Monday, 28 October 2013

Inspire Me!

A teacher's profession is one of the most rewarding where you are making a difference in a child's life and affecting it so profoundly. But sometimes one forgets that fact. As a teacher you have to constantly think on your toes, be creative, innovative, find solutions to problems with the available resources, excel your people management skills(because I always say, managing a class of 40 kids is much more challenging than managing a team of corporate employees), inspire, motivate, change lives, grab and keep their attention. It makes you want to strive to be a better person because you set an example for so many students. 

Ah, there are days when you come back home, all exhausted, with a splitting head ache and your voice mute. That's when you need to remind yourself why you signed up to do this in the first place. My recent classroom experiences made me wanna do this post about the list of my favorite Teacher movies which never fail to make me want to take on even a Friday as if it were a Monday! So here goes. I bet you'll get goosebumps after watching these trailers whether you are a teacher or not! 

1. Dead Poets Society: I don't know how Robbin Williams does it every time! I would've liked Good Will Hunting to be on this list too but it was up against some tough ones.

2. Freedom Writers: The first time I saw this movie, I was in school. It was one of those movies which leave you speechless after watching because you are just so moved. It left me quiet and pensive for about an hour after watching it.

3. Dangerous minds: This reminds me so much of my classrooms here. Its exactly the same. The students are rebellious. Don't listen. Hold hands in my class! always try and act funny.

4. Tare Zameen Par: This one just had to be on the list! An excellent example of the education system in India. But more than that it sensitizes people on the topic of inclusive education and the real role of a teacher in a classroom.

5. To sir with love: This movie is another one of my favorites and got tied with Mr.Hollands Opus. The only reason the other one didn't make it was because its too long, but a recommended watch. 

A special mention to The School of Rock \m/ and The Ron Clark Story(This one is a little cheesy for my taste but Mathew Perry is just so darn cute! =D ) Please feel free to comment below with your favorite teacher movies. 

Rich School, Poor School

When you move to a new country you are bound to have a culture shock; even if you always thought of yourself as the most open and broad minded person in the world. Coming from India and being placed in one of more affluent schools here in Colombia, took me a while to wrap my hands around the culture here. It was not that difficult an adjustment because I imagine the opposite being more difficult to adjust to i.e. if someone had to come work in India with Affordable Private Schools.

To start with, I had never worked with a rich school before and with my background of working mostly in the development sector prior to this, pure capitalism came as a pleasant surprise to me. Air conditioned teacher lounges with WiFi, class rooms with projectors, four basketball courts and a mini football field give me little reason to complain. I always felt like for me changing the world for the good, could be achieved through a non profit organisation wearing a Khadi Kurta and a Desi Jhola, until my tryst with Social Enterprise. And now working with a for-profit has left me feeling differently. Whats next? Working with a Multi National? :O

Living the stark contrast of struggling to make ends meet with limited resources back in India to having multimedia tools at your disposal, adds so much perspective to things. And if like me, you think all these resources make teaching extremely easy, you are sadly mistaken. The biggest challenge is not cash flow but lack of discipline and rebellious teenagers.

The challenge in India was to make the students (specially the girls) overcome their shyness, open up and take part in the activities to make them more confident. Here it is the exact opposite. The students won't take part in the activities because they are too "cool" for it. Students in India need to be told exactly what to do and feel lost without constant instructions. Here, each and every one of them has bags of personality and they openly flaunt it. Fourteen year old's have tattoos and make the choice of having something that permanent on their body forever. Teenage boys are extremely into gym-ing and hold up the colombian reputation of Latin men as smooth takers. On one of my first few days at school, an overly confident teenager gave me a cheek kiss after our first conversation, leaving me dumb struck, as it is tradition here.

They constantly use cell phones in classroom and don't even get me started about the teenage couples holding hands and making out in the middle of the ground and the corridors, pairing up and sitting extremely close in classrooms making it awkward for me while I'm trying to teach. No wonder teenage pregnancy is one of the biggest concerns in the country. They sure do not have a problem with PDA. While in India the students fear and dread the teachers; students and teachers are friends here. Students are comfortable to openly show their sexuality and other students are more accepting of the homosexual ones, which is great to see. They do have their share of bullies through. If the students crossed a teacher's path in my school they'd just fold their hands, put their head down and walk away; here they high five and first bump the teacher and hang around to catch up on which level they finished on their favorite Xbox game.

