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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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Canada, home sweet home!

It's good to be home,

As I write this it is 5:30 am and minus 15 degrees in Calgary. I arrived home from Vietnam 3 days ago, thankful to have just barely flown out before a Typhoon hit the area. It’s bittersweet to be home. First of all, it’s freezing! I’ve barely worn socks in the past 5 months let alone winter wear. Secondly, I almost had a heart attack grocery shopping in this country again, I can see why people go to South East Asia and never leave. But overall, I am relieved and happy to be home. My first stop on the way home from the airport was Tim Horton's. I sent a picture of my coffee and a picture of the roads covered in snow to my new friends in Vietnam (two Canadian staples: timmies and snowy road conditions). I've been periodically checking updates on the typhoon that hit Vietnam shorty after I left. I was saddened to learn that it caused flooding in Hoi An, a magical town only 40 minutes from where we were staying. Hoi An is a touristy area that left a lasting impression on us. We returned multiple times to enjoy the shops, lanterns and relaxing atmosphere. It is disheartening to think of the damage caused by the flood.

            Being home still doesn’t feel completely real so I haven’t really begun to deeply reflect on the entire experience. I am still trying to catch my bearings in this winter situation. In Vietnam we joked about all the things that would feel weird about being back in Canada, such as the open spaces, the silence and using crosswalks. I haven’t really noticed that anything about Canadian culture feels weird though. It feels as though I never left (apart from the weather and the atrocious price of food). But I suppose that is because Canada is home, it will always feel just right.

As happy as I am to be back in Calgary, I am sad about leaving Vietnam. We met so many wonderful people who helped us along our journey. It’s funny how just as we are getting used to the culture we have to leave. I am so grateful for this trip. I think it's still too soon to fully grasp exactly how valuable this experience has been but I know It will be something that I look back on often.

 Since returning home, I have been thinking a lot about practicum and to be honest I am a little nervous. I had finally gotten used to teaching in Vietnamese schools and now it’s time to teach in Calgary again. The schools we taught at in DaNang were very standardized and simple. Teaching entailed a lot of lecturing and textbook reading, something I find very different from teaching in Calgary. It will also be very different and refreshing to have access to technology in the classroom again. Something that I really missed in Vietnam. 

I can't wait to see how this experience has affected my confidence and creativity as a teacher. I'm hoping I get the chance to share some of my photos and stories with my grade 2/3 practicum class, because it's really all I want to talk about right now. 

cảm ơn và tạm biệt!! 

(Thank you and Goodbye) 

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Algumas semanas em Goiânia!

Bom dia! Tudo bem?!

This is now the start of our fifth week here in Goiânia, Brazil. Now that we are more comfortable and confident moving around in the city and coming and going from place to place, I think I’ve really hit my stride here. The weather has been a blessing, the friends we’ve made have been amazing, and even most strangers we meet have been welcoming and kind. Once you venture out of a big tourist city into a more off the beaten path type of place, I think you really get to see what a country is made of and it’s heart and soul. So far, I think Brazil is made of kind, fast-talking people, beautiful food and drinks, gorgeous scenery, and breathe taking heat (which I happen to quite enjoy!). Also, now that I’ve spent more time here, I’ve really gotten a feel for the education system, how it works and what it’s motivating factors are; at the university level and the secondary and primary levels. I am by no means an expert, but I certainly am more comfortable in talking about it.

The view of Goiânia from the window of our Portuguese class.

Does it get any better than this?!

