Archives For teaching

Coloring Book Academy

January 15, 2013 — 3 Comments

I studied finance at Fordham. When I started University I was in the College of Business Administration; during my senior year we became the Gabelli School of Business, thanks to a major contribution by Mario Gabelli. During my four years there I had a lot of internship experience and I got an offer from a top bank to work as a credit analyst post graduation.

Now I am teaching nursery rhymes and coloring. My classmates studying liberal arts didn’t call the College of Business Administration the Coloring Book Academy for nothing.

Life is good great. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world right now.

20130110-130956.jpg

20130111-132728.jpg

20130111-132749.jpg

Trinco Town

November 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

Last Monday I arrived at Sarvodaya’s headquarters in Moratuwa. I had been staying with a few other Fulbrighters who rented a house in Colombo, and I had enjoyed a great weekend strolling about town. I was all packed, and my car arrived at eight in the morning. When I was going to put on my chacos (quite comfortable sandals), I noticed a huntsman spider blending in on the bed of my shoe. I recoiled as it ran off, in a state of shock. After chasing it towards the door, my driver whacked it with a broom and killed it.

What a start to the week.

It was about a 45-minute drive outside of Colombo, and when I arrived I was shown to a hostel before going for the obligatory cup of milk tea. The first day I spent most of the morning reading in my room, waiting for a few people to get out of meetings.

After lunch, I was shown around the campus, and introduced to many of the organization’s key people – from the acting director to the founder. Sarvodaya is a large scale NGO; their operations include all of those things you’d expect an NGO to do: education, orphanages, peace training, microfinance, disaster preparedness, and many others. They are also involved in some surprising enterprises: furniture manufacturing, printing presses, and a meditation center. As the largest NGO in Sri Lanka, they are involved in many projects.

On Wednesday I was able to hitch a ride to Trinco with Shanti Sena, the peace-training arm of Sarvodaya. They were conducting a three-day session, training youths in inter-religious cooperation.

A ride out to Trinco takes covers about 270km (170 miles) and takes about seven hours (the mathematically inclined will note that’s a speed of about 25 miles per hour). The condition of the roads is poor, and they wind across the mountains. During the drive out one of the workers asked me why I choose Trinco; he proceeded to tell me that he hates the town, as there isn’t much to do outside of work. My expectations were dampened, to say the least.

The Sarvodaya District Center in Trincomalee is among the newest of their facilities. It was reconstructed with donations from countries and NGO’s across the world, following the 2004 Tsunami. For three days I sat through workshops – conducted primarily in Sinhala and Tamil – with participants from all religious groups in Sri Lanka. While I missed a great deal of the specifics, in general the sessions were meant to showcase the similarities between the religious groups. It was fun, but a bit perplexing at times when I had no idea what was occurring.

On Saturday I spent several hours walking through Trinco, taking in the sites of the town. It was about a half an hour walk from Sarvodaya’s center to Trinco town, and along the walk was a military checkpoint. Trinco is home to both the Air Force and Naval Academies. The military presence in this city is extensive, as the final months of the war were fought in this region. The town itself is quiet, and almost pastoral. Cows leisurely stroll along the main avenues in town, and an axis deer has made its home in the bus depot. There is one supermarket at the heart of town, but many small-scale shops. Trinco has many beautiful Hindu temples, they’re scattered across town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, after an early breakfast, the District Coordinator of Sarvodaya invited me to a USAID event. I asked him if it would be in English, and if other Americans would be present. He assured me that representatives from USAID would be there, and it would be in all of the languages of Sri Lanka (Sinhala, Tamil, and English). I eagerly ran upstairs to throw on a button down shirt, and head to the truck. We arrived, and I quickly realized that I would act as the USAID representative. In fact there would be no English, but instead Tamil speakers would display their Sinhalese skills and vice-versa. It was quite funny, to say the least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the event, a German friend and I strolled down the street. I was inquiring at guesthouses about long-term rentals – to no avail. We stumbled across Chaaya Blu, an upscale western hotel. Stepping into the lobby of the hotel was like entering another country. The beaches on this stretch of land were immaculate, and everyone suddenly spoke English. We were ushered to the pool and seaside restaurant, and sat down for a cocktail and some sautéed cashew nuts. It was lovely, but this is not the Sri Lanka I have come to know over the past month and a half. While I was sipping on my gin fizz, I was suddenly stuck by thoughts the remains of buildings from the tsunami just up the beach. Westerners coming to this part of Sri Lanka can visit and remain woefully ignorant to the complexities of a country that was torn by war for nearly three decades. One of my fellow Fulbrighters wrote a great article on the ethics of tourism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I started teaching classes, and I was in for a number of surprises.

