Innovation on Earth

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Archive for the tag “Culture”

Different Sides of Istanbul

A lovely dinner with Ceyda, my sister’s Turkish penpal from middle school!

Istanbul is a HUGE city, and just when I start thinking that I know something about it, I am surprised by something new.  I think this is because Istanbul is often on both ends of the extremes:

  • Rich and Poor
  • Safe and Dangerous
  • Touristy and “Local”
  • Easy and hard to get around
  • Europe and Asia
  • Quiet and Loud

Here is some evidence that Istanbul can’t be pegged as one single “type.”

Shopping: Yesterday, I visited a famous old market called the Grand Bazaar, located in the Old City.  It was touristy, but it’s been around for years, and is very authentic in many ways. Today, I had a very different shopping experience.  In order to visit a school, I took a ferry across the Bosphorus River to the Asian side of Istanbul.  I came across a mall, and thought it would be interesting to check out.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected for a Turkish mall:

The public school that I visited today

Schools: The public school that I visited today was nice, but some aspects were hard to see.  Most classes have 30-40 students, and many students wore dirty or ripped uniforms.  They were eager to learn about the United States and tell me about their school, but most of them said that they don’t like school. They were also very rowdy, and the teacher had to raise her voice to speak over them. She also told me that most of these students will not attend college.  I’m guessing this is due to financial obstacles.  Despite the challenges, I was impressed by the kindness of the teachers and they were enthusiastic about using project-based learning approaches. The students gave me their email addresses as they are interested in American penpals.  Tomorrow, I am visiting a private school, so it’ll be exciting to see how it is different. You can meet some of the students and teachers in this little video:

The restaurant we ate at has a private boat which took us across the sea (from Asia to Europe) back home from dinner

Public Transportation: I have been spending tons of time on public buses, trams, and ferries.  All of them feel very safe, and I am blown away by how helpful people have been to me.  Since I don’t speak Turkish and don’t have a bus card, I often have to ask for help from locals to get where I am trying to go. I’ve had multiple people pay for my fare, get on the wrong bus in order to help me out, and go out of their way to stay with me and get me help. It’s really amazing. I feel like I’ve got little Turkish guardian angels everywhere, looking after me.  Today was one of the only times that I felt unsafe, when at the end of the day, my bus encountered a riot of sorts. People were celebrating a big football match win (two Turkish teams), but it got out of control a few cars away from where we were, and the police had to come break it up.  I was debating what to do.  Getting off the bus and running seemed like a bad idea, because then I’d be IN the mob. So, I stayed put with my new Turkish bus friends, and got out my camera:

As you can see, Istanbul is full of surprises. What will tomorrow bring?

Istanbul Smiles

Istanbul is growing on me.  I’m getting to know my way around one area, Sultanahmet (the old city). While Ukrainians aren’t quick to smile at strangers, Turkish people are big smilers!  In fact, they seem insulted if I don’t chat with them as I pass on the street.  They all want to know where I am from and how I like their city.  I had been warned by fellow travelers that Istanbul is crowded and salesmen are pushy.  It’s true that they try to sell their products, and get you to by a carpet or whatever else.  However, today I wandered through the grand bazaar market without any problems. It was really fun haggling for lower prices and chatting with all the shopkeepers, and much more calm than I expected.  It can be hard to negotiate prices, since we don’t do that in America, but it is an interesting part of the Turkish culture. My favorite purchase of the day (which I’m sure I paid too much for) was fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.  Delicious!

I did a lot more than shopping today.  In the morning, I visited the Blue Mosque, which dates back to the early 17th century, and the Basilica Cistern, which is an early water system from the 6th century. In the evening, I went to a Turkish cooking class!  I learned a bunch of new recipes, and look forward to trying them out when I get home.   I hope to do a blog entry on Turkish food soon too.

Turkey is a country with a lot of ancient history, but it’s also very modern.  This makes it really fun to explore — sometimes I turn the corner and see something totally unfamiliar, and sometimes I run into an American chain store.  People are very open to diversity here, as the locals come with a variety of religious backgrounds, skin colors, and styles. I look forward to my first Turkish school visit tomorrow!

Note: I’m having some technical difficulties with the blog and it’s taking me a very long time to upload movies and photos. I have a lot more of them to share, but I’m not able to get them posted.  I will try to resolve the problem so that I can add more soon.

Scrub-a-Dub Hamam

A visit to a Hamam is an essential part of any trip to Turkey, because it is central to the Turkish culture. Many friends who had been to Turkey told me that I absolutely had to try it out. A Hamam is also called a Turkish Bath, and they’ve been popular in Turkey for thousands of years, literally.  People didn’t used to have bathrooms in their homes, so they’d go out to a central location for bathing.  Roman baths were also popular back in the day, but the way it’s set up in Turkey today comes from the time of the Ottoman Empire.  Hamams generally have three rooms: the hot room (sauna), the warm room (steamy room with hot marble to lie on and old people who scrub you with suds), and the cool room (for relaxing with a cup of tea).

