Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Year in Review

Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for reading Polliwog this year. 

Today I'll recap some of my favorite posts 2011. 

Travel Tuesdays

Wordless Wednesday

On Nature

This and That
  • Drum to the Beat A wonderful drumming experience for children. My family has been drumming away on our new Djembe.
  • Hive Detectives A fantastic non-fiction book for older elementary students.
  • Happy Earth Day 2011 The post that got me started with Travel Tuesdays. Several readers asked me to share more travel stories after seeing this post.
  • RACE-Are we so Different? An important traveling and on-line exhibit.
  • Shurit Ads (Egyptian Lentil Soup) I posted this during the Egyptian Revolution. Google Analytics showed that the day Mubarek left Egypt, a reader in Cairo spent 11 minutes on my blog reading this plus 5 other posts. I just thought that was so cool- I was watching history in the making in their country and they were reading my blog.

Thanks again for reading. I'll be back with a Travel Tuesdays post this week.

In the meantime, please drop me an email at michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)com or leave a comment to let me know which kinds of posts you enjoy or find useful. I'm hoping to build my blog community this year so I want to know what works for you. If you have particular content you'd like to see me include, please let me know.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

I'm taking a little break from my blog to spend quality time with my family and friends. I'll be back after the New Year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Keep a Journal

You've heard it before-keep a journal when you travel. It seems a simple enough idea but most of us don't manage to do it. Or if you're like me, you start out well and fizzle out as the trip goes on. Over the years I've forced myself to make time for my journal and I'm always glad I did.

I took a journal to the Philippines when I was 16. I wrote in it sporadically but never captured the really important details I wish I had now. My next big trip after that was to Ecuador and I did keep a daily journal.  I even managed to include a few sketches of local plants. It was easier on that trip because I was in a remote field station with lots of down time in the afternoons/evenings.

I pride myself on having a good memory but even I forget the important details over time. I realized this recently when I wrote a non-fiction story about my encounter with a poisonous snake in the rain forest of Ecuador. I recounted that first meeting, which, frankly, is emblazoned in my mind. But, by the time I related my meeting with the 4th poisonous snake, I got some details wrong. Luckily, I had my trusty journal to reference and I corrected the details. Now, maybe you're not a writer, so you think these details don't matter so much. I'd say they do.

At some point in the future when you go back and meet your former self in a journal you'll be glad you recorded the details.

Here's a tidbit from my Ecuador journal:
 "I'm amazed by the clothes I now consider clean. If they're not totally covered with mud...they're wearable! Things take so long to dry (and even then they're not dry- they're still damp) that it's not worth washing anything. I keep wearing the same yucky clothes over and over again and keep everything else closed up tight in my bag."

Another important result of keeping a journal is you get to know yourself better as you learn and grow from your travels. My early journals are more record keeping of my trips- you know... what I did, saw, ate. That sort of thing. Over time, though, they've become more important records of me as a person. My last travel journal from India is rich with personal expressions of my feelings and responses to the trip.

Here's one excerpt I'm willing to share publicly:
 (For context, our friend Lisa was marrying Aravind in Hyderabad India. Lisa's parents couldn't make the trip so my husband, Rick, and I stood in for them during the ceremony).

"...I was seated on the stage with Rick facing Aravind and his parents. I was so overcome with emotion at the enormity of what was happening that I welled up. Was I really part of a Hindu wedding? Was I really playing such a significant role in this rite of passage for Lisa? I was glad I was seated with my back to the guests so they couldn't see my face. (It was only later when we switched sides that I realized a video camera was facing us and projecting everything onto a large screen for everyone to see).

I was in the moment. I was overwhelmed. I was happy and excited and awestruck. Rick and I looked at each other and acknowledged that this moment made all of the challenges of traveling with young children in India worthwhile."

There are many more personal and thoughtful entries in that particular journal. I developed as a journal keeper and moved from record keeping into being more reflective.

If you haven't kept a journal during travel, I encourage you to do so. It can be on paper, in your computer, or on a blog. The sky's the limit nowadays. (Just make sure you back up digital journals). Ask your children to keep one, too. Our son kept a journal when we were in India. He was only 5 at the time, so his journal consists of roughly one page per day. In typical Kindergarten fashion, he drew a picture and wrote a sentence below the picture. He wrote about whatever was important to him at the time so it's a wonderful record of who he was then. He focused on the plane ride, playing with Aravind's nephew and the henna that decorated my hands.

Have you kept a journal during travel. How have you benefited from it?

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Yesterday, my son's fourth grade class took a field trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. There are several impressive exhibits. The first you notice upon entering is the baleen whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling. (Yes, they're real!)
This one's a fetus.

