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How to Learn French, Swedish, Spanish

July 20, 2019


“How about Italy?” she said.

I was lying on my friend’s couch. It was 2010. Los Angeles. I was 20, visiting from University in Boston. 

That year I had stopped playing competitive tennis. I had a spinal injury. I was depressed. 

“You love food,” she said.

2007. High school. End-of-the-year  evaluations. My Spanish teacher sat me at a desk in the back of the room, away from the other students. She opened a manila folder with my final course grade, and then closed it. 

“You have great tenacity,” she said. 

“But you’ll never learn a foreign language.” 

“It’s just a small application,” she said. “You’ll finish it by the afternoon!”

On the plane to Italy I sat next to a girl my age, knees shaking, scratching her wrist. She was crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. 

“My father died on September 11th,” she said.

We held hands. And we took Italian together. 

That summer we practiced Florence. 

Fast forward to 2012. I studied more Italian at the Middlebury Language School. A couple teachers there helped me with my application to be a high school teacher abroad. I moved to Crema, Italy. The town is now known for the Oscar-winning movie “Call Me By Your Name.” Some days I’m jealous. If only the director had spotted me years ago! Seeking male 18-24 American, speaks French and Italian.

I speak French because I moved to Bordeaux. 

Because why not? 

My roommate was a grandmother. I still remember her first email to me:

“Malgré my advanced age it’ll be a pleasure to pick you up from the airport.” What does malgré mean?!

Despite. She was 74. 

She stewed the best fig jam. Little dotlets of confitture and hot yellow butter, glistening against a crisp o’clock baguette. 

My new grandmother got sick. She had to stay in the hospital for several weeks. She couldn’t swallow properly. I should’ve noticed. All the little yogurt spoons in the dishwasher.

I had to leave France when she was still in the hospital. She held my hand. 

“Go, go, adventure!” she said. 

I left for Los Angeles, a Master’s program. When I finished, I thought I was moving to Sweden, a fellowship I was applying for, a project between Portugal, Sweden and the United States. 

I had to learn Portuguese and Swedish, enough so that I could pass the speaking portion of the B1 proficiency exams in both languages. 

I touched every word I could find, working with online teachers, making sure I made that girl on the plane, and my French grandmother proud. Go, go, adventure! 

I passed. 

If I listed to you the languages I now speak, it would sound arrogant. But to recount the sequence of events that make me feel like any language is possible, I turn to the territory of the heart. 

It’s quite random, who opens us. It would be easy to say that my high school teacher’s ignorance was what fueled me to learn many languages. Perhaps a little fuel. It’s a more profound idea to say that the ultimate compassion of friends, teachers, and strangers transform us. It’s not one individual who lets us learn. It’s the fragile edges of connection, from a sofa to a girl on a plane to a malgré grandmother, all who expressed self-love and towards-love simultaneously. Not romantic love, but a spiritual love, surfaced through the language of kindness. 

Kindness is not about the expectation of others. I was a New England kid who expected to stay in Boston my entire life. I was expected to never learn a language. Ignore the preconditions. Start listening to the language of kindness – “how about…?”, a child’s cry, the goodbye wave – as open acts to start a conversation. Language then becomes living – the courage to sit with others, which is a bodily language, a language of our senses, which I’d argue is the easiest way for us to learn a language, to be an expat. 

Resistance to foreign culture isn’t necessary when we’re close to the senses of others. Spoons in a dishwasher aren’t just spoons. It’s a physical memory I can recall. A relationship tied to a breakfast table. Jam is sweeter, adventure more of a quest than an itinerary. More words absorbed than “do you speak French?”

I speak what needs to be held, with hands, with my eyes, with my stomach. That’s real multilingualism. In fountains, gardens, kitchens, courts, alleyways, with the falling leaves, and flowers blooming. That’s real learning.

Go, go, adventure. 