Sports is given so much importance along with musical instrument practices. It was a delight to see an all women football tournament and to see women equality. The kids are also spoiled with an average pocket money of about 30.000 pesos a month because they are always sipping on soda pops even in the middle of class. So their attitudes in class reminds me of movies like dangerous minds and freedom writers, and I totally feel like their lead protagonist with the big challenge of keeping their attention in class!

My school here has a reputation of not being too academically oriented. Every day is such a fiesta! Especially now since we are closer to the end of the year. No two days are similar and there is always something fun and new happening around here. Variety IS the spice of life! :) 

Friday, 11 October 2013


Ten things you instantly notice about Colombia as an Indian :

1. They just love their dogs here. Walking on the streets here is like walking the sets of Beverly Hills Chihuahuas. There are so many dogs, it feels like everyone has a dog and its even true. When I asked my class how many of them had pets with the show of hands, about 80% of them raised their hands and many had 2-4 of them. I live in a house with two dogs and two cats myself. Even the airports are filled with dogs. When I first arrived I was waiting for my baggage and people were waiting for their dogs because they fly with their dogs. The main street in the town by the river, more like a stream that flows through the town, has people skateboarding, roller blading and biking with their dogs all sundays. For me, coming for India where walking your dog is all about keeping your dog away from other dogs, the most surprising part was how some of them walk their dogs without a leash and all dogs play together in a  "dog park"! I can't stress enough on the number of dogs here. Also, they clean up after their dogs which is an alien concept in India.

2. People here never get old. They are so young at heart and so full of life. Like my host family grandma was chugging Aguardiante(the national alcoholic drink of colombia) on her 93rd birthday!  Maybe that's why they were voted one of the happiest people in the world. 7 out of the top 10 happiest countries in the world are from Latin america and you see why as soon as set foot here. People have the most cheerful smile on from the time they start their day till the end.

3.Greeting and Air kisses: The best part for me is how everyone greets everyone. While it happens in a lot of other countries it doesn't really happen in India. There is such cheer in the air when you hear a peppy shout of "Hola" from the door man to the receptionist to the security guy and respond with the same intensity.
Back in India I found people who gave air kisses really pretentious. Its just not an Indian thing. So you have got to imagine how startled I was when a student of mine gave me an cheek kiss on my first day at work! Everyone air kisses you when you first meet them, girls and boys alike. I blush red every time my host brother's friends do that to me, with nothing to say in return.

4. Hot pants and belly button showing sheer shirts, is the dress code. I feel like the most covered person walking to work in my kurtas. But when I do step out in my shorties, its a relief to be able to wear anything and walk on the street and not get stares or be eve teased like in India. There is an occasional cat calling but it is harmless by Indian standards, and is rare.

5. The tropical climate: Although the climate vastly varies from city to city, the town I am living in has weather much like in India. As a result the flora and fauna is very similar as well. Like Neem and Jungle Jeelabi are very common trees here. People find it funny when I tell them you can brush your teeth with the Neem branches and state all its other medicinal properties like crushing its leaves for pimples etc.

6. Football is a Religion: In Latin America saying football is like religion, is an understatement. I heard people say it a lot of times but my first hand experience it from day one made me realize the gravity if it. Its like Cricket in India.

7. Expressions are universal: I just realized my Spanish speaking skills are limited to very basic phrases which makes it difficult to communicate certain things I want to say without using Google translate. But the most fun  times are when I frantically move my hands around to express an action or make a face when I don't like something I put in my mouth  and it makes my host family crack up and we laugh louder than we would otherwise. Its like to blurt out all these pent up feelings trapped inside due to lack of communication and expressions become the common medium of communication. Making connections with an awkward smile while crossing paths, a wave of hand while saying goodbye while leaving for work or making a polite offer to wash the dishes feels like you are understood.

8. Food though bland is the best part of my day. I am on a high protein diet since I eat so much meat every day! Its so interesting to taste different flavors from another country and so difficult to explain flavors in words. Like, how do you explain to a Chinese person what Indian Chinese tastes like? Something else I found really interesting is that food is always served with juice, tea, lemonade or any other beverage and never water like in India.