I had a long day exploring Cappadocia under the hot sun, so I spent the evening relaxing at a Hamam. The man at the front desk helped me to explain to you about this special Turkish tradition:

I wish I could share my photos and videos from my day exploring the mountains, rocks, and caves of Cappadocia, but the internet is very slow here and I need to go to sleep.  There are many tourists in the area now, and I did an organized tour called the green tour.  I met people from all over the world.  For example, I had breakfast with a Brazilian guy, lunch with a Bosnian guy, and dinner with a Japanese woman.  The sights were gorgeous, even though I felt a little like a fish swimming in a sea of hundreds of other tourists.  We walked on the tippy tops of cliffs, looking down at the scenery. We climbed up rocks and explored caves in the sky. We drove zigzags around mountains. We went underground and ducked through tunnels that were built at least 1,000 years ago. We sweated through the heat, the sun blaring down on us. We walked along a canyon as the rain began to fall (and even caught a glimpse of a rainbow). Stay tuned for more visuals tomorrow.

Also, some exciting NEWS: I was interviewed by a really fabulous website,  Check out my interview here!

U.S. in Ukraine?

Our agenda today brought our TGC group to three main activities in Kyiv:

Morning: Learning about the Education System in Ukraine

Iryna led “class” and we learned all about schools in Ukraine. In many ways, schools here are similar to in the States — they too have standardized testing, extra curricular activities, and classes like Math, Science, and Social Studies. What was most surprising to me?  More than 99% of schools in Ukraine are public, but they aren’t really free. They’re supposed to be free, but many students need to pay. There’s a lot of corruption here, so schools will force families to “donate” money in order to pass a class, take a final exam, etc. Also, many families need to pay to get into the better schools, or even sometimes they have to pay to get a top grade. This isn’t always true, but it sounds like a big problem in many places. I am interested to see whether or not this is true at my host school.

Afternoon: Visiting the U.S. Embassy

Going to a U.S. Embassy building is like walking onto American soil in another country.  It’s where the United States of America has their headquarters in Ukraine, and we had to go through all sorts of security to get in.  No cameras or cell phones allowed! It’s kind of strange to hear that hundreds of Americans work in Ukraine, but our country wants to make sure that we have a good relationship with other countries, and that Americans who live here are safe.  In fact, this is the 20th anniversary of U.S. Ukrainian diplomatic relations, which means we’ve had a base here since just after Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union. It was very special that we got to go to the embassy, which was because the TGC program is funded by the State Department. So, we got a tour and met with officials from the political and economic departments. Did you know that many American and international companies have branches in Ukraine? Some examples are Coca Cola, Kraft Foods and H.P. So, when Ukraine had really bad problems with their economy in 2009 (worse than most other countries, with a 15% drop in GDP), it affected many Americans too.

Evening: Seeing the Ballet at the Opera House

Tonight, we went to the ballet!  There’s a huge old opera house with what seemed like a dozen balconies and we saw two pieces tonight.  The first one was a famous ballet called Carmen, and the second was a colorful Turkish piece!  Even though it was in Ukraine, the stories of a ballet are told through music and dance, so there’s no language barrier. It felt just like going to the theatre in the United States!  In fact, one of our Ukrainian hosts studied ballet since age five, and hearing her experience made me feel like life here really isn’t so different. They have access to the arts just like us.

I have to admit that some of the real best moments of the day were the “in between” moments: trying to order dinner from a guy who barely speaks English, seeing an interesting red squirrel in a park, yummy raspberry pie in a coffee shop, and finding our way back to the hotel in the pouring rain. I have to pack to go to my host school tomorrow, so I’ll have to post about some of those things another time. In fact, I may not post tomorrow, because I’ll be on an overnight train to Zaporizhia, but I’ll try to work the video of the hopping crow into my next post… somehow.

To close out, here are some photos that some of you might appreciate, proving that the U.S. really does have some influence here:

MacBook Air Ad on a Billboard in front of the Opera House


McDonalds in Kyiv (of course)

Colors of Kyiv

Today was packed with learning about Ukrainian culture and seeing the sights of Kyiv.  In the morning, we went to the IREX office and had a lesson from our host, Iryna. She taught us about the history, politics, economics, and culture of Ukraine.  My favorite part was learning about the culture.  For example, here’s a clip of her telling us about how the view of personal space is very different from what we know in America:

Here’s a question of the day for you about Ukrainian culture.  Take a guess what you think might be correct, based on what we learned today:

Which of the following would Loki be LEAST likely to do if she were Ukrainian?

