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Settling In

3555318645?profile=RESIZE_710x A week has passed now, and it has flown by alarmingly quickly. I’ve grown pretty close to my host family - it helps that we share a lot of the same interests - and I really feel great coming home after a long day at university. The air here is so fresh, I feel healthier just walking around the town. I am fortunate enough to only be a 20 minute walk from campus, and I get to cut through a park as well. The green spaces here are well thought out, and you can tell that there is an emphasis on balancing natural spaces within the cities and towns.

Our first school visit took place this Monday, and it was an amazing experience. We are already off to a great start! The school has a population of around 50, split fairly evenly between students and staff. Some classrooms only have three students, and sometimes even these classes have a mix of grades. As surreal as it was to observe this, I thought about the experiences these students are being exposed to. Growing up with a few other peers, with near one-to-one communication with your teacher must be a fulfilling experience, in the sense that you form close community bonds while being exposed to a personalised education plan.

Of course, this experience must feel fairly isolating, especially at older ages. I think that I would end up being really bored all the time, and I would not have the skills needed to navigate large crowds and deal with the rush of a larger city. There is also an economic factor to consider, as the school would consume a fair amount of resources for only a few students.

For this reason, the school is closing down next year, which made our visit bittersweet. The students were so friendly and happy however, and I had a great time talking with them. I will never forget our departure, when the students ran down the field to follow our bus as we took our leave. 

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Adaptation

Hello readers back home and abroad,

       I have been in Hokkaido now for just over one week living with my host family. They are extremely welcoming and kind, which makes the transition from life in Canada much easier. They have been generously helping me in my quest for endless Kit Kat flavours, for which I am extremely grateful (the weight of my suitcase would disagree).

       Today we set out on our first school visit to Shippu school, a rural school with only 24 students of combined grade levels. This is quite rare in Japan I am told, as the schools system here is mainly separated by elementary (1-6), junior high (7-9) and high school (10-12). There is also a separate school for kindergarten which begins at age 3 and goes for three years, to age 5. All students entering grade 1, must be 6 years old.

       This will unfortunately be the last year that Shippu is open, as it must consolidate with another schools due to low admission. We were greeted by the school administrators who welcomed us with open arms. They gave us a tour of the school where we saw classes in progress. Most classes only had 3-5 students in them, which gave the learning a very personalized feel. The hallway art was vast and varied from projects on where food in japan comes from, to summer cooking assignments. We were so happy to be invited and enjoyed introducing ourselves and Canada to the students. The students also had presentations prepared for us, and were excited to practice their English.

       We were welcomed to lunch and ate with the students as they asked us questions about Canada. As is tradition in Japanese schools, the students cleaned their school and classrooms after lunch and we were invited to help, I was given sweeping duty. We finished off our day with a school wide game of tag, (in the 32 degree heat), it was a sweaty but a great time. As we drove away on the bus, the children ran beside waving. I am grateful to have visited Shippu and been apart of their community in their last year.

        As far as adapting to my new schedule here in japan, with 20 hours of required TAB activities per week (language learning, seminars and school visits) 2 hours and 20 minutes of transit time per day and two online courses that require multiple posts/discussions/readings/assignments per week, I am feeling overwhelmed. There is definitely a sense of panic setting in as I try to manage my time and hope to explore the beautiful country I am in. I am definitely starting to understand why everyone here is always in a deep sleep on the train!

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela

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A few challenges

Aside from the language barrier, small challenges have slowly revealed themselves to us as we spend more time here. One of them is the transportation situation. I realized that at minimum, I would have to spent around 750 yen a day to get the school and back. That's daily two-way trip consisting of a 2.5 hour bike ride, 1 hour walk and 2 hours on the bus/train. Unfortunately, by the 3rd day my legs and knees weren't feeling so peppy so I opted for the 1100 yen/day trips. As a reoccurring cost, it slowly adds up, and it pains me to measure the cost in terms of food or souvenirs I could have bought. But, this is one of the things we have to expect, a bit of money of a small price to pay in exchange for safe transport and not having to walk among other things.

A small thing I learned was more about the transportation system in Japan. It consists of a few companies, some of which once belonged to a crown corporation called JR. This is part of the reason why transportation is more expensive. Switching between companies throughout your trip ups the cost. They accept charged cards as payments: the Kitaca, Suica, and Sapica. The Sapica is a local card that works only for the subway (one company) and collects points, while the other two work across all companies but don't collect points. 

The other challenge that hit us as we got more comfortable in Japan was communication. Data and wifi are necessities in finding our way, and as the semester starts, in completing assignments and communicating with group members. I have been more than a bit anxious thinking about groupwork for online courses across time zones...

But there is so much to enjoy here, so don't worry about it too much. I won't name anyone, but there has been some serious shopping going on around here and wow there are many great things here. The food is good too.

I have spent quite a bit of time getting to know my homestay family, they are extremely hospitable (not hostile, read it again). It's been wonderful.

As we prepare our introduction for our school visits, I really have been hit by the reality of ELL. Our introductory speeches were recorded by the liaison and played back to us. We were asked to use simpler vocabulary, emphasize nouns and verbs and slow down our speech. It felt extremely unnatural. As the person delivering, there are certainly many things I could complain about, but our liaison laid it down for us--what ELLs have to face, how much they know and how to be considerate of them. As a person trying to learn Japanese, I feel very much the same way when speaking to others I suppose. There are certain ways of speaking and gesturing that make my language learning a lot faster and easier. It is only now that I write this that I make that connection. I'd like to be that person for these ELLs, as much as I'd love to have that accomodating native Japanese speaker for myself. 