To start our time in Goiânia, we’ve visited 4 different public schools, and I can say with confidence that they are all very different from each other. We visited three elementary schools and one high school. Similarly to in Canada, the academic rigor, appearance and overall success rate of the school has a lot to do with where the school is located within the city. However, the economic differences between sectors within the city are much more exaggerated than it is in Canada. Walking into an elementary level school in Brazil, you would think you were walking into an elementary school in Canada. They are warm, colorful, loud and vibrant places with lost of busy kids running around playing, socializing and learning. The classroom walls are lined with student art work, and two of them even had a room and teacher dedicated to those students who require a little bit of extra help. The teachers are all trained and passionate teachers who, like in Canada, don’t get into teaching for the money, but rather for the love of education and kids. The high school we visited however was starkly different from a high school back home, once you peel a few layers back. Teachers at the high school level are not trained teachers, they are instead trained in different fields such as history, geography, English language, Portuguese language, math, etc. then are simply hired by the school board. Since teachers at this level aren’t trained teachers, they often lack skills surrounding classroom management, assessment, etc. High school teachers are also paid significantly less than primary school teachers, so much so that most of whom we’ve met have second and third jobs to make ends meet. Because of this, there is a lot of teacher turn over at the high school level. Additionally, at this level, there is a relatively high threat of violence, particularly against male teachers. With all that being said, we did meet some absolutely fantastic teachers who really had a passion for education and who took the time to get to know their students and connect with them. Even though there are a lot of negatives about the job, there are still teachers who are working hard everyday to ensure that students leave high school with the best chance at success they can be offered. In a way, it was inspiring to see. Despite all the odds stacked against them, they still try and push on and offer success to their students as best they can. Unfortunately we did not get to see how things are different in a private school versus a public school. We do know that privates schools are incredibly expensive and many of the do not offer scholarships or financial assistance to lower income students. Many private schools claim to offer an “American” curriculum or “Canadian” curriculum, and I think it would have been useful to see what exactly that means, but unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to do so.

The high school students were very interested in the kind of music we listened to. They suggested we should listen to Brazilian Funk music. 

As we move through our education here in Brazil, we will continue to participate in Portuguese language classes as well as being observers and teachers in the PUC Language and Extension Center. The language classes we have been apart of have been so helpful, and even though our progress has been slow, we are still making progress! We can ask and respond to most basic introductory questions, and now we tackle pronunciation and more complex conversational skills. Pretty good progress for only having one class a week if you ask me! I’m most excited to be able to (hopefully) teach a few lessons at the PUC Language and Extension Center. This is a place where students of all ages take extra curricular language classes. This sort of class is almost exclusively offered to students who have wealthier families, as these classes are quite expensive. Regardless, it is really great to be able to see students learning English with many of the ESL teaching strategies I’ve seen in schools back home. I have three different classes, one class with teens (ages 11-13), one with juniors (ages 7-10) and one pre-intermediate (ages 16-55). We will be in these classes for the rest of our time here in Goiânia. I look forward to being able to build a bond with the students and the teacher, a hopefully teach a lesson or two!

When Anthony Bourdain says "If you're ever in Brazil, you need to eat Acarajé", you immediately search every street market you can find until you find it.

Once we found it, it was definitely worth venturing out in the heat to find! 

Apart from education related things, we’ve been exploring our community, making friends, eating our body weight at least once a week and laughing the whole entire time. While we haven’t yet ventured too far outside of Goiânia, we’ve been too busy soaking up all the fun and exciting things to do in town. These last few weeks we have here, we plan to venture outside the city limits and visit all the untamed and wild nature that surrounds us. Did you know they have waterfalls here?! GUYS… WATERFALLS! I don’t know if I can really explain to you all reading this how excited I am for waterfalls, camping and hiking in the next few weeks. I can honestly say that I truly feel thankful to have had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country with Meghan and Courtney. I couldn’t have asked for better adventures buddies! #blessed  

 

Até logo!!

 

P.S. The most useful Portuguese phrase we’ve learned since we got here is “Tocar o seu cachorro?” or “Passar a mão no seu cachorros?” Which both mean, “Can I pet your dog?” 

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Introduction to Amazing Australia!

Greetings, Ning blog readers!

