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It's All About the People

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

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

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

  Two other costumes were particularly important to me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. A Native American

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

Teaching Across Borders, at Halloween

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

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

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

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

Why this is important to me

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Work/Life Balance in Germany

Guten Tag, readers! 

The schools here in Germany just finished up the 2 week autumn holidays, which means I also just finished my 2 week holiday to Paris, Portugal, and Bavaria! I can definetly say that I had no complaints about working on my online classes and lesson planning from my hostel's rooftop, oceanview patio in Portugal! Seeing the fall colors in the Bavarian Alps also made me feel like I was back at home in the Rockies! I am back in Hamburg now and it is starting to hit me that in only a couple of weeks I will be back in Canada beginning practicum with a grade 4 class (this will be a huge change from my current placement in the German high school!) Below are some photos of my amazing vacation!

Neuschwainstain Castle (top) Bavairan Alps (bottom)Beach in Cascais (top), Pena Palace (BL), Views of Lisbon (BR)

With my return to Canada on my mind, I have been reflecting on one of my favorite parts of German life so far, which has been the work-life balance that I have observed in this country. In Germany, I have learned that the standard amount of vacation time is 5 weeks! Also, in Hamburg stores are not allowed to be open on Sundays except 4 times a year which are referred to as "open Sundays". At first this was extremely inconvenient for me, but I have really learned to appreciate this "day of rest". Doing errands isn't an option so it is a perfect day to spend relaxing, exercising, and with friends. Something else I have observed is that most school days, students only go to class until around 1pm (Canada should really adopt this....). Overall I have found the balance between work and life to be of a huge value here, and it is very different than in Canada. This is one of the things I will really miss about Germany. 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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