peace corps

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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peace corps

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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Astonishing

on the crest

There are a lot of similarities between Peace Corps service and mountain climbing. Here are just a few of them:

  • There are easy paths and difficult ones
  • It’s way better to have a team with you
  • There are lots of bugs involved
  • It’s probably helpful to have a machete

I’m the small brown speck in the picture above. You can’t see my face but at this point in the hike I was debating if I really had to go all the way to the top crest of this mountain. From below it looked crazy steep and it definitely seemed like there would be some mild rock climbing involved. I was tired and pretty gross and some people had already decided to hang back so it would’ve been so easy to not do it. I decided to go up just a little further and see what it looked like up close. The rocks that had to be climbed ended up being a lot bigger than they had looked from my brown-speck-spot; easier to imagine as stairs that required both your hands and feet. So rock by rock I made my way up to the 670 meters that the mountain Orarí  stands at and once I got to the top I shouted into the valley below because I couldn’t believe I had done it!

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I can see my house from here! 

Orarí wasn’t the only mountain I overcame this month. I also saw the culmination of over 6 months worth of work in my Ultimate Frisbee and Leadership Camp! With a grant amount of just over $2,000, 48 amazing youth from all over Panama, around 15 different facilitators, and the overwhelming support of my high school, we were able to create an experience that I know I will never forget. Kids that had never played frisbee before were throwing discs like it was second nature and everyone was having fun. Throughout the course of the week I saw indigenous girls that barely spoke to anyone they didn’t know starting to cheer on their teammates and help people with their throws. Boys who were used to the highly competitive nature of soccer started congratulating their opponents on games well-played. Friendships were made, culture was shared, and we learned about how the skills that Ultimate Frisbee teaches us can apply to our daily lives by using socio-dramas to demonstrate things like, supporting one another, pivoting and thinking before making decisions, and always remembering the spirit of the game. Since the camp ended I keep hearing from volunteers about frisbee clubs that are now forming in their communities and I’ve started to see a group slowly form here as well. Not only that but Dionara, the winner of the spirit award, went back to her family in the indigenous Comarca Nägbe-Bugle and taught her mom to throw a frisbee!

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Spirit Circle post-game

After the camp I had about a week to relax before heading to the city for my Mid-service training. My entire group was together for the first time since last year! MST is basically a lot of medical appointments and a little bit of training. I’m happy (and surprised) to report that I have no cavities! In our two days of training we were given lots of time to reflect on our service so far. Looking back, I’ve done quite a bit! I’ve had two adult English courses, one kid’s English course, and a national camp in my community. I’ve gone to medical gira’s, youth leadership and sexual health seminars, and youth camp’s in my friends’ communities. I’ve given TESOL presentations in Panama City and led teacher seminars in my local capital. As time goes by it’s easy to forget all of those things and feel like I’ve done nothing so I was glad to sit back and ruminate a little on how far I’ve come. We were also given the opportunity to start thinking about our future’s. Will we be going to graduate school or looking for jobs? Will we be trying to extend our service in Panama? Or, will we maybe decide to ship off for Peace Corps Response in another country? Maybe we won’t do any of that and we’ll take some time to travel. There are a lot of options on the horizon.

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all of G78 TELLS celebrated Bianca’s birthday

So after my frisbee camp and MST I think Jo’s song “Astonishing” from Little Women is very fitting. As she sings:

Here I go
And there’s no turning back
My great adventure has begun
I may be small
But I’ve got giant plans
To shine as brightly as the sun
I will blaze until I find my time and place
I will be fearless,
Surrendering modesty and grace
I will not disappear without a trace
So, as I sat at the top of Orarí, the mountain I have called mine since day 1, I thought about all of the days that brought me there. They weren’t all easy and often it was really hard to see my progress—Mountains have a funny way of making you forget how far you’ve climbed right until you reach the top. So, ultimately, I’m glad I climbed all the way up to that peak and shouted out into the sky. Peace Corps may not be easy, but its sure as hell worth it.IMG_3270IMG_3287

 

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Moving too fast

These posts seem to get later and later the busier I get! One more month has basically lapped me on the race track and I’m trying to catch up. In just barely more than 1 week my frisbee camp will be starting and I couldn’t be more excited/nervous/stressed. First I want to take a moment to thank everyone who made a contribution to my grant. We received the full amount ($2,087.40 but who’s counting?) and because of that we can bring 48 kids from all over Panama together to learn about leadership, sexual health, and of course, Ultimate Frisbee. I quite literally could not have made that happen without support from all of you.

angelSo what did I do for the month of May? I went home! For 11 days! As always, going home is a magical experience that never seems to last long enough. Two of my best friends got married while I was home and I was honored to be a bridesmaid. Never in my life have I met two people so in love and it was a true joy to witness them read their vows to one another and be the beautiful amazing people they are. I was asked by the brides to give a speech at the wedding and I hope that they liked it! The reception was fantastic, filled with dancing, vegetarian food, and instax cameras flashing all over the place. I think one of my favorite moments of the night was then “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show played and everyone made a FULL COMMITMENT by collapsing onto the floor at the end of the evening.  18582294_10209690623731458_1577306562575694276_n

