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Running

Wow! September flew by and with it the realization that yet again, I have bombed on my culture blogging. I’m starting to see why Peace Corps blogs take a nose-dive. So, what exactly has been occupying my time for the past month? As always, the answer is so much! I feel like I’ve been running all over this country (spoiler alert: I have).
My English course ended on the 5th and I had 17 graduates! The last day was lovely; we had snacks, presentations, and English conversations. Based on my post-test I can confidently say that everyone in the course has a better understanding of English than they did previously. They’re already asking about a follow-up course! They’ll have to wait for that though—this volunteer needs a break from lesson planning.

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My friend Vannessa invited me out to participate in a speed conversation event at a University near her and it was a lot of fun. We talked with 7 different college students about topics ranging from food, to movies, to healthcare in Panama and the US. Following that event, I was off to IST to facilitate a “Camps & Clubs” training for the most recent TELLS group in Panama. They’re an excellent group and they’re participatory which is nice when you’re up at the front trying to talk as little as possible! Kudos to you G80!

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To follow-up on my giant ultimate frisbee camp (y’all remember that?) I took two girls from my community to participate in a frisbee tournament out in the province of Chiriqui! This was probably the most fun I’ve had facilitating in a while. It’s hard to not have a good time when you’re playing frisbee! My friend Cherisse and I pooled our kids together to form a Coclé team and we ended up winning 2 out of the 3 games we played! Those kids are really great at frisbee and they somehow seem to never get tired.

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After all this you’d think I’d want a break from facilitation; I did I didn’t! I went to Panama City to present “One Game to Rule Them All” at the annual Panama TESOL Conference. This event is massive. Over 200 people come from all around the world (one of the women that attended my session was from Russia!) to learn about new methodologies, classroom management strategies, and ways to incorporate new techniques into their classrooms. My session focused on using games to enhance classroom management and increase teaching time. I was also lucky to stay with someone who is a fellow working with the embassy—it was cool to hear about her life and what she was doing! Plus, she has the cutest little kitten.

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Next, I was off to another community in Panama—one with only 50 houses (only about 45 of which are inhabited). I stayed with another volunteer and presented English activities for his entire school. In a stroke of blatant self-confidence, I wanted to try to do all the activities completely in English. Ni una palabra en español. This drive was furthered by the fact that my friend didn’t think this would work at his school. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one to back down from a challenge (and I like being proved right) so I was set on it. And you know what? The students delivered! Using lots of modeling and TPR to demonstrate what I wanted them to do we went through all the activities completely in English! To be honest, I was a little surprised.  There were lots of nice little moments there—his community has no access to cell phone signal and I couldn’t connect to the school Wi-Fi so I was off the grid for a few days. As the students were leaving school after the activities one shouted goodbye to my friend and then to me saying “Ciao gringa!” in perhaps the sunniest tone I have ever heard a child use. My heart promptly melted into a puddle.

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Visiting wasn’t all fun and games though—I was supposed to really get my hands dirty and kill a chicken. Let me give you a glimpse into my thought process beforehand:

I can do this.

 I eat chicken.

 I’ll probably just freak out a little bit.

Now let’s examine my thought process during:

NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE

*cries a lot*

Ohmygod this chicken is so WARM

Now when I say during that’s giving me a lot of credit. I didn’t even touch the thing until I had been staring at it and crying for at least 5 minutes and then I immediately stepped back and decided I couldn’t do it. I did watch my friend take care of it and then butcher and clean it afterwards (I did all of this while cuddling puppies which helped). I’m a little disappointed in myself and I would like to try again at some point. This is the first time something has ever died in front of me so I wasn’t super prepared. And by the way, when someone kills a chicken something about it doesn’t even look real. Wish I could explain it better but I can’t. If you’ve seen it maybe you get what I’m saying.

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Finally, at the end of the month, I returned home and we had our first annual Reader’s Theater competition in Coclé. My students and I had been prepping for months and I’m so proud of all the work they put into it! They did really well and I got several compliments from other volunteers. Unfortunately, we didn’t take home a prize but así es la vida. Maybe next year!