For five days a week I will be teaching three classes for an hour each, in addition to this I am working with the staff on their English skills (most of the staff speak on Tamil, and limited Sinhalese and English). I had woefully overestimated the English competency of my students, and had to immediately tone down the lessons. My first class was teaching a group of 28 seamstress students, and they were giggling the entire time. While they are all about my age, the maturity gap is huge, we come form different backgrounds – and I’m fortunate to benefit from the best university system in the world.

In my second class I was becoming frustrated during the first fifteen minutes as two in a class of six remained silent and would not join in with the class. When their teacher returned and started signing to them I quickly realized that they were hearing and speaking impaired… I started writing out instructions, and then they got with the program. The boys were much less shy around me than my earlier class.

My last class was with a group of girls studying to become preschool teachers. I had a lot of fun with them, but they got through my lessons much quicker than others. So I had to break out Cat In The Hat, which I don’t believe they really understood all that well.

All in all, my students loved to see pictures of my family and friends. They were amused by the pictures of my cousins and I at Christmas, and perplexed by pictures of snowboarding. Teaching this year will surely be a challenge, but I look forward to it.

 

Oh, and I’ve started to get a serious sandal tan here, along with a lot of bug bites.

 

What’s a Fulbright?

August 31, 2012 — Leave a comment

When I tell people I’ve received a Fulbright there has been two common responses:

  • Congratulations! That’s awesome, where are you going?
  • What’s a Fulbright?

The latter is more common than the former, which is quite surprising to me. So here is my attempt to answer what the Fulbright is, and I’ll try to answer this question again once I’ve completed my grant.

What is it?

The Fulbright is America’s premier international exchange program. Every year hundreds of Americans go abroad to research, learn, and teach English, and citizens of other countries come to America to do the same. It’s soft diplomacy at its finest, and the primary aim of the program is to increase mutual understanding between Americans and other nations’ citizens.

What do Fulbrighters do? 

Essentially, the Fulbright program offers two types of grants, teaching and learning. The fellowship allows both recent graduates and scholars to travel abroad to conduct research, it also sends recent graduates to teach English and scholars to teach in their field of expertise. There are grants available for Graduate School, and to learn critical languages. There’s even a grant in conjunction with MTV to research music.

Where do Fulbrighters go?

The Fulbright program operates in over 155 countries across the world. To date, more than 307,000 Fulbrights have been awarded.

Why is it called the Fulbright?

The program is named after Senator William J. Fulbright, who introduced legislation in 1946 to create this program.

How is it funded?

In it’s inception, in 1945, the program was funded by the sale of U.S. military assets after the end of the second world war. The U.S. government forgave the debts of foreign nations in exchange for funding this international exchange program (this offers some insight as to why there are so many grants for Germany).

The program cost more than $323.3 million in 2010, and its primary funding source is an appropriation from Congress; though host countries contribute to the funding of this program as well.

How do you get one?

There is an extensive application process for the Fulbright program, and I will only speak to the English Teaching Assistantships – as that is the grant I received. During my junior year at Fordham, I was in China, so my application process was a bit different than others. In the second semester I had a few Skype meetings with Fordham’s Office of Prestigious Fellowships, and I began narrowing down the countries I wanted to apply for. There are many tips for various components of the application, let me know if you have any questions.

I began narrowing down the countries where ETAs are granted. As I’m not fluent in Spanish, South America was out. I have a strong interest in emerging markets and economic development, so I wasn’t too keen on applying to a country in Europe. So that pretty much left Africa and Asia.

At this point I went nation by nation and narrowed down the nations I was most interested in to Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. ETAs are not granted in China, save for Hong Kong and Macau. Why these countries you might ask? It was some combination of cultural intrique, economic prospects, transitory factors, and gut feeling.