The work never stops though! While at home I went to my old high school and talked to the Teacher Academy students about what it’s like to teach abroad. They were all bright and energetic and asked a lot of really great questions! Hopefully one or two of them are considering teaching abroad in the future whether they do it with Peace Corps or another agency. I managed to make it all the way from my house in the US to my house in Panama in one day with a combined total of 14 hours of travel including a car, a plane, a taxi, and a bus! Needless to say I spent hours cuddling the kittens once I got back and just finished completely unpacking yesterday. Ever since then my life has been camp planning, letter writing (technically part of the camp planning), buying hundreds of pounds of food (also for the camp), and watching Gilmore Girls (for my sanity). The new 3rd year extension TELLS coordinator came to my site to do my one year visit and basically just check in with me. During her visit she also bought a sombrero! Maybe I should direct her to my other post on how to wear it? Finally, I was able to help another volunteer throw together a seminar on customer service skills for a group of university students! They all did amazingly well and I have no doubt they’ll excel in their field. We gave them 5 important customer service skills and had them present about them in groups. Some chose to do skits, some did drawings, all were fantastic. To show them some different customer service skills we used the following scene from The Office: 

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If you want to watch the scene do it here

So that’s my life right now! Lots of camp things going on but they’ll be over and worth it soon. Stay tuned to hear all about how it goes!

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Talking Hats

Do you consider yourself an intelligent person? Do you think you’re friendly and warm? Well, you better make sure your hat is saying the same thing!

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If you thought you could just throw a hat on your head and go about your day then you’ve got a lot to learn. Here in Panama, the way you wear your sombrero can say a lot about you. There are many ways to interpret what people are saying with their headgear and it can vary in each community. In La Pintada you can use your hat to show off who you are without saying a word. Before we move any further let’s make sure we all know what a sombrero looks like. 14462959_10207744586961755_3823597551907269574_n

All of the things those kids have on their heads are sombreros! They come in a lot of different patterns and sizes. They don’t all look the same but they’re made in similar ways and all of the same basic form. So, how should you wear your sombrero??

  • Front brim down and low on your forehead-This means you’re a person that keeps a lot of secrets. Maybe you’re a spy? Maybe you’re a professional party planner that deals only in surprise parties? The world may never know.
  • Back brim up– You’re a very smart and professional person! You probably have an important job that requires fancy clothes to accompany your many degrees.
  • Front brim up but low on your forehead– You’re ready to fight. Any time. Anywhere. People that wear their hats like this are aggressive!
  • Front brim up but sitting normally on your forehead– Not to be confused with the aforementioned style, this means that you’re a hard worker! You’ve gotta keep the sweat out of your eyes somehow with all the labor you put in on the daily.
  • Front brim and back brim up-This means that you’re a successful person! Successful in what, you may ask? Well, sadly, I don’t know. Maybe you’re really good at gardening or you’re a teacher whose students always turn in their work on time!
  • Side brims up-You’re a vaquero who works out in the campo. You  can probably lasso a bull in your sleep and I for one and impressed.
  • Normally, with no brims down or up-Okay so I know I said you can’t just throw your hat on and go but if you do it means that you’re a friendly person. You probably don’t have time to style your hat because you’re heading off to that surprise party for your friend’s birthday!
  • The entire hat is hanging off the side of your head– You’re drunk friend! Time to put down the seco and grab a taxi home.

Grab your sombreros and wear them in whatever way suits you best!

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True Vaquero style

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How to say hello

Every culture in the world has a traditional way of greeting each other. This tends to vary across social groups and often even across ages. For example, a group of teenagers in the USA will probably say “hey” or “what’s up” rather than the more formal “hello.” But if I were listening in on one of my grandmother’s conversations with a friend of hers I’d be far more likely to hear her say “hi.” I wouldn’t go into a job interview and say “hey, how’s it going?”  but  I would say “hello, how are you?” The way we use language is important to us. It shows our relationships between one another. So here’s 5 ways to say “hello” here in Panama.

1) Hola– Tried and true–This literally translates to “hello” and can be used in formal and informal settings. 

2) Buenas– This is a shortened version of “buenas noches/buenos días” but it is always used with an -as ending no matter what time of day it is. It’s my favorite greeting and I say it to everybody. 

3- ¿Que tal?– How’s it going? A solid informal greeting used among friends and acquaintances. 

4- ¿Que sopa?– This is a slang-ified version of “que paso” which means “what’s up?” You hear this more among younger generations and it’s informal. Don’t use it in a professional setting

5- Ow!– This is more of a sound than a word. It’s just a way to acknowledge someone and shout “hey!” Again, totally informal

See? Learning Spanish isn’t so hard. And don’t worry, if you get confused, a smile goes a long way. 

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