Sunday, December 18, 2011

Joanne (no longer) in Spain

I'm writing this from a couch in Boston, in front of a television on which the Patriots game is playing, while my aunt is in the kitchen, roasting pork chops and steamed vegetables. Hello, America! :)

There's so much to say; I can barely write. You know what I mean?

Well, before I left Barcelona, I took a four-day trip to Rome, by myself. I thought it'd be lonely, walking around one of the world's most romantic cities, completely alone. But as it turns out, I'm better company than I thought... and I wasn't quite alone.

The best part of Rome wasn't the Vatican, or the Colosseum, or even the Sistine Chapel — although all of these amazing sights left me speechless. The best part was seeing these world wonders and realizing that in the face of all this physical, tangible beauty, nothing elicited the same feeling of warmth and awe that I've felt around the people I love. These buildings — the greatest testaments of man's ability to build and create — were nothing compared to the way Love has made me and the people around me completely new.

My time in Boston has been relaxing, rewarding, and lovely so far. My aunt has already helped me see the best is yet to come, and that I have nothing to be afraid of, coming back home.

I guess I should explain. I was a little bit afraid of coming home. It's always weird when people tell you you've changed, even if they mean it in a good way. And it's also really cool, when the people who know you best can help you see things that you can't on your own. So I was scared, I guess. Of hearing those things and not knowing what to expect. But my aunt has been more encouraging, uplifting, and reassuring than I could ever ask for... she's really cool. so here I am, US! Home. Well, in the country at least.

So here's to being home. Here's to the end of this blog, I guess. Here's to the end of one of the most difficult and rewarding adventures of my life.

And here's to the beginning of all the adventures to come.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No pasa nada

"No pasa nada" is a phrase used in Spanish that's similar to the English "Don't worry about it" or literally, "Nothing happened" — you use it when someone apologizes for bumping into you on the metro, or when life surprises you with a seemingly less-than-pleasant experience. I'm not sure if I'm using it correctly, but over the past few weeks Genevieve and I have adapted it as a new way to say "Hakuna Matata."

I realize I haven't blogged in awhile, and for the two of you who actually read this, I'm sorry! I'm sure the past month has been miserable without having to muddle through my ramblings and word-barf. Ha, ha. Well, for my own sake, I realized I haven't been writing very much about what has actually "pasado" in my life, so here is a terrible attempt at summarizing the past few weeks:

Marrakech & Amzimiz, Morocco
Whisked from the noise of Barcelona to the bustle of Marrakech. I don't speak Arabic. Rode camels, bartered for scarves, etc. etc. While in Mararkech, we spent time with Moroccan university students, who seemed excited to practice their English. That's one thing too: everywhere we go, everyone is trying to learn English. Realized how incredibly blessed we are to simply be born in an English-speaking country. Proof of how our lives are not necessarily up to us.

We had facilitated discussions with a professor of English and several other university students, about our perceptions of Islam and about their perceptions of the West. One of the first questions we were asked was "Why don't Americans like Muslims?" Most of us were speechless. I then remembered all of the heated comments and discussions that arose after September 11th, and for the most part, barely any of them referenced individuals as being responsible for the attacks — nearly everyone blamed Islam. How did we get there? When did we start thinking it was right to blame an entire group of people for something done by a few? The professor came prepared with handouts explaining the Koran and highlighting verses that specifically instruct Muslims not to commit violent acts. I was struck, not by the verses, but by the fact that he was so prepared to defend himself, his faith, and his people to us. Ready to defend himself. When was the last time you walked into a room ready to defend yourself against a group of people who you thought hated you? I admired his bravery and his willingness to show us what he believed. I also realized that he would most likely never have an opportunity like that if he were in the US. Land of the free, right.

The trip to Amzmiz was an entirely different experience. We stayed with a family in a village, where we didn't have running water, heat, or eating utensils (well, our host family eventually brought us spoons because we were such an embarrassment when we tried to use our hands and failed). I had never been to a developing country before — and I know everyone says this, and I can't blame them — my eyes were yanked open. What! The conditions in which these people lived made the Tenderloin look like a five-star resort; and the people that lived there seemed so much happier than most people I know in the States. Humbling, in several ways — and I was only there for four days. We take trips like this all the time, visiting developing countries, helping when we can, hoping something changes — and I realized that no matter how much time we spend there, we have an escape that they don't — we can always go home. We can always go back to the States. Even if we never do, we always have that option. I will never be humbled enough in that way.

