Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow and Virginia Beach

Edwin finally is here!  After a long horrid confusing visa process that still isn't over, he flew into Dulles last Saturday.  Must blog more about this pisses me off to no end.  This meant a trip to DC for me, which was happy, and a visit with Karen.  I also got lots of salvi groceries and some stuff from Colombia, including my $2.50 Pony Malta.  He's basically hibernated his way through the first week, since it was the last week of school for me before break, and we had an insane amount of meetings and after school things. 

In my continuing tradition of trying to travel here on days when the weather sucks, Edwin and I went to the Virgina Aquariam at Virginia Beach.  At least I only made two wrong turns!

Love the teeth. 

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On the way back, instead of rain, we had snow! Glad it wasn't the feet that the rest of Virginia got.

Me and the chucho de agua.
The snow, which was conveniently gone by late morning.
Snow was promptly followed by watching the first two hours of Sin tetas no hay paraíso. I've never been a big fan of novelas, but I'm still desperately missing living in the eje cafetero, and have fun picking out places I've been. 

We'll be headed back to Ohio on Tuesday, snow permitting, cat in tow.  

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thanksgiving in Nueva York

Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, after a whole night of getting lost on the turnpike.

Allyson making food.  Yum, food.  Too many leftovers.


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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Aftermath of Ida

I got these pictures from I don't know how many emails sent by my husband and friends in El Salvador.  It kills me to know all of these places, have friends that are there, family that's not been heard from in a couple of days, and know that there's nothing I can do except send money. 


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

North Carolina or Ohio?

After two and a half months, I finally have some choices to make.  ESL in Ohio or Spanish in North Carolina?  Neither job is at the university level, which in the end I think is okay, since the uni positions don't seem to pay much, have any benefits, or be in decent places to live.  I would really like to stick with ESL, but here's the problem...

North Carolina is MUCH more organized when it comes to teaching in public schools.  In Ohio, I've spent the WHOLE time I've been back trying to figure out what I need to do to teach here.  It's a pain and $$$$, to say the least.  So if I go with the place in NC, I automatically get a lateral entry license and they lead me through the process of what classes I would need to take.  The school would pay for the first 6 semester hours, and the rest would be reduced tuition.  This is great, since NC is WAAAAAAY cheaper than Ohio anyways!  I might even be able to get some of my teaching experience to count.  And, to top it all off, the school has TEACHER HOUSING!  So, I'd get to live in a new apartment complex, only with other teachers. 

And for Ohio.  UC took way too long to tell me how to even take classes again.  Each three quarter hour course is $618, and I would need to take at least 6 of those (around $4,000 for 18 quarter hours) to get the coursework that the Ohio Dept. of Education says I need for the alternative license.  If I listen to UC, I would have to take 27 quarter hours, plus 6 more of ESL K-12 methods for the endorsement.  And, the school doesn't seem to understand what alternative licensure is.  I could be on sub pay for a long time (although I have to clear this up).  And I don't know how much I would make, and I'd have to live in the Nati again, even though I love the area and students I'd get to work with. 

At either place (although not sure this applies if I'm a sub all year) I can get my Stafford loans paid off, something like $5,000 for every year that I work, up to $17,500.  That's awesome!  But honestly, I'm not sure that I trust UC, or Ohio.  In NC, it's warmer, way close to the beach and DC, and they know what they're doing.  Sigh, decisions. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On Applying to Teach For America and Alternative Licensure

In today's NY Times, there's an opinion article  discussing teacher education programs and the relationship between teacher pay and performance (Room for Debate: Do Teachers Need Education Degrees?, ).
In my job search, I've applied to universities mostly, but I've been thinking about teaching at public schools.  When I was working on my M.Ed. in Teaching ESL, I was sure that I would never want to teach in a public school, let alone work with youth. Four years abroad working with teens and public school teachers changed my mind.  I don't know how many times I've looked at the Teach For America website, and then decided not to apply, including this year.  But according to the Ohio Department of Education, there's no path for me to alternative licensure without being hired by a school district first.  I have all the content and methods classes I need for both Spanish and ESL (and probably technology, too, even though I didn't have them look at that).  I just need to take the Praxis for both areas which I'm planning to do in September, and 12 semester hours more of classes.  I'm looking for a new challenge and new experiences, and really, for some stability. 