My name is Tracy and I will be participating in the Teaching Across Borders 2017 program in Perth, Australia! I am beginning this very special first blog post as I fly to Perth from Cairns, the tropical Northern tip of Queensland, Australia. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent the past five weeks touring around New Zealand and up the East Coast of Australia with my best friend, a fellow Elementary school teacher. As she reluctantly boards her flight back to the Great White North, I continue my adventure to Murdoch University, where I will be staying for the duration of the program. The pilot has informed us that the temperature in Perth is a cool 22 degrees. Not bad for the end of Australia’s winter season, if you ask me.

I could not be more excited to begin the Teaching Across Borders program. I have met so many amazing people and seen so many amazing things on this trip already, and I know Perth will bring so much more. Though I’ve had a blast these past few weeks, the TAB program is the whole reason I’m “Downunder”, and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I applied for the TAB program because I believe in the value of international experiences for every career path, and for education in particular. I believe nothing influences a society more than education, and thus as teachers we have the power to shape the future as well as the responsibility to ensure we do so from an open and informed perspective. The importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and being exposed to other countries, cultures and education systems is crucial to mastering the art of diversified and inclusive education.

In Perth, I may not be exposed to culture shock or a language barrier as some others in the TAB program will be, but there will be no shortage of diverse experiences for me. Included in my placements in Western Australia are Indigenous schools (with the option of travelling quite far from Perth - details to come), a private school with a Highland Games experience, an inclusive education school, and a school with an intensive language centre that prepares students in exceptional circumstances (e.g., refugees) for integration into the school system. I will also have the privilege of sitting in on Murdoch University Education courses and professional development sessions. I look forward to sharing as much as I possibly can about my experiences on this blog, and to reading about everyone else’s experiences!

To conclude this post, I would like to share some highlights of my trip thus far (classroom-friendly fun facts included). I hope you enjoy them, and get a chance to experience them yourselves one day!

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Sydney, Australia! Did you know the Sydney Opera House exceeded their original 7 million dollar estimate by 95 million dollars!? 

Whale watching at Gold Coast, Australia! These humpback whales travel all the way from the Arctic Ocean to mate and have their babies in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean on Australia’s Eastern coast.

Fraser Island: the world’s largest island made entirely of sand! The SS Maheno shipwreck has been there since 1935 when it was hit by a cyclone. 

Magnetic Island: the perfect place to spot koalas and echidnas in the wild. Echidnas make up 4/5 species of mammals that lay eggs! (Can you guess the other?) 

Hiking in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, where the mountains are active volcanoes!! Also the perfect place for Lord of the Rings fans to get a view of Mount Doom. 

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That's all, folks! Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more from Perth.

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See You Again Sapporo

Way back before I ever started this B.Ed. and went through with TAB, I thought to myself I could improve my pedagogy immensely if I experienced education through another culture. This notion was supported by some of the teachers I met during my first field experience, all of who had taught abroad for a certain period of time. Seeing and reconciling differences is how they said they achieved a superior pedagogy, and it showed in how their classes were run and how their students responded to them. It hasn’t yet been a week since my return, but I find myself thinking often about what I have learned and how it has shaped my pedagogy. As I look ahead to starting Field III, I catch myself thinking back on my TAB experience and thinking about a plethora of ideas that I want to try or incorporate into how I have already taught before.

Aside from that though, this whole experience has been so rich, that pedagogy is only one of many things I find myself thinking about. I don’t have the words right now to do my experience justice, because it was simply that amazing. Each and every day brought with it several precious memories. This is due primarily to the relationships I have built during my time in TAB. It’s one thing to be told about the power of relationships in class, but it’s entirely different when you’re placed in a foreign country where you don’t know the language so well and have to form those relationships with the people around you. All of those people around me tried their hardest to accommodate me, and in turn I tried my hardest for them. Forming those bonds with my host families, making new friends, becoming like one of the staff at my school placements, and earning the trust and attention of all the children at the schools I was at was a wonderful experience. The love, gratitude, and appreciation they all showed at the end put that experience over the top though. I rarely heard a “good bye,” but rather “see you again” was always the parting phrase of choice. I took that to heart and replied in kind, “see you again.” With the bonds I’ve formed and all that I’ve learned, I will definitely be seeing my family and friends in Sapporo again.