Thanks for reading! 

 

P.S.I have been having too much fun to be taking pictures and taking pictures of food when other people are waiting and the general populace is watching is awkward, sorry. 

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The end of one journey, the start of the next

3539165239?profile=RESIZE_710xI have been in Japan for over three weeks now, traveling around Tokyo, Kyoto, and finally Osaka. Each city so vastly unique in what it has to offer. To my surprise, everyday was hot and humid, much like Vietnam, however, I’m slowly noticing the weather cooling down a bit as its been quite rainy recently, along with the trees changing colour (Fall is coming!!). My days started with a full itinerary of adventures consisting of bustling areas, serene moments, and my childhood fascinations fulfilled. My obsessions with Matcha related food items and Takoyaki have been satisfied! I’ve also developed a new favorite food item – Okonomiyaki! Now that I've settled in the "Kitchen of Japan", with food stalls on almost every street, I can't wait to try out everything!

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3539171499?profile=RESIZE_710xAlong my travels, many moments had me really admiring Japanese culture and its people. From the very first moment I stepped off the plane, until now, I’ve always felt extremely welcomed and cared for, despite the language barriers - I’m still at the beginning stages of learning the language. To such an extent that I would say based on my experiences thus far, Japanese culture exemplifies ideal aspects of humanity. From the smallest of things, such as always being greeted when entering and leaving in shops/restaurants, to cashiers/strangers chasing down other strangers to return their forgotten items/ money. I can’t say how welcoming these small greetings and gestures are, which goes beyond just language, but rather from within. As an emerging educator, this really emphasizes and goes to prove the importance of welcoming each and every single student!

I'm used to a culture where we just seem to be passerbyers of others, where there is lack of acknowledgement with strangers we interact with. This contrasts my experiences here where the general public seem to be always looking out for one another and are mindful of their surroundings, ensuring they don't inconvenience anyone, also often go above and beyond to be of assistance. This has constantly been evident when I look lost trying to find my way around and a stranger would approach to help, and at times, to my greatest surprise, to go out of their way to walk with me to where I wanted to go.

3539145130?profile=RESIZE_710xI am also extremely impressed with everyone’s self-regulation. The streets, and public transportation are incredibly clean- especially for cities that have millions of people, with not many garbage cans laying around. I’m further impressed by the punctuality of the trains, especially the Shinkansen which has records of only being delayed by seconds. One interesting and strange thing I noticed from having traveled by rail a lot, is that the operators here constantly engage in self-conversation while making vigorous gestures pointing around. I later learned that the reason behind all of this is due to a technique for error-prevention. Apparently, this method of pointing and calling stuff out reduces workplace errors by 85%. This makes me wonder how this technique could be modified for students/teachers in school, and how effective it might be?3539185152?profile=RESIZE_710xAs I finish off my reflection of my journey thus far, and begin my research into Japan’s education system, I am both excited and nervous to official start my TAB experience tomorrow. Regardless, I am looking forward to what’s ahead, hoping to engage in the reciprocity of funds of knowledge and experiences.

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Departures

I have been in Japan for ten days now, taking a long overdue solo vacation far from home. I have never had the opportunity to be by myself for such an extended period of time, least of all in a new environment, but I always thought that it would be something I enjoy and thrive on. With that being said, I am not sure how likely it is that I will be attempting this again. As much fun as I have had keeping my own schedule, doing whatever I felt like, not worrying about anyone but myself… I have also had periods of what I could only consider existential dread. Luckily for me, I had friends and family back home who were more than willing to talk to me, ground me, and make sure I felt safe and comfortable. Eventually, I became more open to my situation, and now I am almost missing the past few days of freedom. Almost. Maybe travelling with just one other person is enough isolation for me.

Now that our program is starting in earnest, I am looking forward to such a host of experiences. I cannot wait to meet my homestay family, to get to know them and learn from them. I cannot wait to connect more with my classmates, as we experience this program together. I cannot wait to learn more about Japan, a country I have been fascinated with since I was young. Finally, I cannot wait to learn more about myself, and what kind of individual I am when I do not have the luxury of my home network to ground me 24/7. How I develop is something that makes me nervous, curious, and eager to get started.

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Preparations

Only a day ago I was frantically packing my bag, trying to think of things that I may or may not have forgotten to bring. It reminded me very much of my first day working, anxious and full of excitement over making a simple drink. In hindsight, just like many other things in life, it wasn't such a big deal. I realized that halfway in and my worries faded; I ended up replacing them with a hope that I would meet my soulmate on the flight. Anyways, our program doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, but how we prepare beforehand is quite important, so I wanted to share a few of the things I learned: 

Packing: Pull out everything, then pack it. Don't try to do both at the same time (pack one thing at a time). This time I forgot this obvious tidbit and it made keeping track of things difficult. As for what to pack, that's best up to you. We will probably come up with a list of similar things, however if you really aren't sure, just google it! 

Banking: Personally, I think travelling is nothing difficult as long as you have money. So make sure you can access your money on the other side of the world. One of the things I did was change my PIN number to 4-digits. Some machines won't let you enter more than 4, I remember experiencing this on an exchange during my undergrad. Another thing to do is try and use your cards at the airport, so that the bank knows you are travelling. Lastly, change your security options. If you're trying to do some online banking, you might be asked for a verification number...sent back to your home phone (if you use landline) or cell (that you can't access). Have that verification number sent to someone you trust and can communicate with. Otherwise, pay off everything you need to early! 

