Monday, August 31, 2009

Batch 268, Butterfliles, and Dancing Prisoners

Last week, while I was celebrating my one year anniversary away from home, I was also in Manila as part of the welcoming committee for our new batch of volunteers. 10 current volunteers were chosen to spend the week in Manila to act as resources for our 68 new trainees. As a group of resource volunteers our biggest revelation was that the only thing more boring than filling out visa paperwork, is watching other people fill out visa paperwork. Besides sitting in on info sessions on policy and culture we also got to answer hundreds of fun questions. Overall, it was a really fun week and one that I hope will be of value to our new batch.

P.S. every time someone calls them the "new batch" I'm reminded of this classic movie:
From there I went with a few of my friends down to Cebu to see what is slowly gaining a cult following, The Dancing Prisoners. They're gaining popularity through YouTube, especially because of their excellent Thriller dance and the Death of Michael Jackson. At this prison and rehab center they've hired a choreographer who teaches the inmates new dances and every month they present a show. They were so amazing! We all thought that there would be lots of distance (and bars) between us and the dancers, but instead we were within arms reach of them. After the dance they all line up for a photo op. By the end of the show you kind of forget that most of them have killed someone or something equally bad.
We had some extra time so we also went to a butterfly garden in the middle of the city. It is run by a man whose father was an ardent butterfly lover, artist, and explorer. His son has inherited the family house and continues to expand on his father's work. Besides seeing some beautiful butterflies we also got to see his father's art projects. His father was an avid painter and combined his love of butterflies and art and starting making art out of the wings of dead butterflies. He did 11 portraits of famous men out of small snipits of butterfly wings. The intricate details and tedious nature of working with butterfly wings made the art really special to see.
Needless to say I'm happy to be back home resting and prepping for my school's foundation week. Sept. 6-12 we are pulling out all the stops to put on a week of programs and dinner and speeches to celebrate our 12th year of operation. Its going to be something special. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Year Ago

A year ago....

It seems like another lifetime ago. Another world. A different person. But that's the way all my sentences seem to start this week.

Can you believe a year ago...?
Seems like it was just a year ago...
Where were you a year ago?

After a year in the Philippines (August 17th we landed I think) I've done a lot of new and fun things, met some amazing people, and done enough work for people to think I'm effective. I think at this time last year I was at my going away party drinking way too much and saying goodbyes to my old friends.

Time has been such a strange thing since I went abroad. In terms of Peace Corps I don't feel like I've been here that long. Every month there has been something new to keep me moving forward. In my work I feel like I've only just begun to be effective and doing the kind of things that I came here for. But a year is also long enough to start talking about America as "the old life" that I lived with "my old friends".

I don't know how I feel about this. On the one hand I see another year ahead in which I can accomplish so much more. I've got a calendar full of both work and play lined up all the way to December. At the same time I've got a year away the "old times". I think that one challenge maybe all volunteers feel is the feeling that for every step we take towards our new cultures and families abroad it takes us one step away from what we left behind. Its not fair to either group though to remain stationary for two years.

I hope that in the coming months I can keep the balance between old and new, America and Philippines, and work and play balanced.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


This week was mid-terms. It went off without a hitch, minus the fact that most of my students failed. I don't know how I feel about this. A good teacher would probably attribute this to poor teaching on their part, regroup, and review the things they messed up on. I'm not feeling so generous to take the responsibility totally on myself though. Seeing as how I only made half the exam, and only taught half the class it can't be totally my fault, surely my counterpart can take some blame.

I also see a lot of issues with the students' performance on the test. After giving 7 exams this week I've noticed a few things about Filipino test taking. Most students will start off strong and go through the test, answer everything they can with their own knowledge and then go back to the top. I'm a very linear test taker and don't like to move on until I've finished a section so I applaud their flexibility. However, once they go back to the top that's when they start cheating. This is when eyes start wandering and mouths start to open. Because of a generally collective culture cheating is not so much considered "cheating" as it is "helping my friend". You should help your friends...even if you're helping them in a bad way.

What happens is everyone has one smart friend, and the smart friend is in charge of answering all the questions. Then they share their answers with the dumb friends. The dumb friends, because they're inherently dumb, don't think that maybe...just maybe, the smart kid doesn't know either. So then they all have the same wrong answers instead of right answers. Based on the answers to test questions I can tell who was sitting by who and who is friends with who (not that those things don't go together anyhow).

Then they don't think that things on the test may give them answers to other parts. You know how when you do a math test and you fill in the equations in the first part and then have to DO the equations in the second part? And then between the parts you just copy and paste the ideas from part one to part two? Yeah that is a connection that is missing. They'll get things right the first time, then not the second time. If you knew it once why not twice??

So I don't think I'm going to go back over IPA symbols, because its a fairly worthless skill in my opinion. But we're def. going to to some discussion on test taking skills and logical thinking.