Sow. Cultivate. Bloom.

An online journal of an uprooted life.

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

This is my life. No pinching required.

Whilst chatting with a friend back home today, it hit me.  My life is pretty amazing.  Not in a rub it in your face type of way but in a hugely full of gratitude way.  Now that I am over the hump of culture shock and working on settling in, I was just taken aback today by it all.

I am carving out a life I think I always dreamt of…that I thought other people had, but not me.  For many years, I harbored the deep dark illness that I didn’t deserve to be happy.  My job was to make everyone around me happy, in some bizarre twist of psyche, thinking it would make me happy, too.  But thems the breaks.

Though this gratitude gives me joy, it doesn’t mean I go around being so friggin’ mellow and happy all the time. Life still happens.  But every now and then retrospect catches in my throat.

I’ve had the privilege to live in Japan, Scotland and now Costa Rica.  I’ve had the privilege of traveling to many different States, Canada, Japan, The Philippines, Korea, Scotland, England, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, The Czech Republic, Turkey, the Princes’ Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Black Rock City, Nevada.  And to some of these places more than once!

I’ve dared wear leather pants in London, danced til’ the wee hours in Paris, been welcomed into Parisian homes, been mistaken for being Parisian, had high tea in a castle in Scotland, had Scotch in Scotland, worked on a farm in Scotland, watched fireworks from a cemetery in the Italian countryside, met my long-lost family on a small street in Germany, looked out on fields and fields of sunflowers, gazed upon the stars drinking red wine in a pool in Italy, eaten fresh cheese in the Alps, rock climbed in the Alps, eaten the best baklava of my life in Istanbul…the list goes on.

As I sit and I sweat, I see the beauty of a life full of intention, chance and second, third and infinite opportunities to build and rebuild.

This is my life.  No pinching required.


Teachers Without Borders

Through a recent post on the ole’ Facebook, I learned about an organization called Teachers Without Borders.  A very interesting concept made possible by the web.

Check it out!  Professional development courses for free or low prices.

Second Week Reflections

I just finished mapping out my first week of school!  I am feeling quite accomplished and happy.  This is a wholly different feeling than I have had beginning other school years.  I am much more calm and confident.  Well…for now at least.

A couple of years ago I learned I am a person/teacher who has to start projects/lessons/planning long before most people.  It isn’t to show other people up but rather the process I have to go through to feel ready.  Sussing out every detail is a time-consuming process for me and in teaching, the devils are most certainly in the details.   It pains me so much to hear big wig business people or non educators pontificate about how anybody can be a teacher.  I don’t doubt that with the proper training and practice anyone could be a teacher but it is an art and a science.

It requires a person to think big picture but break it down, to consider the impact of a certain teaching move, to consider what questions to ask to illicit a certain response, when to ask them, how to ask them, how to read a group, how to get to know kids, how to revise a lesson mid stream, how to know when to scrape one altogether all while trying to stay calm and collected.  It is, at best, a hell of a job.

This second week of professional development highlighted a lot of the aforementioned skills that a person needs in order to teach.  This week it became crystal clear to me that either I am an overachiever or that I had the luxury of very good pre-service teacher education and professional development.  The idea of planning procedures and lessons appears to be a rather new concept to a lot of the Costa Rican teachers here.  Whereas for me these things are old hat.  My mind has been throughly blown that some of them had never even seen a lesson plan template.  0_O

No joke.

This has me thinking a lot about how in the States we compare how our students do on standardized tests to those from other countries.  Supposedly the kids from the States are big failures compared to the rest of the world.  But I’d like to counter that with an observation.  It may be that our students do not compare with students around the world because we don’t teach them the same way.  It seems silly to say that because shouldn’t it be obvious?!

I’ve thought this before,  but it really brings home the idea, now that I am seeing the level of training that teachers have here.  The public school system here is all rote learning. Teachers hold all the knowledge and dispense it to the students.

The public school system in the States, from my experience, is anything but.  We are pushing out students to think hard, to analyze, draw conclusions and independently problem solve.  In essence, we are teaching our kids to be thinkers.  Unfortunately as NCLB has gained a foothold in the public school psyche, are we also producing more rote learners?  What are the implications of rote learning vs. learning to think?  Feels like comparing apples to oranges.

