Category Archives: About this Trip

Learning to Teach

So far, my volunteer work hasn’t begun. As planned, I am spending my first month here obtaining my TEFL certification so that I am more qualified to teach English. At this point, I’m officially half way through the certification course. I have class from 10:00-5:30 everyday, and our typical schedule is as follows: Grammar from 10:00-12:00, break, Phonology or Lexis from 12:30-2:00, Lunch from 2:00-3:00, and lesson planning and teaching practice from 3:00-5:30. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, Road2Argentina offers free English classes to the community from 4:00-5:30, and I am proud to say that I have already taught a four occasions!

Teachers who are TEFL certified learn how to teach English to students in a full immersion classroom. A full immersion class means that the teacher (in this case, me) only speaks English to the students, and does not permit them to revert back to their native language. Teaching a beginner or low-level class is especially difficult because learners struggle to understand basic English, let alone instructions in English. A constant battle for English teachers is keeping a balance between STT (Student Talk Time) and TTT (Teacher Talk Time). The teacher’s main job is to elicit the target language and grammar rules that are part of the lesson plan for that day. A skilled teacher would not say “To change a verb to the past tense, you usually add ‘ed’”, but would elicit various examples from students to demonstrate this pattern (and in a beginner class, explain what “past tense” is without using this jargon). Last week, I taught three 30-minute sessions to a low-level class, and then ended the week teaching a full hour to this same class. I was fairly nervous and dependent on my lesson plan the first two times I taught, but the past two times were far more natural, enjoyable, and rewarding. Teaching English as a Foreign Language is definitely an adventure and a skill that requires training and practice.

Today was one of my favorite classes so far because we took the afternoon to focus on the culture and politics of Argentina. Because the majority of people I will be teaching are Argentines (and besides the fact that I’m living here), it is crucial that I understand this culture and the country’s past, present, and future. As most of the world knows, Argentina’s economy just went into default again, and the national government (depending on who you talk to) ranges from being fairly corrupt to extremely corrupt. The next presidential elections are taking place in 2015, and because of Argentina’s current fragile state, this election is critical for the future of this country. In a 2-hour lecture of the political system, we barely scratched the surface of everything that’s going on here. A strike has been organized for the end of this month, and from what I’ve heard, the Union leader who organizes these strikes utilizes his power to shut down the entire country for a day.

The Casa Rosada ("Pink House") is Argentina's version of the White House.  This is where the president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, does most of her work.

The Casa Rosada (“Pink House”) is Argentina’s version of the White House. This is where the current President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, does most of her work. I took the Subway to see the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada this past Saturday.

Argentina is a developing country with incredible potential that has not yet been reached due to political corruption. I am intrigued by everything that is going on here politically and economically, and will certainly continue to post as I learn, understand, and experience more.

I’ve only been here two full weeks, and I can barely begin to express everything I have learned about teaching, learning, patience, and myself. It’s hard to imagine where I will be at the end of this journey, but it fills me with great joy to know that I am growing and learning everyday.

Adventure Awaits

It’s hard to believe that I leave for Buenos Aires one week from today.  Though this trip will last only 4 months, it’s been about 8 months in the making.  I want you to understand more about this trip and where I’m coming from, so here are some facts that might help you:

1. I graduated from Belmont a year early this past May.

2. I originally went to Belmont to study Classical Piano.

3. I graduated from Belmont as a Spanish major with a Religious Studies minor.

4. Eight months ago, I had no idea I would be graduating early.

So, some serious change has occurred in the past few months.  I remember the day I found out that I could graduate early.  I called my dad in a panic, saying “I’m not ready to graduate college!”, to which he responded, “You’re never going to feel ready, so you may as well do it now.”  Needless to say, I took his advice and donned my cap and gown on May 3, 2014.  I decided that with this extra year, I would have an adventure.  If you had asked me what that adventure might be, I never could have imagined that it would be what now lays before me.  When I tell people about my trip to Argentina, they usually respond with encouraging advice.  But no matter what they say, I always reply with, “Yeah, it’s going to be an adventure.”

