Blog Challenge – What’s Your Story?

My sister Gina and I, both educators, made a big change in our lives – What’s Your Story?

I am very happy to announce my first ever blog challenge called: What’s Your Story?

After writing on my blog about my experience on moving to Switzerland after closing our school in Greece, my adjusting to a new country, new job(s) and a new life in general, I would love to hear your story! For me, writing about it was like a catharsis, revisiting a difficult time in my life, which turned out to be the best decision I have ever made!

If you decide to take part in the challenge, it can be about anything you consider important in your life or career, that has helped shape you as a person or educator. You can decide what to share!

  • Have you made a big move?
  • A career change?
  • Have you been teaching and living in a country for a long time, but have seen changes in yourself as a person, educator or both?
  • Are you thinking of a change in the future?

You can choose! If you have your own blog, post your story there and I will also add the link on my blog, on this post, if it is okay with you as well. If you do not have a blog, feel free to send me your post at vickyloras@yahoo.ca and I will post it on my blog! Or ask a friend who has a blog, anything you like.

Thanks for reading and I will be very happy to read your stories – as I am sure lots of people out there are too!

Posts on What’s Your Story:

  • Matt Ray writes on his blog: I woke up that morning screaming in pain, struggling to move my legs. No doubt, I put quite a fright into my parents who, in the midst of our summer vacation, were confronted with their 6-year old son suddenly being unable to walk. […]
  • Sue Annan writes her own story on her blog: When I left school I applied for the local Teacher Training College and was accepted. I was half way through the programme when… […]
  • Sharon Hartle has shared her wonderful video-post Where English Has Taken Me Now for the challenge.
  • Paco Gascon shares how he went through a dilemma in his post: The point is writing about some kind of turning point in our life and/or career, so, I’m going to tell you about how I had to decide – in a matter of hours – whether to take up (again) a career as a secondary education teacher or to stick to a juicy full time contract at a graphic design studio. […]
  • Read Tyson Seburn‘s post Turning Points in You Story: Do your colleagues know much about your language teaching background beyond a list of qualifications and positions of employment? Sharing where you began, your process of growth, and goals for the future can help inspire, foster and contribute to growth in members or your community, not to mention build a connection to individuals where there may have been little before. I hope sharing mine supports one of these. […]
  • Read Lesley‘s post for the challenge: I’m going to tell the story about how I came to be an English language teacher. The last thing I thought I’d be when I was at school was a teacher.  Being a librarian was probably the second last thing.  But I’ve been both! […]
  • Tinashe Blanchet has written This Is My Story: In response to Vicky Loras’ “What’s your Story?” challenge , I am posting a little of my personal story this morning in hopes that it will shed further light on why I do what I do. […] I grew up on the west side of Chicago as the only child of a single mother. There were many issues between my mom and me, especially as I got older and began to test boundaries. […]
  • Tuba Bauhofer explains how she learned a third language and how much it influenced her life in her post Bilinguality and Literacy by Manjula Datta: I read this book when I was doing my research for the assignment I had to write in my course. I liked how the writer referred to her own language learning experience as a foreigner in the UK. […]
  • Faisal Shamali recounts a story of a student of his in his post Finally I Did It: My name is Musallum. I was in level One in FPU. I studied Speaking course with Mr. Faisal. I want to tell you about my story clearly and honestly. […]
  • Tara Benwell has submitted a super video post about her story: How she has developed a great learning community on My English Club!
  • Read Janet Bianchini‘s beautiful and moving story The Abbruzzo Dream – My Story: Worlds apart yet a destiny foretold. My blood is 100% from Abruzzo, my heart is 100% British. Two countries forever intertwined from the moment of my birth. […]
  • Read Luiz Reikdal‘s post of how his teaching and life changed through the use of technology: […] Since November last year I started using and testing technology myself. That was breathtaking…by just visualizing the potentiaIity of Web 2.0 in the classroom. […]