I eventually settled on Sri Lanka as the country to which I was going to apply, and I spent that summer writing my applications essays. When applying to an ETA you have to write two essays, and are limited to one page per essay. One essay, your Statement of General Purpose is where you answer the following questions:

  • Why do you wish to undertake an ETA opportunity?
  • Why are you applying to this specific country?
  • What do you bring to the classroom that will enrich the learning experience of English language learners overseas?
  • What specific ideas do you have for engaging with students and helping them to learn English?
  • What specific qualifications, training, or experiences do you have to prepare you to serve as an ETA?
  • How do you expect to benefit from the assignment?
  • What plans do you have for civic engagement outside the classroom?
The Personal Statement is where you explain who you are and what makes you a good fit for this program, and to be a representative of America abroad.
By October of my senior year at Fordham I had submitted these two essays, three letters of recommendation, and my academic transcripts. A few weeks later I was interviewed by a board of advisors at Fordham.
Around January I received an email telling me I had made the second, and final round of consideration for the grant. But it wasn’t until April that I was actually awarded the Grant. At that point I had to make a decision, take a job in banking (for which I had signed a contract in November) or take the Fulbright. It was a tough decision, but I’m glad to be pursuing the Fulbright!

What have Fulbrighters gone on to do?

  • 10 Fulbright alumni have been elected to the United States Congress
  • 43 Fulbright alumni from eleven countries are recipients of the Nobel Prize
  • 60 Fulbright alumni are recipients of the Pulitzer Prize
  • 22 Fulbright alumni are recipients of MacArthur Foundation “genius” awards
  • 14 Fulbright alumni are recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Many have gone on to reach the highest ranks of government and business; this includes:

 

I just found out that my placement in Trincomalle has been approved by the Sarvodaya district coordinator!

During my first month in Sri Lanka I will be in Colombo for language training and program orientation. During this time the Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission has arranged for myself and the four other English Teaching Assistants to live in a house together.

After the month I will go to the Sarvodaya headquarters for a week of orientation at the NGO.

During my time in Trinco I will be responsible for teaching english for 20 hours a week. My primary teaching responsibility will be with the ‘Youth in Transition’ program.

Sarvodaya’s Youth in Transition program provides vocational training to young Sri Lankans with a focus on war-affected youth and ex-combatants. 6 months of classroom training, 2 months on the job training, then connects them with micro-loans and equipment. Students also receive psycho-social support and participate in multi-cultural exchange programs.

If there is not enough of a demand for English classes through this program I will establish classes within the community for anyone who would like to improve their skills. Outside of teaching English I am really excited for the opportunity to work with this NGO. Depending on the programs in place in Tirnco I hope to work with SEEDS, the microfinance arm of Sarvodaya, or Fusion, a program which seeks to improve access to technology in rural areas.

Many graduates of the Youth In Transition end up receiving loans through the SEEDS program, so there may be some opportunities there.

The Sword (කඩුව)

August 2, 2012 — 1 Comment

Sri Lanka has free tertiary education, but only two percent of students are accepted to university. As a generalization, those accepted to University have excellent English skills; those lacking proficiency in English can be held back and prevented from going abroad on scholarships and grants.

The history of English in Sri Lanka is long and complex. During my orientation I had the chance to meet the gentleman who is the Director of the U.S.-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission – Tissa. He is a gentle, soft-spoken, retired English literature professor. One day at lunch he told my fellow Fulbrighters and I, “We have destroyed the foundation of English teaching because of stupid political mistakes, because of nationalism and ‘equality’”.

He continued to tell us that the Sinhala word for English is a metaphor for the word ‘sword’ (කඩුව, Kaduwa). It is a weapon of those who speak it to repress those who do not. I recently read an op-ed in the Sri Lankan Sunday Times which stated:

The privileged classes will learn an international variety of English and will be able to maintain their higher position in society permanently. The underprivileged classes who are being taught a local variety of English will be further disadvantaged. Those who will stand to benefit, will be the elite.

As an English Teaching Assistant, I will be sharpening that sword, in a sense. While I’ll be working through an NGO, teaching English at a community center, I need to be cognizant of the political and social implications of English in Sri Lanka.

English is a powerful tool, and it enables developing countries to improve their relations with the global economy. There is a profound need for English teaching in Sri Lanka, but I need to be constantly aware of the way that I teach English – so I don’t inadvertently criticize Sinhala.