Being there just reminded me how much we really need Jesus - how much more liberated and joyful we are in confronting our need, instead of denying it. How many of us chose to be born in the US? How many of us chose to be born with two arms, two legs, free of diseases? How many of us chose to have friends that love us? My guess is, none of us. Why do we waste so much time pretending to be self-sufficient, when we are anything but? Why do we take so much pride in doing things ourselves, when in the long run we do absolutely nothing alone? I struggle with this all the time — since I was little, I was always trying to prove to [in reality, no one because no one cares] someone, somewhere — that I can take care of myself. Who was/am I kidding? It was only when I stopped "leaning on my own understanding" and being like, "God - I can't do anything. Help!" that my perspective & heart changed. How can you attribute your entire world, your entire view and attitude about life, changing — how can you attribute that to anything but something that is BIGGER than this world? BIGGER than this life?

See? I ramble. But all with good intent, I hope.

Like I said, Morocco was eye-opening — and I say that warily, because I was there for four days — I can only imagine how grounding and humbling it would be to be there longer...

It was cool that our host sister shared many of the same interests with us. She told us about a crush she has on this boy, and that she wants to marry him and is really excited about her wedding. That's what I'm talking about, everybody! EVERYONE wants to fall in love, whether you live in the States or a small mountain village in Morocco. Love is pretty darn universal. :)

Sevilla & Granada
Was a really fantastic weekend, just filled with laughter and seeing an old friend that I haven't seen in in nearly two years or something. You know how it is, when you hang out with friends from high school, and you can't help but be a little (or a lot) like you were back then? It was cool to see him and remember who I was freshman year in college and realize that I might not even be friends with that girl now — but also, that some of the best parts of me (that sometimes only best friends can bring out :)) are still fully intact and kickin.

I feel silly & blessed.

I started this adventure with a solo trip to Madrid, Spain and I'm ending it with a solo trip to Rome, Italy.

I'm thinking of it as my weekend getaway with myself to relax, reflect, and adventure before the tumult and emotion of saying goodbye to the life I've made here begins... I really will miss this place.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Taking in as much Barcelona as I can these last couple of weeks.
Who knew these crowded city streets could be so beautiful?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quinoa Doppelkeks

My new favorite snack
Seeing as I'm on a tight budget, many of my lunches have consisted of mandarinas and my new favorite snack, Quinoa Doppelkeks, a quinoa-based chocolate cookie sandwich that I found in this random organic market in the Plaça Espanya. Yum. Probably not that healthy, but eating organic and eco-friendly foods always make me feel better.

Since it's midterm/finals season, and I've watched all the most recent episodes of Pretty Little Liars, I've had to find other methods of procrastination. I'm at the point in my life where I can trick myself into believing in my own productivity if I find something substantial to do, which as of late, has been looking into internships for the summer.

There are a variety of teaching programs for college students, but the one that I'd really like to do is the most sought-after internship of its kind in the nation (of course it is, sigh) — and it scares the poop out of me (figuratively!).

Here we go again, a set of "tell me about yourself" personal statements in which we must produce the perfect set of 500 words that will accurately represent our personalities, philosophies, dreams, and struggles, all to be filed into a grueling three-month-long process, passed through several sets of hands across several states, and finally culminate in rejection — or the scarier alternative... acceptance.

I'm not making this too dramatic, am I? I threw myself so willingly into the college name-game in high school that I'm hesitant to want something this badly again. So much for grace under pressure.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

We got spirit, yes we do -- we've got spirit, ¿y tú?

The school system here is different. Very, very different. Today Genevieve came to class with me to talk about tennis and the sports culture in America. One very big difference between our schools in the States and the schools in Spain is the array of extracurriculars offered. Here, some students play sports recreationally, some play music, some dance -- but hardly any of them do these activities with their classmates. For them, school is a building with classrooms. For us, school becomes our second home. As Genevieve and I began to explain why sports and other extracurriculars are so prevalent in American high schools, I began to realize how fortunate I have been to experience such a strong community base at such a young age.

Aaaand cue shameless bragging rights: my high school had more school spirit than any other high school I've encountered. Period. Even at leadership conferences, which by their very nature are filled with high schoolers trying to PROVE that their school has more spirit than others, our school has always been the loudest, the brightest, the most madly in love with this incredibly abstract concept of "school spirit" that we've inhaled since the first day of freshman year. At my school, we bled green and gold. We rallied, screamed, played pranks on rival schools, marched through the streets, all in the name of our fierce mascot leader - Otis, the Scot.

That's mah BOY!

Needless to say, we also won MaxPreps "Most Spirited School in the Nation" award in 2008.

You get the picture. We were spirited. We may not have had the best sports teams, or the highest grades, but man, could we get a crowd going. To this day, even having been to the big name sports games, I have never experienced anything like walking through the hallways during Homecoming Week, each student wired and sleep-deprived, anxious for Friday's big assembly. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the video.

Working in a high school here feels so odd. The hallway walls are bare, despite being a public school without uniforms I have yet to see any sports team clothing, any club sweatshirts, any sign of students belonging to a group that does something they love. I realized how much I miss it, and how important it is to have a vibrant community life beyond academics for students, especially at that age.