That’s really all I know at this point.  I’ve never been to Argentina, I’ve never spoken Spanish with an Argentine accent, I haven’t met the family I will be living with for four months.  But instead of worry about all those details, I’m striving to be present every minute of every day.  Each moment that I will have these last seven days in Nashville will be just as precious as each moment that I will have in Argentina.  If there’s anything I’ve learned from my past year of unexpected change, it’s that there is a time and purpose for each season of life.  Rather than try to control what’s happening and create predictable outcomes, you can live your life.   Live where you are now, with the people you are surrounded by today, with the purpose you have been given to be alive this hour.

 

Schinkel, Schinkel, Little Star…

So much has happened already! Please excuse the jumbled mess of this post. My brain is still scrambled from all the things ive seen and learned the last few days.

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My first experience travelling overseas was....interesting.

I arrived at Jacksonville International Airport at 11 am. My flight did not leave until 2pm, so already, I would have a long wait. Then my flight was delayed almost 2 hours, meaning I would probably miss my connector flight- where I would meet up with Regine (German professor) and many of the students going on the trip. I didn’t really mind the long wait. Being alone in an airport is one of my favorite feelings; however, I was not excited about possibly having to wait a whole extra day before arriving in Berlin. Luckily, by the time I got my carryon and made it of the plane, I had 10 minutes to catch a shuttle to the terminal and find my gate. I made it with 5 minutes to spare.

The plane ride was interesting. I have never been on one that big before, or that showed movies. Unfortunately, this combined with my leftover anxiety about catching the flight, meant I would not sleep on the 7 hour plane ride. Jet-lag would get the best of me.

Being awake the whole flight also meant I was one of the only people awake when the plane flew over Ireland. I was SO excited. I wanted to look out the window SO bad, but I was afraid of waking up other passengers.

By the time we landed in Berlin, I was a zombie. I could not grasp that it was actually 8 in the morning- let alone that I was in a foreign country.

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We had a tour of Berlin. Our tour guide was fantastic and I learned a lot about Germany during the cold war. Im super excited to learn more history!

Also, its only been 3 days but I have learned so much of the language already. This is very surprising to me because I studied spanish for a long time and had some wonderful teachers but I never quite made it to an advanced level. I have always had trouble with languages- english included; but a few days here and I already know my numbers, days of the week, colors, how to conjugate some verbs, and some key phrases. For the first time, I feel like I can actually learn a language.

In my next post, I will hopefully be able to get more in depth with what actually happened my first couple days. For now, here are some photos:

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No Hay Mas Mangos

There are no more mangos.  When I first got here in September I was overwhelmed with the amount of available mangos. At the entrance to our neighborhood there is a stand where people sell mangos, flowers and avocados all the time.  It’s now November and they aren’t selling mangos anymore. There are avocados, flowers and papiya which isn’t as good. Mango is like sweet, orange marshmallows. That’s how it tastes to me. Now there are none.

I will be leaving in less than a month. In so many ways I have learned about myself and have changed, yet I feel a lot the same. I was looking at pictures on facebook from other mission experiences I’ve had.  Those experiences were brilliant. Each trip I’ve been on has brought its own experiences and lessons.  The same is true for here, but I feel like I’ve lived here. I have a home in the Dominican Republic and a family. The kids here know me. They have learned from me and I have learned from them. They have improved my Spanish and I have improved their English. The little girls were making pictures and writing stories underneath. So many of them wrote, “We love you Amber, don’t ever leave!” I nearly cried! This has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I hope in some I have left an imprint on them too!

If you didn’t know we were supposed to have a Hurricane hit us today. It’s been rainy, but nothing major. Hurrican Tomas has shifted and will now hit most of Haiti if anything. Really, how much more can Haiti take? So I had English class today and so many kids came. Kids that were in my class came and others that just wanted to hang out at the club out of the rain.  We had a great class and played some English/Spanish games. Oh, if Paulo Boero my old Spanish professor, could see me now! Afterwards it started to rain pretty hard so we decided we would take everyone home in the truck. It’s like a seven passenger vehicle, so we were going to see what we could do. We also had lots of the little kids with us and they can squeeze. After all was said and done there were diecesiete, 17, kids in the car! This sounds dangerous, but really it’s how the Dominican’s roll. As many people in a car as you can possibly fit. So we drove to Agua Negra/Playa Oeste and all sang Waka Waka as loud as we could. When we dropped them off everyone jumped out and gave hugs and kisses. It was a crazy wonderful car ride.

