Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Under The Sea

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to admit that I was not overly thrilled about the decision to preform the Disney-fied stage version of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid."  In fact, I thought it would look tragically cheesy compared to the animated fantasy-land created with incredible sets, costuming, lighting, and special effects made famous by the award-winning Broadway show.

I was wrong.  Despite graduating a slew of talented upper-classmen since the last show, the Elvis-themed "All Shook Up!", and having to include the elementary section of the school in the show - mostly as tiny dancing fish and other marine life - the show has suddenly come together in a pleasantly surprising way.

As evidenced by the sheer fact that I've not mentioned a single thing about this musical even being a part of my life, the tides have literally changed.  (Sorry, I couldn't help it; there may be more puns ahead.)  This year I am serving as the director of acting, alongside the two music teachers who are handling the choir/soloists and the production, respectively, and the dance teacher, who has been in charge of choreography.  Another new elementary teacher this year has been assisting me with the acting direction as well as advising the set design.  It has been a true team effort.  Since this show involves the entire school, the budget is slightly bigger and we've been able to hire an outside lighting and sound crew - complete with strobe lights and smoke machine - and a professional costumer.  

Even with all the special visual effects, intricate head-pieces, and functioning microphones, the real stars have been the actors who, before this show, had little to no stage/musical experience.  Our returning senior theatre-geek veteran has been indispensable as Sebastian the crab, as well as serving as student-director.  The roles of Prince Eric, Scuttle, Ursula, and her eels have also been impressive for their greenness on stage.  

Today at our general all-cast technical rehearsal, however, I was literally brought to tears by Ariel.  This is a senior girl who is not necessarily shy, but not anyone you would expect having any desire be on stage singing a solo, let alone carry a musical by playing the iconic title role.  She has been giving strong performances every rehearsal, takes direction well, and never makes waves. (You were warned...)  This afternoon, while she took the stage, singing "Part of Your World," gently holding her dinglehopper (fork), lit in a soft blue spotlight, I saw the The Little Mermaid as she was and knew, finally, we had arrived...under the sea.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Total Immersion

When I first moved here I knew no Spanish whatsoever.  Mentira, I knew how to count to ten, say holacerveza, and ask the way to the bathroom by saying baño and pointing.  The rest was just fun little adventures along the way.  Talking to taxi drivers, the cashier in the grocery checkout line, the man who runs the copy machine room at school; basically, if people would talk to me, I would talk with them.

I enjoy going to movies, especially here where they are cheaper than in the US and have assigned seats.  The good dramatic fare doesn't always make it here and when it does one must be quick to catch it before it is off the marquee forever.  Most of the time what arrives here is slap-stick frat-boy comedies, cliché chick flick rom-coms, or cartoons.  I can't judge - I go and see them anyway, thus etching my "movie snob" title deeper in stone.

I crossed a milestone this year, however: I've seen two movies in Spanish, therefore without sub-titles of any kind, and understood most of what was going on.  Except for cartoons and other kid-friendly films, the rest are all subtitled in Spanish.  In previous years I've seen other foreign language films and gotten through them by reading the Spanish. (Reading comes easier to me for some reason than listening, perhaps due to a lack of dialect.) "La Vie en Rose" and "Entre les Murs" were slightly easier with my once decent French skills, while "Die Welle" in German was a bit of a head trip, but my brain survived.

Last month I went and saw the Colombian remake of the Robin Williams comedy "RV: Runaway Vacation" called "El Paseo" about a semi-dysfunctional family from Bogotá taking a roadtrip to Cartagena and their misadventures along the way.  In this particular film I had a hard time understanding the mother but, aside from a few slang terms, following the story was fairly easy and enjoyable.  I was also pleased when I laughed at jokes with the rest of the audience.  Score one for the gringo!

Last night I went to showing of a recent award-winning film at several international film festivals in Rome, Spain, and Chicago, called "Los Colores de la Montaña".  This drama takes place in a rural mountain community in the paisa region, so it is rugged, agricultural, and has breath-taking vistas wherever you turn.  It was also the scene of much paramilitary action, which is what the story is based around - how the influx of paramilitary presence affects the residents of this quiet community, the children, their school, their friends, and their parents.  It was a sad and ultimately tragic story, but one that is all too true and, thus, important to tell.  Coincidentally, I had a difficult time understanding the mother in this film too!  Fortunately, she is not the main character; that task falls on Manuel, the nine year old boy trying to figure out what is going on with his once peaceful village.  (The English-subtitled trailer is embedded  below this post.)

