Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lesson #12:

Lesson #12: Don't Be Afraid of Not Knowing

I recently found out that I am going back to teaching at my old school (yay!) but I've been told that I will most likely have to teach a different grade and within that different grade I will be teaching Math/Science (I'm kind of, sort of a more language arts/social studies leaning personality).

When I first found out I will probably not be teaching Kindergarten, but instead teaching 2nd grade Bilingual, I was sad. You see, I LOVED teaching Kindergarten! I loved being their first teacher, I loved seeing them grow so much in one year, and I loved that I got them all to myself that year (no switching classes for different subjects). I also have about 10 huge storage boxes full of Kindergarten teaching supplies (property of yours truly) which I will not be able to take with me to my new grade level.

But...that wasn't what was making me the most sad. The thing that was getting to me the most was that I felt a teeny weeny bit of fear creep up over me.

Fear of the unknown.

I have taught Kindergarten and felt like I really learned how to teach for that grade level. I felt confident at that grade level. I had ideas swirling around in my head for things I would do differently this upcoming year, ways I could teach something in a new way, tons of creative projects...all focused on the Kindergarten curriculum. I was actually becoming very excited about it! Now that I will most likely be teaching maths and sciences at the 2nd grade level...GULP...I feel out of my element. And I don't like that feeling.

So...what to do? Take that feeling and use it as a lesson : How to move on when you are fearful. Putting on your big girl pants. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

There's a book about that that I should probably pick up right away and read.

by Susan Jeffers
The point is, every path in life is leading to the unknown. In fact, sometimes living life without introducing scenarios that place you in unfamiliar territory leads to boredom and monotony. And if there's anything I hate more than fear, it's boredom. If given the choice between the two, I think I'd have to go with fear. Fear makes you feel alive, it lets you know you're in the game, and it gives you sort of a rush. Sure, it can also lead to stress and fatigue, but that's where you have to remember the mantra of "Just Do It" and another mantra that can be just as useful : "Roll with the Punches".

So, I'm rethinking my lot in this teaching life of mine. I'm going to start digging into my new role and making the best of it. I won't try to be Super Teacher this year, but I will try to be the best teacher I can.  I will work just like I worked my first year of teaching - keeping my head above water and focusing on being present. By the end of next year I might find that I loved this new grade level so much, I won't want to go back. Who knows? Obstacles are placed in our lives to make us better people, with more perspective, more wisdom and more knowledge. Doing the same thing over and over only makes us dull. 

As Ms. Jeffers says, "Feel the fear and Do It Anyway". Message received.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” - Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lesson #11:

Lesson # 11: Make an Effort to Remember a Face

This lesson is here because I was reminded of its importance today. In a not-so-smooth kinda way. That's me, though, the antithesis of "smooth. Rough, awkward, inappropriate, that sounds more like it. 


I was in Whole Foods picking up some Kombucha and a lip gloss (because I am addicted to their all-natural mineral makeups and this specific type of lip gloss, with its tingliness and shininess is my FAVORITE), and whilst checking out I hear, "Andrea!"

It's always weird when you hear your name in a place where you are not expecting to see someone you know. It always throws me off. 

I turn around and see this guy smiling as he walks towards me. He starts asking how I am and some other questions and I just couldn't fake it. I could not tell who that was or how I knew them for the life of me. I didn't try to pretend, either. I just stood there staring, not answering any of his questions, with a confused look on my face. I desperately wanted him to just say who he was. He just kept on, though. It was AWKWARD. 

You see, I used to do the faking it game when this sort of thing happened. I would smile and continue on with the conversation as if I knew perfectly well who they were until I caught some clue that would finally reveal their identity. But now that I'm 31 I'm too tired to do that and I don't care as much about being embarrassed. It's a good thing, too, because I seem to embarrass myself more often as I age. 

