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fall 2018 (206)

Back in Canada

Apologies for my late last post everyone!

It's finally over and I've settled back into my daily routines in Canada. In some ways, the whole experience feels like it was some surreal dream. Everything about the trip was so different and unfamiliar that it feels unbelieveable that just a couple short weeks ago, I lived in China. I suppose that's what travel is meant to do; it shocks you.

Although being back in Canada is comforting and easy, a part of me cannot help but feel like there is something more that I could be doing now that I am back. When I was on TAB, I felt like I needed to make the most of every day since I only had two months in the country. Every weekend, I felt like I needed to travel or see something, or if not travel, then I needed to very intentionally rest or complete assignments so that I could go travel another day. It was an exciting way to live because I knew that I was getting the most out of every moment that I had in China. Now that I am back however, I have lost some of that urgency to explore and discover since I have all the time in the world. Calgary will always be here for me; it can wait. Now that I am verbalizing these thoughts in my blog, it's a bit sad to think that I am not making the most of the time that I have. I know that this "urgency" is all in my head but it's hard to break out of my comfortable, easy routines here. 

I guess in a way, this is my wake up call! Even in Calgary, I can be an explorer. I may not necessarily go looking for adventure every free moment I have (since I do have Field III to attend to after all). That said, I need to recapture some of the spirit of travel and discovery that I had when I was in TAB and inject that back into my life. I've heard that being a tourist in your own city is actually one of the most exciting things you can do! 

 

Yours,

David Kang

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Thanks Max-Eichholz-Ring! 

I'm been home now for just over two weeks. I been in class for just over a week. And I been doing just fine every day. Going abroad was a great experience and I loved most moments of it but nothing beats the feeling of coming home to friends and family, lying in my own bed, and eating my mom's food. But none of that would have felt as good if I never left. A lot of people talk about culture shock but honestly I wasn't shocked. I adjusted just fine. However, what shocked me the most was the vibe, the experiences, and students at school. 

Students are students. The only thing that changed was the language they spoke. Almost a year ago, I wrote my primary reason for applying for the TAB program and that reason was having the opportunity to experience educating when I could not communicate via language with my students. This is a reality for many students who come to Canada and are not immediately able to speak English to their teachers. It was an experience that will definitely be an asset when I encounter these type of students in my future classrooms. ELLs make up a large population of classes all over Calgary and most Canadian schools. There are many reasons to sign up for TAB but this was my biggest reason and can say without a doubt, TAB delivered!

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Bittersweet Endings

     Our time in Japan has come to an end and I have so many mixed emotions. I am excited to get home and see my friends, fellow TABers, and cuddle with my fur-babies. Getting back to my normal lifestyle will be an adjustment, but I think I will find comfort in welcoming my old routine. My time in Japan has brought me so many different challenging and exciting experiences and has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally. I know that there will be many things that I will miss about Japan and I hope it will not be too long before I visit again.

Friends

     During my short time in Japan, and especially Kushiro, we met so many wonderful people, sharing stories and opinions over food and drinks. I never knew how easy it would be to create such meaningful connections with people on the other side of the world. We discussed our ideas about education and our hopes and dreams of how both education and we, ourselves, could grow.

Views

     Kushiro is considered to be one of the top three places in the world to watch the sunset, and I could not disagree. What made this detail even sweeter was the fact that we had a front row seat to watch the setting sun from our place of residence while in Kushiro. I could not believe how lucky we were the first time I noticed the beautiful setting sun. Hot pinks and oranges lit up the night skies and our 4 pm early setting sun became a welcomed experience in our hearts. Being an island, we were never too far from the ocean. While in Sapporo my homestay family took me out to the ocean, where I was able to dip my feet into the cold and salty waters; it had been years since I had been in the ocean and Japan had so many beautiful places for great views. Fall in Hokkaido was similar to that of my home in Ontario. Although Calgary does have a short but still beautiful fall, the fall colours that occur in Japan cannot be beat and made me feel at home. Shades of red, orange, yellow, and green are everywhere you looked and it was mesmerizing. I am glad that I got to experience fall in Japan – it is my favourite time of year.

Celebrity Status

     Being in a foreign country, especially one of relatively little diversity, we would often find people were surprised by our presence. This was most notable during our school visits, particularly with the junior high girls. The students would often see us and cover their mouths with their hands while gasping in disbelief, turning to their friends to get their attention on us and whispers and giggles would ensue. Sometimes when this occurred we would greet them by saying “hello” or “konichiwa” which would raise more whispers and giggles and usually a response of “kawaii” which means ‘cute’. We thought their reactions were kawaii. It has been an interesting experience having this celebrity status as with the diversity in Canada, we would never be seen in this light; so if we hadn’t experienced it already, that was our 15 minutes of fame! One of the biggest perks about having this status was that it intrigued people to want to get to know us, so it was one of the ways we were able to connect with people in Japan and develop friendships.

 Experiences

     Though we had some very real and challenging times with the natural disasters at the beginning of TAB, we had many other wonderful experiences to make up for the rocky start. Some of the highlights for me were: sumo wrestling, school festivals, seeing the different colours of fall, small-scale schools, sunsets, fireworks festival, food, behind the scenes at the local zoo, talks about education with staff and students, and the friends that we made. I am looking forward to my next field experience and taking with me all the experiences and things I have learned while in Japan.