  • a) Stand very close to the person in front of her when waiting in line
  • b) Complain about how much she gets paid
  • c) Give a long story about how she is doing when asked “how are you?”
  • d) Move to a new city for a fresh start
  • e) Live with her parents through college and beyond

After our morning lesson, we went to lunch and then hit the town for a tour of important sites in Kyiv.  We visited several Orthodox churches, and since it is the day after Easter, it’s still considered a holiday.  Bells were ringing, and the colors were magnificent:

One of our favorite stops was a very interesting park, decorated in a most unusual way. Check it out:

Our day ended with a meal even more filling than yesterday’s!  This one included perogies (little dumplings stuffed with potatoes and cheese and other delicious things) and an apple strudel dessert with ice cream. It was a very full day… and meal!  Below are a few more of my favorite photos from today, from beautiful to quirky…

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Arrived in Kyiv

After a long journey and little sleep, I have arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine!  I have my own hotel room and it is lovely, so I am taking a minute to relax and catch my breath before dinner.  Here are some photos of my journey:

I left Boston at 4:30 pm, and arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at 11:30 pm Eastern Standard Time. However, on Germany time it was 5:30 am. So, I ate breakfast and basically missed a night of sleep.

Loki enjoyed the flight, which included a yummy dinner, breakfast, and a showing of The Muppets

We arrived to a gray, drizzly day in Kyiv, Ukraine.

My first challenge was figuring out which was the ladies' room. This?

...Or this?

Driving to the hotel, we got our first glimpse of the Dnieper River, and the city.

I need to review my Ukrainian azbuka (alphabet)! And check out that green car.

This is the view from my hotel room. We are right next to the stadium for Euro Cup 2012.

Tonight we are going to dinner. Most places in the city are closed because it is the Ukrainian Easter.  However, our group will be busy getting oriented to being here!  More posts coming soon.  Thanks to everyone who is following, commenting, and wishing me safe travels.

Students learn Pysanky

Today, students in Homebase Salk and Homebase Barton learned to do the traditional Ukrainian folk art called Pysanky.  A parent volunteer came in and taught the students about this age old tradition of egg decoration. As you can see, the students made some beautiful eggs, with very simple materials (crayons for wax, for example). They designed carefully and came up with some wonderful products.

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The students also learned an old tale about the origin of the art.  It told the story of a poor peddler who goes out to sell eggs, and comes across a sick old man. The peddler goes over to help the old man, and when he returns to his basket, the eggs are transformed!  Unlike in the United States, where Christian people hide eggs on Easter, Ukrainians give these eggs as gifts to important people in their lives.  Students also learned about the meaning of various symbols and what kind of “luck” they bring to the person who is given the egg.  For example, a spider symbol brings artistic abilities, and grapes represent brotherhood and faithful love.

Note: If you didn’t read about my recent experience making my own egg, click here.

1st Ever Symposium in D.C.

Greetings from Washington D.C.!  The Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) program welcomed all 68 fellows here this past weekend. After months of working collaboratively through an online forum, we finally met in person!  They also invited an administrator from each school, and so my principal, Melissa Kapeckas, joined me at the symposium. Together, we are trying to figure out how to bring this work home to Massachusetts.

It was really exciting to meet everyone, in particular the team of teachers who will be traveling with me to Ukraine.  Our meeting was purposeful. We came together to discuss global education.  We all have different ideas for what that means, but we are all eager to share ideas. We come from many different types of schools in many states.  In the whole program, we represent 32 states, but just in our group, we have teachers from Texas, Idaho, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, West Virginia, Ohio, Rhoda Island, and Massachusetts.  One teacher was telling me that his school has a one-to-one policy with every student getting assigned their own iPad to use for the year.  Another teacher told me that 100% of her students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and 80% learned English after another language.  Our schools have different strengths and challenges, but we are all part of this program because we want to see our schools grow.  We want to increase global understanding for our students.

One of the activities that we worked on together was writing essential questions for the trip.  I realized that despite the fact that I have traveled abroad many types, I’m usually not purposeful about what I want to learn out of the experience. When I travel, I usually go in with an open mind ready to learn from whatever I experience. While this can be a good model, I think I could get more out of my travel if I am more strategic about what I am trying to learn.  I am still working on drafting my research questions, but I am thinking about focusing on civic education.  I’m interested in learning how schools play a role in helping students feel empowered to make change in their communities.

At the end of the session, we met with Viktoria, a Ukrainian teacher studying in the United States.  She gave us an overview of the education system in Ukraine, and it was a wonderful introduction to what we’ll see when we arrive.  One thing I found particularly interesting was that most Ukranian teachers stay with their students for many years. For instance, she is an advisor to 30 students who she is seeing through middle school, from 5th through 8th grade.  I also learned that the Ukrainian flag’s colors come from sunflowers and sky, as the land is rich for growing crops.

I am staying in Washington D.C. for most of my vacation week, and I look forward to having time to explore our nation’s capital and relax.  This evening, I had Ethiopian food for dinner and worked on a world map jigsaw puzzle with a friend (see below — we’re not done yet!).  There’s a lot of preparations still needed for this trip, but the pieces are starting to fit together.

p.s. A little birdie friend named Loki has also arrived safely in Washington D.C. and will make an appearance on this blog soon enough…

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