  • Fiona Price from England has written her beautiful story as well: My Story: […] It was back in 1977, in the days of the Magic Bus, which involved a very long and extremely exhausting three-day coach trip to Athens with an overnight stop-over in Austria. […]
  • Lu Bodeman from Brazil writes about her story: How she got into teaching and her beautiful multicultural background: […] Well, I stumbled into the English language teaching profession, really. I never took formal language lessons, but discovered early in life (7 years old) how languages and culture would be important in my life. […]
  • Naomi Epstein writes about the time she immigrated from the States to Israel, an eleven-year-old girl: […] I was able to identify with her story of immigration as I moved to Israel from the United States when I was eleven years old. […]
  • Arjana Blazic writes about her transformation as an educator: […] Do I lead such an amazing life? Do I have such a story? I’ve never lived anywhere else but in Croatia. I’ve never done anything else but teach. I’m not thinking about a change in the future… […]
  • Vicky Saumell writes about how she transformed into a full-time teacher: First of all, I want to be straightforward about the content of this post: it is not about technology. So I want to apologize in advance to my techie audience but I have wanted to write about this for a while and this is the best space for it, anyway. […]
  • Işıl Boy  writes her story originally written for Dave Dodgson‘s great blog: First, I want to thank my dear course mate Dave for offering me to write a guest post on his insightful blog. We are both doing our master’s at the University of Manchester, Educational Technology and TESOL. […]
  • Liam Dunphy takes us on a trip around the world with his beautiful story: […] I grew up in Dun Laoghaire, a pretty seaside port town on the south side of Ireland’s capital city, Dublin. […]
  • James Taylor celebrates his blogoversary and tells us his great story: […] I studied Media Studies, specifically television production, at university. I studied it because I was, and still am, an avid consumer of the media and the arts. […]
  • Mieke Kenis recounts her beautiful story of her love for teaching and England: […] My story is a long one, as I have been teaching for 31 years but it’s a simple story as teaching is all I have ever done. I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. […]
  • Dave Dodgson tells us his very interesting story:  […] Over the last few weeks, I have thought a lot about what to write – the story of how and why I decided to enter the world of TEFL in the first place, what me me come to and stay in Turkey, how I ended up teaching kids, when I started to see this as my career and not just a way to live abroad or pay the bills…. […]
  • Brad Patterson, a very good friend in France, has published his photo-blog story: Beautiful post and pictures! : Imagine a pilgrimage… where you trekked for month after month… and each step took you somewhere you’d never been before… […]
  • Wiktor Kostrzewski writes his wonderful journey through English on his blog: […] It’s late in the evening. We’re sitting in the kitchen, my Dad and I. We’re going through the first few pages of my first English textbook. My Dad asks a question, and I think long and hard before giving an answer. “Yes,” he says, surprised. “That’s not what the answer key says, but that’s also possible.” […]
  • Ana Luisa Lozano writes her beautiful Ecuadorean story on her blog: […] It has been a long learning and teaching path  since 1998, wonderful time in which  I have had the opportunity to teach  English to  Primary, Secondary and University students. […]
  • Ann Loseva from Moscow writes her inspiring story – and gives us all a lot of inspiration and strength: […] How have I become the teacher I am, the personality I think I am? Well, it does look to me like a pretty tough question to tackle. Many things have been happening shaping my teaching style and affecting my personality. […]
  • Fiona Mauchline writes her story in parts and she has offered to add them to the blog challenge – parts of her childhood, parts of her life… The Art of Being Different Part One, The Art of Being Different Part Two, The Art of Being Different Part Three.

How to lead students to do international cultural exchange, where are the resources and lesson planning – An #ELTChat Summary

Close-up of gondolier, by Chiew Pang (@AClilToClimb) - @eltpics

Last Wednesday’s evening session of #ELTChat focused on what a lot of educators (including myself) consider to be an important element to teach – leading students to international cultural exchange – and how to plan for these lessons and find resources.