 

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Many forms of communication

     Going to a country that speaks a language foreign to your own can be an intimidating prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. Japan has been my first experience in a foreign-speaking country that is not specifically set up for foreigners (e.g. resorts).

      I came to Japan only knowing two sayings: konichiwa (hello) and sumimasen (excuse me). I had no idea how I was going to assimilate to a life in Japanese language but I anticipated that I would be relying heavily on my phone to help me through it all. Reflecting back on my experiences in Japan I have realized there are many ways to communicate with others that don’t require you to know all the words in each other’s vocabulary in order to have a positive interaction.

 Japanese-speaking using English

     I was grateful to learn that most Japanese-speaking people know at least a bit of English. Students in Japan start learning formal English in elementary school year 5. In prior years they will also learn different phrases or words in English and many students go to education centres to improve their English speaking skills outside of school. This greatly helped me in being able to communicate with them from my own language. It was also a useful tool for them as there are many Japanese-speaking people who want to improve their English so they enjoy practicing communicating with me.

 English-speaking using Japanese

     When I was in Sapporo, we had the opportunity to attend Japanese lessons to learn some useful terms and phrases for our time here in Japan. Our homestay families also aided in our ability to practice some of the Japanese we had learned. The phrases we learned to talk about were very helpful for being able to communicate a bit in Japanese while we are here. Japanese people are always so nice and compliment you on your use of Japanese, even if it is only saying a couple words. They are always surprised and impressed.

 Translators

     Some of the conversations we have had with others have had to be translated from one language to the other, mainly because of the complexity of the topic. I am very grateful to all the bilingual people who have been able to help us in our communication with others as they have been the key component to our deeper conversations with people from Japan. I am sure it is an exhausting task to do, especially for the lengthy conversations that can ensue.

 Technology

     The use of technology was definitely a huge aid in our ability to communicate with others. The best apps I used throughout my entire time in Japan were Google Translate and VoiceTra. While they are not perfect, they definitely helped to get the idea across, both ways. It is also beneficial to utilize pictures while talking with others helps to make sure that the content is clear and makes it easier for others to follow.

 Non-Verbal

     Some of my favourite interactions on this trip have been non-verbal or situations where translations could not be made but we were still able to make connections and understand one another. My homestay family had four children; they were aged 8, 6, 4, and 2 so none of them had begun their English language learning in school yet. I probably spent the most time with the youngest of the bunch, Sunao. We developed a close bond even though we did not know each other’s language. This first came to fruition when I was eating lunch one day. Sunao loves to eat, so while I was sitting outside with my food, he came out holding a bowl for himself expecting that I would share, and I did. It started a bond between us, whenever I was eating, he would come, and I would share my food with him (even though he already ate). It grew into non-verbal playing, laughter, and offerings of items (he would always bring me my water bottle). Some other ways I connected with the other kids was through games such as Othello and hand-clap varieties.

 Dance, Plays, and Cultural Events

     Some of the situations we were in that did not really have the opportunity for translation to occur were in the form of cultural events, plays, and dance. This led to the opportunity for us to use improvisation, pay attention to cues, and read the room – which I found I was able to do in many contexts to better help me understand. One unique thing that we did during our introductions to the different classes at our school visits was incorporated a dance activity where we taught the students how to do the chicken dance. This got the entire class involved, interacting with each other, and having fun with us, without language being a barrier. The students seemed to really enjoy the dance and even the principal and teachers would join in. It was evident that this activity really impacted the students as later that day, week, or at other functions, students would come up to us and just start doing the chicken dance. We attended a couple school plays and functions. Although we could not understand the Japanese dialogue, we were able to attend to some of the humour aspects based on the students’ ability to project emotions through their acting. We were very moved by their various acting, instrumental, and vocal talents expressed through many different forms during our visits.

      One other interesting aspect about learning Japanese that came as a surprise to me was how activating that part of my brain, caused previously practiced languages to resurface. I found that my French words kept emerging and my American Sign Language went hand in hand (no pun intended) with the use of my new Japanese words. It is really fascinating how the brain works with language!

 

Ja mata!

 

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I'm not ready, but it's time to say goodbye..

It’s time to pack! I look back at the past 3 months and I can’t believe how this journey is almost over. It feels like not too long ago that I was preparing to come to Vietnam, and now I am packing to return back to Canada. I reflect on the time I spent in this country, and the numerous lessons I have learnt along the way. I wanted to explore Asia for a while, and TAB ended up being the perfect opportunity to work on my skills as a teacher, while also getting to know this country and its culture. Thank you Vietnam! For your hospitality, for the people, for the warm smiles, and for the beautiful beaches! I will never forget the crowded streets, with bikes and cars honking continuously, and having to look our around all corners when riding my motorbike to get to school. I will never forget the confused look on people’s faces when I tried to ask something in English, or the confused feelings I felt when someone would try to speak to me in Vietnamese. I will never forget the positive and uplifting attitudes of the people that had experienced hardships in their lives, but still chose to look at the brighter side. I will never forget the memories I shared with my roommate and other TAB members, and the way we supported one another. I will never forget my students and the lessons they taught me along the way.