But, a job. I could live at home, substitute teach, and see if something works out.  However, I have no desire to live in northwest Ohio, or even in Ohio.  I could go back to UC full-time and pay out of my pocket for more than a year of classes in education, but seriously, I'll be paying for my undergraduate education for years to come and don't need to add more loans on top of that than I have to.  This is where Teach For America starts to look good.  Yes, I'm already an educator, but not a public school educator.  I would love to live in many of the regions of the country that they're in, and be closer to universities that I could (and actually want) to do my doctorate at in the future.  I've been applying to schools in North Carolina (highly recommended by various VIF program teachers who worked there and loved it) hoping to be able to find one that would accept me through lateral entry, but I think it's the wrong time of year.  I know that T.F.A. has a lot of skeptics, some of who managed to dissuade me from applying before, but in the end I think it could be a good option for me.  

Going back to the article, it mentions that the director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education said that of the nation’s 1,300 graduate teacher training programs, only about 100 were doing a competent job and “the others could be shut down tomorrow.” The first year I was in El Salvador, I went to visit one of the other fellows that was in Xela, Guatemala and to present at a conference there.  She had done her Master's at Monterey Institute of International Studies, and two of her professors were also visiting for the same conference.  I'd always known that my Master's program wasn't everything that it should have been, but listening to my colleague and these professors, both well-known in the field of TESOL, talk about the good ole time at Monterey, my fears were confirmed.  That was also about the time that I decided that a doctorate was for me, but that I needed to choose carefully. 

There's so many things that I would like to do, and that I wished I had planned for, but now I know.  I had imagined another year in Colombia, but being back here has opened my eyes. I'll keep trying, and when it happens, it happens!

Monday, August 17, 2009

San Sal Quick Trip

Taking a break from interviews and filling out job applications, I decided at the last minute to go to El Salvador to visit with my husband and bring back my cat. Unfortunately the tickets weren't as cheap as they were the first time I looked, but Continental was recommended for pet travel anyways.  Five days wasn't enough, but at least it was five days where I felt like I was at home again.  Ohio still feels foreign to me after a month back.  We spent the majority of the time running around to get papers for the cat (which by the way, no one ever checked in any of the airports), seeing friends, watching soccer games, and just enjoying being together.  No news on Edwin's visa yet; it's apparently still "in the mail." We made it out to the beach on Sunday, which was empty since vacations had just ended. 
Why do I feel at home in San Salvador, I wonder? I haven't lived there for a year, and still am not fond of its violence and crazy drivers, but how can you not love a place where you see guys on the corner holding large venomous caterpillars? Where the menu is painted on the wall and includes rabbit, iguana, armadillo, and turtle eggs? I love having the Pacific a half hour drive away, and same for mountains.  I love the comfort food (sorbete, plantains, pupusas, beans, and such) even though I gained about a pound a day that I'll now have to run back off. I've been offered a job there, and am tempted, but I'm holding out for the US. What's meant to happen will happen, I suppose. El Salvador has so many problems that even though I want to be with my husband, I also want to be safe and finacially sound, and he agrees. 
I'm also happy to note that there are still lots of nice people in airports, contrary to my previous international travel experiences.  The cat's kennel/bag lost a zipper at the first security checkpoint in San Salvador when I had to take him out. A nice couple gave me all their safety pins and luggage locks, and helped me punch holes in the bag to try to keep it closed.  This got me back to the gate, where a very nice police officer pulled out his leatherman and tried to fix the zipper, along with another airport employee.  This didn't end up working, so he went and found someone from Continental to help.  The Continental guy and a lady from the duty free shop next to the gate punched more holes in the bag and then laced packing tape through it. Thank you, friendly airport people!  In Houston, other travelers helped me get the cat out and through security, thank you all, too!  It's nice to be proven wrong about grumpy people in airports, and I had more enjoyable conversations in one day than I've had in the past four years traveling thanks to one pretty black and white Salvadoran cat (who was adopted from

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Casa de Alejandro Cotto

Don Alejandro Cotto recently donated his house and museum in Suchitoto to CCSA (the institution I worked at for two years in the English Language Fellow Program). The structure needs a lot of physical work to bring it up-to-par, and CCSA doesn't have the resources to handle it on their own. Does anyone know where funding for such repairs can be found? One of my friends was asking me to see what I could find out, but that's certainly not my realm of expertise. Alejandro Cotto is well-known in Suchitoto and in El Salvador for supporting the arts and preserving the past of Suchitoto, as well as putting it on the map for tourists.