Home: Cancel all your subscriptions, your phone plan, if you're away long enough you can temporarily uninsure the car. Wrap up loose ends: finish your paperwork, pay off those bills, clean up the, tell that person you've been interested in that you and your interest are away on vacation. 

I'm only one day in, so the entirety of what I've missed hasn't hit me yet. I frantically sought out a place to purchase a data SIM card and adapter--a kind exchange student that I made friends with reminded me that the airport would be the best place to grab that. We all have to pass through it, there are English-speaking staff, and the entire industry is catered to travellers...makes sense. Fortunately, I need to return there tomorrow so I can do that. 

I wish I did more language preparation, but what I did put in did pay off. I studied the first 5 chapters of Genki and subscribed to a website called WaniKani. It really helped my vocabulary, upon arriving at the airport, I was elated when I realized I recognized quite a few of the words. Don't fret though, many of the things here in Hokkaido are labelled both in Japanese and English. While the copious amounts of Japanese text might make you feel like you're missing out on something, much of the text is a romanized form of what has been written in English (i.e. when you read the Japanese, it'll sound like English read with a Japanese accent). 

Sapporo seems like a wonderful place. So far, I've spent 80% of my time away from home in a metal box 30,000 feet above the ground or inside a unventilated, small room. However, I took a few walks and it actually reminded me very much of Calgary. We've actually a similar population, they're sitting at almost 2 million, with more people/km2. It's quiet and peaceful, it doesn't give off the bustle of a metropolis, like Tokyo, or a small town vibe. It's just right.

The humidity surprised me, I completely forgot about it. Looking outside these past two days, it's been overcast. Though I checked the weather and knew we'd be in the mid-10s to low-20s, I realized I didn't know how it feels. Seeing that overcast weather, I automatically dressed for Calgary overcast, which was too much. 

I'm looking forward to meeting my homestay family as well as the HUE staff and students. I'll be working my hardest to break down that language barrier throughout this exchange. I'm sure many of the other students will mention what they've noticed in Japan that is different/similar/nice etc. I think much of it will overlap. I've been here a few times, but its only this time that I noticed how many older folks are working--and when we examine the demographic of the entire country, it makes a lot of sense. 

Anyways, thank you for reading. I am currently preparing to introduce myself to my homestay family. They sent me an email a few weeks after my introductory email, apologizing because they weren't "too good at English". Man, that made me worried because my Japanese is certainly not up to par. 

P.S. I did meet my soulmate on the plane. Her name is Nausea. 

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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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Scooting/Motorbiking around Da Nang

So you are thinking of riding a motorbike/scooter to get around Da Nang, Vietnam. Bravo! Here are a few benefits that may sway your decision:

  • Most time/cost-efficient mode of travel
  • Very enjoyable
  • An authentic cultural experience
  • Cool as heck
  • Driving down the road during a thunderstorm, your poncho flapping behind you, feeling like a superhero (See the previous point)

 

Assuming you have obtained the essentials, (e.g. license/bike/helmet) here are the personal tips and anecdotes I have accumulated over my time there:

  • Da Nang traffic is much less chaotic than it seems. There is a method and order to the madness and chaos.
  • Viewing traffic from the perspective of a passenger is much more terrifying than driving in it yourself. (Especially your first few days there)
  • Always wear your helmet! Protective eyewear is also highly recommended. Getting hit by a bug at 50kmh+ stings. Loose debris and gravel is also a potential hazard.
  • Vehicles in the left lane, scooters/bikes in the right lane, passing in the middle.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Drivers may be going down the wrong side of the road out of convenience. Red lights are sometimes ignored.
  • You need to be assertive but not stupid. When it doubt, brake.
  • Honking/beeping indicates other drivers of your presence. Use it when entering an uncontrolled intersection, passing other drivers, or simply when in doubt.
  • Drive defensively and as if you do not exist. Don’t drive beside motor vehicles if you can help it, and minimize the time you spend in another vehicle’s blind spot.
  • When changing lanes, always shoulder check! Faster moving traffic might be looking to overtake you.
  • Brake gradually. Other bikers are often following close behind you.
  • Don’t play chicken with motor vehicles. If you get into a collision with one, the vehicle will always win. Yield!
  • With the previous point in mind, other drivers are mindful of this. Use this to your advantage when entering a traffic circle or a left turn.
  • Another traffic circle tip is move with the large crowd of motorbikes. Other drivers will more likely yield to several motorbike drivers than the one lone bike.

 

Happy trails, and safe driving!

 

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Same same, but different.

Same same, but different. This popular saying in Thailand and Vietnam recognizes the commonalities between two things despite the differences that may exist.

During my first six weeks here in Vietnam, I’ve come to appreciate the nuances that make this country so different from Canadian culture. After dwelling so long on these differences (i.e. no McDonalds, excessive sweating), I have now come to notice and enjoy the similarities between these two countries as well. Let’s explore a few of these similarities I’ve documented between the two cultures:

In the gym:

  • The struggle to look good while resisting the temptation of delicious food lingering around every corner….
  • The sense of community that develops in an environment of self-improvement.

In schools:

  • The inherent sense of play that resides in everyone, especially children.
  • The class troublemaker that keeps the class interesting and entertaining
  • The spike in student investment and engagement when a little competition is introduced
  • The friendship/camaraderie that develops among the students and among the teachers

More fun comparisons:

  • Tim Horton’s coffee <=> Vietnamese coffee/cà phê đá 
  • 7/11 <=> VinMart
  • Starbucks <=> Highlands Coffee

 

Same same, but different!