These are some of the things I’ll take home with me, maybe I’ll try to come back next mango season!

Glory Strength

Sometimes you think you can’t do things, and then you do.  Liz, the executive director,  recently went on a tour of the United States and the field director Melissa came here to hang out with me. There were two days difference between their comings and goings and my Dominican family helped take care or me. Ernistina is the director of the club, her sister Marlenis a teacher, and they have adopted me into their family.  Marlenis hung out with me for a couple days in between Liz and Melissa and the water went out.  I may have explained this before, but sometimes when the electricity goes out so does the water. When the electricity kicks back on usually all you have to do is prime the pump and water is restored. On day 1 of the drought I didn’t know how to prime the pump so I had to wait for an instructional email. I don’t know if you’ve ever been without water for any period of time but it makes doing anything difficult. When I got the email the next day I was so excited. I was at the club hanging out with the kids and everything was going great. Until I tripped over my computer chord.  We were listening to music with some of the older girls and I got up to go check on the other class. I tripped over my chord and my computer fell a foot to the ground. It landed on it’s side and I picked it up and everything seemed fine. We left for siesta time and I turned my computer off. When we got back I went to turn it on and it wasn’t working. I tried to do all these repair menu things and nothing worked. Then I lost it. No water, no computer, no one else to handle these problems. Also, you may or may not know, I don’t speak great Spanish or drive here which makes everything that much harder. Taking motos everywhere is fun and a little stressful at the same time. I got home and tried to prime the pump, but it didn’t work because the water tank was too low. I tried a few times and not even a trickle from the faucet. This is when I sat on the couch to evaluate my life. At this point you may be thinking, “Am, what’s the problem. These are fixable things, no big deal.” Here, like I said it’s harder, it seems like a big deal. My computer is my life line and I’m a hot sweaty mess; no water, no shower.  Anyway, back on the couch assesing the situation.  I was sitting here breathing and thinking and something a great friend said to me when I was in Jamaica came to mind. He was talking about glory strength. When you feel like, “That’s it, I have nothing left to give.” You find it. Inside yourself, the little bit left that God has given you to do what He has planned to get done. So, I’m thinking about that and how earlier in the day I had been telling my boyfriend about the water and he was telling me how many people in the country, or the world dodn’t have water, ever. I didn’t want to hear it at the time, but as I sat gathering my glory strength that was what I thought about. He was right. In Haiti people share wells. If you upset the person that owns the well or can’t pay the fee, you don’t have water. At the barrios we work in they use the dirty ocean port water or again share a well. Everyday is a struggle for water.  So, I got up and talked to my Dominican family and they called the water people for me. They were at the house the next day by noon, I primed the pump and water was restored for 400 pesos. Easy. I called, they came, filled the tank and done. In the barrios there is no tank to fill. We are blessed beyond belief.

Dulces!

Amber is a very hard name to say in Spanish. I’m not sure if I’ve told this to you or not, but it is! Sonya, one of the mom’s, calls me Dulce. This can me sweet, sweetie or candy. We had quite the talk about how calling me Candy could be misunderstood, but in the end decided it would be an ok Dominican nickname. Sonya’s daughter has sinse started calling me Dulces and so have some of the other kids. Even better though, is that many of the kids have learned my name. I was really apprehensive when I first got here that the kids weren’t going to like me. Beter to say, there have been so many volunteers here this past summer that maybe they just didn’t care to interact with me. However,

Where in the world am I going?

Amber in MexicoI will be in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic which is a coastal city in Hispaniola. In the DR I will be teaching English classes at a boys and girls after school program. I will also be working to do special projects in music and arts. There is a job skills program for some of the older children that helps to teach a trade that I will be a volunteer in. The orphanage I will be working at is across the border in Haiti. Since the destruction the number of orphaned children has sky rocketed and they need all the help they can get. At the orphanage I will get to play with and love on children as well as helping in any way I can there as a volunteer. Furthermore, for Dove Missions as a whole, I will be using my journalism skills to write press releases, shoot and edit videos, take photos, update all the orgs blogs and web-sites and any other media need they might have! I will be there from Sept 5 to Dec 3 living with the organizations founder Liz McKie and doing my best to learn and absorb the culture as much as possible!