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The Power of Relationships // Farewells

Throughout this Education after-degree, I’ve read articles, watched videos, listened to instructors, and written reflections about relationships. Relationships between the teacher and the students. Relationships between teachers as colleagues. I never doubted how important they are, but after my TAB placement in Spain, my realization of its importance skyrocketed. The teachers within the English department were practically family; our liaison there explained to me that it hasn’t always been this way, and that it has taken years for this group of teachers to finally come together in one department. They travel together, celebrate birthdays together, and spend time together on the weekends. During school hours, I’ve personally seen how strong their relationships are, simply by looking at how they interact with one another. It is that obvious. Since our first day in that school, we were immediately welcomed into their department and into their family. I feel that they went above and beyond for us throughout the 6 weeks that we were were there. Saying goodbye was hard (we probably said goodbye at least 3 times); they even had a “goodbye party” for us, with holiday treats and small gifts. We promised to keep in touch in the future. They are an amazing group of colleagues that I will not soon forget, and will forever be thankful for.

 

As for positive relationships with the students, that was also evident during my time there. Students address teachers by their first name, which I think is one of the first steps in creating a suitable level of closeness between them. The town we were in, Rubí, which is an hour commute from Barcelona, was mainly a working-class community. One teacher explained to us that many students come to school lacking the care and affection that we usually get from parents. For this reason, she is not only their teacher, but also plays the role of a parent and sometimes a friend. She believes in letting them know and showing them that the school, and her classroom, are a safe place and that they can confide in her if needed. There is often a touch on the shoulder or a pat on the back from the teacher, and the occasional hug between them to let them know that they genuinely care. There is a lot of respect towards teachers, and both parents as well as students are openly grateful for what the teachers do for them.

When I first arrived at the school, our liaison told me that many of the students will be able to relate to me, since a lot of them were of a Moroccan background, meaning that they speak the same language and practice the same religion as me, as I am also a Muslim Arab. From what I experienced, they were ecstatic to see that. She further explained to me that because they live in a working-class town, many of them don’t believe that they will leave that area. It would give them hope to see that I personally had the opportunity to travel and see a different part of the world than the one I lived in. During my time there, I felt the need to put in the extra effort to speak to some of those students, just to listen to their story. With the risk of sounding “cheesy”, I truly hope that they are able to believe that they can go places in life, and that they don’t have to remain confined to the place they grew up in.

Saying goodbye to students was also difficult; more difficult than I thought it would be. The teachers made sure that we got pictures with our students as a way to remember them. The students were extremely thankful for us being there. We received many rounds of applause before leaving, personal thank-yous, and signed cards from them. I have so many great memories from my time with them, and I will really miss them all.

 

[Brittney and I with the teachers of the English Department]

 

 

 

 

 

[Last day in the school in Rubí]

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Monoculturalism Versus Multiculturalism

For the most part and surprisingly, Canadian and Japanese life are extremely similar. The big difference that I have witness are some of the core values of peace between people and, in schools specifically, the monocultural versus multicultural foundations. Canada is a multicultural based country which is clearly shown in our school systems. We as teachers walk into classrooms with the knowledge that we will have students from different countries, cultures, and often languages. Japan however, does not have this type of system and instead has classrooms that are clearly Japanese only, especially in smaller cities like Kushiro. This creates both advantages and disadvantages in schools, as multiculturalism does in Canada, that we have discussed at length with teachers and professors here. 