Joshua Kent Bookman is a writer and artist. Like the characters of his book, “close to elsewhere,” he calls several places home, and has worked in France as an agricultural laborer, as a high school teacher in Italy, and tennis instructor in the United States. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1990. 

“close to elsewhere” was released this summer by the Swedish publisher LYS. This is Bookman’s first novel. 

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OMG: I’m Becoming a Citizen of my Host Country

June 26, 2019


When most international teachers move abroad, they aren’t thinking “oh, this is the country that I want to be living in for many, many years.” They also aren’t thinking “When I move there, I’m going to do whatever it takes to become a citizen.”

But somehow, some of us get ourselves into that exact position. What was once the goal of staying at an international school for 4-6 years has turned into 8, 10 or even more than 12 years!

If the situation is good where you are at, then why not stay?! Most likely, not everyone can work and live where you are. Actually, some international school teachers would probably die to live and work in your host country! (note: the grass is always greener problem…)

As you stay longer and longer in your host country, the question about trying to become a citizen starts to be a popular one to talk about and discuss (depending on where you are living, of course).

Things to think about:

What are the requirements to becoming a citizen in your host country? There are many in some cases!

Can you have dual citizenship so that you don’t have to give up your home country passport? Some of us would very quickly give up our home country passport, but many of us would very much not!

What is the time frame for waiting around to get your citizenship application approved? In some countries the processing time can take up to two years!

So the question comes, what then does it take to actually become a citizen?

You will probably have to fork over a sizeable amount of money for your application. Could be from hundreds of USDs to thousands of USDs!

You will probably have to pass some sort of host country language test. Some countries don’t have this as a requirement, but others do. Sometimes just having a A2/B1 level is alright, but other countries might want higher than that!

You will also most likely need to pass some sort of citizenship exam. There will be a bunch of questions about the culture, history, politics, laws, etc. of the country. It can take quite some effort to read and study about all of these topics so that you can pass this exam.

Once you pass all the tests and pay all the fees, the next step is to complete and submit the application and also to check and see if you meet the rest of the requirements. For example, if you have unpaid speeding tickets from driving, that can be a problem. If you have received some financial support from the government in the past few years, that can also be a deterrent. Other problems can include: if you have been outside of the country for more than 6 months, if you haven’t been making a certain amount of money during the time you’ve been working there, if you haven’t had full time work for the duration of your stay so far, etc. All of these things can delay or make it so that your host country will refuse your application.

Even if it is fun to get caught up in all the excitement of becoming a dual citizen, what does it mean to really be a citizen of your host country? Maybe you have got married to a local and had children together and need to get citizenship so that everyone in your family has the same legal rights in the country. That can be stressful for you until you get the passport!

Another question to ask yourself: Once you get citizenship, does that mean you will stay there the rest of your life and that your life as a roving international school teacher is over? That prospect could sound daunting to some people. It is good to have choices though in life. Once you get a host country passport, you could still move and try living somewhere else for a bit, and then you can rest knowing that you could always move back if you want. If your new passport is from an EU country, that would definitely open up more possibilities for places to live and work without the hassle of having some school sponsor you in anyway (which is often a problem for most schools in EU).

We all know that the passport you hold can really make a difference in many ways. If you have an EU passport, you can often get through passport control much faster. If you want to visit Iran, then it would be much easier to go there on an EU passport vs. a USA one. If you want to vote and participate in the main elections in your host country, a passport will allow you to do just that. If you want to get out of teaching and your current job, a passport would allow you to try out a different school or even a different career. The benefits and advantages go on and on…

Of course, the main advantage of having a host country passport is that you can rest and relax knowing that you will not be kicked out of the country for any reason, you will have the same legal rights as any of the other citizens there, and you can stay as long as you want and enjoy the country that you have gotten to know and fall in love with over the years. Even though you probably don’t have your own relatives and direct family there with you, you can stay with and build even stronger relationships with your new family in your host country (or now just your country).

