group move forward and I removed the rock because now that I am out of the social comfort and context of home I am realizing who I want to be on my own rather than relative to anyone else. I see that I don’t want to be the type person who walks quietly with a rock in my shoe.

The rock is of complete insignificance and invisibility to everyone else, but for me it is there. The longer I walked with it, the more present it became.

Don’t walk with a rock in your shoe.

We all have rocks in our shoes at some point. When I was a freshman and realized I picked a school that couldn’t give me what I thought I wanted from my collegiate experience– that was a rock in my shoe. I had to weigh my options: Do I walk with my rock? Do I wait it out to see if the rock becomes less painful or my foot becomes numb to it? Do I ask someone to stop with me so I can handle my rock? Do I let the group continue moving forward and I’ll catch up when I catch up?

Challenges and rocks that seem insignificant can change the way we experience a conversation, our schooling, and our relationships. It is not impossible to ignore or power through them, but we should weigh the option of addressing them. This may be even more of the challenge.

To college freshman, middle schoolers, first year teachers, my best friends, my brothers, my future students, my classmates, my professors, and to myself: Know that there is more than one way to move forward. Know that it is okay to step back. Know that the world will not move on without you if you take the time to address the challenges that others may not see in your life.

As a new school year begins, please, don’t walk with a rock in your shoe.

What We Take For Granted

Waiting for a Becca (2)By Laura Sumner Coon – Afternoon heat baked the concrete shell that posed as a gathering place for the little town of Oliveros, Guatemala. Dust swirled at the feet of more than 100 students and their parents who crowded the doorway of Nari’s home, which also serves as the local watering hole.

Parents patiently waited, babies squirming in their arms. Students nervously chattered with their friends, trying to hide their anxiety as their report cards and applications flapped in the occasional breeze.

This is an annual event, when the Americans come to decide on the “becas” for the new school year, which typically starts in January. But this year was exceptional. The hope for a scholarship to junior high or high school more than doubled this year, and the wait was long.

In Oliveros, a small agricultural village in Santa Rosa, students attend public school until Grade 6. But if they wish to continue school to junior high or high school, most need assistance. They have no transportation to Chiquimulilla, where the upper-grade schools are located nearly a half-hour drive from their homes. They also have no money for books or uniforms.

Jeannine Desautels of Madison discovered this fact about eight years ago on her first medical mission to the area with Rotary Clubs from Southeastern Wisconsin. Jeannine asked a young patient what grade he was going to attend that year. The boy answered that he would be working in the sugar cane fields since his family depended upon his income and school cost too much money.

Disheartened by his answer, Jeannine asked local parents how much it would cost to provide transportation, books and uniforms to a child wishing to continue his or her education. A whopping $160 was the answer. With that, Jeannine created the Oliveros Scholarship Fund, awarding students who applied the opportunity for a beca, a scholarship.

The Scholarship team

This year, 32 students were required to meet with Jeannine and her board. They needed to show a passing report card and demonstrate their desire to continue studying in order to retain their becas. Other students lined the hallway at Nari’s, hoping to be among the 28 other fortunate students who would be chosen for the new school year. In all, the Fund would support 60 students at $160 for the year. Two high school graduates were also awaiting word to know whether they would get a $5,000 university scholarship, which they did.

As the American team left Guatemala, they learned for the third consecutive year that teachers were on strike and did not start the school year as scheduled. The source of the strike was the same as it was in years past – there was no promise of textbooks, papers and pencils with which to conduct classes. Teachers were holding out for the government to provide the tools they needed to teach. Likely, as in past years, the government would finally give in to more provisions, though sparse, and the teachers would return to their classrooms.

As talk here bubbles about academic accountability and the discourse about how to improve our imperfect education system becomes heated, it seems to me we should take a breath and see the world from a fresh perspective. Yes, things are imperfect. Yes, education – particularly for our most vulnerable children – must improve. But we are the fortunate ones, who live in a country that requires education for all children and seeks to provide it.

Others look toward the day when that, too, might be in their future.

What to Shop for When Preparing to Study Abroad

By Clare Jorgensen — Did you know that there are over 200 Marquette students who will be spending the next semester in various countries abroad?   And that includes me! I will be going to Madrid!

christmas gifts study abroad

During this time of buying and returning gifts from the holiday season, I thought it would be appropriate to give some advice to these many students as to what to look for or what to ask for from family members that will be ideal when spending a semester abroad. Clothes are obviously something that people may think to ask for in order to accommodate the different temperatures that students may encounter, but there are some items that could be very useful.

During the travel process, it will be important that the students’ belongings are kept safe during the long flights and other moves they will be making. Because of this, it could be smart to buy some small locks for the suitcases, to make sure nothing unzips or gets stolen. This will also be smart for the interior of the suitcases, so important documents or money can be held safely.

Along with safety, students should be able to travel with comfort with the varying flights. Students can invest in a good neck pillow, instead of the scratchy and thin pillow that is given by the flight attendants. If excitement is keeping anyone up during a flight, then a good book or good movie will allow the flight to seem much shorter.