The material that came out of this ELTChat is so useful for educators who wish to incorporate culture in their language teaching.

First of all, Marisa Constantinedes, @Marisa_C made a point of asking us to define culture. The answers that came up were:

  • Sharon Noseley (@shaznosel) came up with this nice and short definition: Culture – traditions/politeness/formal language.
  • I mentioned that culture is interacting with people from other countries, in combination with the students΄own cultures and what they can learn from each other.
  • James Taylor (@theteacherjames) : Culture is set of customs & beliefs that roughly represent the society you come from.

The ways we came up with connecting our students with others worldwide are:

  • Sharon Hartle (@hartle) mentioned that in their tandem project, two students from different countries teach each other with help from advisers, then write up summaries of their experience.
  • Wiktor Kostrzewski (@Wiktor_K) has sed this idea: A warmer he did for his British Culture Uni class was: 1. “Show me what’s in your bag.” 2. “Now tell me what this stuff says about you.” He added that he was thinking of getting groups to take photos of a “corner” of their houses that tells their story.
  • I mentioned that with our school in Greece, some kids had the opportunity to visit Canada and meet other kids from everywhere around the world.
  • Sandy Millin (@sandymillin) said that encouraging students to ask questions about each others’ cultures in multilingual classes are always the most motivating.
  • Shaun Wilden (@ShaunWilden) made a very important point that today technology is a very important tool in integrating culture in language teaching.
  • An idea I use with my adults is that they do Powerpoint presentations about their countries, the the rest ask them questions and develop into nice conversations.

Marisa then posed the question if the coursebooks and materials we use integrate culture well with the language we teach. Berni Wall @rliberni said that it depends on the context. Marisa mentioned that she finds the majority of coursebooks a bit British-centred and I added that sometimes they also fall into stereotyping.

Traditional soft toys from Myanmar, by Cherry Philipose (@cherrymp) - @eltpics

Ideas that were shared about how teachers actually brought their students into contact with other cultures were:

With so many ideas on how to include international cultural exchange in your classroom, all we can say is have fun by having various cultures in your language teaching! Students always benefit from this, linguistically and culturally.

Word of the Week and Other Ideas for Business English Classes – My Workshop for the ETAS SIG Day, September 17, 2011

My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English teacher, born in Toronto, Canada but of Greek descent. I have been living here in Switzerland for two years and I absolutely love my work and life here. What I like the most about my teaching here is that I have a lot of business people that I teach, be it in banks, companies, and so on. I find it very interesting to learn new terms and things about the business world – you see, I learn alongside them as well.

  • I find it great that I can do numerous activities with them to help them in their learning process. One of our favourite activities which will start off my talk is Word of the Week. I came up with this idea coincidentally, as one day we were talking about unusual words in English with the bankers that I teach. Words that are relatively new to the English dictionary, compound words that we have heard and sound newish and suddenly at that moment, it hit me: find a way, that I can incorporate them into the lessons, because I saw how interested they were and the great conversation they got out of it. Thinking about it, I decided to make it the start of the lesson. I would present it as Word of the Week (since I see them only once a week) and see how it goes. I explained to them in the next lesson what the purpose of that activity would be – they did not have to remember all these words, we would simply use them as a foundation for developing conversation. They were very open to it and I can tell you, ever since we started it, they absolutely love it! I see that even when they leave the lesson, they go and tell their colleagues about these words in English, and they even continue their conversations in their offices!

Let me show you with a simple word how I do it – and then you can up the ante and use more complex words, depending on the students´ level. The one I am about to show you is for pre-intermediate classes or intermediate – I have used it with all levels, however!