I never thought I will be celebrating my birthday in Vietnam, let alone Sapa. I had the most authentic experience, surrounded by the beauty of the nature and fresh air, I couldn’t help but be appreciative for this experience. I joined tab with the intention to grow, explore the world and myself, and advance my practice as a teacher. I can say that, this experiences pushed me out of my comfort zone both personally and professionally,, whether that be having to create lesson plans to teach students who speak minimal to no English, to riding a scooter in between two massive trucks on my way to work during rush hour. I learnt to adjust, to be flexible, to be patient, and one thing I know for sure is: I am not leaving here like I came! 

(Picture of a few TAB members in front of Da Nang University)

(With a few students after our presentation on Canada at Da Nang University)

(Singing the Canadian anthem at Da Nang University)

(Presentation on Canada and its culture at Da Nang University)

(A few TAB members and our liason Jade wearing Ao Dai)

 

(Having fun taking pictures with our liason Jade in front of the Primary School)

 

 

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It's All About the People

Our last night in Mississippi, there was a tornado. I had heard earlier in the day that there was a weather warning, but I didn’t pay it much heed. I think as a Calgarian, I have been desensitized to weather warnings. Around 9pm, the alarms went off. Steph and I had two friends, Jonathan and Jake over to hang out while we packed and cleaned the house in preparation to leave the next day. Sitting in the living room, the air was filled with the dissonant tones of an unearthly wailing siren from outside. An emergency text message popped up on our phones “TORNADO WARNING: SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY”. I’m so grateful that Jonathan was from Alabama, and had dealt with many tornado warnings in the past, because the rest of us were in a bit of a flap! The four of us packed into my closet, which was the closest, and on the ground floor. Down South, no buildings are built with basements because the ground is so wet, so the ground floor was the best we could do. It was pretty surreal to be hiding in a closet from a weather event that I had thus far only experienced through the Wizard of Oz. Someone had the presence of mind to grab drinks and snacks on the way out of the kitchen, and we spent the next hour sitting on the floor in my stuffy, dust-bunny filled closet. We were able to watch a real time map of the tornado's progress, and fortunately, it passed by Oxford without incident. Being mindful of maintaining the battery levels on our phones in case of emergency, we had nothing to do but...talk. It's funny to think that being trapped in a closet together, hiding from a tornado can bring you closer together as friends, but it did. We talked about silly stuff and serious stuff; the past, and the future. After an hour or so, the warning passed, we got out of the closet, watched some tv, and then parted ways.

Reflecting on that evening, I realized that I couldn't have been stuck in a closet with better people. If I could take anything away from this experience, and extend it to my entire time in Mississippi, I would say that it's all about the people. I got to do so many cool things while I was here: tailgate and cheer on the home football team, audit classes at Ole Miss, work with incredible mentors and students, visit New Orleans and Memphis, go on a swamp tour, eat amazing Southern food, and enjoy the (mostly) beautiful weather. All of these amazing experiences; however, would not have been nearly as good were it not for the people that I had the privilege of sharing them with. Strolling down Bourbon Street in New Orleans, eating homemade cornbread, cheering with 50,000 other fans, or hiding from a tornado in a closet; none of these would have been so memorable had I not shared them with friends. I am so grateful for the friends I made on this trip; for the extraordinary experiences that I had, and for the memories that will truly last a lifetime. Miss you already, Mississippi. 

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Differentiation in classrooms..

Teaching has officially begun! Immediately, I can't help but notice how the educational system here is different than Canada’s. The students were so excited to see us! One my first day of teaching, once I entered the classroom, the students greeted me by singing the “Hello teacher” song. They are excited to learn and have a great sense of appreciation for learning, unlike Canada, where education is often taken for granted. One of my Grade 3 class has nearly 40 students, all wearing white shirt uniforms with blue shorts or skirts. My specialization is English Language Learners (ELL). After observing the various classrooms, I noticed how no differentiation techniques are applied when teaching the content to students. Students have a range of learning levels and needs, all differing from one another. The lesson plans, however, are taught quite standardly, with the teacher delivering the information at the front of the class, and students being the recipients of such information. Due to a lack of technology, I had to rely on props, such as the use of puppets and the blackboard, to deliver my lessons. I also modelled exercises for the students before splitting them up into groups since an explanation in English often did not suffice. It was difficult to communicate with the students since their English levels were quite low, but they definitely did not lack the enthusiasm and excitement, which made the lessons fun!

The classes consisted of the teacher pronouncing conversational sentences, such as “How are you?”, “This is my friend Linda”, etc. and students repeating them over and over again. Students would memorize these sentences, but while doing walk-arounds and observing students, I noticed how some required the extra support and resources to be able to learn and understand English. I decided to speak to my partner-teacher about whether I could use scaffolding techniques to teach students. She said that, with classes being 40 mins long and the heavy content to be covered each time, she wasn’t able to cater the lessons to accommodate students’ various needs.