Although I may have been bored out of my ever-loving mind (this teacher makes the worst student!), I am really curious to see how or if with new ideas about learning/new tools my Costa Rican colleagues will or will not change.




Let Me Tell You A Little Story…

about trying to find an ob gyn in a foreign land.  Those too embarassed by their lady bits or bodies or reading about mine, need stop reading now.

It all began about three weeks ago.  It was a wonderful beautiful sunny day like most here, except something was awry.  Things down south weren’t feeling or smelling good.  In early December I had to take amoxcillan for a supposed intestinal parasite infection contracted  from my travels in Haiti.

Prior to being a teacher, barely an antiboitic passed my lips.  In four short years, I’ve made short order of far too many an antibiotic.  You name it, I got it. Staph? Check!  Strep throat 3x? Check! Laryingitis 2x? Check! Sinus infections? Check!  Thank goodness for modern medicine and the beauty of antibiotics but with their usage come side effects.  And one or more of these can lead to lady bit secondary infections.  And led, they have.  I started popping probiotics like candy.  It got to the point where I just had to call my doc and say “Itching, burning in lady bits” and the next pill to combat the secondary infection would show up like magic at the pharmacy for me.

Being in a foreign land and finding things isn’t exactly the science that it was in los Estados Unidos.  Probiotics are like some sweet mystery I can’t seem to solve nor find.  The ones I did find and took were wait for it…yeast based.  So let’s think about this for a second, shall we?

Antibiotics + hot weather + lady bits + yeast based probiotics + upset of natural flora and fauna.  This is what the kids would term a fail.

I took the probiotics I could find, the yeast based ones, when I was taking this round of antibiotics but they didn’t do the job.  Three weeks ago, things went awry.  I’d finished the antibiotics and probiotics and was happy to be feeling a little less wiped out.   Much to my chagrin, I started showing signs of bacterial vaginosis.  After frequent thoughts of “Oh shit, this is not fun. Oh shit this is gross! Oh man, what the hell am I going to do now?” crossed my mind, I made the mistake of googling my symptoms.

This is generally never a good idea.  *cue crazed running around the house with flailing arms*

Seeing as my close girlfriends are 5000 miles away, I felt at a loss.  Maybe I was just imaging things to be worse than they were? Maybe it would go away on its own?  Hahahahahahahah, right.  So I put in a request to the only people I really know.  My bosses (and also my friends, at this point).

Can you say AWKWARD?

They are wonderful people and helpful people so of course they were willing to help.    They got someone they know looking for an English speaking ob gyn.  Having to explain my symptoms through a translator (most likely either my woman boss or a woman colleague who is basically a stranger) was my idea of the seventh level of hell.  Mortification central.

One of the tell tale signs of this type of infection is a certain foul odor described in the literature as “fishy.”  Luckily I’d been able to “talk” to two of my most trusted girlfriend back home and they were more blunt about the whole matter.  Both had exeperienced this before and assured me it was really no big deal.  It was really nice to realize I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t being irrational and that it could be taken care of by antibiotics and a visit to an ob gyn.  Let’s get something straight–all these things are readily available, easy to find and ultimately no big deal in the States.  Around here, it is not exactly so straight foward.  Plus did I mention that part about not speaking the best Spanish?

At this point, a week had gone by with no available English speaking ob gyn, me feeling increasingly physically uncomfortable and mentally near mortification.  Things in this foreign land never move fast.

It occured to me that there was an English speaking farmacia up the road that I’d had luck  with when getting ready for my trip to Haiti.  I spent an hour searching online for their phone number.  Finally I found it and called, only to find out they don’t have an actual clinic there.  Cue time ticking and me coming up on my first week of work in 6 months, thus limiting my availability for setting up an appt.

I’d gently reminded/poked my bosses who are VERY busy people but still there wasn’t any English speaking ob gyn to be found.  Cue more googling and more horrification.