En la casa de Alejandro Cotto - Suchitoto

Here's the story, plus video, posted in El Diario de Hoy

and another article written about Don Cotto's house in La Prensa Grafica

Although Suchitoto is admittedly not one of my favorite places to visit in El Salvador unless it's after dark (think killer sun and not much breeze), this is an extremely important project for the town and for El Salvador.

Summer in Ohio

Playing around with my new camera in the backyard.

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2 Weeks Back

After two weeks, I've had four interviews with universities and was invited to have a second interview with one of them.  I've filled out more job applications than I can count (why, US universities, do you all use the same system, but force us humble job applicants to enter the same information over and over and over).  I even applied for a job back in Bogota, although I doubt anything will come of it.  I've spent some quality time trying to find out what I would have to do to get my teaching license in Ohio (not easy, even though I already have a Master's in TESL and the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in Spanish) and how much money I would have to spend to do this (too much).  I also figured out that there are indeed other states where I could move and get a public school teaching job fairly easily (North Carolina, for example, which I need to find out more about). I wrote countless essays for a short-term Peace Corps TEFL training position, and re-examined what I'd have to do to join the foreign service (not yet, that's more in the long-term plan for me).  I'm trying to figure out how to write a proposal for research that I think should be held at an ivy-league school (so out of my league, but it'd be a great learning experience) and how I can videotape myself teaching pronunciation now that I have no students and am semi-stuck in rural Ohio during everyone's summer vacation (teaching portfolio at 

There are so many things that I'd forgotten about, like peach cobbler, root beer floats, and watering the plants.  There's also a lot of things that you can't do without a job, like get a cell phone plan and buy a car (if you want loans). The first time I walked into Wal-mart, I literally felt sick to my stomach.  It's so easy to get and accumulate "things" here, something I want to try to avoid if possible.  I finally cleaned out the boxes that held all of my notes and papers from undergrad, which ended up being easier to part with than I thought it would.  I've spent a lot of time talking to friends back in Colombia and El Salvador, along with some here.  I think the shock of being back here might have been easier being in Cincinnati, so that at least I would have been in a city as opposed to a cornfield.  Hopefully I'll find out early this week if I'm going to get one of these uni jobs, and will have a couple of days to run down to El Salvador to see my husband and collect my cat.  Still no news on his visa, but the application should be in San Sal by now. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

First reflections on years spent as an ELF

With my final reports finally written, the expense reports in the mail, and a workload that now consists of job hunting, I've had a moment to reflect on the time that I've spent living in Latin America.

I'm thinking seriously about writing, not only to publish on teaching EFL, but for fun. I've learn a great deal about life and what it means to me, not only at a professional level, but personally as well. And what it means to other people. About the "perlas" both good and bad. I have more than four years of blogs and journals, sketches on pieces of napkin, and photos. It in no way can describe the experiences that I've had, and even less, those to come. What have I learned:
  1. I'm finally ready to go back to school to do my doctorate.  I'm reading again, a lot, and for fun, which is a good sign. I might have to export myself to a warm climate during breaks, but I wish I could start now. 
  2. Getting visas is never fun.
  3. People take advantage of each other everywhere, but there are many life-long friends that I've made in the past four years.  A friend is a friend, no matter for how little time you have known them. Those are the ones that you keep for life, and even if you only talk to them once a year, you always think about them, and make the effort to keep in touch. 
  4. I have opportunities, but then again, I don't. I regret having to leave a life that was in many respects much simpler and enjoyable.  Money and material goods are most definitely not everything. 
  5. I've learned as much from others as I have taught them, if not more. 
  6. I will never permanently stay in the U.S., even though I may have to live here for a while. I am excited to be back in communities where I can play an active role as a volunteer. 
  7. Foreign service fascinates me, especially for being a career path that I had never even considered when I became a fellow.
  8. I can indeed drive in other countries without killing myself or others, and I was setting up moto lessons when I left!
  9. Simple is better. I'm in the process of downsizing all of my belongings now, and will avoid upsizing as long as I can.
  10. There is really nothing better than Colombian coffee, no matter what Salvadorans say.
  11. Just visiting a place doesn't allow you to know it. Neither does living there.  I can't force anyone back home to understand what it means to live abroad. I can only tell them, and try to help them understand.
  12. I now mumble to myself in Spanish rather than English.
This is just my preliminary list; I'm sure it will grow.  I haven't even been back for a week yet, and have spent most of my time applying for jobs, but I've still got a lot left to say.  