Finally, the awkwardness was too much and he said, "It's me. Sam*." I was so relieved but then I also felt more embarrassment because this was an old friend of my husband's whom I had met several times. He had even been at our wedding just last year. I don't know what it was...I just couldn't make the connection with the face and the name and the place and the time and the who and the what...I just didn't know him from Adam. And now he knows that apparently my impression of him is forgettable. 

We continued on with an even more awkward conversation, with me trying to find ways to apologize for not recognizing him, making excuses as to why I couldn't recognize him (you shaved! you're not wearing your glasses! your hair looks different!) and just trying to get through the embarrassment without seeming like a total asshole. 

As I walked away, flustered and kicking myself for not remembering a face, it got me thinking. Why did these types of scenarios occur with me? It didn't happen all the time- I certainly have seen people that I recognized even if it has been a very long time and have been able to carry on with them with no awkwardness whatsoever. This friend of my husband's is also not the forgettable type. He's in a band, he's always been super cool every time we've hung out, I tried to get my friend to date him, and he is just a super funky dude. Why wouldn't I recognize him? Was it the fact that it seemed out of place to me to see him at Whole Foods? I didn't know he worked there so, maybe? 

Or, could it be that I suffer from prosopagnosia, a technical term for face blindness? Apparently Brad Pitt also suffers from this

More and more, though, it made me think about my own fault in not taking better care to remember a face. The fact that this has happened before to me makes me think that perhaps this is something I can improve. It seems to me to be disrespectful to keep forgetting people, as if my own life is so much bigger and grander and to operate within it takes up so much of my brain power that I can't squeeze in a little, tiny, extra space to store and recall someone's name and face. Surely that can't be it. 

I did some research on the topic. It seems there are many ways to try and remedy this. One is using mnemonics, associating someone's name with an attribute of their face that is distinct and memorable. 
Here is a You Tube clip that discusses ways to help remember a face using this method:

So, if using this method with my husband's friend Sam, I'd say Smiley Sam because he seems to have a big, wide smile and that's one thing I noticed.

I hope I run into him again and prove that I can remember him and I'm not totally self-centered and egocentric. It's important to remember people because it shows you valued meeting them.

Lesson learned.

“We seem to live in a world where forgetting and oblivion are an industry in themselves and very, very few people are remotely interested or aware of their own recent history, much less their neighbors'. I tend to think we are what we remember, what we know. The less we remember, the less we know about ourselves, the less we are."- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lesson #10

Lesson #10: Don't wait for a tragedy to start coming together...

Photo Credit: Associated Press

We all know the devastation and destruction that this week's storm brought. Lives were lost, homes were destroyed and a community was left with scraps of the lives they had formerly lived. And yet there were glimmers of hope to be seen through it all. Many of the stories and interviews from the tragedy have actually warmed my heart.
How could it be that such a horrific event could ever give me the feeling of having a warmed heart? 
I saw people helping each other without giving it a second thought. I heard interviews with people who laid there life down so that another might live. I saw people coming from miles around just to lend a helping hand or be there to do whatever was needed of them. To ease the burden, to carry the load. 
Why is it that in these tragic times we are able to put our differences aside and come together for one another? Why does it take a state of disaster to wash away our internal voices of prejudice, bigotry and selfishness? 
One thing I have observed that seems to be happening more and more these days is people isolating themselves on one "side" or another. They aren't with "those people", they are with "their people" and it becomes a war pitting one "side" against another. 
It doesn't have to be that way. 
I know, I is wishful thinking that we can all come together and love each other right now (thank you Beatles...) but, then again, is it really that far out to want to have an amicable and cooperative community in which we live? 
As a teacher, I spend a lot of time teaching about sharing, cooperating and encouraging one another, despite differences in skill, language, ability, color, nationality, or aptitude. We all have a similar goal which is to become a better person each and every day, to improve, to hone our skills, and to help one another along this road of life. To carry some of the burden when we can so that we all make it to our destination. 
I encourage you to stop and think about divisiveness and the true destruction that it causes. It shouldn't take an act of God to make people come together for one another. 
Enjoy the community you live in. Realize that these people are your neighbors - they live with you. Get to know them. Help them. Understand them. Respect them. 
Live. Love. Serve.