I couldn’t help but think of the educational system in Canada, and how, I am so grateful that in encourages differentiation to ensure all students are able to reach their maximum capability. My experience in Vietnam has helped me develop more empathy, patience, and understanding for English Language Learners. Students have skills regardless of whether English is their first language or not. It’s important to me to notice those strengths and use them to enhance their confidence. Teaching in Vietnam has been a great opportunity for me, and my students have taught me so many valuable lessons that I look forward to applying in my future classrooms.

 

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An International Community

In addition to school visits, the program at Hokkaido University of Education (HUE) Kushiro provided Jenny and I with the opportunity to run three classes of the University's "Curriculum Redesign" course. This course is held with 3rd year HUE education students, and gave us a chance to present and hold discussions about key ideas in education; sharing those from Canada and learning about those from Japan.

 

Tomita-sensei, one of the professors running the course described the outline and importance of the course to us: 3 semesters, i) taking students out of the Japanese school context and objectively looking at school systems around the world, ii) thinking of themselves as learners before teachers; breaking out of the traditional Japanese ways of learning and considering how they can bring this experience into their way of teaching, and iii) applying the ideas to create unique lesson and unit plans. As all other courses at HUE are aimed towards assimilation into the current education system and structure, this course is groundbreaking and crucial in the development of Japan's education system.

 

So far, we have taught two classes. In our first lesson, we concentrated on developing the idea that different students have different needs. This involved collaboration through discussion of how students needs are different. We left them with the question, "How can we support these diverse needs in our classrooms?". The next class we presented different techniques from our own courses including: Universal Design for Learning, Engineering Design Process, Inquiry-based Learning, Assessment As/Of/For Learning, and Understanding by Design.

 

Unfortunately, these studies were all completed in English with no Japanese translations available. After Tomita-sensei translated our introduction to the topics, we divided students into groups and assigned the task of translating the resources. Students used Google Translate, made sense of what they could, and shared with the class. While many students were able to glean information from the texts, the translations from Google were poor, and some of the nuance of content was lost in translation. This made it significantly more challenging for the students to understand the content.

 

This struggle really brought to light the barriers to global knowledge sharing. While we're moving towards an education system with International collaboration through internet sharing and bridging of languages through technologies such as Google Translate, we're definitely still in the beginning stages. This perspective allows us to truly appreciate unique opportunities such as TAB. It allowed us to build connections - learning about different world education systems, and sharing our own - through the facilitation of a bilingual translator such as Tomita-sensei.

 

As TAB students, this rare opportunity also comes with responsibility. We have the responsibility of sharing what we have learned from our experiences with educators in Canada. Through this we can amplify the impact of this program, and help foster the development of an International educational community.

 

This responsibility holds true for the HUE exchange students that visited the University of Calgary, as well. Shinya, a HUE student that attended U of C's exchange last February and has been a tutor and friend throughout our time in Japan, has really exemplified this idea. Learning about Assessment As/For/Of learning during lectures in Canada, he has applied to the Masters program in Hiroshima to develop the first research of this kind in Japan. Through his work he hopes to spread his knowledge of assessment within the context of Japanese schools.

 

My goal is to find ways to meaningfully bring my learning from Japan to Canada, in a way that expands beyond just my own practice.

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Major Points of Learning

As my time at my practicum school comes to an end this week, I have been reflecting on the most important aspects of my learning. I have been extremely fortunate in my placement; I have designed and taught a full unit to several 8th grade Mississippi Studies classes. The experience has greatly impacted me as a teacher and given me lots of opportunities to grow. In particular, I wanted to reflect on two major points of my learning:

1.The value of enrichment.

The cohort of students I teach are all enrolled in the AVID program, and are considered to be highly motivated, and high achieving, students. As a result, there are very few students with learning disabilities, behavioural IPPs, or ELLS. When planning instructional differentiation, I typically focus on students who struggle and need extra help. However, I quickly learned that advanced students require a  special focus in differentiated instruction as well. Throughout my placement, I have learned that with in one class you will have many levels of students and you need to be ultra-prepared for students at both end of the spectrum. Although these are concepts that we have discussed in classes before, the real-life experience made it clear to me how important differentiation is, and how it is not just important for students who struggle. 

2.Diversity needs to be celebrated, not just tolerated.

As we discussed in Diversity in Learning and Indigenous Education, we do see race and it does have social meaning and consequences (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014). In education and social justice, it is important to recognize this so that we do not “trivialize the realities of racism” (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014, p.14). 

One of the reasons I applied to teach in Mississippi was to observe how the legacy of institutionalize racism has impacted schools. Mississippi has an extremely divisive history, for example:

  • MS succeeded from the United States to join the Confederacy in 1861, with the aim to maintain slavery as the principle institution in society.
  • After the civil war, MS was the first state to create the Black Codes in the 1860s - laws which acted to confer the civil rights of African Americans. 
  • In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board of Education that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. However, it was not until 1962 that the first African American student, James Meredith, attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). In response, segregationists led a massive riot which ultimately required the federal military to intervene.
  • In 2012, the University banded the sports chant “the South will rise again”, which led to a protest, led by the KKK, on University property. 