If anyone is like me, I plan on making various trips to countries outside of the one I am staying in during my time abroad. While I feel I am moderately proficient in Spanish, it will still be smart to buy some pocket phrase books in Spanish for some phrases I may not know, and it could still apply to other languages like French, German, Chinese, etc.

Since I plan on doing some other travelling, I know will also need various converters for different countries so I can always have the capability to charge my phone or plug in any necessary items.

When travelling, many students will save money by staying in hostels. Hostels are not as fancy or accommodating as hotels, so here are some things that could be useful: filtered water bottles, cheap sheets and towels, a small pillow, and some locks to put on the duffle bags or backpacks that students will be travelling with instead of the big suitcases.

There are countless other ideas, but these could be things that people may overlook when thinking about study abroad things to buy. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to post comments.

It has been a wonderful semester having the opportunity to write for the Marquette Educator. I hope my blogs proved to be interesting and/or thought-provoking for everyone. I hope the readers have a great break, and I hope that Marquette students will come back to campus eager and ready to start the spring semester off right!

South Africa: Takeaways for a Future Teacher

wil2By Anna Concannon — While studying in South Africa, I had the opportunity to help out with 3-5 year olds in a preschool classroom, which is an age group I did not have much experience with beforehand.

Being at the school gave me some insight about how the education system works there. I also learned a lot about how to be a good teacher.

Unfortunately, I saw a lack of instruction in this particular class, so I thought a lot about how I would improve the teaching.

On my first day at the school, the teacher/principle gave me ideas about various activities to do with the kids and played with them all day. On the subsequent days I was there, she stayed in her office almost the entire time, leaving me alone to keep the kids occupied, and she did not speak with me very much.

This was disappointing to me; it seemed like she was showing off her enthusiasm about teaching the first day to give off a good impression. Another explanation could be that she took advantage of having a helper in the classroom by using that extra time to do paperwork. Either way, there was not enough supervision of the kids. And they were a handful.

Overwhelmed at first, I learned to control the class and keep them occupied as my time there went on. Something valuable that I learned is the importance of transitioning. It can be difficult to motivate kids to clean and line up, so what made that easier was singing songs while we did it. At this young age, I discovered, kids love to sing.

Additionally, I recognized the significance of following a schedule. I am a very organized person, and many teachers I know are. To my dismay, the teacher I was helping was not at all; she just let the kids play all day. On my very last day at the school, I noticed there was a schedule of lessons on the wall that I never realized existed because there was no order of daily activities. The schedule included implementing math and writing skills into every “period” of the day… and I never saw that happen once. I did try doing this in some of the activities I led, which was successful.

Lastly, I learned to relax and let the children have fun. I sometimes get stressed out when kids misbehave, but after a while I learned to step back a little and the kids would fix their problems with each other without me asking them to do so. This helped keep me content during the long schooldays, and I will remember this when I have my own class someday.

Even though there was a language barrier between the kids and me, the school had really few resources, and the teacher did not supervise the kids enough, I fell in love with the kids at the preschool in South Africa. I have a new-found appreciation for teaching the younger ones, and I feel that it could be a good fit for me.

Women’s and Gender Studies in South Africa

gender-lens2By Anna Concannon — So far, my posts have been about playing with kids, going to the beach, and seeing poverty in South Africa. I thought I should address the fact that I’m not just here on holiday!

As my three-week visit to South Africa comes to an end, I want to share a little about why am here and what I have learned so far.

I have been studying abroad with three other students and a professor from Marquette on a Women’s and Gender Studies program, through which we are learning about the many gender-related issues that exist in South Africa. The group and I have visited numerous agencies and non-governmental organizations in Cape Town relating to gender and sexual identity-related rights, roles, oppression, and violence. We have also read many articles and asked questions about as much as we can to get a more holistic understanding of these problems.

The group has also extensively discussed the country’s new democratic government as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), both of which have made many positive strides in the post-apartheid South Africa.

Two speakers have come to talk to us about their involvement with the TRC, one of whom is a human rights activist and worked as a psychologist with the TRC. The other was a man convicted of a politically-motivated murder, for which he was granted amnesty through the TRC in the late 90s. He has dedicated his life of freedom to helping at-risk children, like he himself was, with an afterschool program devoted to empowerment. These speakers were very inspiring and I am grateful to have heard their messages about doing right despite the many wrongs in the world.

In addition, as I have mentioned before, I have been doing Service Learning twice a week by helping out at a preschool. Finally, in my free time, I have done a lot of touristy activities and am trying to experience as much as I can.

Needless to say, I’ve been really busy!

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the connections between gender-related issues here and in the US. I have gained so much knowledge about the condition of this country by being here and talking with experts, learning much more about these issues than I knew about at home. I’ve seen that the inequalities and violence are much more extreme here; however, they still happen in the US. I have become very interested in finding out more about sexual violence in the US; I plan to look into organizations in my community that support survivors and find out how I can become involved.

I am so glad I chose this program and so thankful for the opportunity to be here. It has been an incredible educational adventure, one that has taught me so much about myself and about a country that is working towards gender equality.

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