I’m not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into, but I am excited for the challenges which lay ahead.

 

I recently came across a great report by the Economist Intelligence Unit – Fostering innovation-led clusters: A review of leading global practices.

This report focuses on what government can do to drive innovation within their economy, and how best they can work with the private sector. Below are some of my takeaways from the report:

  • Talent is the most important aspect of innovation – and government should focus on providing quality education
  • Governments are successful when they promote a culture of innovation
  • Specialized clusters work best, especially when they can compete
  • Accelerate the natural entrepreneurship model
  • Governments can realize success just by hosting networking events for corporate executives and government leaders – this is a low cost high reward initiative

 

One interesting focus of this report was “top-down or bottom-up”? Essentially the questions asked was are clusters better when they’re led by the government or led by the market? There are compelling arguments for both, from Silicon Valley (top-down) to Silicon Fen (bottom-up). Both areas feature world class universities, government funded research, and ample amounts of private financial capital. It seems to me that these clusters require much work between the public and private sectors.

As I prepare myself for a year in Sri Lanka, I have been researching their innovation community. There is not much on the web, as this nation is still at the early stages of economic development. Private companies, such as Microsoft  are hosting innovation competitions.  Microsoft’s Software for the 21st Century competition has invested $1.5mm over the past four years in Sri Lanka to raise their national standard of education. This is a long term strategic bet on Sri Lanka as a knowledge center.

While the Government, through the National Science Foundation and its Universities, are providing grants to encourage local innovation.

I’m quite excited to get  on the ground and learn more about whats going on in this quickly developing economy.

Economic development should not just be seen as a way to increase monetary wealth. It is a tool to foster political and social stability. A recent paper by the Council on Foreign Relations argues this. I haven’t read the full paper yet, but there is a great synopsis from the author on HBR’s Blog. Creating these innovation clusters should not just be a matter of national economic policy for individual countries, but a matter of foreign policy for all developed nations.

 

It’s amazing how I’ve forgotten my learning. I don’t know what I didn’t know, which makes teaching much harder – be it English or otherwise.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon when training others at work. I expect it will be much harder teaching English overseas, because I wasn’t cognizant of the fact that I was learning as I came to speak English.

I try to be conscious of this, but how does it effect the education system? Is this something teachers are taught to deal with?

It’s something organizations should give some thought to, as they bring new members on their team.

The week long orientation for Fulbright ETAs to Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia provided me with an overview of what the next year of my life will look like. For those of you unfamiliar with the program you can reference the transcript of Secretary Clinton’s welcome address to the Fulbright Program:

Every year 8,000 scholarly exchanges are made between 155 countries and America. There is a network of 300,000 Fulbrights, since the program’s inception.

When I accepted my grant I knew only that I’d be moving to Sri Lanka for nine months of my life to teach English. This orientation went a long way to reassuring me about this chapter of my life. Ambassador Ronald McMullen opened the orientation with his nine keys to preparing for life in a new country:

  1. Language – learning a few key phrases can go a long way towards gaining acceptance
  2. Incumbent – when going into a new office move around furniture to give people a visual reminder of the change
  3. Books – read one novel about the country and one guidebook
  4. Music – music is universal, learning some of the most popular songs in the country you’re traveling too will help you adjust
  5. Maps – getting a sense of where in the world you’re going is hugely invaluable
  6. Food – make sure to prep your stomach to the challenges which may be ahead
  7. Security – let the local Embassy know where you’ll be, so they can alert you to any potential developments
  8. School – learn about the local schools, the universities people attend
  9. Sports – sports are universal, but you should learn the local sports (be it curling, cricket, or soccer)

 

The rest of the conference was split between networking with Fulbright Alumni and the Sri Lankan Fulbright Commission and sessions preparing us to teach English.

Most of the Fulbrighters were told where in the country they would be placed. While I have yet to find out my physical location, however I did find out that I’ve been placed with Sarvodaya – the largest NGO in Sri Lanka.

It was a pleasure meeting my counterparts who will be teaching in countries across the world. In general, they were among the most thoughtful and worldly people I’ve ever met. I had a great time getting to know them over the course of a week, and I look forward to seeing some of them in Nepal for the Fulbright ETA conference in November.

20120625-165520.jpg

A picture from the Fulbright dinner cruise – June 21, 2012