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(ps: the song is from Hot Mess in Manhattan)

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How to learn a language in 6 easy(ish) steps

I’m currently in the throes of my penultimate English Course and I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways we learn language. For the sake of this I’m talking mostly about spoken language—not written. For me, learning to speak a language was different than learning to write it. Messing up the grammar doesn’t matter as much in a conversation as it does in a paragraph. So, I wanted to share some tips and tricks I’ve learned with all of you.

  1. Listen to the language—Watch tv, listen to music, listen to podcasts. Anything that you enjoy listening to can be found in another language. Here’s the important part: you don’t need to understand it. This isn’t an exercise to practice knowing what they’re saying. It’s a way to accustom your ear to the way that language sounds and its incredibly helpful.
  2. Use subtitles—This is another way to help accustom your ear if the first method isn’t totally working for you. Watch a movie or tv show with the subtitles on in the language that you’re trying to learn. This can help you make connections between the words and how they sound that you might not make as easily by just listening.
  3. Talk to yourself—I know it sounds crazy but while you’re walking around your house by yourself just have a one-sided conversation in the language you’re learning. If that feels weird then talk to your cat, dog, or plants! This will get you accustomed to forming the language.
  4. Talk to people who speak the language—Maybe you have friends who know this language or maybe there’s a church group or community group that you can join. Speaking the language with a native speaker will help you improve by leaps and bounds. Bonus points if you ask the people you’re chatting with to correct you if you make major mistakes in what you’re saying!
  5. Use an app or an online service to help you—I’m personally a major fan of Duolingo because it’s free and makes you practice listening and speaking. Plus, it now has a bot program for some of the languages so you can practice having conversations!
  6. Travel—Obviously this isn’t feasible for everyone but, if you’re able to go to an area where the language you’re learning is the native language then do it! Being there will completely immerse you in the language and force you to learn more.

The biggest thing that you can do when learning a new language is to practice as much as possible. If you want a good resource for listening check out this site for slow news broadcasts in other languages.  An excellent choice for Spanish learners is Radio Ambulante, an NPR podcast in spanish that talks about under-reported stories in Latin America. I hope some of these tips are helpful to you! If you’re ever stressed while learning another language remember: ¡Si se puede!

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My Favorite Moment of the Bee

Hello everyone! It finally happened—my first month not posting my monthly update. I also missed my bi-weekly culture posting. Whomp. I wish I could say that I had a good excuse but, even though I have been busy it really comes down to time management and motivation. I’ve definitely let this blog fall to the wayside a bit as I focus on other projects. I’ll do better ya’ll.tumblr_lwxebvIh1D1r4kfic

July happened! I started it off on an incredible note by attending Pride in Panama City on the first. Around 50 volunteers were there alongside people from the US Embassy. The US ambassador to Panama was there! The parade traveled down the street of Panama City that borders the cinta costera and, if I had to guess, it was probably about a 3 mile stretch. This was my first ever Pride and I didn’t know what to expect—gay marriage is still illegal in Panama and I wasn’t sure if there would be people protesting the parade. However, any fears or doubts I had were completely unfounded. The parade was incredible and unifying. There was dancing, music, and lots of glitter. Some Panamanians in drag rode on the floats as Queens—a role traditionally reserved for only women during celebrations. My host family saw me on TV and when I got home my host mom and I talked about how we wished we could do our makeup half as well as the drag queens in the parade. I’m consistently grateful for my host family’s openness and acceptance of the gay community and their willingness to talk about it. Recently there have been lots of “pro-family” marches in the country protesting the gay-marriage vote (which is happening soon, I believe) so Pride feels more relevant than ever.

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After all that wonderful celebrating, I got very sick. I’m talking sitting on the toilet and throwing up into a bucket simultaneously at 4 am sick. It’s a pretty picture, right? After calling the med office I finally dragged myself to the clinic at 8 am when it opened and thanked my lucky stars that there’s a peace-corps approved clinic in my site. After determining that I had some sort of virus and was very dehydrated I got hooked up to an IV and fed fluids and some medication to help with nausea and vomiting. I slept on the table in the clinic for about an hour and a half before being released with a series of medications and 3 bottles of Pedialyte. I was sick for about 4 days though luckily without the severity of gastrointestinal distress of the first day.