This is what I always put up on the board before the students come in - it builds up suspense!
Then I try to give them hints – for this one I would say: “What do you usually do in the summer or when you have time off? ” “We go on holiday”, would most probably be their answer. So then I tell them to look for another word that means the same. If they do come up with the word vacation, then I write it underneath the Word of the Week as a clue to help them.
When they find the hint, I add it underneath the Word of the Week
Then I ask them to put their thinking caps on and think of a word that means a holiday for only one day. After some playing with words, they usually come up with the correct answer – daycation!
Ta-dam! The Word of the Week has been found and will lead to great discussions in class - and outside!
As I mentioned earlier, the point is not for them to remember all of these words – and you will see that they remember the vast majority, because they are playful and catchy words, because they try to use them in sentences in the next lessons and there has been so much conversation going on about them that the words just stay with them. Coincidentally, the day before my presentation I had my last lesson with a group of IT experts form a bank. They had prepared the most beautiful card – including some words of the week they had learned! I absolutely love what they did and the fact that they sat down and thought up of the whole text, makes me think that they took a lot out of our lessons and Word of the Week! Here is the card (which I have asked for permission to publish as part of my presentation): The point is that one single word can spark such a big conversation, can unlock the students and their potentials – they just start talking, and the language we get out of it is unbelievable! This is our absolute favourite.

  • Another activity we do is called difficult situations or Crisis! I have taken thi idea form Paul Emmerson and Nick Hamilton’s book Five-Minute Business English Activities. I present them with potential problems in their work and have them discuss a course of action in twos or threes – when they have it ready and planned, then they discuss the way they would solve the problem and come up with potential solutions. Through this activity they learn how to use language to negotiate (as they might not always agree on a common course of action) and use expressions like I think, I believe that the best course of action would be… and of course practice their Conditionals (I have a great love for Conditionals and try to get them in there any way I can!) – If we did this, this would happen….If we had done this, this would not have happened… The only thing we should be cautious with in this activity is not to touch any sensitive issues that might stress them, or any topics we know they might have a problem with. It can be for instance something like this: informing my IT students that the new system they installed is having a few problems, so they have been told by their line manager that they have to work over the weekend to fix it and what they would do in this case. Sometimes I go out of the room and pretend to be a partner or colleague of theirs who comes into the room and shouts Crisis! This and this happened. So it kind of prepares the atmosphere and the ground, let´s say, for this activity. It also depends on the culture of the students. Perhaps their culture is not so expressive so actually coming into a classroom shouting Crisis! is not the best idea.
  • If you have Business English students who make presentations, then you might find it useful for them to give you an actual presentation as part of the lesson. It can be something they have done for their work (but there you have to vouch for confidentiality – some teachers even sign an agreement of confidentiality that no information will leave the room) or a presentation on anything. Some of my bankers use vaious ideas to present – a few of them presented their countries, along with Powerpoint slides, or bike races – it can be even something as simple as that and the language you get out of it is absolutely amazing. What I do there is I sit with the rest of the students while one of them is presenting and keep notes, of great things they have said or of mistakes they have made. I then present the mistakes altogether if I know they will feel uncomfortable. It all depends on the learners.
  • I also practice telephone conversations with them – but because our classroom does not connect via intercom with another, what we do is we turn our chairs and backs to one another and pretend we are phoning each other – turning our backs, so that the other person cannot see facial expressions and so cannot anticipate what the call is about.

Here is my slideshow for the presentation:

Interview with Timo Ilomäki

It is a great honour to have Timo Ilomaki on my blog. He is an educator and student counselor from Finland and Coordinator of Entrepreneurship and Social Media Network. He also writes a very interesting blog on the use of technology in education http://educationtechnology-theoryandpractice.blogspot.com/ Timo is very active on Twitter and is one of the people who started #finnedchat, a weekly discussion on Finnish education. He and his partner Aki Puustinen are doing amazing things for education, so stay tuned and follow them on Twitter and their blogs!

Kiitos, Timo!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

#MoreThan140 – Meet Sue Annan

Get to know more about Sue Annan, a fantastic teacher of English as a Foreign Language and teacher trainer, who lives on Jersey Island, an island between England and France. Sue talks about her work, social media and music…enjoy her interview!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

To receive updates about other “More than 140″ interviews, make sure you follow Matt Ray (@mrmatthewray) and Vicky Loras (@vickyloras), follow the hashtag #MoreThan140 and watch this blog.