This complex history still impacts Mississippians today. Especially in the classroom, it is important to recognize how the legacy of institutionalized racism affects students. However, I have noticed a trend in society, as well as in schools, towards “colour-blindness”. This is a dangerous ideology - it may promote a tolerance towards diversity, but I believe that in order for our students to reach their full potential, diversity needs to be recognized and celebrated. I saw this in my placement - when student’s unique experiences and perspectives were embraced, they were better set up to succeed. I had the opportunity to teach a lesson on the confederate states in Oxford*, and each student wrote a letter to the Mayor explain their position and whether the statues should remain where they were, be moved, or be removed. It was an interesting experience in creating an inclusive learning space for all my learners and making sure that the conversation was meaningful and respectful. My learning in Mississippi has impacted my perspective as a Canadian - particularly in terms of Reconciliation, as we have a long journey ahead of us to ensure that our diverse students are celebrated and given every opportunity to succeed. 

Overall, teaching in Mississippi has been an eye-opening and endlessly rewarding experience. I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities that I have had and all of the wonderful people I have met along the way.

Hotty toddy!

Victoria 

 

*these monuments have been discussed in detail in previous blog posts.

Literature Cited:

DiAngelo, R. & Sensoy, O. (2014). Leaning in: A student’s guide to engaging constructively with social justice content. Retrieved from: http://www.radicalpedagogy.org/radicalpedagogy.or g/Leaning_In__A_Students_Guide_To_Engaging_Con structively_With_Social_Justice_Content.html

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Reflections

I’ve been home now for two days and have had some time to reflect and adjust to jet lag. I came home through Los Angeles (pro tip: flying in and out on a Friday and a Monday is way cheaper than all at once on a weekend) and had a nice little beach vacation before coming home. When I stepped off the plane in Calgary it was -9 and snowing, which I was not too thrilled about.

Now that I’m home, I’m getting things together for when we start Field III next week. I have mixed emotions about it. I met with my partner teacher today and am already switching gears from teaching mini lessons in Hamburg to real lesson planning and long term teaching here. I am excited to get into a new routine and meet the students I’ll be working with, but I also already miss the teachers and students from Hamburg.


I’m still getting German ads on my social medias and I miss it terribly. I was happy to see my family, drive my car, buy groceries that I know what they are, and use a good washer and dryer, but I’m over the novelty of being home and I want to hop right back on a plane again. What I’m most happy about with my TAB experience overall is that I really feel that I didn’t take a single thing for granted and I made the most of my time. I travelled to nine countries and seventeen cities in ten weeks, had a great time teaching and learning at my school, finished the online classes with good grades, and made it through seventeen flights and countless trains and buses without any disasters. I believe I took full advantage of my time in Europe, and I could not have had a better experience. Tschüss, Germany.

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China Here I Come!

My experience in China was full of many highs and lows, easts and wests and successes and failures. For my final blog post, I figured I would highlight 10 points I wish I had considered more thoroughly before I left!

  1. Flights – Plan for the unexpected – crossing the ocean always involves a certain level of logistical challenges, and delays are common. Be sure to pack what you need in your carry on luggage to spend a night in an airport!
  2. Presence - Don’t expect people to know who you are and why you’re there – use the letter you are provided and use it often. Especially at the university, there are many moving pieces and officials appreciate the documentation.
  3. Language - Don’t think English is universal – study Chinese before you go and be ready to slow down the way you talk and use your hands often. Most of the people you meet in Xi’an will speak very little English, so be adaptable in your explanations.
  4. Traffic – It is VERY different – The rules in China can seem very chaotic at first and pedestrians do not have the right of way. However, everyone gets where they’re going. Make sure you always keep your headphones out and look in every direction before crossing any road, big or small.
  5. Food – Bread, butter, cheese, as well as many other western products and even ovens are not commonplace in China. Instead, get used to enjoying many surprise dishes involving noodles or rice as their starch! This is particularly important if you have any dietary concerns.
  6. Laundry – It may seem simple but if you’re used to a washer and dryer combo, you’ll be surprised. Aside from professional laundry services, all wash is primarily done by hand or by coin wash machines. Hang drying clothes is the norm, which means you should always allow yourself 2-3 days to finish your laundry.
  7. Class – The language classes are intensive. If you want to learn basic Mandarin, the 4 hours every morning will set you up for success!
  8. Travel – If you want to move around China, be sure you that you set up a Chinese bank account when you arrive. Many transportation websites and tourism companies do not accept credit cards from outside of the Chinese Mainland.
  9. Communication – Download WeChat and become familiar with it before you leave, as it is the most common form of communication, social media and payment in China. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must, and you NEED to set it up prior to leaving or you will be left without unrestricted internet access.
  10. Support – The most important point I want to make is ALWAYS reach out for support. You are not alone on your journey and your fellow TABer’s, the program director, the university, your liaison and your family and friends are all there for you!
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Domestic Travel in China

Throughout my time in China, I have been consistently surprised about how many visitors to national historic sites, museums and other notable locations are domestic tourists. The local people clearly value and take pride in experiencing their history. As a social studies specialist, I find this domestic tourism particularly interesting. At first, I found myself feeling overwhelmed by the large crowds, while at the same time being overly content about the interest each visitor had while exploring the sites. Pleasantly, despite being warned to expect high volumes of people, every place I visited was delightful and efficient. The Chinese tourism industry has apparently evolved to serve an ever-growing population.