I write about this, by the way, beyond the perspective of a cheerleader; for the most part, honestly, it was through my other experiences in high school that I experienced this really diverse sense of community. In high school, working with the clubs that I did allowed me to see something very, very rare for teenagers; well, for people in general: people coming together -- being excited together -- despite their interests, backgrounds, preconceptions of the other. I know, could there be any more cheese in that statement? All jokes aside, I can't begin to describe how cool it was to see our class projects come together -- we had the class all-stars work on the skit, and the artistic kids work on the backdrop, other kids just came to help put the set together, and everyone did their part just belting their hearts out for the class songs. It was truly magnificent, how well we all just meshed, even when some of us could barely stand to be in the same room as the others.

Being on sports teams and being involved in clubs, and really experiencing school spirit teaches us to work beyond ourselves. Running with a team -- really running, together -- teaches us that our actions are hopelessly interlaced with those of the people around us. We are taught through school spirit that "man is not an island," that ideas really can bring people together, even something as intangible and transient as high school spirit. We are taught that when fighting for the same cause, when bleeding the same blood, our time, our effort, and our lives play irreplaceable roles in the world. We, in some ways, are taught to believe in magic.

And if not through love, we still shared a common ground with people who didn't want to cheer for our high school: we absolutely hated our rival school. :)

One girl asked, "How did you have time to do that many sports and do your homework?" I answered, "You're asking the wrong person... I didn't sleep in high school."

On that note, I'm off to my literature class, the one that sparked my last post. Despite feeling under the weather, I am determined to stay awake and attentive. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Food, in Valencia

From For Whom the Bell Tolls:

"We ate in pavilions on the sand. Pastries made of cooked and shredded fish and red and green peppers and small nuts like grains of rice. Pastries delicate and flaky and the fish of a richness that was incredible. Prawns fresh from the sea sprinkled with lime juice. They were pink and sweet and there were four bites to a prawn. Of those we ate many. Then we ate paella with fresh sea food, clams in their shells, mussels, crayfish, and small eels. Then we ate even smaller eels alone cooked in oil and as tiny as bean sprouts and curled in all directions and so tender they disappeared in the mouth without chewing. All the time drinking a white wine, cold, light, and good at thirty centimos the bottle. And for an end, melon. That is the home of the melon...

The melon of Castile is for self abuse. The melon of Valencia for eating. When I think of those melons long as one's arm, green like the sea and crisp and juicy to cut and sweeter than the early morning in summer. Aye, when I think of those smallest eels, tiny, delicate and in mounds on the plate. Also the beer in pitchers all through the afternoon, the beer sweating in its coldness in pitchers the size of water jugs."


- Hemingway

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Me, the Student, Teacher, Student-Teacher

Today I was confronted with two experiences that were both strikingly different and also, somewhat parallel. Still sorting out a sort of bombardment of thoughts that attacked me on the metro ride home...

Well first of all, today was the first day in which I taught three full lessons without any other teacher supervising or contributing. I've been anticipating this day for awhile now, and for once was eager to wake up at 6am and start the day by strapping on my newly-purchased "teacher shoes" and reviewing the day's lesson plan — a cultural lesson on Halloween customs, as well as a guided story-writing activity, and an opportunity for students to discuss their own customs around this time of the year.

The day went beautifully — all of the students laughed at my stupid jokes, and seemed to find everything I presented to them comical, if not enriching. And I've never seen a group of high-schoolers so excited about Mad Libs before. Some of my favorite moments occurred in the last group I taught — a class which is often the most difficult for me to teach; there are about ten boys and three girls in the group — and we veered off topic quite a bit, but our tangents led us to a really good discussion about education policy and The English Standard. It was also really rewarding to see one of the students, who had always struck me as someone who didn't care too much for school, fervently defend public education and its benefits. Really, really cool.

I took the metro from the high school to my own classes, pleased and warm from the morning's rewarding work, and couldn't stop thinking about how much I had underestimated the good nature of my students without realizing it. It's easy for them to goof off in class when I'm around, not just because of my inexperience and tendency to let things slide, but mainly because of my sheer inability to understand Catalan, allowing them the luxury of side chatter and "jokes behind the teacher's back" that I have no access to... but I'm seeing how quickly I have jumped into defense, without needing to... more on that later.