Photo Credit: Paul Hellstern- The Oklahoman/AP Photo
Photo Credit: Joshua LOTT/ AFP/ Getty Images

Photo Credit: Paul Hellstern- The Oklahoman/AP Photo

Photo Credit: Bryan Terry/ The Oklahoman/ AP Photo

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But...the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lesson #9

Lesson #9 : Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This one might be a quick blog post, but one I feel like sharing. I was recently with a group who were discussing how hard it is to talk about politics or current events with people of opposing political parties.

I agree.

It's sometimes maddening, and I know for a fact it goes both ways. So what do we do about it? You know you can't change someone's mind by simply repeating over and over what it is you think is wrong about their system or how yours is clearly smarter or better or more just or more fair. It just turns it into an argument and then the defensive walls get put up and productive discussion ends at that point.

My suggestion, speak with your actions not just your words. Sure, words are necessary in debating a point, but actions also go a long way to making yourself feel better about your positions on issues and justifying, ever so quietly, your point. (And I'm hoping your position on issues is one that is towards bettering some aspect of this world...I would hate for this same suggestion to be taken and used to promote disenfranchisement, intolerance, violence or manipulation...just sayin...)

For example, if you feel very strongly about advocating for women's rights and you are tired of politicians and their constituents promoting policy that you feel violates these rights, then take this approach.

First, do your research. Find out exactly what you don't agree with and why. There's nothing worse than claiming you are against something when you don't really have a grasp of the issue in its entirety.

Second, find out if there are organizations out there that support your side of the cause. Join them, donate to them, participate with them, promote them. Make sure you always know the ins and outs of their policies as well and be sure that it aligns with your values.

Third, go out on your own and make a difference towards what you believe in. Promote an advocacy group for women in pursuit of further education, create a group that helps working women out, create an organization that introduces girls to the world of science and math to encourage more females in jobs that require those skill sets, create a meeting that talks about ways to speak up about women's health rights, attend and promote meetings discussing rights to fair pay and equitable wages, start a group that encourages and supports women entrepreneurs, visit women owned business, start a magazine that discusses, promotes and focuses on things women are doing in your community... this list could go on and on, but you get the point.

You'll never be able to change some people's minds, but instead of letting all that frustration sit deeply rooted inside of you, and spending so much energy trying to talk someone over to your side, instead use that energy towards bettering your side of the cause.

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” - Martin Luther King, Jr

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lesson #8

Lesson #8: Travel Doesn't Have to be an Exclusive Luxury

"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." – Miriam Beard

So I have to go on a little rant here that is inspired by a friend I know. We may be opposite in so many ways, but we also have many things in common, hence our ability to sustain a friendship. And I have learned that through our extreme differences, I have been able to grow as a person. If you are in a vacuum of thoughts and beliefs and actions that are similar or the same as your own, you aren’t able to grow, you continue to bolster your own shared opinion without actually having to think about it. Whereas, with someone who is constantly differing in opinions and actions, you are challenged to either defend your beliefs, or change. In doing so you must take a good, introspective look at the ins and outs, and reasons and emotions that shape these thoughts and attitudes you hold so dear.

So what does this have to do with travel??

Well, anyone who knows me also knows that I love to travel. I spent most of my formative years traveling and in fact many of my early twenties were spent bumming around the world, poor but happy , because I was seeing and experiencing so many new things and meeting so many new people. My views and opinions about everything were changing and then changing again and constantly being reshaped by my growing and evolving perspective.  

My friend often views travel differently. Whenever I bring up wanting to take a trip or ideas about travel in general, this friend becomes flustered and bothered. They claim it as a frivolous expense and one that people can do when they are extremely wealthy, or retired, but not right now.  They go on to explain that their family didn’t do a lot of traveling growing up, that’s not how they were raised, and that they didn’t have money for extravagant things like that. However, this friend has no problem spending $600 on a nice pair of shoes (because they are a quality pair of shoes and  will be worn for a long time), or a nice pair of jeans, or going out to nice restaurants or bars on the weekend. I, in turn, balk at these expenses and call them just as frivolous, then my friend looks at me like I’m the crazy one now.

