Weeks 17 & 18: Chocolate

Dec 16, 2014

There were quite a few things we needed to accomplish at the end of the semester. Even though the Humphrey Fellowship is a non-degree program, we are graded for our credit classes and we have to do certain tasks for our audit and sit-in classes as well.

As part of my Computer Supported Collaborative Learning I moderated three heated discussions happening at the same time on the Penn State new collaboration platform, called "CREATE intelligent collaboration". It was interesting to see how different groups coped with the same problems, how these problems made some of them feel frustrated and disheartened, but also how teamwork helped them overcome issues and inspire them to lead some great conversations.

A blog post on our Class Blog and an Exit Interview were needed for my favorite class of the semester, Emerging Technologies.

For the Humphrey Seminar, I wrote a 5-page reflection paper and took part in a panel presentation on teacher education in Croatia, Mauritius, Myanmar and Nepal. After hearing all the presentations, I couldn't but feel sad because unlike in the above-mentioned country, the teaching profession in Croatia is spiralling downwards and right now this trend seems to be unstoppable.

Our coordinators organized the second Surprise Activity for us (the first one was the hayride). We did our best to make them reveal where they were taking us, but they were tough and didn't let it slip. We had all kinds of ideas on our mind, such as the Amish in Lancaster, the Governor in Harrisburg or the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to mention just a few. Coffee was at stake, but none of us won it.

Where they took us exceeded our expectations. First we visited the Milton Hershey School, which M. Hershey and his wife Catherine founded in 1909. They couldn't have children and they felt morally obliged to give their wealth back to the community and so they founded this boarding school for orphans. Today 2000 students from underprivileged families from all over the U.S. study there at no cost to their families. We talked to some of the students and heard only a fraction of their sad and unfortunate stories and I can't even imagine what these children had been through before coming to this school, where, as one student put it, a million doors opened up for them. One of the school's alumni is the current CEO of the Hershey Chocolate Factory. Were it not for the Milton Hershey's vision and philanthropy,  he most likely wouldn't be where he is today.

The school is managed by the Hershey Trust Company. They spend about 100,000 $ per student per year and their annual budget is $ 8 billion! A percentage of each Hershey chocolate that is sold goes to this school. Now I really do have a reason to buy my favorite Hersheys.

From the Hershey School we went to the Hershey Chocolate World and from there to the Chocolate Ballroom for a dinner theater, A Chocolate Avenue Christmas. A very sweet end of the Fall Semester indeed!

Weeks 15 & 16: Feeling thankful

Dec 1, 2014

Teaching languages for me doesn't mean just teaching grammar and the skills, it means much more than that. It includes teaching about people, cultures, way of life, values, history, traditions ...  One of the lessons in my English class is always dedicated to Thanksgiving even though all I know about it is from books, movies and from what my American friends have told me or  from what they have shared on social networking sites. This year, however, I had this exciting opportunity to see what it is really like. And it totally lived up to my expectations. The food was absolutely delicious - turkey, fresh cranberry sauce (my absolute favorite), cornbread, pumpkin pie and many other delicacies.

But Thanksgiving is not really about food, it's about thanking and giving and it brings across  the amazing American hospitality also. The only people who stayed on campus over the past week were international students, but no matter how many of them were here,  they all had a chance to experience the real Thanksgiving feel in an American home or at a church or at any other gathering for international students.
A Thanksgiving invitation
The Humphrey Fellows spent  Thanksgiving with  host families. I was amazed to see how the host families who travelled to other parts of the country  and our three coordinators made sure that the fellows don't stay alone in their campus dormitories, but experience the real Thanksgiving in an American home. I spent a wonderful Thanksgiving at Dee and Richard's home and I'm thankful for that.
Thanksgiving with Dee and Brinda 
Richard carving the turkey
Fresh cranberry sauce - yummy!

I'm thankful for being a Humphrey Fellow and for meeting so many amazing people. Most of all,  I'm thankful for having the best host ever - Janis. I thank her for being such a kind, thoughtful, understanding, helpful, generous, friendly - or simply put - perfect host.

Janis, my perfect host
Want it or not, Thanksgiving is also closely connected with shopping - Black Friday, a day of huge savings begins on Thursday afternoon. Newspapers around the world simply bombard their readers with stories about people fighting to buy drastically reduced TVs, computers etc. on that day. Because we wanted to check if this was really true we went shopping immediately after Thanksgiving dinner. So there is another myth to be debunked: none of this is true! Shopping on Black Friday was a fun, enjoyable, relaxing experience of finding some nice deals and spending time with family and friends.
Humphrey Fellows shopping on Black Friday

The first 100 days

Nov 20, 2014

Today is the hundredth day of my learning journey in my Humphrey Fellowship year, so it's time for a small recap.

The most important, the most impressive, the most powerful experience that I've gained here is meeting people - people from all the six continents, people so different in so many ways, yet so similar, so kind, so friendly, so helpful.

Emerging technologies come next. Learning from experts is absolutely priceless. It feels great to be a student again, especially here at Penn State where I have access to all the books, journals, articles and databases! A whole new world opened up to me when I got my student PSU ID.   All it takes to borrow a book or an article is just a click. In a semester a student can borrow up to 200 books and keep them for the whole semester! If only I had  time to read all of them.

What I still haven't learned is thinking in English. I'm still waiting for that click to happen to make me think in English spontaneously .. and speak it fluently so that the words come easily, naturally, magically. Come to think of it, this doesn't happen when I speak my native language, either, so obviously I'm not endowed with the gift of gab. Maybe I  should have kissed that Blarney stone when I was in Ireland some years ago. Writing is different, sometimes easy, sometimes not so, but always somehow fluid, rolling, teeming with words and thoughts.

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