9. Spanish: They say immersion is the best way to learn a language. well its clearly not working in my case. Between a hectic work and a social schedule I hardly find time to study Spanish or practice it. And being surrounded by English speaking people is not helping either. From teachers at school to my host brothers I do not even bother trying, or try but fail. But I still feel like if I listen to it for long enough, I will magically start understanding everything after a while.

10. You first on the road: Everyone always follows the driving rules on the roads and allows the other to pass. Its not the aggressive me first Indian attitude. But if you are an Indian, most of all, make sure you close the car door softly because no matter how gently you close the door they will still feel like you are slamming it. Weird. I love the fact that women ride mo-bikes here.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

IBCD - Indian Born Confused Desi

ABCD? I think India today, is facing the IBCD syndrome. I don't think Indians born in America are half as confused as this generation of Indians born in India. While all my American born Indian cousins are putting in that extra effort to stay connected to their roots, I feel those of us in India feel a little need to do so and end up doing the exact opposite. Take me for example. While I spent my childhood learning classical Karnatic music I gave it up to learn the Guitar and gave up learning Bhartanatyam for learning French.

My grand parents often mention how Indian girls in the USA always dress up in Sarees and Half Sarees for every occasion and are so talented as classical dancers and musicians and they always see pictures of us on facebook wearing clothes that are "too western". It makes me think about all those parents on TV in India who think their kids are talented because they can dance on Sheela-ki-javaani or the Telugu version of my humps. Ugh!

Indian kids so heavily consume American pop culture, that they use this slang without even realizing it. The English we speak is no longer the British English we were taught at school but the American English we learnt off sitcoms, series or movies. In schools, it is no longer 'cool' to watch Hindi daily soaps but HIMYM or South park or Suits. There are so many terms in a family guy episode which strictly apply only to the american context but we have adapted, learnt their meanings or just LOL along. Does it not make you squint a little, on being compared to Indian portrayal of Appu  in The Simpsons or Raj in The Big Bang Theory every time you meet a foreigner? Yes, we ALL talk like that and nod our heads! Alright, maybe the stereotypes are there for a reason, and probably some of them are even true, but it sure is annoying.

Kids no longer address their friends as "Yaar" or "Bhai" but as "Dwagg" or "Nigga". Nor do they use words as "Jhand" or "Chops" or "Teri ___" but use "Snap!" or "Burn!" or "Yo mama!" instead. The average age at which one learns to swear has come down drastically and its pathetic to see the primary wing kids use some of the words we learnt in high school (and which my parents tell me they learnt in college). While I do agree this is the case in most affluent schools, the APS schools are not far behind.

The over use of words like "like" and "totally" and "super" (well, I like super) some how gives the feeling that one has limited vocabulary, but they actually work just fine.
If you don't have words to describe your weekend/day/party/dress/food/shoe/tie/dog/BF/gift/ceiling fan/light bulb or anything else, just fill in the blanks with any of those words from above, say it with the same enthu and it works every time- Best _____ Ever! For example, Best Party Ever! or Best ceiling fan Ever! See I told you so.
Or if you are falling short of words to reply to a simple question like "How was _____ ?" you can leave it at: It was Epic!
And even though "So" is a concluding word, you can start any statement with it. "So, this one time, I was like eating and...." Booyah!

So, I started to write about this because when I hang around kids these days, they go on with stories like "I was so smashed last night that I puked all over the floor and the next day all I did was veg out in front of the TV. Check out this pic from last night on Facebook, it has to be the Best-Photo-Bomb-Ever! This noob tried this stunt and it turned out to be an epic Fail! And even though I had never tried it before I totally pwned him! Brb, I gotta zit I need to pop. I <3 the new look. That's so sick!(coz being sick is the coolest thing ever!) I totally nailed it but my life is totally miserable because she is a total hater!" It makes we feel like I am at the shooting of Mean Girls.

Even though I might sound totally disapproving right now, I am guilty of using a lot of the above phrases myself and my use of the word "kids" is very generic and includes ages 11-35(and anyone else who is "cool" and does not fall under this category). I don't know where I picked up these terms from or can't even place a finger on when I first heard them but i'm sure there is an entire generation of us(or two) who feel the same way.