When I tell anyone that I grew to love travel because I was able to travel as a child, I get many responses like, “Oh that must’ve been nice having all that money to travel. Seems nice.” And they quickly dismiss it as something wealthy people do just because they have the money to do it. Well, for most of my childhood we were not wealthy and we still did A LOT of traveling. But, many of our travels were like this:
Let’s load up the Honda with two tents, sleeping bags, a cooler and whatever else can fit and drive to Ohio (from Texas) where we can stay with our uncle. So, along the way we stopped to camp. We stopped at road side stands and stores to get food for picnics. We pulled over for historical markers. We went on back road detours to find quirky museum my dad had read about. We met interesting people that talked funny (they call it “Pop”!) and after 10 days of traveling like this, to and from Ohio, we had ourselves quite an adventure.

I doubt my mom would call it a luxury vacation (I’m sure she missed her blow dryer, coffee pot and hot shower while we camped). But it was important for my dad to take us on trips like this while growing up. In doing so, it has made me into the curious, intellectually stimulated, open-minded, free-thinking, world loving individual that I am today. And it has made me truly appreciative of what travel gives to us.

Now, in saying that, I must also point out that there are differences in types of travel, and this will help to delineate a big difference between me and my friend.  I think all travel, as mentioned before, is good for the soul. 

However, I think some types of travel offer you more internal reward than others. Here is my thought:
So, my friend probably went on a few vacations growing up; they've mentioned a couple resort type vacations. And there is nothing wrong with those- we also went on those types of vacations. But I don’t think you’re going to be opened to learning things, seeing new perspectives, broadening your horizons, given mental clarity, appreciating the beauty and simplicity of nature on a trip to the casinos or an all-inclusive in Cancun. It is fun though, don't get me wrong, and isn't a bad thing to do! Maybe that’s the difference that we’re experiencing. Their idea of a vacation is an excuse to get away from work or school or life and do nothing related to work, school, etc. - just to let out excess stress and decompress. This is needed, I think, to stay sane and continue to be productive in life. Reducing stress is good for overall health and happiness so I’m not saying all travel needs to be for the greater purpose of expanding your horizons and becoming a more well-rounded person. But, I do think this other type of travel, the kind that changes you and gives you reason to think and believe differently, is important for everyone to experience at some point in their lives. That’s why study abroad is so popular at University. I know some think of it as a chance to have an easier course-load and goof off under the guise of “studying” in a foreign country. And, yeah, when I studied abroad my coursework was a lot easier so I spent less time in the library. But the things I learned during those three semesters were far more valuable to me and have enriched my life in ways I can’t enumerate.

Maybe that’s the issue. I have a hard time really explaining how this one type of travel - one that involves cultural immersion and personal expansion, going someplace that challenges you or introduces you to something you’ve never experienced before - benefits you more than just taking off work and paying to go somewhere else to blow off steam by a pool or in a casino. How this type of travel is essential to building your character and giving you a life well lived. Some may disagree and add that we are spoiled in thinking that traveling the world is going to somehow make us better people. I agree with that too – perhaps traveling to the wrong side of the tracks or to some of the ethnic neighborhoods in your city would be just as beneficial to opening one’s eyes as would a round-the-world ticket.  And, if you can manage it, why not a bit of both?

I think seeking knowledge and always yearning for a new perspective is part of growing and fulfilling the destiny of becoming your greatest self.  

So, that being said, let’s plan that next vacation.

Pack up the car! We're going on an adventure!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Lesson #7

Lesson #7: No Worries on the Mountain, Man. 