Friday, July 17, 2009

Museo del Oro in Bogota

On my last day in Colombia, I decided to stop back at the gold museum in Bogota. I hadn't been there for three years, and wanted to check it out while I was killing some time before meeting a friend. I'm afraid I'm not nearly as stylish as the guys who wore these outfits, but the museum was much better than I remembered it being the last time!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ciao Manizales

You wake up, and for me, it's the feeling that everything's ending. It's like breaking up with someone, knowing that everything will never be the same again. The relationships you have with places are equally as difficult. I'll never feel the way about Cincinnati or Barranquilla like when I lived there the first time. Many of the people who were there who made it what it is for me have moved on, just as I have, and it's just not the same for it. A friend told me that you end up staying in touch with the people in life that you should, even if it's just once a year, and there's truth to this. But it's hard, to in the space of four days, realize that once again it's time to move on.

I'm leaving Manizales today, Colombia tomorrow. Although I know I'll never be gone permanently from Colombia, I don't know when I'll be back. Hopefully it won't be long. Now it's time to deal with reverse culture shock, to see family and friends, and find out what's next in line.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Caio Caio Manizales

Dinner with some of my co-workers right before I left. Thanks Martica, Lucero, Olga, Patty, Carlos Ernesto, and Camilo!
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Friday, July 10, 2009

One Week Left

With one week left in my fellowship, I'm wondering what will come next. I'm also wondering how many dixie cups of tino (coffee) I have drank since last September (3 to 5 cups a day), and how much space those cups are taking up in the dump. And, how will I beat this coffee habit, and go back to nasty cafe americano? I don't think I'm quite ready to go back to living in the U.S., nor do I think this is the best time to be moving back.

I've had an interview and wrote a crazy projection plan for a job here in Manizales at a university. It'd be fun, I think, and I'd like to stay. It was something I was looking for, it kind of found me. Should find out on Friday if it's going to happen. I hope so, really. I like Manizales, and wouldn't mind staying. I'd kind of missed the craziness (like Once Caldas winning last week and the ensuing "civic" afternoon for celebrating).
Once Caldas Celebration

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

La costa atlantica after 3 years

Almost three years ago to date, I left the Atlantic coast of Colombia to join the English Language Fellow program. I had no idea that I'd ever go back after a year of living in Barranquilla and teaching at Universidad del Norte. It was a tough year, partially because Barranquilla is not exactly a paradise by any means, and because I was coming out of a six-year relationship with someone. I probably would have stayed a second year if I hadn't joined the ELF program, but I'm not sure how much I would have liked Colombia had I done that.

I've been in Manizales for 10 months now, and like it a lot. The people and the place have nothing in common with the coast. I began to remember while I was sitting in BOG waiting with all the costeños for the flight to leave. And getting off the plane at BQL, with trash all over the floor. And taking the circunvular and seeing all the dust and run-down buildings and traffic. All the people without homes. The stray dogs.  The unkept streets.  The arroyos. The brown-gray color of the water where the Magdalena meets the ocean (a friend who was still teaching in B'quilla refused to let him students use blue for the Magdalena, only brown or grey). Sure, there are some things that I'd missed, like being able to sit outside, wear sandals, and eat comida arabe.  The way people speak. Music everywhere. But Manizales is much more like home for me.