If you can find either of these, obviously with subtitles, I would recommend seeing them.  If anything, you can get a better sense of the stunning countryside I get the pleasure of seeing every time I travel.  Two other Colombian films worth checking out are "El Vuelco del Cangrejo", set in the poor Afro-Colombian Pacific region, and "Los Viajes del Viento", a beautiful story set in many places along the Caribbean coast.

Colombian cinema is an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with.  I'm just glad I'll be able to understand it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Having Value

Last week I held my eighth round of parent/teacher conferences since coming to Colombia.  Since the inaugural round of conferences my first year here, my Spanish has improved greatly and I have little hesitation giving compliments, offering positive feedback, and discussing goals.  Even "bad" conferences are easier than before - especially when the parent is on my side!

Grade 9: Working with "alleles"
However, something a new colleague said to me during a break in the day struck me.  She questioned how or what these parents did for a living that allowed them all - we have near 100% attendance during the two days devoted to conferences - to leave work and sacrifice several hours of their day walking around campus and talking to eight different teachers.  Sure, some of our families are financially well-off and are either at the top of a company, executively speaking, or run their own businesses, thus being their own boss and setting their own hours.  But not nearly all of them!  And yet they all find a way to show up, dressed as if they simply walked away from their desks elsewhere.

I'm sure their are some deeper, more complex sociological factors at play here and I'm not willing to dive into those at the moment. (The idea that educated people support their children more than less-educated people, and that this is a private school versus a public one so the parents want to see where their money is going both work in here I'm sure.)  In the end, though, I think that education is simply valued more.

With the recent current events going on in the U.S. regarding education and the powers that be that fund and support it, it is an interesting topic to examine. (Those links in the previous sentence don't even cover Wisconsin!)  I feel as though people in the U.S., parents specifically, say they value education, but in reality its like telling a four year old that Santa Claus is real; you almost have to say that.  As the old adage goes: actions speak louder than words.  Except for this Tampa Bay mother:

The truth is, other cultures value education more than the collective entity of the U.S.  Ironically, high school graduates from all over the globe clammer for a chance to study at a U.S. university, despite the constant budget cutting and "what's the point?" news and rhetoric of those saying college is less about academics today than it is about socializing.

Pre-AP Biology: botany scavenger hunt
So, why am I stuck sitting talking to parents - mostly two a time - for two consecutive days, twice a school year during regular business hours?  How have these parents been allowed to walk away from their jobs, sacrificing several hours of their respective companies' time to visit their childrens' teachers?  In my head I imagine a different type of boss with a different type of bottom line.  In my head the dialogue goes something like this: "Sir, I have my son's parent/teacher conference scheduled for tomorrow at 9am..."  "For your son's education?  Certainly!  Take the whole morning if you have to!"

But maybe it's "family" that is actually being valued here.  In my ideal little world though, when your family is being schooled, there are some residual effects and, if one is valued, so is the other, even if by catalystic default.  I don't think as many people in the U.S. would answer as quickly and adamantly that the "family" is held in high regard as they would claim "education" is.

Regardless, I have yet another reason to enjoy teaching internationally.  When I sit with a student's family across the table from me - regardless of the meeting's tone - I feel respected for what I do on a daily basis.  I feel valued.

NOTE:  If I have presented the idea that, while teaching in the States, I felt under-valued or disrespected in any professional capacity, I did not.  I am simply generalizing on the perceptive state of education in the U.S. from a now outside point of view.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Some Friendly Competition

Every year around this time I get to combine two of my favorite things: competition and school spirit.  The Copa de la Amistad (Friendship Cup) is a soccer match between the two biggest bilingual schools in Cali - Colegio Bolívar and the British school, Colombo Britanico.  Hosting responsibilities switch every other year and this year we made the short hike a few blocks away to visit their campus.  The game can be likened to a North American Homecoming football game, if everyone in the stands actually liked football and weren't there just for the event itself.  Obviously, soccer (the real football) is obsessed over which takes watching the match to a whole other level.
The team takes the field.
The team captain (and one of my Pre-AP Bio students) doing his thing.
11th graders at the match.
Try holding class the hour before the game... F for fail.
Blue and White filling the bleachers
Some of the upper-classmen on the team brought a jersey for me to wear.
In the spirit of "friendship" there are no penalty kicks or shoot-outs so the game can conceivably end in a tie, which it did at one a piece.