So my family goes to Colorado almost every year for an annual ski trip. This year was the first time that we have gone with both mine and my sister's husbands. My sister's husband has been skiing/snowboarding a lot. For my husband, however, it was pretty much the first time (excluding a time that I took him to learn how to ski back in PA). Needless to say, it seemed like he was going to be a fish out of water. 

The first morning was a bit of a doozy, and not because my husband wasn't catching on to the skiing thing. He picked it up pretty well! However, his skis were all wrong, his boots didn't fit right, he was too hot in some places, too cold in others. So, after only a couple of runs he decided it was time to go back to the dreaded, overcrowded, super heated ski rental place. His morning wound up consisting of about 4 different trips back to the rental place, 4 different long lines to have to wait through, several hoards of people to have to push through...basically a nightmare for a guy who hates crowds and small spaces, as well as being overheated while waiting in full ski gear whilst inside a heated indoor space. 

His final trip there was a nightmare and the look on his face said it all. He had some kind of snafu with the locker (ended up not being able to change the money in order to pay it, or something to that effect). He approached the ski dude taking care of rentals to try to settle this final inconvenience. His eyes must have looked about to cry and he started explaining what was going on with the locker. Clearly he was frustrated and this whole experience was giving him a nervous breakdown. The ski dude looked as if the anxiety emanating off of my husband's entire being was totally crushing his mountain high. He cutoff my husband in mid sentence and put his hand up in a stop gesture.

"Dude, worries on the mountain, man," he said. And immediately gave him all the change he needed, probably more than he needed, in a move that spoke volumes as to the importance of keeping that worried state out of the happy mountain zone.

We have kind of a inside joke now when either of us begins to freak out about something. No worries on the mountain has become sort of a mantra to relaxing, keeping things in perspective, just realizing that this, too, shall pass. Our life has become that happy mountain and why shouldn't we protect it from all those petty, annoying, nagging worries that threaten to bring us down. No way, man! I'm staying on my happy mountain and aint nobody gonna bring me down!

With that in mind, I encourage you to take a look at your life and think about the worries that come in each day, knocking on your door, threatening to take your happiness away. They will come, inevitably, whether invited or not. So when they do (and they will) just tell them, "No thank you! You're not welcome! Didn't you see the sign? It says: No Worries on MY Mountain. Man. Peace out."

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”  
- Dalai Lama

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lesson #6

Lesson #6: Really, Truly, Definitely Learn a New Language (or Learn a New Language Part III)

I talked about the best way to learning a new language is full immersion. Well, sometimes that is not possible. So, you'd like to continue learning a new language here in your home land. Or maybe you did immersion but you have moved back and are a bit rusty and want to keep up with your skills. I've tried a few things during stints back home and these are a few of the methods that have worked for me.

1. Books

There are number of different books geared towards learning new languages and it really all depends on your level. I've been through SEVERAL with regards to learning Italian. Some of them were for my Italian classes at University, others I purchased on my own for my own benefit. I started out my Italian language learning journey by purchasing this book: Italian in 10 Minutes a Day.

Italian in 10 Minutes a Day, Bilingual Books, Inc.
Other books I've used at various stages of my language learning include:

Of course there are many others that I've tried and many others used as text books. In fact, while in Italian taking Italian courses, most of the text books they assigned had zero English because they were used to teach Italian to those with a variety of mother tongues. These were purchased in Italy and were extremely beneficial. If you happen to take a trip to the country where you are wanting to learn the language, I highly suggest purchasing language learning books and systems while there. 

2. Local Instructors

I wanted to keep my brain engaged in language learning so I just did some googling and found several local instructors in Italian who led learning groups, conversation groups, etc. In every city I've lived I've been able to find language learning groups. Many are offered at the local library and are free. If they are not free, they are extremely reasonable in price. Plus, getting to speak it is part of the challenge and having people around to help you practice is most beneficial. 

3. Conversation Groups

Kind of like with local instructors, there are many people out there who speak a different language or who would like to practice a newly learned language who have or would like to form conversation groups. 