Work began and I approached my one colleague also from the States.  I have found that naturally people seem to ask, in response to “I need to see an ob gyn,” with “What for?”  Uhhhhh, ummmm, cue me turning various shades of red.  Luckily my colleague didn’t leave me feeling mortified, reassured me she understood where I was coming from and armed me with the glorious number of an English speaking ob gyn.  Cue Hallelujah chorus here.

Given that it was a work day, I didn’t have time to call at any time of the day so I enlisted the help of another colleague, a native Spanish speaker who is the national director of the school, to call and set up an appt.  Naturally she asked “What for?”  Me: “Uhhhh ummmm…” Her: “I get it, it is personal.”  I went back to work feeling relieved and finally on my way to a solution.  Clearly the joke was on me.  The national director talked to me after work and proceeded to tell me that this person was unavailable because she was moving to…wait for it…the United States!  Back to square one.

At this point my level for humility and being embarassed had surpassed all expectation and I was  done trying to be prideful.   I needed the help.  We agreed she could call a Spanish speaking ob gyn, she’d drive me and translate for me.   That same day I drove up to the farmacia where the doctor speaks perfect English and spilled my ever-loving guts.  I came home with $80 worth of antibiotics and a sense of relief.

The next day I was told my appoitment was all set up, we had a plan and my pride was completely swallowed.  Yesterday, the day of the appt (now two weeks into this debacle), I was told that the clinic had called to cancel the appointment and reschceduled for Monday.


Luckily the antibiotics are working, I feel much better and likely don’t need the appointment after all.  Looking back over the last 3 or so weeks, I’ve come to one conclusion.  All there is left to do is laugh, laugh and laugh some more.

And this, kids, is the story of trying to find an ob gyn in a foreign land.




First Week Reflections

Today marks the end of my first week back at work.  Things are much much different from my previous experience.  For one, I am working in a MUCH smaller school and secondly, a different culture.This week was professional development focused in on philosophy, teaching character traits, classroom rules and procedures.

It was refreshing that we spent most the week planning and talking about classroom management.  I’ve been able to discern quite a few things from observing and reflecting.  It is nice to be in a school that believes and supports using the first 3-4 weeks to go heavy on management and light on academics.  It was always SO hard for me to balance the demands of getting right into the academics with setting up classroom management.  I never quite figured out how to balance the two in my previous job and felt that my classroom management was not very good because I didn’t have adequate time to teach it.

It feels wonderful to have some pressure off with permission and support to try to teach in a way I’ve believed  for a while.  The goal of the first month of school is to get the classroom procedures and expectations solidified.  Academics will follow.  This is, I think, a view that is given a lot of lip service in the States but rarely adhered to because of the high pressure NCLB demands.  Or maybe it is a cultural thing?

A lot of this week felt slow and repetitive for me.  It isn’t nice to say that but the truth isn’t always nice.  Almost everything we addressed or talked about I’ve thought about for years and am still thinking about.  It is not that I have learned all I need to learn…far from it, but it was realllllyyyy surprising to me that a lot of the topics we covered were new to the Costa Rican teachers.    Doesn’t every teacher think about procedures prior to the school year?  I know I didn’t always think about them, and still am not the best at it, but I had a clear understanding that these are the types of things that make or break a classroom.

Ultimately what the week felt like was trying to shift people to a new paradigm of teaching.  One which I am very familiar with and employ.  So it has been fascinating and perplexing to see/figure out how you get teachers to essentially change their thinking/practices without insulting them.  I guess it isn’t all that different from what I left the States for…it is just in a different developmental stage.

Then, considering a specific cultural context, how do you shift paradigms?   This week I found out that disagreeing or showing any sort of conflict is not a culturally kosher thing to do here.  Apparently avoiding conflict is of utmost importance in this culture.  And let’s face it, I came across as a loud mouthed gringa.

So if you have a culture of creating as little waves as possible…the task of changing paradigms has GOT to be much harder.  Best practices are, come to find out, not universal.

Though at times I was bored out of my mind, I was able to stop and appreciate the training I’ve had and see other teachers learning and growing.  It was a nice week of highlighting what we do know and how to be more strategic and organized in employing it.  It was really rewarding to hear my Costa Rican colleagues be appreciative of the time we spent together.  And I am also much more organized and solid in my thinking because of the time given and allowed to hone it.





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