Infrastructure in China is equally as efficient. High-speed trains, twelve-lane highways, and an extensive network of bus routes connect the massive country. However, despite the accessibility of each site, I found it was the people that made the experience memorable. Our guide for our cultural tours was a volunteer. He was a university student studying marketing, and he wanted to take us to various destinations to showcase the best of the region. He had visited many of these locations before and gave up his free time during a busy academic period to show us his country. It was his companionship that genuinely made the museums memorable!

Additionally, I could not possibly explain how much kindness my fellow travellers have shown. David has always been a there with an open ear, willing to share a snack, a story, a laugh and advice. Candace has been the best lobby (and new) friend I could have ever wished for, collaborating with me day in and out on academic and travel plans, in addition to chatting about culture shock.

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Oh, Canada

I am back in Canada now, greeted by my family at the airport (including dogs) and -5 degree weather I am happy to be home but already missing Vietnam a lot!

Although I exchanged 34 degree weather, flip flops, and sunscreen for snow, winter boots, and cracked & dry moisturizer; I must admit it feels good to be back home. I am writing this from my office with both my dogs laying on my lap, drinking egg nog, and wearing fuzzy socks. My journey home was VERY long, but also exciting; four flights, two 12-hour layovers, and one 4 hour layover. I spent the day poolside in Ho Chi Minh City on one of my layovers, walked nearly 20 kilometers in Tokyo on another layover, and on my last layover I fell asleep on the floor of the Denver airport. All in all, I think I made the best of a less-than-ideal ~50 hours travel time to return home; I'm honestly surprised I managed to have dinner and crawl into bed after arriving in Calgary.

Anyways, it is good but very strange to be home. I keep waking up at 3 in the morning due to jetlag, and slightly panicked with a feeling of dislocation, forgetting where I am. However, running errands at home and getting back to my gym has been wonderful. I am ruined for food prices forever though, food is SO EXPENSIVE here! I miss my Vietnamese cost of living for sure. It is also strange being somewhere that everyone speaks English! I keep having to remind myself of where I am whenever I hear strangers speaking, or customer service persons making small talk. It is still a little strange to me but an adjustment I will easily make. Another episode of reverse culture shock I am having is the feeling of space! There is so much empty space and excessively large things here! Not even after previously lived in Japan did I feel that our western communities are so large! I find myself critiquing spaces I pass through and wondering how the space could be better used, it seems awfully wasteful after living in a country where it seems every square inch is utilized efficiently. I also have to catch myself from jaywalking all over the place, as that is simply the way in Vietnam. 

I miss being so close to the beach and the cheapness of food the most, but I am happiest to be with my dogs and family; so I think overall, happy to be home. Although I did have to shovel today. I'm sure as we immerse into our field experiences, get ready for the holidays, and get out more in this city we call home it will continue to feel strange to be away from the country that I lovingly called home for these past few months. I look forward to reminiscing with my fellow TABers as the weeks go by so we can commiserate and share our experiences/difficulties with adjusting back to Canadian life. It seems strange that the TAB experience is really over, I hope to share tips and wisdom with next year's group and follow their journeys through this blog, about an experience very dear to my heart. Please see below for a picture of myself and my sweet dogs I keep mentioning, enjoy and thanks for reading!!

 

 

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  In the last week of my time in TAB, we celebrated Halloween. Kids and teachers alike dressed up for the occasion. One child even dressed as their Assistant Principle (which was hysterically funny). 

  Two other costumes were particularly important to me:

1. Black Panther, Killmonger, and Shuri (Princess of Wakanda)

  Earlier this year, the movie "Black Panther" came out. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a superhero known best for its: predominantly black cast; portrayal of an African country as economically flourishing; and thoroughly researched and beautifully implemented Afro-Futurist artistry and design. The Black Panther as a character is the first title role for a black superhero, and it is a leader in representation for people who encounter the story.

  Mississippi has the highest number of African-American citizens of any state in America. At least half of each of my classes was represented by African-American children. 

  Walking through the halls on Halloween I saw a 9-year-old Princess Shuri whose spine was so straight, and chin so proud, and smile so bright, that I could have sworn she was true Wakandan Royalty. I can guarantee you she felt like she was visiting from Shuri's lab of incredible inventions to grace the lowly people of 4th grade. 

  The boys dressed as Killmonger or Black Panther were the same - proud and bold and excited by their costume. 

  Not only did their costumes represent their favourite characters, but their favourite characters represented them. When they look at the female Generals in Wakanda, girls can actually see their faces reflected, and that is a powerful thing.

  Movies are teachers. If kids only see superheros as white people, will they believe that superheros are only white? The growth of representation in Hollywood has been noticed by 9 year olds in Mississippi. And that is incredible to me. 