4. Language Exchange

Another thing I have tried that has been super fun and effective is language exchange. Many people are here that want to learn English. If you know English and would like to learn their language, a language exchange is the perfect opportunity! Plus, you get an added benefit: a new friend! 

5. Audio Learning CDs

I've also used these. I keep them in the car and for long rides in traffic I pop one in and just speak. It's great because you can practice speaking out loud without worrying about your family, friends or coworkers thinking you are nuts (or desperately wanting you to shut up!). The Pimsleur Method contains CDs as part of their learning package. Many other programs do as well, since hearing the language over and over is essential to learning. 

6. Music CDs

Find music that is sung in the language of your choice then play it while you drive, relax, do laundry or housework, or whatever it is that you do. I found this to be the most fun way to learn. I've listened to those CDs so many times now that I can sing all the words - that's better than I can do with most English language songs! 

7. Movies

Along with music and listening to conversation, watching movies is a great way to see how the language is used. I was a hoarder of all Italian films for a while and it's funny because I find myself using quotes and inflections from those movies when I am having an ordinary conversation in that language. I wonder if they ever notice? It's also a great way to become acquainted and familiar with their culture. Movies often demonstrate cultural subtleties, things that are important to them, and meaningful traditions. I learned SO much from movies, both current and older, and it helped to make me feel more connected to that country and its people. 

8. Online Language Learning

Also a great way! I've loved participating in these programs. You get to watch conversation videos, complete lessons, both written and verbal, and chat with people in that language. You also get critiqued for you verbal prompts that you complete so it's a great way to practice speaking. The chatting part is good too because it requires you to think quickly in that language since you are chatting real time. I thought it was very fun as a supplement to other language learning methods. 

(online element for some of these is a part of a complete packaged system which also contains books, CDS, etc)

9. Pen Pals

If you are lucky enough to know someone who speaks a language you would like to learn, become pen pals with them. I am pen pals with the family for whom I nannied and also with a few friends I met while living in Italy. It's great practice and, again, the bonus of having a new friend! 

10. Eat

See if you can find a restaurant that serves food from a country that speaks your desired second language (make sure it is pretty authentic). Sometimes you can practice ordering in that language and speaking to the waiters.

So there you have it! 10 more ways to learn a language that are tried and true (by yours truly). I'm still interested in trying several more things (Rosetta Stone Program) and will update as to the quality of that as an option.

My best advice is to try a variety of these methods. If you really want to learn, make it consistent. Every day do some or all of these things. And I encourage you to continue to look for opportunities to immerse yourself at some point. Until then, or when you have to come back, use these tools to keep up your bilingualness! It's sexy!!

"Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere."- Chinese Proverb

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lesson #5:

Lesson #5: Really Learn a New Language (or Learn a New Language Part II)

So yesterday I talked about the importance of learning a new language and why it has meant so much to me. Well, afterwards I thought about it and realized that I have quite a bit of experience in learning new languages. I have a little bit of advice to give with regards to how I've gone about learning new languages and what has worked (and not worked) for me. I can't promise any of my techniques will have the same results with everyone out there, but I can offer my detailed opinion of the experience.

To preface this list of language learning techniques, I'd like to add that along with Italian, which I began learning when I was 20, I've also spent some time learning a couple other languages, including Spanish and French. I have dabbled in learning German, only because I was there traveling for a while and it seemed like another important global language. I'd like to say I have tried some of the more difficult languages such as Chinese or Arabic but I haven't even begun to tackle those yet. Someday, perhaps.

This list covers methods I've used in all languages. I'll start my list in today's post with the most effective means of learning a new language that I've found, and work my way down in following posts. That's not to say that the other methods don't add or enhance language learning. I think together they all make it easier to tackle a new language. But if you can only do one I'd start with:

1. Immersion

This is by far the easiest way to learn a language rapidly. Not only does it allow you to hear the language being spoken all around you throughout the day, but you have the opportunity to speak it yourself and learn from your mistakes. You can also meet real people which gives you more motivation to try to practice speaking and they can help you along the way, showing you the correct way of saying things. They can also teach you things about the spoken language that a book just can't show you. How to develop accents or ways to use slang...these are all things learned "on the job" so to speak.

