Friday, March 6, 2009

Global Classrooms


This was an expression I repeated throughout the day on Wednesday, when 10 bilingual schools and 220 kids came together in Madrid for the Global Classrooms Model UN conference. Spanish students argued, discussed, and crafted a resolution about the best manner of fighting and preventing "Malaria, TB, and other infectious diseases" around the globe. 13 and 14 year olds, dressed in suits and dresses, acting as delegates from their respective countries, using problem solving skills and cooperating with people they had never met before to form solutions, all in a foreign language.

Feeling inspired? I am.

What I and and other TAs have learned this year is that the Spanish school system can tend to be a bit rigid. It is based more on memorization and tests than papers and activities. Problem solving skills and cooperation are not emphazised as much and you are evaluated in different ways. All in all it is a fairly stark contrast to the American school system. I've been the crazy American girl, therefore implementing group activities and creative thinking questions into the classrooms. This Global Classrooms exericise is great for the students, if only to improve their autonomy, letting them feel like they have accomplished something without having the teacher force feed it. Thinking outside of the box and not getting penalized for it.

There was an awards ceremony that day and I saw the faces of my kids drop as the awards went to students that had been there for two years already or who had a higher level of English. But, hopefully, they realize what an amazing thing they have accomplished.


When you think of European countries, is one of the first ones you think of Andorra? Ok, another question. Did you even know that there was a european country called Andorra? Well, if you did, you are much more worldly than most folks, including myself circa a couple of weeks ago. For those of you who are still stumped, let me give you a little insight into this beautiful, tiny country.

Andorra is located in the Pyrenees mountain range, and its main industry is tourism due to its winter sports and the fact that it is tax-free. Its total population is estimated around 80,000 people, and it is smushed between Spain and France. In fact, it's run peacefully by both Spain and France, and most inhabitants learn Catalan, French, and Spain from when they are teeny-tiny Andorrans is school.

I had the priviledge to go to Andorra for the Fulbright mid-year conference. We were treated extremely well, as we enjoyed the AVE train and chartered bus, a fancy hotel, and the company of ambassadors from different parts of the world. When you are used to traveling with only a backpack and sharing a hostel room with 6-8 other people, it can be a bit of a shock but also a treat to be standing in a multiple star hotel with plush bathrooms, chocolates on the pillows, and a pull-out couch. Luxury confronted my inner hippie and they dueled each other something fierce. In the end I decided that this was a fleeting weekend and that I should enjoy it while it lasts. Plus, it wasn't the point of the trip.

The weekend was about getting centered again, to remember why we were there. To remember who Senator J. William Fulbright was, that guy who helped start this scholarship that got me to Spain in the first place. Told from the perspective of one of his personal friends, Mr. Fulbright was a visionary, even in his old age. He had the simple philosophy "to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship." This is a gift that I've been given to be here, and I need to do everything in my power to give back. I don't know exactly what that means, but I am trying to figure it out.

During the extended weekend I got to experience lots of different things. We had a meeting with our respective groups (mine was with secondary TAs) and we talked about what we could do to make the program better for next year. We heard from researchers in the program who shined when talking about their respective projects ( everything from research on obesity to a documentary on immigration).

Mostly I just found out even more that this group of people is endlessly fascinating and inspiring. They are willing to share themselves and have helped me dig deeper to figure out who I am and who I want to be.
And, they're really fun to hang out and go out with as well. What more could you ask for?

Andorra is a hidden paradise in the middle of the mountains. Its landscape is stark, with the piercing white of the snow against dark trees and dirt where the snow has already melted. The sky is blue on sunny days and the whole valley glows with the reflection. Reds, yellows, and oranges are lacking. You come to Andorra to reflect, to relax, to cast your thoughts onto the mountains that hang above you and seem to touch the sky. While it was wonderful to reflect, I was ready to jump back into the colorful, crazy world of Madrid to gain more things to think about and to implement what I had learned.