My Contribution to Eva Büyüksimkeşyan’s Blog Carnival #24 – Warmers and Fillers

Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, English teacher and good friend!

I am delighted to be asked to take part in the 24th Blog Carnival on Warmers and Fillers for the first days back at school, hosted by Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, an English teacher based in Istanbul, and since last November, a dear friend! Eva teaches at Esayan High School and does a lot of great projects with her students. She also collaborates internationally with other teachers around the world. Eva writes the most amazing posts on her blog, A Journey in TEFL. Thanks so much for this opportunity, Eva!

I am very happy to teach English as a Foreign Language both to children and adults. I enjoy working with both age groups and in this post I will share my ideas, which I hope you will find useful and like! I try to come up with new activities every year, but these are our favourites and as an educator, I see that they help both children and adults make a great start to their lessons.

Young Learners:

  • As I like to incorporate culture in my classes and I am fortunate to have multicultural classes, I begin by asking them where they are from and if they can tell us a greeting in their language, sing a small song or tell us a small poem or rhyme. For the reason that on first days young learners can be very shy, I start by demonstrating the task myself! That can help the kids a lot and keep the activity going.
  • We make posters on A3 paper. They can write their name, if they are able to, and around it make little drawings of things they like, their families, their hobbies and so on. When they are finished, they can make a small presentation to the whole class so we can all get to know them!
  • My name is Vicky and I like basketball! We can all sit down in a circle and take turns, rolling a ball or giving each other a stuffed toy and introduce ourselves – our names and our favourite thing or activity. That way they can hear each other and learn names – perhaps even find out common things they like!

Adult Learners:

  • Incorporating culture again, I make a little introduction of myself (My name is Vicky Loras, I was born in Canada of Greek parents and I am an English teacher) – it welcomes them to the first lesson and they can feel more comfortable. They can even start asking me or even better each other questions. Plus, they like this small talk for the first lesson – we can start talking stock markets and hedge funds in the following lessons!
  • Then taking some questions from a book I absolutely adore, Cambridge Business English Activities, we start talking (culture is in here too and the questions can lead to some interesting and sometimes funny discussions!). This kind of discussion loosens them up in the first lesson, because they can be nervous as well and serves as a great introduction to fantastic lessons to follow. The questions are of the kind: If you were at a reception, would you take the last piece of cake? or Do you work on a problem by analysing it or using your instinct? or How would you react if a colleague got the job you wanted? and so on.
  • What I have noticed is that they love talking about their work and working environment, their position in the company and perhaps what they did before, so I just let them talk to us about it. If they are from the same company, they can fill in for each other when they remember something, so everyone gets a chance to talk – or if they have not see each other before, they can learn more about the people in their class.

I hope these tips have helped you. Stay tuned to Eva’s blog to read great ideas form other educators who are also taking part in the Blog Carnival. Thank you for reading!

Number Fourteen – Build An Ideal Classroom Culture – The 30 Goals Challenge

An ideal classroom culture is achieved when everyone enjoys being there! (Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics, taken by Adam Simpson, @yearinthelifeof)

The fourteenth goal is, in my opinion, a very strong foundation for the rest of the goals to materialise. An ideal classroom culture has been successfully created when:

– Students feel comfortable in their classroom and view it as a place where they love to learn.

– Educators and students co-operate and see each other as members of a great learning team.

– Parents and caregivers are welcome to come in and visit at times, in order to enjoy the great learning atmosphere.

– There is mutual respect and everyone is valued.

– Students do not leave immediately when the lesson is over, but enjoy staying at school and working on their school material or helping each other. (Sometimes they even stay after school to help the teacher tidy up the classroom, which is very nice and reflects the atmosphere of helping and co-operation!)