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It’s Just Like the Movies - part 2

My first post on these blogs was about a few different things that are “just like the movies,” and I mentioned that I would have a second installment for your entertainment. My friends, it is here.

At the end of my post I mentioned: school lunches, school security, and bedazzled pepper spray.

But here we have arrived at a plot twist.

I began writing about the three things aforementioned and I reached an impasse. I couldn't quite articulate why they were like the movies. I lost my past grasp on what made me think they were strange. The more I wrote and rewrote, the more I realized it was an argument with which I no longer agreed.

They really aren’t “just like the movies” at all. I arrived in Mississippi experiencing a lot of newness, strangeness, bigness, betterness, and Americanness I was generally expecting. School lunches, school security, and bedazzled pepper spray included.

  The school lunches could stand improvement, true. The school security seemed potentially overstated, maybe. The bedazzled pepper spray – well that really may be “just like the movies” – but I understand it better now.

  School lunches have improved. Michelle Obama (and others) worked for 8 years to help improve nationwide food standards in schools. The kids receive 4 food groups, and there is positive work still being done to improve healthful meals for all students. The problem, as far as I have learned, is not the ability to make good choices – but rather the funding. It is my belief, with resources and a few more votes for education, improvements can and will come.

  School security is not overstated. I don’t know how to put it more plainly than that.
  There is adequate and ample security to protect the children inside their establishments and nurture a safe space for learning. I first thought the big scary sign-in system seemed like it was a bit overkill because it scanned your ID. However, I must concede: it's just automated - not an automaton. 

  Bedazzled Pepper Spray comes with the cultural notion (whether one agrees or not) that one should be able to protect themselves. There are dangers in the world, and as a woman who occasionally resorts to a clutched key as a precautionary measure, I get it. And heck, it’s not lethal, so who am I to judge?

  In sum, exactly that: Who am I to judge?
  The movies (bar Starwars, Harry Potter, Alien, et al) reflect life, in whatever way they choose to reflect it. If the Mississippi I first encountered is “just like the movies,” it was reflective of a life different from my own.

  This film critic’s understanding has grown. It’s amazing what happens when you watch until the end of the movie!!

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Hot Tips from a Hot Country

I’m currently writing from the international terminal in São Paolo and it seems a little surreal that in just a little while I’ll be back in the land of donuts and snow.  It’s a little bittersweet to be catching some English mixed in with the Portuguese, and I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to pack away my shorts for a down jacket, but I do know that I’m so grateful for this opportunity to be immersed in the colourful Brazilian culture, and I’m honestly excited to bring back the learning (and the clothes haha) that I have accumulated in my time here.

For my last post, I’d like to share some of my best tips about Brazil to entice future TABers to come to this beautiful country.

First of all, don’t be afraid to look foolish in your language learning. From my experience, most Brazilians are only ever intrigued and excited when you try your Portuguese with them.  They are just as nervous (if not more!) to practise English with you, so jump into that space and laugh and learn together. As a future teacher, it gave me a lot of joy to see our Goianese friends improve in their English as they worked with us.  Language exchange is such a beautiful opportunity, and one of the ways that we, as Canadians, can risk but also give back in our host countries. Be bold and begin practising as soon as possible. If I was to have any regrets, it would be that I didn’t start speaking my (baby) Portuguese sooner. Don’t be afraid of looking silly. You’ll only gain friends and vocabulary!

Our final goodbye with the PUC Intercambio (Exchange) crew. We love our PUC friends!

And speaking of our Goianese friends, we truly could not have done this experience without them.   They took us to schools, arranged for us to join them on beautiful weekend trips, encouraged us in our Portuguese, and helped us with so many everyday tasks. Don’t be afraid to dive in with the university students. They were our happiest hellos, and our saddest goodbyes here, and we know that we have made some lifelong friends. Plus, you’ll feel like a celebrity because you’ll get so many new Instagram followers.

Third, arrange to travel while you’re here!  Brazil is a giant country with some truly beautiful parks and cities, and while the language barrier can be a little intimidating, it is well worth the effort to muddle through some google translate and see some new places. We found that driving outside of the city was not too scary, and even rented cars to visit the nearby towns of Pirenópolis and Goias Velho. I’d also recommend the state of Bahia where you can stay in the beautiful city of Salvador and visit surrounding places such as Chapada Diamantina and Praia do Forte. I LOVED Bahia. So go exploring! Even in Goiania there are many different parks (where you can see monkeys!!), restaurants, and malls that are really fun to visit.  We barely scratched the surface.

The stunning Poço Azul (Blue Pool) in Chapada Diamantina Park in the state of Bahia.  The water is so clear that you can see straight to the bottom, 50 feet down.

Finally, give yourself time and space to reflect on the process and recognize your different patterns of learning.  I found that what we were exploring in our online courses coincided a lot with what I was experiencing and working through in my day-to-day experiences in Goiania.  I was honestly surprised by how many connections I kept finding between my “academic” learning and “life” learning, but I came out of this experience truly convinced that this is how learning is meant to occur. We are the sum of all our experiences, and we are in charge of how we choose to pursue growth within that.

Anyways! All this to say, come stay in Goiania! Who wouldn’t want to extend summer for 2 more months? I’ve loved my time here, and I know that it has informed my teaching (and life) practise in truly beautiful and transformative ways.

Muito obrigada por tudos Brasil (Thank you so much for everything Brazil)! Tchau!