2. A Native American

  On the opposite side of the spectrum, the idea that a culture is not a costume has not reached the Walmart Halloween section. Kids still dress as "Native Americans," feather headdresses, beaded necklaces, fringed skirts, and all. Cultural Appropriation is still pervasive and a necessary conversation that should be had with our kids. 

Teaching Across Borders, at Halloween

  We took Indigenous Education as part of our online courses this semester, and Diversity at the U of C last year. We have learned the importance of acknowledgement, validation, and representation in classrooms. We know we should have storybooks which show a number of different cultures, places, people, and ways of having families. We know that there is real damage done when people are misrepresented or invalidated. 

  Halloween is a reminder of the greatness of representation, and the work that still needs to be done. 

  By seeing black people as superheroes from a wealthy African nation: kids see possibilities of being super, being Generals, being inventors, being rich and travelling in futuristic vehicles - and that these things are not limited to white faces. 

  By seeing Indigenous people only represented by images from hundreds of years ago: kids lack positive encounters with present-day Indigenous people. In this way, present-day Indigenous people's voices are not being heard, and in the minds of other children their culture remains "a thing of the past." 

Why this is important to me

  We came on TAB to experience something new. To experience something different, or uncomfortable, or unfamiliar. We are a group of people who decided to move beyond the campus-experience at the U of C and make ourselves available to learning we could only reach by leaving. We came to find new answers to the problems at home, to be inspired by different ways of learning or teaching, and to be open to paths unwanderable in Canada. 

  The TAB experience is not about travelling to Oxford or New Orleans or Memphis. It is about seeing how cultural collisions have influenced the way New Orleans is today, how Southern life has influenced Jazz and Blues, and how gentrification affects the neighbourhoods of kids that come to our classrooms. 

  When someone learns about a new culture, they gain new representations. New knowledge has bred in me new understanding.

  Representation and experience has resulted in my falling deeply in love with Mississippi, and it has resulted in the sparkling eyes of a 9 year old Shuri who made a student teacher tear-up in the halls. 

  Go into the world and teach with breadth, my friends! The children of the world need your superpowers.

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How Brazil Made Me A Better Educator

Since being back in Calgary for three days now, it has definitely given me time to reflect on my time in Goiânia. First off, I would like to say that this experience was nothing short of amazing. Having the opportunity to learn a new language, deeply explore a new culture, and to meet unbelievably amazing people are moments I will cherish forever. Practically everything that I experienced on this journey has, and will continue to, impact me both personally and professionally. In relation to the latter, this experience has definitely given me insights as to how to be a better educator.

Specifically, it showed me how I can better meet the needs of my future ESL students. Having to learn Portuguese and attempting to learn academic content in Portuguese-speaking classrooms is definitely hard work - sometimes even demotivating. Going through this has given me a glimpse into the world of our ESL students here in Canada, and the difficulties and struggles they may face in English-speaking classrooms. I can honestly say that I have a whole new appreciation for ESL students as they are simultaneously learning a new language and new academic material. Moving forward, I want to ensure that I can create an environment where I can help eliminate these difficulties by, for example, trying to learn/speak their language (as our Portuguese teacher often tried to do with English) or even reassuring them that they have my support if they need it. These little things go a long way, as they certainly did for me in Brazil.

Again, this truly was an amazing experience, and I cannot thank everyone back in Brazil for everything they did for us. Brazil is a truly spectacular country - with its rich history, diverse culture, breathtaking landscapes, and, most importantly, its wonderful people. I encourage everyone to visit this place as you will not be disappointed.

Special shoutout to #teamhistory (below) at PUC Goias University! We cannot thank you enough for the support you gave us. :)

 

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Tchau Brasil!

I can't believe that our experience is complete and I am now back in Calgary looking for an apartment. When thinking about the last few months, there are a few memories that stick out, such as, culture, language, and people.

Culture

Brazil has such a rich culture that varies between each state and even between cities. There is a history of Indigenous peoples, slaves, and colonialism. We learned a bit about the tough history and I was able to recognize the similarities between the history of Brazil and that of the United States. Given their diverse history, you can find all types of traditional food, music, and even dancing. A typical food of Goiânia is called 'pamonha' and it is a little bit like a tamale. It is made out of a special type of corn meal, filled with goodies (cheese, sausage, or chicken), and then wrapped in a corn husk. DELICIOUS! This was one of our favorite meals for sure! I also really enjoyed seeing all of the street art in the different cities because they all had unique styles that made me want to learn their stories. We learned that many places around the city give permission to the artists and want to have art displayed on their buildings and houses.

Language

Learning Portuguese was definitely more of a struggle than I first thought it would be. Since I speak Spanish, and they are both romance languages, I thought the transition would be a bits smoother. What really got me was the 'sotaque', or accent, the is required when pronouncing Portuguese words. For example, to pronounce 'onde', you say the 'd' like a 'g', so it would be 'own-gee'. An 'r' is pronounced like an 'h' and a 't' like the 'ch' sound. Not only was the pronunciation difficult for me, we soon learned that the city of Goiânia has it's own accent. They often shorten words or phrases, so it can be even more difficult. We found this Instagram post to be quite helpful.