– Educators feel comfortable in their classrooms, love what is happening there, that they even go there on weekends or stay longer after school (as long as they don’t overdo it!).

The Key to Education by George Couros

Part of the Couros Family (from left to right): Alec, Mary, Mario and George
I am very happy that a great educator from Canada, George Couros, has written a beautiful post for my blog. George is a principal in a K-6 school in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. Thank you so much, George!

My name is George and I am a principal. Just writing this statement is almost hilarious, and if you ever talked to any of my former principals, they would probably be pulling their hair out knowing at who is at the source of this statement. The funny thing is, what I thought was once a horrible job, I now know is one that is absolutely amazing. I know that I have the opportunity to not only influence children within my school, but I also have the opportunity to influence the people that have the greatest impact on the lives of these children; their teachers.

Teachers absolutely have the biggest impact on the lives of a child, whether it is positive or negative. A child will have the opportunity to either excel in life directly because of a teacher, but sometimes in spite of a teacher. My job is to ensure that I work with my staff to create an environment that does not become the latter.

A little about me, I am the baby in a family of 2 brothers and 1 sister who have very powerful and energetic personalities. When I share with people that I am the shy one in the family, I do not know if they are in shock or fear, as I must say I do have a very outgoing personality as well. My parents, both Greek immigrants, are the major influence that I am in the position I am in today. Looking at their impact, it is very different than a traditional route that many educators may have faced.

As children in Greece, education was something that was not out of necessity for my parents, but was a luxury that was afforded to only some families. My father was only able to attend grade 2 as a student since he had lived in a country that was torn by political ideologies and was embroiled in a civil war. My mother had far surpassed many women of her generation and actually was able to attend grade 6 before she was pulled out of school. Eventually, they both immigrated to Canada and met in the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where they married.

As I grew up and saw many of my Greek friends persuaded to continue the family business, the importance of education was continuously reinforced by my parents. They did not want us working long hours in a restaurant, and wanted to ensure that, although they loved their jobs, we would be in professions that would afford us a little more time to spend with family. Between my 3 siblings and myself, there are 9 degrees, 2 of which are masters degrees, and one a doctorate by my brother Alec. It was an expectation from our parents that we would all go to university, and they worked extremely hard to ensure that we all had that opportunity. My brother and I both work in the field of education and are extremely passionate about our jobs, and hope that we can inspire a spark in others as well.

What my parents do not realize though is that with all of our formal education, they taught my brother and I (along with my siblings outside the world of education) something that was much more beneficial to our profession than any book or Web 2.0 site. They taught us the importance of caring and respect. You see, my parents owned a restaurant in the small town we grew up in that was very popular. When I was younger, it was ALWAYS extremely busy and my parents never seemed to have a quiet moment to themselves. What I had always assumed when I was younger was that because of the quality of food that my parents had made, people continuously would return. As I grew older, I know that this was only part of it.

Looking back on how my parents treated every single person as if they were the most important person in the world, was something that I see was unique. My dad would often come out of the kitchen and talk to customers, sit with them, and learn so much about them. My mom, who was the hostess for my entire life, always had something wonderful to say about the people that came in, and I never forget how engaged she was in their stories that they would share about their families. What my parents had created was not only a successful restaurant, but an atmosphere where people felt warm and welcomed. They would continuously come back to visit my parents, not for the food, but because they felt they were a part of the Greek family. Although my mom and dad had worked many long hours, they always treated people with kindness, caring and respect. Eventually my parents sold the restaurant, and although all of the recipes and meals were the same, it quickly closed after they had left the business. This tells me it was more than the food that had lured people to sit in this little Greek restaurant in the middle of Humboldt, Saskatchewan.