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Stop being comfortable

I took my final walk around the Alster today. The wind was blowing, the rain was coming down, the air was cold, the water in the lake was thumping against the boats, and the scenes were absolutely beautiful. Many times over the last 2 and a half months I missed home, my friends, and my family. I was counting down the days to when I would board my plane and fly back to comfort and reality. But today was the first time I felt like I was going to miss Hamburg. In this last week, I realized how truly fortunate I am to have been able to call Hamburg my home. The relationships I’ve built, the experiences I’ve had, and the moments I’ve shared with so many friends can’t really be expressed in words. The memories I’ve made here will stay with me for a long time and nothing can take them away from me. I was looking forward to my return home but now I’m counting the remaining days and trying to make the most of them. I’d like to end this post with some advice. Live your days like every day is special because before you realize, your days will run out. Get out of bed, take advantage of your good health, don’t be content, and do as much as you possibly can. You may never get the chance to walk around the Alster again.  

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Sun's out, Guns out

One of the things that I was most apprehensive about when I came to Mississippi was guns. Firearms. As a Canadian, the only guns I am familiar with (and I say familiar, not comfortable) are the ones that law enforcement have, and the hunting guns that my uncle keeps locked in his basement. I have personally never fired a gun. I had no idea what to expect, as I’ve been to the US many times, but never this far south, and never to an open carry state. I’m going to tell you some background information, some of the misconceptions that I had about guns and gun owners, and the reality of living in an open carry state.

The oft-discussed Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is the right to bear arms. Gun laws vary from state to state, and Mississippi is an open carry state. That means that pretty much anyone can buy a firearm and openly carry it with them. Applicants for a concealed or open carry permit must undergo a background check. It is especially important for concealed carriers to have proper documentation. As I understand it, the reasoning behind this is that if you were to come into contact with a police officer and you had a gun on your belt, they would be able to see that you had a gun right away, and that you weren't trying to hide it or get it past them. I suppose a concealed carry permit is a way of attempting to distinguish responsible gun owners from those who are hiding a gun for unsavoury purposes. Another interesting fact that I found out is that in Mississippi, your vehicle is considered an extension of your home, meaning that it is perfectly legal to carry a gun in your vehicle. A fellow university student described to me how he keeps a handgun in his vehicle, but is sure to keep both hands on the steering wheel if he gets pulled over. When the officer comes to his window, he immediately informs them that he has a gun, and of its location in the vehicle.

I asked around about how easy it would be to buy a gun. I have no intention of buying one, but I was curious. In line with laws surrounding alcohol, you have to be 21 years of age to legally purchase a gun and register it in your name. Guns are available for purchase at sporting good stores, similar to how they are in Alberta at Bass Pro. There is also a gun department at Walmart, which was a bit of a shock for me the first time I saw it, casually nestled in-between the DVDs and the pillows. I think the biggest difference in terms of availability is that as far as I know, as a regular citizen in Alberta, you can only really purchase a rifle for hunting, whereas here in Mississippi you can buy a handgun as well as shotguns from anywhere, including Walmart. To purchase a gun, all you have to do is show state issued ID such as a driver’s license. A background check is run against that identification. There are apparently certain guns such as an automatic rifle, or a sawed off shotgun that you can’t buy and take with you the same day. Those guns have a 24 hour or so waiting period, which I would assume is due to the increased amount of damage they could do in the wrong hands. There are also gun shows, where background checks have been known to be more lax, and transactions are often made in cash, and are therefore untraceable. As well, a private sale of a firearm does not require that the buyer provide a clean background check.

Coming to Mississippi, I had several misconceptions about guns.

Misconception: Open carry is going to be more scary and dangerous than concealed carry.

Reality: You have less to worry about with open carry than concealed carry. It seems counterintuitive. My friend Jonathan is 24 years old, studies law at Ole Miss, grew up in Alabama (Mississippi’s neighbour to the east), grew up around guns, and is a registered gun owner. He pointed out that if you see a person’s gun, they aren’t trying to hide anything. If a person is openly carrying a firearm, you can bet that they obtained it legally, took the proper steps to register it, and know how to use it safely. With concealed carry (the gun is in a purse, pocket, etc) comes a potential increase in the chance that someone is carrying an illegal firearm, may not know how to properly use it, or has something to hide (although this is certainly not always the case, and many concealed carry owners are very responsible). While I am certainly not going to feel comfortable walking into a Walmart and seeing a pistol on a fellow shopper’s hip in the deli section, after talking to Jonathan, I definitely feel better about seeing a gun.

Misconception: I will see guns everywhere.

Reality: I have seen two guns in the month that I have been in Oxford. One was a police officer’s, and the other was Jonathan’s that I asked to see (it was unloaded). I have seen zero guns in the deli section at Walmart.

Misconception: It is bad to raise children with a familiarity with guns.

Reality: A teaching colleague I spoke to said that he and his wife would likely introduce their son to guns around age 7 or 8. Many people will take their children out to go hunting and allow them to shoot guns. It’s something that I initially shied away from, but now I understand it. Guns are such a commonplace part of life here that parents would much rather their children understand gun safety and proper handling, and that they learn early to respect the danger that a gun can pose if improperly handled. We all teach kids not to talk to strangers and not to eat unwrapped Halloween candy…why wouldn’t we teach them how to be safe with something that they encounter on a daily basis?

To conclude, there is a lot of distorted information about guns and gun ownership. I thought I was walking into a version of the Wild West, but this has absolutely not been the case. I know that living in Canadian society where guns are not commonplace and widely socially accepted has influenced how I view gun ownership, and this has been a big learning curve for me. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the reality of living in an open carry state, and to have been able to talk openly with gun owners that I like and respect about their experiences. I don’t think that I will ever own my own gun, but I am starting to understand the culture around guns that exists here.