Switching gears, after work I put on my student hat and made my way to one of my favorite literature classes, a class in which I truly enjoy the reading we're assigned and look forward to attending. Like I have so often in my classes at my home university, and like I do so often during many random occasions (e.g. movies, lectures, bus rides), I fell asleep. I just fell asleep. I wasn't even bored! I just felt my eyelids getting heavier, and I gave in. Some people don't struggle with this, I know, but I can't explain enough how hard it is for me to fight my eyelids sometimes. I really, really can't. I have never fallen asleep in class on purpose, but clearly my body doesn't really care about my intentions. I just fell asleep. I woke up ten minutes later, as my professor had paused the movie we were watching, and like always, I felt the burn of the moment's shame creep up my neck and into my cheeks, my heart racing from the realization of my blunder. I will never get used to that feeling. Blech. I shuffled things around on my desk, took a drink from my water bottle, shoved a piece of gum in my mouth, twiddled my pen around and took notes feverishly — anything to stay awake and be attentive. It might seem foolish to try and garner sympathy for my own obvious neglect to let my body rest, but if you don't know me, you have to understand — I, and the rest of my family for that matter, probably have some mild case of narcolepsy/am making up for years of sleep debt that I've racked up since age 11. We just fall asleep. Everywhere. No idea why, can't help it, no matter how good our sleeping habits are during the week.

Needless to say, my professor pulled me aside after class and said, "Falling asleep in class is absolutely unacceptable. Absolutely." She spoke harshly, talking with her hands and making slicing motions in the air, adding emphasis to the second "absolutely." I hurriedly tried to mumble an apology, but she cut me off saying, "Next time, I will ask you to leave. It is completely disrespectful, and I will not tolerate this sort of behavior." Again, I tried to explain myself (which failed mostly because I don't have any real excuse other than that my body SUCKS), but she interjected saying, "Just do what you need to do. Drink coffee, get more sleep, whatever. You can go now."

I packed up my things and left as quickly as I should, and for some reason, felt the undeniable sting of tears swell behind my eyes. How ridiculous! Was I really going to cry about this? Professors at my university back home have commented on my sleeping habits before, and not once had I reacted as strongly as I was now! As the swell of emotion calmed, I realized why I had felt so offended. Keep in mind, that I am a words-person. I care about words. It was that word — disrespect — that wrecked me.

My professor had deemed me as disrespectful, a term that implied I didn't care about the class, I wasn't considerate enough, that I had been careless in my actions. Okay, I know, a tsunami of conclusions from one comment — but as a student, and a student who cares a great deal about that class, I felt helpless and misjudged. I care! I wanted to scream. I care about this class! I couldn't stand the idea of a professor that I'd respected so much thinking that I wasn't the least bit interested in the class. I made ten thousand mental notes to drink five shots of espresso before I ever enter that classroom again. Then, I made a note to never assume of my future students what was assumed of me today.

As a teacher of high school students, sometimes you're called upon to make certain disciplinary decisions, decisions that are intended to not only shape your students' behavior, but hopefully their character in the long run. The teacher's guidebook says that we should never tolerate behavior like sleeping in class, that it is (as my professor said) disrespectful and unacceptable. We should respond immediately and correct the behavior.

The Book that I try to live by, the one that says we must live in love, says that behavior doesn't matter nearly as much as identity.

When I think about it, the people in my life that have been the most influential, the people whose principles I want to live by, are the people who have believed the best of me, even if they haven't seen it. The friends and the family who have responded to my qualms by saying, "Joanne, you don't have to worry about that. I know who you are." Isn't that what we all want? For the best parts of us to be understood and known? For our identity to be prioritized before our behavior?

Translating this to the classroom, I hope to always make my students believe the best in themselves. This starts with me revising my disciplinary policy. I think I saw teaching in two camps — the teachers who are good with classroom management and the ones who aren't. I had always sorted myself into the latter, seeing as I usually run away from most conflict, and tend to put fun before productivity. I'm seeing now that there are ways to discipline without attacking the students' character, without embarrassing them, without making them feel guilty or less-admirable because of their behavior.

Rather, I hope that I can approach them with servitude first — assuming the best until proven otherwise, making sure they feel free and safe in the classroom before they feel threatened about "breaking rules." If a student falls asleep in class habitually (well, I can already relate to this one too well), I will not consider it as a move of disrespect, but first be concerned with how the hell they're doing. If they're not getting enough sleep at home, then something needs to change. God knows I needed someone in high school telling me to do less and sleep more. If a student is habitually late, or always disrupting class, I should be helping with the why before I hound them for the what.

The conversations I had with my students today proved that students really do rise to the challenge when it's presented to them. If I hold students to a certain standard, and make "good" classroom behavior and work performance as the norm, then "bad" classroom behavior is not a punishable act, but simply a deviation from the standard that might need to be improved. Reflecting on my own reaction to one of my teachers also taught me that there are better ways to teach than to simply "correct." As teachers, we must have servants' hearts. We must put the students first. After all, that's why we signed up for this whole gig, right?

So enough with the worrying about what I'm going to do in the classroom. I've got to shift focus to who is in the classroom. And also, drink more coffee on Tuesday/Thursdays.