As a principal now, what do I want to help to create? Do I want a literary factory where students can spew out amazing information, but have no heart or soul? Or do I want a school where people are valued and cared about? Not only students, but staff and parents as well. I know that when you came to see my parents at the restaurant, they didn’t just make you feel like you were the most important person in the world, but you WERE the most important person in their world. There was nothing forged or fake in their treatment of you, they just loved people and they cared about you. If I can help to build an environment where people are happy to see each other, and feel that no matter where they come from, then I will be successful. The funny thing is that my parents have come out to the school and cooked for my staff this year. They are two people that you are forced to hug as you feel that you have known them your whole lives and now you are in their home (no matter where the location is). They welcome you and love you no matter who you are, and how could you not love that back?

Before formal education can occur, there has to be a trust that the individual is cared for and appreciated. Building that relationship is the key to the success of all that take part in schools, and I did not learn that from a professor in a classroom in an education class, but from my mom and dad a long time prior. If I could help create the same magically caring environment in my school that my parents did in their little restaurant, I will have been a great success.

Vicky’s Note: Shortly after, George started his own blog called The Principal of Change, where he still writes great posts on education.

I Don’t Want To Say It, Sir!

My story comes from about twenty-two years ago…

I was about eight when my family decided to move to Greece from Canada. I remember not taking it very well, but there was nothing I could do about it. When I first saw the school I was going to attend, I saw this old, gray, stone-built construction. “This is your new school!” my mom said enthusiastically. I thought it was an old church the way it looked.

So school started and apart from the occasional teasing I got from classmates about my broken Greek accent (which has been rectified now, even though some friends of mine say that there still are English sounds in my Greek!), I liked school. I remember having a wonderful teacher, a very open-minded gentleman who taught us not only to the subjects but also values which would accompany us later as well.

When there were national days, our school (and all Greek schools) organized celebrations during which students recited poems, performed skits which were about the respective historical event that had happened on that day in the past and some teachers made long-winded speeches about how the Greeks had resisted any invaders and come out unscathed through the centuries. So, the 25th of March which is a national day in Greece arrived. Our class was to stage a performance of the women of the period who had helped that day. My teacher thought it would be a good idea for me to have the starring role in the play, as he thought it would also give me confidence in my spoken Greek.

The Entrance to The University of Istanbul

So the teacher gave us our scripts. Reading through it the first time at home, I found something very disturbing. I did not tell my parents but decided to directly tell the teacher. There was a line in my script which I thought (and was really) quite offensive to Turkish people (and in a children’s play!). I remember it to this day and it is not worth remembering, or mentioning, for that matter.

The first rehearsal came. When I had to deliver the horrible line, I got a lump in my throat and stopped. My teacher thought I had forgotten what I wanted to say and whispered it out. I still did not say it. The teacher, a very kind and caring gentleman as I said earlier, took me aside and thought I had a case of stage-fright. “Don’t worry”, he said. “You are doing very well and your Greek has improved a lot!” The moment of truth had arrived. “Well sir…” I said a bit hesitantly. “It is about that line.” “What line?” he said. “The one that says something bad about the Turks”, I answered and I remember how frightened I was that he would scold me or even throw me out of the play; I was quite proud to be the star, I must admit and was happy about the confidence he had in me to perform in front of other people in Greek! In addition to that, I felt terrible about delivering such a line. “Well”, he said, “don’t worry. It is an expression they used to use back then and we all know you do not mean it. Let’s try it again tomorrow.”

I went home crying after that (scaring the daylights out of my mom who thought who knows what happened at school). After my parents coaxed me into telling them what had happened, I finally told them: “I don’t want to go back to that school again.” They were still asking me why, because I was not telling them. Finally I blurted out: “Because they are making fun of the Turks at that school!” (It took them a lot of persuasion to get me to go back the next day, telling me not to worry and always to remember that everyone is equal no matter where they are from.) Next day: rehearsal number two. The time of the dreaded line arrives again and this time I break into tears in front of everyone and I remember raising my hand and saying: “I don’t want to say it!” (This time certain that my teacher would be furious with me and tell me to leave the school play. But I was determined not to let this pass – a tough little eight-year-old!). My (very patient and kind) teacher took me aside again and told me he would leave out that line altogether and I would just say the rest. My first little victory against negative comments against other countries!