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How to stay safe and well when teaching overseas

June 7, 2019


Mitesh Patel discusses the steps teachers can take to look after their mental and physical health when working in a new country.

Securing a new teaching position abroad can be tremendously exciting, particularly if you’ve triumphed through a frustrating and long-winded application process. It can be so exciting that it’s easy to forget that travelling abroad and living abroad are two very different things. Whereas when you’re on holiday it’s all about fun and relaxation, moving overseas means you need to be mindful of the more mundane practicalities of everyday life.

In fact, feeling at home in your new country is often the deciding factor in the success of a new assignment. You’ll find that a little planning goes a long way in staying mentally and physically safe and well when you teach abroad. Here are some simple tips to get you off to the best possible start:

  1. Make sure you are well informed pre-departure. There are always surprises (good and bad) when you move to a new country. It could be that shopping for groceries is a totally different experience to the one you are used to or that you are used to a lenient teaching style whereas now students are expected to abide by strict rules. Prepare yourself as much as possible by devouring expat guides, and reaching out to staff in similar situations – it can really help you settle in.
  • Find out about health care. Prioritising your health care needs are fundamental, from finding a local doctor to understanding what would happen to you in case of an environmental or medical emergency. Remember, health care often starts before you leave – for example, in Vietnam, foreign staff are required to have vaccinations before they apply for a visa. It’s always worth checking with your school to see if they can help guide you or organise whatever is necessary.
  • Build a support network. When you live a long way away from friends and family, it’s easy to start feeling lonely. Keeping in contact with existing links is important, if not always straightforward – for example, social media isn’t an appropriate avenue in China and Skype can be contentious in the UAE. Again, it’s worth knowing this before you go so that you aren’t left disappointed. Also check with your new school to see if they offer alternative routes if you’re feeling blue. And while it’s always comforting to be able to communicate in your native tongue, remember too the joy of learning a new language. You’ll find that throwing yourself into new activities and customs will ensure you quickly integrate into your adopted community.

Mitesh Patel is the medical director at Aetna International. For more information, please contact emea_marketing@aetna.com or visit www.aetnainternational.com

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Looking After Teachers, However Far They Go

May 1, 2019


Knowing that you have extra support in staying happy and healthy can play a key role in successfully settling into life as an expat teacher, says Mitesh Patel.

Career development, a completely new culture, better work-life balance – there are lots of factors that make teaching overseas a very attractive proposition. Good health care packages also play a part in tempting new talent to international schools as well as making sure staff stay safe and well once they’re there. After all, it can be stressful enough moving home to an area you know well, let alone to a country you may never have visited before.

Recently, there has been a noticeable shift in how international schools are turning their attention to supporting teachers’ mental and physical wellbeing in new and better ways. Finding a school that prioritises this can considerably improve your ‘settling in’ process. It’s also a sign of a school that places an emphasis on a happy and healthy learning environment, as anything that negatively impacts teachers can also negatively influence student wellbeing and progress.

When you move abroad, it’s of paramount importance to know where to turn when things don’t go to plan with your health. Getting food poisoning, for example, is never much fun but if you don’t know where to get help it can become downright scary. Unfortunately, there might also be occasions when you are faced with an emergency, such as discovering that the shortness of breath you’ve been suffering from whilst teaching in Baku is actually a symptom of something much more serious. Should this happen, knowing that every effort would be made to keep you in a familiar place with the support of your friends can be tremendously reassuring at an otherwise traumatic time.

In fact, when you are a long way from home, feeling cut off from your loved ones can really take its toll on mental and emotional health. For example, one of our member schools in China told us that their expat staff were finding life very difficult. Many were at the start of their careers, didn’t speak the local language and had moved abroad for the first time. Unfortunately, feelings of stress and isolation had begun to spread.

We quickly set up a dedicated crisis line for staff, giving them direct access to expert support with whom they could chat in their native language. We also helped the school to promote the line internally, to ensure teachers felt comfortable making that all-important call. It meant a negative spiral was nipped in the bud, and the new recruits could relax and enjoy their time.