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Valentine did not help with my illness

I had my first completely failed project this month! For a while I had been planning to start a reading hour for children because I had accrued a lot of children’s English books. Plus, parents were stopping me on the street to ask when I was going to do an English course with the kids (That was over the summer parents!). I decided that, rather than host a full course for kids, a reading hour would be a fantastic way to work with the youngest age group and start getting them accustomed to English. To start I decided to go through and label all the books based on their English level—no small task since I had at least 50. Then I started really getting into things. I talked to the librarian about using the library once a week after school, I talked to my principle about the idea, I papered the town with flyers advertising it two weeks in advance, and on the day of I made an announcement to the padres de familia at the school telling them that it was starting that day. I went to the library and waited, no one showed up. Maybe that day wasn’t good, no use getting discouraged. I went the next week and again, no one came. Being angry, confused, or embarrassed would’ve been easy—I could tell the librarian felt bad that no one was coming. Plus, parents kept asking me to work with their kids so why didn’t they bring them? However, it was easier to just accept it. However, that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop trying. I plan to attend a reading hour that the librarian hosts on Friday evenings and talk to the parents that attend. I want to see if maybe the time I chose was bad, and when a better one would be. I want to see if this is a project they’re even interested in for their children. If not, the library will just get a large donation of English books!

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Practicing places and prepositions in my English Course

I’ve had successful projects as well—the third part of my English course is in full swing and I have about 20 participants! I also helped to facilitate activities for the After School English Program in Penonome. I’ve started running and will be participating in the relay portion of a marathon in November; I’ll be running 3.1 miles. This month is bringing on a lot of activities. The number one thing on my agenda is a frisbee club! I want to get one off the ground and start practicing once a week. I’ll be facilitating at two separate peace corps training events as well and then heading to the Comarca again! And, finally for the title of the post, I’ll be hosting the Spelling Bee on Friday! A few kids from my school are competing and we’ve been practicing a lot so I hope they do well. Maybe we’ll bring home the gold!

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A tourist trap worth seeing

There are some touristy parts of Panama that I avoid. The canal never really interested me much though I’ve been twice now. But there is a hidden gem in Panama City that had gotten rave reviews so I had to check it out. That hidden gem is the BioMuseo!img_2863.jpg

The BioMuseo, or Bio-Museum, was architecturally designed by Frank Gehry who is known for his innovative and often grandiose designs. It is all about the biodiversity of Panama; el Puente del mundo (the bridge of the world). If you’re ever in Panama I highly recommend coughing up the $18 non-resident price (or $10 if you’re a resident aka a PCV) and visiting the museum. From albrook mall it’s just a $4 taxi! Okay, now that we’re through the actual costs, what is there to see? When you enter the museum, you’re greeted by exhibits explaining what biodiversity is and denoting species that have been discovered in Panama. Then there’s a wall of all the species that exist in Panama. The ones in red are in danger of extinction while the ones in black have already gone extinct. The plaques in gray are the things that contribute to species extinction. The biggest threat? Humans.IMG_2870 (2)

From there you move into a movie theater where screens cover the walls, ceiling, and even floor! Here you’ll watch a short film about the biodiversity of Panama and, if you’re lucky, there will be a school group there so you can hear the guide explaining things and watch kids flap their arms like birds when cued. After the film, you step out into rocks and fossils! This was by far one of my favorite parts because I really enjoy geology AND I solved a mystery that’s been bugging me for a while! Backstory: wayyyyy back in the beginning of my service I hiked out to some petroglyphs near my site (you can read the blog post about them here) and I was really confused by this carving of what appeared to be an elephant. Now flash forward to me wandering around looking at fossils and pre-historic animals of Panama. Suddenly, I see it! Cuvier’s Mastodon—a giant species that was related to elephants and lived in the Americas until roughly 11,000 years ago. The carving must not have been an elephant, but a mastodon! Which also means that those petroglyphs are crazy old.

From there you learn about animals that roamed Panama and then move forward into learning about the history of Panama—the people and cultures that pre-date us and helped to form what we have here today. But I don’t want to spoil it all for you; you’ve got to see it for yourself! And if you come after December of 2019 you’ll be able to check out a new exhibit—the aquarium!

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