Thankfully incidents like this have disappeared from schools today. Or so I hope.

Ataküle Tower in Ankara (Taken from flickr.com)

I see this now in my teaching. No child is too young to grasp notions like this. Kids understand and they know what is fair and unfair. For this reason, to all teachers, please do not hesitate talking to children about issues of multiculturalism and racism and diversity and so on. Please do not think that they might not understand. Their minds are fresh to accept new ideas and to understand that people are different and it is okay to be different. They will both accept other people and will feel more comfortable about who they are at the same time. The classroom is a place where this can be implemented but first of all children’s primary education must be based on these humanitarian notions. It is the best kind of education they can get.

Note: When I wrote this post, I was not out to criticise the specific system, as I think that unfortunately in many educational systems in the world notions like these are perpetuated. It is just an example of such notions. My teacher demonstrated that he chose not to do so. We can all do the same and show our students the beauty of being different – the beauty of all cultures.

Dealing with Challenges in Another Culture

 

A great view of Zurich

 

When working or traveling abroad, we should take into consideration that every country has its own cultural elements, differences and diversity. We should stand from an objective view to look at all these newly found things and get rid of any ethnocentric behavior we may have, that our country is superior to others that are not similar to ours. Every country has its own beauty, which is reflected through its culture and mentality.

Of course, we may all have our challenging moments when abroad. For instance, three years ago when I was traveling to Canada, I had to get off on an in-between stop in Frankfurt. As I do not speak any German, except for very basic words, I said Good morning in German to the airport official and then I switched to English, in order to ask for the restrooms. As soon as he heard me speak English, he made a sweeping movement with his hand as to brush me away and sent me to somebody else, speaking to me abruptly in German at the same time. I felt very frustrated at the moment and rather upset. Just then I remembered what my Greek-German aunt had told me: that a lot of German people refuse to speak in another language apart from their own. (Well, the specific official could have been a little more polite – but that was a matter of personality and not a generalization about all German people!) Even though I felt rather perplexed and uncomfortable at the time of the incident, later on contemplating on it I thought that Germans feel very proud of their culture, which is a positive thing. However, it would be good on everybody’s behalf, regardless of where they are, to be a bit more flexible with people who have no knowledge of their language.

To tell the truth, I mostly felt disappointed with myself for not having learned some more useful phrases beforehand which might have been of some assistance to me then and shown respect to the people of the country I was in. This is something I did before visiting a German-speaking part of Switzerland (specifically Zürich) for the first time and the locals appreciated it deeply. Now that I live in Switzerland, I am trying to learn German (and Swiss German as well!). I consider it as a sign of respect to the people who have welcomed me and additionally it helps give me an understanding of the people and the culture.

In fact, this would be a good preparation in order for someone to adjust more easily in a new country when going there to work and live. Considering learning the language of the country you are about to spend a period of time in is a great decision which also shows your respect to the people and their culture. The people will appreciate it very much as well. Another good step would be to learn about the cuisine of the country and what alternatives one can eat daily, in case the food is too spicy or too heavy in contrast with one’s own cuisine. Reading up on the history of the country we are about to visit is great in order to understand the people’s origins and mentality, as well as communicating with people who have lived there or visited the specific country to share experiences.

Concerning our own origin and our countries, it is great to know the history of our country, speak the language properly and know about the culture. All this is good, as long as we do not become ethnocentric. It is negative towards other people and their cultures to think that our own countries are superior to others, for the reason that first of all, there is no such thing as the best country in the world and the richest culture. Each country is uniquely beautiful, with its language and culture. People with ethnocentric behaviors have difficulty relating to other cultures, as they are so negative towards learning about them. In addition, people with an ethnocentric behavior create negative impressions to others and the country they come from as well. It is good to know who we are and where we come from, but when we come into contact with other cultures it is nice to have an open mind and tolerance to diversity.