 

Some of the advantages of monoculturalism in the classroom is the freedom for teachers to go deeper into subjects like history, geography, politics, because they are uniquely Japanese. In general, almost everyone comes from the same style of upbringing, the same values, traditions, and experiences as far as society go. This makes it easier for a teacher to not worry about coming to a topic from many perspectives as everyone has similar understanding. Teachers can do deeper into cultural activities because they are common to everyone and hold meaning
for everyone. For example the opportunity the Grade 6's, 2nd year education students, and Michelle and I had to experience traditional iron making. This tradition is only continued in southern Japan today and was and still is used to make true Katana's, or Samurai swords. The iron is special because it is so pure that it does not rust. This event was planned and executed by the university students, and the grade 6's and their teachers - without fear of danger or liability - were able to participate. Not only was it so special to me to learn how to make iron from scratch, it was impressive to see how the lesson taught social students through history, science through iron, and also morals through the value of patience and 'breath of life' tranquility that it takes to make the iron. This was an important part of traditional iron making and carries today. Monocultural classrooms make classes such as moral education possible because across Japan you will find similar if not identical values of peace, hard-work, dedication, and this desire for tranquility. Therefore morals can be taught from one common set of values and perspectives. Lastly, these common values and notions of a good life mean that the government can set a national education curriculum for all students and teachers to adhere to. 

 

The disadvantages though also stem from these shared values and especially shared perspectives because it means little to no questioning of social constructs and behaviours. There are professors at the Hokkaido University of Education that we spoke too who are wary of this because they fear students becoming complacent. There is a strong sense from the teachers here that while some nationalism is good, too much could lead to the same subservient behaviour exhibited for the emperor before WW2. Which they see now when students do not question what the government is doing or what social constructs they are following. In Canada this lack of scrutiny is not possible because we have so many different expectations from the many cultures who share in the creation of social constructs and government. This is not to say that Japan is doing badly or wrong in any way, only interesting that teachers see this and want to try and create more world-based thinking and values through widening curriculum, questioning society, and exchanges like these. 

 

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Colegio St. Agostinho...

I had the opportunity to visit the Colegio St. Agostinho a school located in the heart of Goiania. It is a Catholic school and their faith is very much a prominent influence in how education is approached. Halls and spaces throughout the school are filled with images of saints and Catholic figures. It provides the school with a very welcoming feel as the images are beautiful, and yet sacred. Although the families from the Catholic faith are favoured, the school accepts families and students who are non-Catholics as well. 

The school teaches students from age "infantil" (infant age) up to Grade 9 students. As a result there are a variety of programs and collaboration done between teachers who are teaching the younger students and teachers who teach the older students. They have an excellent administration and the access to resources is unbelievable! The school truly believes in supporting students in whichever discipline it is that they are most successful in. They have large Chemistry labs, Physics Labs as well as large areas for Art to be taught and a even a massive theatre for students who wish to engage in the performing arts. This school is an example of science and the arts mingling in a way that each discipline is supported by the other. Families who send their students to this school are very focused on the success of their child's education and eventually post secondary education, so the school does a very good job at making sure students have access to resources in every discipline. 

 It is my belief that  the school does such a great job at supporting the students in terms of their interests, and at the same time the school establishes a welcoming community through the Catholic faith to an extent that students are very excited to be there. This is the type of community that I would like to create within my own classroom and school community as I become a more experienced teacher because it truly benefits the student and their engagement. The classroom no longer becomes a place of simply learning but it becomes a space in which students can come in and build strong relationships, be supportive of one another and trust each other. My partner teacher told me that he teaches 21 classes of level 6 students in the morning and he teaches another group of students in the afternoon. He stated that it is very tiresome, but that he loves it because he truly sees how much success there is in supporting the interest of the student. My partner teacher himself was an individual who was very engaged and interested in the lives of his students and it was evident that he had created a strong bond where students could come and talk to him about almost anything. It is my hope that when I return to Calgary I will be able to take what I have learned in my short time at St. Agostinho and instill this experience within my own teaching practice 

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