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Running Away to Circus School

We’ve been in Goiania for a month now and it’s been a really neat experience to explore a bit more and start to get to know the city and how “real life” works here.  One thing that I’ve been thinking about in Brazil is the way that different socioeconomic backgrounds show up in the cities.  To be honest, I was actually surprised by how easy it is to live a very upper-middle class lifestyle in Goiania without having to encounter obvious abject poverty in daily life. It would be very easy to forget that there is definitely heart-breaking poverty, and that very real action is necessary in order to address it well.

About a week ago we had the really amazing opportunity to visit the Escola de Circo Dom Fernando (Dom Fernando Circus School) which is located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Goiania.   We were told by a friend that a Catholic bishop named Dom Fernando donated a huge portion of church land to be used for new neighbourhoods and as a hub for social activism.  He has since passed away, but his legacy lives on in Goiania through the various institutions that he advocated for.  It’s a complicated legacy since it is hard to see that there is still so much poverty and violence in the area where he was dedicated to making change. 

The school itself was such an amazing place.  You walk through the front gates right into a giant circus tent where the kids get to practise trapeze, tight rope, unicycling, and so much more.  It is a very open concept and the rest of the school is a series of tents, outdoor space, semi-walled rooms, a few offices, washrooms, and a small kitchen.  There are no desks, and the students and teachers sit in chairs in a circle to do their classes (which happen in the morning). We arrived in the afternoon right when the students were beginning their “circus” activities. We got to try juggling, drumming, trapeze, and some other activities.  The students got to show off their skills, and it was so beautiful to see them come alive in their different areas of expertise. 

The main classroom area in the school.

What I loved most about the school was that it clearly isn’t based on high achievement in grades or even on developing the most competitive circus performers. The school administrators and teachers clearly have a heart for their students.  They are proud of their student’s skills, but more than that, they are encouraging and nurturing and go out of their ways to encourage students to shine.  The coordinator told us that this school isn’t for developing skills so much as it is to keep kids busy and provide alternative activity and mindsets to the gang-driven and drug-related communities that they come from.  The school is very outward focused and encourages the students to be positive and active members of their community by cleaning up litter and taking initiative in different areas.  I love that! And from what I could see, it is such a creative and joyful way to tackle the socioeconomic disadvantages that these students have to grow up with.  It certainly inspired me to think more creatively about how I can bring unusual but exciting activities into my own future classrooms in a truly interdisciplinary and wholistic way.  Circus school might be a bit of a stretch for Canada, but I am passionate about promoting different types of activities because I have seen the real-world benefits in my own life and in schools such as this one. 

Mad skills. New life goals.

My roommates and I also recently watched the famous Brazilian film “Cidade de Deus” (“City of God”) which is based on the true story of drug wars in a favela in Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s. This was just another reminder of some of the crippling issues that Brazil is working hard to overcome.  The City of God favela was actually “pacified” in 2009 when the Brazilian government set up a specific Police Unit to try to cut down crime.  We’ve talked to lots of people here about the volatile political climate and the different strategies that have been set up in the past and in the present to address corruption and poverty in Brazil.  It is an ongoing roller coaster of political negotiation, social reform, idealism, and corruption. However, what I find most beautiful is the hope that still lives, even in the cynicism of many of these people. University students who are dedicated to making a positive impact as teachers, school administrators who are willing to give an extra hug and encouragement to their students, and other people, young and old, who take a keen interest in politics and are actively interested in advocating for change in their country.

So much to think about! And when you have one month left in a foreign city, this can all seem pretty overwhelming. But I love that I can take the beautiful and inquisitive mindsets that I discover here, and incorporate them into the way that I teach, travel, and take on my own spaces.

♥♥♥

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Get out there!

Moin!

It’s been 5 weeks now here in Germany for me and I am really getting used to it. I initially thought that I would come here and learn how to teach and build relationships in a classroom where I could not speak the same language as my students. This I really have learned greatly about but I unexpectedly gained a new understanding and appreciation for exploration. Just being here has really taught me the value of travelling and being in an alien place.

 

If I translate this insight to my profession, I would equate it to going on field trips and learning outdoors. For some reason, so many of our classrooms are fixated indoors in the same square space for an entire year. It’s getting much harder every year to take a group of students anywhere outside that tight space. The euphoric feeling one gets outside in nature is second to none. Imagine if we could hold classrooms outside where the content is right there in front of the students instead of inside a book. If we learn about science, why not go find examples of it outside? If we learn about history, why not go visit some museums or monuments? If we learn about literature, why not go visit a reenactment or film? Every time I do one of these events on my own here in Germany, I get an amazing feeling and want to supplement what I learned by doing further research later. It might be possible to cause the same reaction with my students at home if they too get an authentic learning experience!

Bis Später!

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Getting used to this!

Moin!

Life in Hamburg, Germany is getting much easier! The public transportaton is easier to navigate, talking to locals is becoming more natural, and I've finally figured out the best places to get authentic german food. But where I spend half of my weeks here is also becoming a very comfortable space for me to practice my profession!

At my school, I've begun creating relationships with the students in my classroom. They look forward to seeing me as much as I look forward to seeing them. Although we cannot always communicate via language, we get our messages across with body movements and sometimes even just by grunting at each other! Through this abstract exchange I've gained the respect of my students enough to try new stuff in the classroom and be more effective with classroom management. It's astonishing how different a classroom atmosphere becomes when you are there as a stranger versus when you are there as a familiar face. 