Some ways that I've tried immersion:

  • Study Abroad Programs- obviously if you are still in school this is the way to go. You get college credits while also getting to explore a new culture and learn a new language. There are so many opportunities for study abroad, and many offer generous financial assistance or grants and scholarships that you can apply to. My study abroad program in 2004 was completely covered by a grant because I had done such a good job representing the study abroad office at my school after I came back from my first stint in 2002. Visit your study abroad office and see what's available or look through brochures of schools that have programs and see how you could manage a credit transfer for a semester. If money is really the biggest issue, there are many ways to try to overcome this. You can use the aforementioned resources of loans, grants or scholarships or you can use the internet. There is a website: There you can fundraise whatever money you may need, as long as you are able to plug your purpose and reach out to people. It's good practice for the real world, too, where you need network support for just about everything you do. 
  • Language Schools- Too old to study abroad but still want to get the same experience? I've been there too. I've found that there are tons of language immersion schools within practically every country of the world where you can go to learn the language during the day, stay with a group or home stay, and meet a lot of cool people to hang out with at night. It's really the best way to vacation, I think, but also the BEST way to learn a new language. Here are some of the language schools I have been to and experienced. I loved them all: 
          By doing a google search you can find a lot out there. Make sure you check for reviews and
          other qualifications. Another good place to start look is the STA website. There they have
          options to look into language learning programs that they have tested and know to be of good
          quality.  You can do these for as little as one week, or many months, even a year...who knows?!
          I found all the programs I completed to be very accommodating and extremely friendly. At one
          point during the Sevilla program I wanted to visit the Salamanca campus they had. But I had
          already paid for that week in Sevilla. They were able to transfer me with no problem and I got to
          continue my Spanish lessons but in a brand new awesome city.

  • Volunteering- Unfortunately my only experience with this is when I was already in Rome and was seeking activities to do. My friend and I volunteered at the cat sanctuary in Rome. It was a good way to practice speaking the language. However, there are far better volunteer programs that put you in places where you will instantly be immersed. Some programs offer language classes in the morning, then volunteer activities in the afternoon. Others are straight up volunteering, but I think any of these experiences is worth it. I'm looking into a few of these myself! 

  • Au Pair- I also did this to help with finances while traveling and boy did it turn out to be the best way to learn a language! I actually learned more from those kids than any other class I took. The point of being an Au Pair is to share your language and culture with the kids so they get an international exchange. But, it really works both ways. I found that I NEEDED to learn the language pretty fast since these kids were in my care. The way I found my Au Pair gigs was through these two sites (although many find them through word of mouth): 

  • Work Abroad- Unfortunately if you are an American, it is a bit more difficult to find work in Europe, Australia, Canada simply because of work visa requirements. I did a work abroad stint using a temporary work visa offered through the UK and the Commonwealth. It is called BUNAC. It is a work visa with pretty particular requirements (I believe it is geared towards college aged or just having graduated college). I met that criteria just barely and decided to go for it. Pretty cool opportunity if you ask me! Just make sure you have your ducks in a row. don't expect to make a lot of money - I made just enough to support me continuing to live abroad. Nothing extra. NOTHING. 
  • Teaching Abroad- There are, of course, other work abroad options for those with qualifying degrees. One that I really want to do that I still have not is teaching english abroad. There are several programs to get you certified. Having not tried either, I cannot recommend one or the other. TEFL certification is one, TESOL is another, and CELTA is one more that I have heard of. I'd love to learn more about these options. 

So, as you can see, as far as immersion options go, there are A LOT of choices out there available to you that can really kick start your language learning. I'm sure there are many more that I didn't post here, only because I don't have experience with them. I sure wish I had more photos to share of my experiences with these options, unfortunately that was during film camera days and most of those photos have yet to make the transition to a digital copy. Eventually.

