Week 5: More than a thousand words

Sep 15, 2014

We had our official photos taken this past week. Dress code was formal and we all spruced up for the occasion. After our individual photos had been taken we all headed for the Nittany Lion shrine where we took several official photos and dozens of silly ones, which we of course enjoyed very much.

The Nittany Lion has been a PennState's mascot since 1904 and the Nittany Lion Shrine is the most photographed site on the campus. The word "Nittany" most likely derives from a native American term meaning "a single mountain".  You can find more about all things Nittany here.

The official photos will be published on the Penn State Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program website. The credit for the "unofficial" photos above and the photos below goes to Jane.

On Wednesday evening we were invited for a dinner at Dean David Monk's home.  Dean Monk is the dean of the College of Education which hosts the H. H. Humphrey Fellowship program.  The food was delicious, the atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable and it was great to be there talking with Dr. Michael Adewumi, Vice Provost for Global Programs, our mentors and college faculty.

On Sunday we were invited for a picnic at Tudek Park. This event was hosted by the Global Connections, a not-for-profit organization that offers support to international students and provides friendship host families to Humphrey Fellows and other students.

My husband and I went on a short trip to Pittsburgh where we visited the magnificent Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. With its 42 floors, the Cathedral is the tallest school house in the world. But this is not the only reason why this building is unique. There are 30  Nationality Rooms or classrooms that teach. They are gifts to the University from the city'c ethnic groups. Classes are still held in these impressive rooms that take the visitors on a trip around the world.

On the way back to State College we stopped in Punxutawney, a.k.a. the Weather Capital of the World where Phil, the famous groundhog, predicts the weather every February. We also stopped in some small rural villages where the Amish people live and bought some of their home-made produce and were stunned by the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside.

Week 4: What's a tailgate anyway?

Sep 9, 2014

For the second week of classes we were assigned books and articles to read, resources to explore and then discuss in the discussion forums on Angel and Yammer before coming to class for further discussion and sharing.  So I dug into it and studied all the materials before the classes, but in spite of it,  I was stressed out before each of them, because I wasn't sure how it would go, since it's been ages since I was a student. And once again I was surprised to see how the professors easily managed to create a pleasant atmosphere in their classes and make us feel relaxed and at ease. No stress at all, but a feeling of confidence and eagerness to learn.

This week also marked the beginning of the football season. On Saturday, the Nittany Lions played their first home game and it seemed that everyone in State College went to the game and tailgate. Not that I'm a sports fan, but I wanted to see firsthand what a tailgate picnic looked like.  And it was a completely new experience, my first football game and my first tailgate party.

The game started at noon, but lots of fans came as early as 7 am in their RVs, vans, trucks and cars. They parked their vehicles on the parking lots all around the stadium and then put chairs and tables at the back of their cars. Some of them brought food from home, while others had a barbecue or baked pizzas.

The game started at noon. I had my big purse on me but they didn't let me in with it, so I went home and came back without it! The seating capacity of Beaver Stadium, where the Nittany Lions played against Akron, is 106,000, which is twice as big as the biggest stadium in Croatia. The stadium was packed, there were 97,354 people inside! And what's fascinating is that the population of State College is is only 40,000. This number doubles during the academic year, so that's 80,000 people. But, obviously, many more, alumni and other supporters came from all over the state and beyond.   The fans were so passionately supporting their team that it was easy to get carried away and cheer for the home team, even though I know absolutely nothing about the rules and how football is played. But I cheered and booed, and yelled and raised my arms for the wave. And was happy. Because my husband was there with me :-)

Week 3 - Classes begin

Aug 31, 2014

We were eased into the new academic year by visiting Boogersburg School in Pleasant Hill. This one-room school where students were taught from 1877 - 1952 is now a museum where local school children and visitors from afar can come and see what it was like to teach and learn in the times past. Teachers in period dress, a register book with names of children and their grades, a pot-bellied stove, slates, small desks and chairs, some now funny, yet strict rules for teachers ("Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.") brought us back to the times when education became public and free for all.

During the first week, which is also known as "add and drop week" we visited different classes and by the end of the week we had to choose those that we would take for credit, audit and sit in. (Almost) all the classes last three full hours with no break at all in some classes, or up to a ten-minute break in others. While visiting the classes I experienced my first culture shock - it was so unusual to see students eating during the lesson! Now I'm pondering if we are too strict regarding food and drink in my country; will students learn more if they are not allowed to eat in class; should eating be restricted to dining halls only; if eating doesn't interfere with active participation in the learning process, should we allow it?

The professors whose classes I attended amazed me! They are leading experts in their fields, prominent researchers,  prolific writers and  highly cited professors, yet they are so friendly, so supportive and so willing to help! I'm indeed very lucky to be able to study here at Penn State, one of the top 1% universities worldwide, and especially so because my mentor is Dr. Kyle L. Peck,  Professor and Research Fellow in the College of Education, Co-director of the Center for Online Innovation in Learning and Principal Investigator of NASA's Aerospace Education Services Project. I'm immensely looking forward to learning from him and sharing the gained knowledge with educators in my PLN upon my return.

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