May 30th, the day I left, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  Leaving Manizales, the plane takes off and circles out over Chipre, then heads back towards Bogota.  The view was unforgettable...the nevados in the background, with Manizales down in the valley, and nothing but green as far as I can see.  Too bad most days you can't see anything! 

Here's Grandfield, looking the same, but with another whole floor on his house and eating more than bread, cheese, and fruit. Friends that I miss.

You can see the disappearing beach near Puerto Colombia (global warming??).  It used to be full of palapas.  The pier is also in the distant, but half of it collapsed into the ocean because they didn't take care of it.  Sigh.

In Cartagena I was suprised to find that some of the teachers in my workshops were guys that I'd met three years ago when a group from the University of Cincinnati came down for a course on applied linguistics.  It was great to reconnect with them, and find out that my professor is bringing down another group this month for the same course.  Maybe I'll get to use my silla ganadora from Avianca and go pay them a visit! 

One new development in Barranquilla was that my friend Kathleen's husband, Jaime, had made a couple of vallenato songs/videos which aren't half bad (although I'm the first to admit that vallenato isn't my most favorite music ever). He's calling himself Jimmy now, which I found particularly amusing!

I went back and visited Uninorte, which was looking cute after adding some new buildings and some plants.  I even had a generous job offer from another institution, but not enough to make me want to leave Manizales. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ELF Highlights: Barranquilla and Cartagena

Highlight 18
Date: June 1-3, 2009
Title: ELF Visits Centro Cultural Colombo Americano in Barranquilla
Participants: 187
From June 1 to June 3, English Language Fellow Erin Lowry imparted a total of five workshops at the Centro Cultural Colombo Americano in Barranquilla. Three of these trainings, a total of six hours, were attended by 110 public school teachers from the city, and focused on how to teach pronunciation and vocabulary, as well as strategies for integrating technology in large classrooms with few resources. The local Secretary of Education paid a visit the first day as a part of Barranquilla Bilingue program, and diplomas were provided for teachers who attended all three workshops.  In addition, two workshops were provided for Colombo teachers. The first, titled “Motivating Underachievers,” dealt with strategies for motivating students to learn English, in particular in the bilingual assistant programs at the binational center.  The second workshop, “Ideas for Authentic Listening,” introduced teachers to new online resources for engaging students in listening activities, as well as new ways to teach using authentic songs and film.  

Public school teachers share their experiences
Highlight 19
Date: June 4 & 5, 2009
Title: ELF Visits Centro Colombo Americano in Cartagena
Participants: 100
Senior English Language Fellow Erin Lowry spent two days in Cartagena giving workshops to teachers from the Centro Colombo Americano and the public sector.  On the first day, Colombo teachers discussed the importance of syllabus and course design in the morning, and methods for teaching listening and speaking in the afternoon.  An open house workshop on teaching vocabulary was scheduled for the second day for teachers from other educational institutions in Cartagena, but was unfortunately cancelled due to rain and flooding in the city. 

Colombo Cartagena teachers discuss the relationship between course objectives and evaluation methods

Highlight 20
Date: June 3 & 5, 2009
Title: ELF Visits Escuela Superior de Administración Pública in Barranquilla and Cartagena
Participants: 61
Regional branches of the nationwide Escuela Superior de Administración Pública (ESAP) in Barranquilla and Cartagena were host to Senior English Language Fellow Erin Lowry on June 3rd and 5th, respectively. ESAP had invited teachers from both public and private sectors in each city to attend a workshop on Shaping the Way We Teach English, a teacher training program developed by the University of Oregon under request of the US Department of State’s Office of English Language Programs. Shaping is a tool designed to standardize teaching practices of English as a foreign language in countries. Participants were introduced to the materials, and worked through a portion of an example module dealing with teaching large classes.  The materials, which include a trainer’s manual, DVDs with videos of classrooms from around the world, and a set of readings, were donated to all branches of ESAP that ELF Lowry has visited in the first half of 2009.  
Public school participants in Barranquilla pose after a workshop teacher training materials

Teachers from various institutions in Cartagena discuss how they manage large classrooms of 35 to 60 students