It goes to show that it’s always possible to intervene and ensure your experience abroad is a roaring success. Remember, the first port of call is to check with your new school and see what resources and support they offer to help you look after your health and wellbeing.

Mitesh Patel is medical director at Aetna International. For more information, please contact emea_marketing@aetna.com or visit www.aetnainternational.com .

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Widening Education Accessibility Through Experiential Learning International Programs

November 6, 2018


International Programs

(Students participating in Knovva Academy’s Model G20 Program accept their awards on the final day of the international experiential learning program)

While so-called traditional teaching methods focus on structured lectures and readings that prepare students for testing, experiential learning, on the other hand, focuses on learning by doing. With this method, tests are often replaced by a reflection period where students evaluate their own decisions and outcomes. Here, success isn’t necessarily defined, but determined more by what learners take away from the experience.

Before it was a staple in educational verbiage, experiential learning was something that everyone had …well, experienced – but may not have been able to define. Before Jedd Cohen, Knovva Academy’s lead academic curriculum designer, earned his M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he recalls dabbling in experiential learning before he could attach a name to it. “In 4th grade, we did a mini-society where we elected government and we had a marketplace where we made and sold things. It was very exciting to think about what I wanted to sell and make,” he said.

He credits his mini-society in helping him and his classmates learn about the basic principles of economics, how democracy works, how elections were run and even the art of persuasion at such a young age.

While Jedd sees the value in this teaching method, he also sees a place for traditional teaching and believes that experiential learning is complementary but not replacive. At Knovva Academy Jedd and his team of academic designers have worked for nearly 4 years to develop the perfect mix of the two methods with their Model G20 Program. The program, which started in Boston and now reaches high school students all over the world, combines a G20 simulation event with a full curriculum that reinforces and builds key competencies, theories, and practices that students will use during the final summit, the true experiential component of the program.

Now that there’s a name attached to this learning style, a new generation of teachers who took note of their own experiential learning growing up are looking for ways to bring it into their classroom for their students.

“Students really want this, they are tired of being fed this idea that you learn and then your life starts. That’s just not how the world works and they’re getting wise to this and want experience,” said Marth McMorran who also holds an M.Ed. from Harvard School of Education and is the lead online course creator for Knovva Academy.

While it’s clear that experiential learning is a valuable tool for students, many schools and teachers are unclear on how to work it into their classroom. “Most schools are trying to adapt to all the 21st-century education goals and are trying to produce global citizens. They all want to do that, but whether or not they can logistically do that is part of the question,” Jedd notes.

International Programs

A Model G20 student works on his position paper during a workshop portion of the experiential program.

Since teachers don’t always have the time resources, freedom or energy to give their students access to this influential method, 3rd-party programs are becoming a valuable tool to educators. Knovva’s Model G20 Summit program offers teachers access to an international learning platform and can be fully integrated into classroom curriculum thanks to its inclusion of self-supported online classes that ready students for the experiential part of the program. The whole program enables students to think outside their own box and gain new perspective as they analyze and act on certain situations using the information they learned in class.

“Teachers have been planning their whole class around this program, and now we’ve been able to support them by creating an easily integrated lesson for the classroom,” said Benson Chang, Knovva Academy’s global co-founder. With the Model G20 now in 9 different countries and international classrooms, Jedd, Benson, Martha and the rest of the Knovva Academy team are sure to inspire a whole new generation of experiential learners and global leaders.

This article was submitted by guest author Rachel Lemieux, Marketing at Knovva Academy. Knovva Academy is an international education organization based in Boston, Massachusetts. Through our comprehensive online and experiential learning ecosystem, we nurture students’ ability to think critically and engage with real-world challenges. We want to see a world where young people are empowered to pursue their own actualization personally, academically and professionally, while engaging the world with a committed sense of social and global responsibility.

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