This experience really makes me wonder about the experiences new teachers and substitutes must endure. It takes time to build these kinds of mutually beneficial relationships. For me, it took 3 weeks and I could still go much further if I was able to speak in German to my students. I suppose what I'm trying to say is, I've really come to realize that effective teaching occurs second to building a trusting and respectful relatiosnhip between the teacher and the student. Now I'm sure that relationships can be formed quickly, as is the case for substitute teachers who are there only for a temporary period, but as a new teacher, I strongly believe now that if I am going to be effective in my teaching practices for an entire school year, it is extremely important that I build strong relationships with my students so that I can have them looking forward to classroom instruction and projects. A strong relationship has students wanting to come to class. 

Bis später!

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Lessons in Courage (and Capoeria)

Olá (hello) from Goiania!

These past couple weeks settling into our new environment have been a whirlwind of WhatsApp messages, new friends, mall trips, broken Portuguese, and plenty of giant avocadoes. I’m loving it here, and I’m so grateful for the beautiful people here in Goiania who are making this city feel like home.

There are 6 of us from the UofC here in Brazil, but the Pontificia Universidade Catolica (PUC) has split us into pairs with student teachers from History, Geography, and Physical Education. Jasmine and I have been hanging out with the Physical Education group, and despite the fact that we are both training as English teachers, we are absolutely loving our time with the PE crew. (Side note: the first thing we taught the PE boys was how to say PhysEd. It was a really surprising hit :P)

Today we were at the PE campus where we started by observing some student teachers leading a futebol (soccer) class for a group of neighbourhood kids.  PUC offers sports programs to the community, and this is where many of the PE student teachers get most of their practicum hours. After this, we had the privilege of sitting in on a very impactful presentation on Anxiety Disorders that was led by a girl who was sharing about how therapy, healthy habits, awareness, and exercise can all contribute to addressing these disorders.  It was so beautiful to see her step out in courage and share some very personal reflections on her own experiences with anxiety and the paths she is taking to heal. We could only understand approximately 5% of what she was saying, but with the help of our student translator and the obvious emotion that this student carried, we were able to get a good feel for her passion about the topic.

Some new buds! The beautiful Ranasha (in black) was the student presentor. 

I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on my own habits, and the ways that these instincts hinder and help me in my life as a foreigner, as a student, and as a teacher.  Courage can be a habit, and I’m determined to make it one of mine.  

These university students choose to be courageous in their warmth and acceptance towards us, even though they are just as nervous about their English as we are about our Portuguese.  They take a chance on us every day by allowing us to watch their personal presentations, observe their classrooms, and take part in their confusing capoeira classes. (Side note #2: Capoeira literally kicked my butt, but 10/10 will go again).  I am realizing more and more that this courage is so essential to the way that we invite new students, parents, and other staff into our classrooms. We have to be brave in the way that we present our passions to our students. We have to be willing to teach from a place of vulnerability because we will inevitably let a little bit (or a big bit, fingers crossed) of our hearts leak into the people that we are investing in. 

Canadians take on Capoeira.

 

For me, travelling is a really unique area to practise this courage because if I don’t try things now, then when? This is an attitude that I feel like I can generally tap into in very particular places and with very specific people, but I’m seeing the value more and more of choosing to bring this with specific intentionality into my role as a teacher.

I am very aware that I am a creature of habit.  I move around a lot, but I love to make safe spaces for myself.  I have a habit of bringing my little “home sparkers” to every new space that I’m in, and my roommates have to put up with all my little decorations that I’ve strewn around our apartment.  However, I’ve found that as I start to settle in my own head and heart here in Goiania, I have been able to be more courageous and truly enjoy the benefits of choosing to say yes more often than I say no.   

People who help me practise my courage:

  • The student teachers. WhatsApp + Google Translate = 3 new Instagram friends everyday.
  • Every Uber driver. Today I talked to a driver for 5 whole minutes in Portuguese. A new personal record.
  • My travel buds. They show me different ways to say yes everyday and I am so very grateful!

Até logo (see you later)!

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My Mississippi experience began the minute I boarded the plane from Houston to Memphis. I came through the cabin door, and looked up, realizing that nearly everyone on the plane was decked out from head to toe in Ole Miss gear. I immediately felt very out of place in my floral sweatpants! What I found out later was that there had been an away game in Houston; Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss. People down here are so crazy about football that it is not uncommon for them to travel several hours by plane or car to attend away games to support their team. Apparently there were about 4000 Ole Miss fans at the game in Houston. At this point I was beginning to suspect that football was an even bigger deal down here than I had expected.

I was fortunate to sit beside a very nice man named Hal on the plane. Hal is an Ole Miss alumni, and an avid football fan. He doesn’t even live in Oxford anymore, but he still has season tickets to Ole Miss football. We talked for the entire two hour flight, and I experienced Southern hospitality for the first time. After having known me for only an hour, Hal had invited me to join him and his family and friends at their tailgate tent before the upcoming home game, and he even offered the use of his season tickets to Ole Miss games whenever him and his family weren’t going to use them. Hal also told me about a current controversy concerning the Landshark, which is Ole Miss’ new mascot.

Traditionally, the Ole Miss Rebel’s mascot was Colonel Reb. The Colonel bears a striking resemblance to a Confederate Army soldier, which given the history of the Civil War in the South, is a pretty easy connection to make. Being a university town, Oxford is generally more liberal than other places in Mississippi, which I did not expect. In 2003, the university decided to rescind Colonel Reb as the official Ole Miss mascot. My understanding is that this decision reflected a growing desire to have the school mascot represent all students, and more importantly, for the mascot (and by extension the University) not to perpetuate the systemic racism that is so embedded in the South. I can only imagine how it might feel to be an African American student, attending a school where the mascot is a direct reminder of the Confederate Army, and all of the people who fought to maintain the institution of slavery.