Stay tuned for next post on language learning techniques! If immersion is something you can't do right now, fear not! There are other ways!

Volunteering in Italy. Check out this blog: Beers and Beans

"One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way." - Frank Smith

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lesson #4

Lesson #4: Learn A New Language

Once upon a time, I was a twenty-year-old girl, up at the very top of the dome of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, looking out onto all of that beautiful city. I turned to my two friends who had climbed up there with me and said, "I can't wait to tell this story to my kids and my grandkids. About the time I climbed to the top of St. Peter's Cathedral, back when I lived in Italy." We giggled, imagining how far off that seemed, but now I remember that moment so brilliantly, maybe because I'm starting to realize how very near that might actually be. I find myself constantly referring back to my time spent living abroad, and recently it has started to feel like a pretty long time ago. In fact, the first time I lived there was 11 years ago. To me, sometimes, it seems like I just got back. Other times, it seems like another lifetime ago. 

Anyway, the point of my lesson here isn't about living in the past or ruminating on nostalgia. It's about learning a new language! So, I went to Italy as a sophomore in college. I didn't know what to expect at all, but I knew I was excited about the newness of the whole experience. Some part of me was looking for something more than the boring college scene and frat parties that permeated my college life thus far. I spent a few months studying on my own, with cds and books and funny labels that I posted all over my apartment. My roommate made fun of me and I let her because it was pretty nerdy. But I couldn't help hide my anticipation. 

Upon arriving in Italy, I set out to talk to EVERYONE. I was in the beginner class because I was, by all definitions, a total beginner, (having only spent those few months before learning on my own) but I quickly progressed into the more intermediate class due to the speed of my learning. And the speed of my learning was not because I am a genius at learning the language, but because I wanted to develop relationships with the people I was meeting there and the only way to do that was to learn their language better. So, like I mentioned before, I talked to everyone. I went on "dates" with Italians just so I could practice speaking. It was fun. I met with Italians for conversation groups. I purposefully put myself in situations where no one spoke English so that I would have to make myself speak Italian and learn how to speak it better. I kept an Italian dictionary in my purse and whenever I had a moment to spare, for example, while waiting for the bus or train or whilst killing time between classes, I pulled it out and taught myself new words. 

Learning a new language wasn't just about translating what I knew in English to their language in Italian. It was learning all new ways of thinking and feeling and expression that was dictated through that new language. It was seeing life through a different lens. Anyone who learns another language will tell you the same - you can't expect to translate things literally. You have to learn what it means to be living in their culture, in their country and how to say those things through the their mother tongue. 

I am going back to Italy very soon, for the first time since a very brief visit in 2007. I'm nervous because I haven't been speaking Italian very much over the past 6 years (okay, not at all). So I'm bringing out all the resources I have. 

Someone's traveling to Italy soon!
There were many life lessons I learned, starting with that experience so long ago. I learned that learning a new language opens you up to a second soul. It makes your world that much bigger and gives you the opportunity to learn from others who have a culture and country and way of life so different from your own. Rather than closing yourself off because you feel stupid because you can't speak their language, try your best and, nine times out of ten, the person seeing you trying will also try on his behalf and that's when you break through the communication barriers.

I'm constantly trying to learn from others and I think it is great to be taught about other places, people and customs. The best way to do this is to learn their language. You get so much closer to them and are more easily accepted if you show your interest in trying to understand and assimilate to them, rather than wanting, or worse, expecting them to bend over backwards for you. It's a two-way street. Or, it should be. 

In any case, one of the greatest lesson I can pass on is this one. Go and learn that language. Any language! Start from scratch like I did. Buy a book or CD to listen to. Don't feel silly. You're doing your mind a favor as well as your soul. Then once you've practiced some, go visit the people that speak your newfound language and learn more. Enroll in a week or two of language classes during the summer. It's not difficult- people do it all the time. It's the best way to get to visit a place! 

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
‒Nelson Mandela