People

I'm not even sure how describe how incredibly thoughtful and caring the people are that we met. If we ever felt lost or confused, we had such an amazing group of brasileiros to help us! Whether it was with our phone plans, fixing broken computers, doctor visits, planning a tour, or even just finding a good restaurant, someone was always there! These people supported us linguistically, mentally, and emotionally during our time in Goiânia. I know we will all be forever grateful. I hope that one day we get the chance to repay them in every way! I honestly cannot imagine my time there without them. I feel so lucky to have met such wonderful people with such big hearts! I already miss them so much!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tchau for now!

 

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Dear future TAB'ers!

Dear future TAB’ers:

I can’t emphasize enough how amazing this opportunity is! Get out there and do it! Whether you’re concerned about money, being away from home for an extended period, apprehensive about adjusting to a new country or just not sure if the experience is for you, fear not! Take the risk, submit your application and I know you’ll thank me later!

For me, this experience was filled with immense personal as well as professional learning and I truly believe that travelling exposes you to learning opportunities that are unavailable to those who choose not to travel. These opportunities cannot be replicated and must be experienced first-hand!

Here are my tips for any future TAB student heading to Hamburg, Germany:

  1. You will walk lots. On average I walked 8-12km per day. Bring comfortable shoes!
  2. Ensure that your accommodations are close to a U or S-Bahn line that has more than 1 train line at it. This will make your life much easier for getting around Hamburg.
  3. Learn German before you leave Canada. I would have LOVED to have been able to speak the language a bit better and I think I would have created relationships quicker with my students. If you are able to, take a German language class.
  4. Take advantage of your weekends – take a train, plane or bus to another city for the weekend! France, Poland, Holland and Denmark are all close enough for weekend trips!
  5. It's humid and when it gets cold, it feels really cold! It can also rain a lot!
  6. Don’t stress about the dress code at your schools, it’s really casual! It was not uncommon for teachers to wear jeans, converse and a sweater. Teachers and students have a bit more of an informal relationship and think the dress code reflects this!
  7. Don’t worry about your online classes, they will work out! At first, they will seem overwhelming but they will all come together!
  8. Take every opportunity you have to explore and adventure! The 10 weeks will go faster than you could ever imagine!
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Final Reflections

It’s crazy to think that my eleven weeks in Vietnam have come and gone. Coming into this experience, I wanted to pick the country that would put me the furthest from my comfort zone and way of life.

Going to Vietnam certainly accomplished that. Reminiscing over my first few days in Vietnam, where I walked the neighboring streets of Da Nang with Holly and Simona, I was overcome with emotion and walloped with an overwhelming sense of homesickness. But like many things in life, if you give yourself enough time and a little faith, you grow and adapt to your new reality. Before you know it, you develop new routines, make new friends, and discover new favorite hangouts and restaurants.

Teaching at Hyunh Ngoc Hue Primary School these past eight weeks have offered me greater insights into who I am as a teacher, and where I need to develop. Despite being a Secondary Physical Education specialist, this experience has me entertaining the idea of teaching in an elementary school. Being a kid at heart, I loved going into the classroom to teach the students in my own wacky, energetic way. That aspect of me was lost during my last practicum where I uncharacteristically ruled over the gymnasium with an iron fist. Going into this next field placement, I hope to find a healthy balance between these two teaching styles.

This experience has also made me appreciative for my life in Canada: the abundance of protein sources, free healthcare, sidewalks and to-go coffee cups to name a few things. But in all seriousness, being a Canadian citizen opens up innumerable doors and affords us unlimited possibilities. And for those who choose to venture beyond the expanse of this great land, it’s comforting to know that we will always be welcomed back with a big smile, fickle weather and a terribly mediocre but nostalgic cup of coffee. For that, I am truly grateful.

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Ja mata ne~

As the bittersweet feeling of being home has kicked in and I remember all the good memories that I have made for the past two months, I have come to realize how I much I have learned and that I am grateful for. I have learned a lot about Japan, Japanese culture, and the Japanese education though my time there.

The biggest difference that I have observed is the collectivity and independence that they teach in schools. They teach collectively through a class called ‘moral education’ that teach students about several ‘moral’ things that they should do as an individual and for society. I find this interesting as there is nothing like this in our public schools and the classes that I would relate them to would be 'leadership' or 'life skills' classes. Students also develop organization through class and school cleaning from an early age. Schools teach collectivity and independence by having their students be self-responsible for setting up the gym equipment and through all the cleaning duties that they have to do around the school and classroom. I was quite impressed with students’ level of organization and willingness to clean and fulfill their duties, due to the fact that we do not have such a thing. Being in the schools was truly a great learning experience for me and I hope I was able to help the students and schools as well!

I have learned about the harmonious and family-like culture of Japan that I will miss dearly. Every step of the way, there was always someone there that would volunteer their time to help us out. We were always welcomed with open arms (or should I say a lot of bowing and greetings) and I have learned from each and every one of them. They did not treat us like strangers and you could feel how they genuinely wanted us to be there. 

I will truly miss everyone that I have met though this experience. I would like to thank Hokkaido University of Education and the TAB program for all the good experiences that I have had. 

Ja mata ne~ (see you)

 

Chuen-Xi Quek

 

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