In 2010, the mascot was changed via a student vote to be Rebel the Black Bear. The Black Bear never really caught on though, prompting another student vote in 2017 where voters chose between the Black Bear and the Landshark. The Landshark originated with an Ole Miss student named Tony Fein who played for the defensive line on the football team. Tony had served in Iraq as a member of the US army prior to attending Ole Miss. Following a successful play on the field, Tony would throw up his hand on top of his head in a “shark fin”. This was a symbol that he had brought back from his time in the army, where his patrol had nicknamed themselves the Landsharks. This “Fins Up” symbol was adopted by Ole Miss fans, and is widely used today, making Tony the Landshark a logical choice for a mascot.

The controversy lies in the fact that not everyone agrees with the change from Colonel Reb to Tony the Landshark. I listened to Hal and some other men behind us on the plane discussing the new mascot; saying how much they didn’t like it, and how it was not representative of Ole Miss fans. I chalked this up to a difference in age and culture. After all, Colonel Reb had been the mascot when Hal attended Ole Miss many years ago, and no doubt held personal significance for him. One woman we met at the university said that she fully supported the move to the Landshark, and the accompanying move towards inclusion. Imagine my surprise when I talked to another girl in her early twenties, who, when I brought up the land shark debate, declared that “Colonel Reb will always be my mascot”. It is interesting to note that Colonel Reb had been removed as the official mascot about fifteen years before this student had even come to Ole Miss. I had assumed that people my age here would be more informed, and more likely to support the change in mascots. I wonder if this girl simply didn’t know or understand the historical ramifications of Colonel Reb, or if she understood and didn’t care to think about the ramifications of that support. I still see Colonel Reb around campus on the odd banner or tshirt, but it’s clear that he is not a part of official branding any more. I am very curious to continue to meet new people here, and try to get a wider and more accurate idea of how many people still see Colonel Reb as their true mascot, and why.

 

 

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Novas Experiências

It has not even been 2 weeks since I have been in Brazil and Calgary already seems like it was ages ago. It is really crazy how much can happen in such a short amount of time. Even though I have been in Brazil for a small period of time, I am already in love with it. We visited the beautiful beaches of Rio and camped in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest. Rio was full of music, beautiful edgy street art on every corner, breathtaking hiking views, and beaches with sand as soft as powder; it really felt like we just barely scratched the surface. It was hard to believe that the Amazon was located in the same country; the samba drums and funk music was quickly replaced with crickets and howler monkeys; we held Caymans, went fishing for Piranhas, and watched pink dolphins swim while the sun rose. I have never been camping in my life and my first ever experience involved sleeping in a hammock in the middle of the Amazon rainforest while on my period. This was so far out of my comfort zone; I was even terrified at times but it was one of the best things I have experienced in my entire life. I am so thankful I had such a life changing moment right before starting the TAB program in Goiania. It taught me some valuable lessons I want to keep with me as I go through the next two months and, honestly, as I go through life:

  1. I will never regret pushing past my comfort zone
  2. I will always remember when I do something new for the first time  
  3. It is okay to be afraid
  4. Time will always continue to pass meaning joyful and challenging times will pass too
  5. When we push our limits we grow
  6. I am way more resilient than I think

Now that I am settling in Goiania, I am facing new challenges and having even more amazing experiences and I cannot wait to push myself in so many ways and see how I grow. I already know that I am going to leave Brazil with new friendships, stories, and lessons. It has already been life changing, I can only imagine what is in store.

 

 

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How to Love Your First Week in Brazil

­How to order food: Wait until someone brave has already wrestled through some broken Portuguese to order their dish, and then say “mesmo” (same).

How to get to know your Uber driver: Ask all of the introduction questions you know in Portuguese and then smile and nod as if you understand the answers.

How to experience Rio de Janeiro: Find some adventurous locals on Airbnb Experiences (for real do it!) and go to the cutest little café for fresh salad bowls.

How to find a caiman (crocodile): Sit by the fire drinking caipirinhas (local drink) while your friendly neighbourhood Italian runs around in the darkness with the guides. 

How to make up for missing Canadian ice cream: Eat açaí constantly.

How to love Brazil: Just let it happen.

Brazil has been beautiful.  As a student learning to teach, I love how travelling throws me into uncomfortable, but ultimately positive, stretching growth experiences.  I am loving this country, and I have already learned so much.

For instance, survival isn’t as much about equipment as it is about attitude. When we were in the Amazon rainforest, our guide Cobra led us on a jungle trek where he showed us a myriad of ways to access medicine, food, hydration, and shelter, with just his machete and the information he had gained from experience and research.  I loved talking to Cobra because he was so informed on a huge range of topics.  He lives in a remote village and taught himself English in order to better communicate as a tour guide.  His next languages to master are German and Hebrew.  He knew the most about the jungle of any of the other guides because he chased that knowledge. His passion for learning made me so much more grateful for my education, and this trip in particular.

 Side note - Canadians really do apologize all the time.  The only people that I have heard saying “de sculpa” (sorry/excuse me) are me and my fellow Canadians.  We’re actively working on playing it cool. :P

All that to say, I don’t want to downplay how incredible this trip has been, and will continue to be. We (me + travel buds) have been talking a lot about the importance of open hearts and minds and I’m excited to dance in new grocery stores, swim in new waterfalls, and laugh in new languages.

Ciao!

 

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