There's also a toothed whale:

The first part of our visit was a session that looked at food webs and food chains, specifically those that include baleen whales and toothed whales.

My son's favorite session (mine, too) was in the afternoon. We explored the different cultures whalers encountered during their 3 to 5 year whaling trips. Various students were called up to try on traditional clothing from the people the whalers met, such as people from the Azores, Cape Verde, and Hawaii. The students recorded their journey on a world map. Here's my son trying on a coat like the inuit/inupiak of Alaska wore.
And here are their "sunglasses." The sunlight on a snow covered landscape can be blinding. The slits limit the amount of sunlight let in.
 We then toured specific parts of the museum. Our first stop was a life-sized model of whaling ship sleeping quarters. Students were able to lie down in a bunk while our docent described life on a whaling ship. (Unfortunately, it was too dark to get a good photo). We agreed that their lives seemed hard and tedious.

We also toured exhibits of various artifacts from the cultures whalers encountered. The grand finale of our tour was a model of an actual ship that sailed out of New Bedford. The model is 50% the size of the original. We were able to climb on board and have a tour.

If you live or vacation in our area, I highly recommend you visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

What great museums or cultural spots are in your area? Please share them in comments so other Polliwog readers can visit.

Related Posts:
2011 Cranberry Harvest Celebration
Museum of Science Overnight

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: I'm Traveling Today

We're traveling home today after roughing it in Florida at our niece's wedding. I'll be back with a new Travel Tuesdays post next week.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Question Quilts and Mystery Items

Last Friday I blogged about finding objects in nature to observe with your children or students. A question quilt offers a new way for kids to engage with the objects. (Note: I learned this strategy years ago at a teacher workshop. I thought science teacher Allan Harris had taught me but he has since told me it wasn't him. I cannot remember the teacher who created it. If it was you, please tell me so I can credit you!)

Materials needed:
Large piece of poster sized paper
colorful assortment of square sticky notes (3" x3")
nature object


  1. Display the natural object you or the children collected. 
  2. Ask students to write their questions on sticky notes and arrange them on the poster paper in a pattern (Like a quilt. Get it? A "Question Quilt!" This part is really just for fun- creating a quilt pattern helps keep some kids engaged in the process). Only one question per paper. In my classroom, I asked my students to initial their questions so I could monitor their engagement and understanding. The quality of questions will deepen over time. The depth and detail of questions helps you understand what they understand. ("What is it?" is not a deep science kind of question). 
  3. If any students think they know the answers to classmate's questions, they can answer them under the appropriate sticky note. The challenge is for kids to answer their classmates without giving away so much information that the investigating stops. (For example, I often display a mystery item- that is, an item they can't readily identify. Students are not allowed to write the name of the item even if they know it. Rather, the challenge is to make suggestions that help their classmates come to the answer, too). 
  4. Once the item has been out for a while (a couple of days or so) I place some appropriate resources nearby and encourage them to start looking for information. Usually, by this time, they can't wait to learn more about it. Those books fly off the table as kids race to identify the objects and learn more about them. Some tell me they're going to sneak and ask their parents for information or "Google it" at home. My response...Go for it! That's not cheating. Scientists share information with each other. See what you can learn." (I do tell them no book/internet research for at least a couple of days. I want them to engage with the object first, before they see what others have to say about it.
  5. Since I usually placed an item out on a Monday, by Friday we'd debrief their learning and identify the object. I often tied the objects to what we were learning in class (e.g. A trilobite fossil during a rocks and minerals unit) but other times they were random items that just turned up. If they kids were interested in them, we might dig deeper, but often we'd do a week of questioning and investigating and move on.
So, in the case of the wasp nest I shared last week, I would put it on the table on Monday and let them start asking questions. Some students might call it a bee nest, a wasp nest, or a hornet nest the first day. I'd let them keep asking questions and begin investigating. Perhaps on Wednesday, I'd place books about bees, wasps, and hornets on the science table. That's it. Just place them there and the kids would dig in. By Friday, we would have identified the insect that built the nest and learned some facts.To wrap up, we'd review the questions on the quilt to be sure all of them were answered.

One final note: I use this exact strategy in the graduate science course I teach. The adults get into it just as much as the kids.

Do you have any unique strategies you use to investigate natural objects? Will you try this one? Please share.

Related posts:
Paper Wasp Nest
Top 10 Ways to Promote Science Inquiry
Nature Observations With Young Children

Monday, December 5, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Tips for Traveling With Children

Traveling with children is a very different experience than traveling alone. Advance planning will make the trip easier and more enjoyable.

Here's my top ten list of ways to make things go as smoothly as possible (in no particular order):

  1. If you're not staying with friends or family, try to book a hotel room with a small kitchenette or at least a fridge. You'll be better able to accommodate early morning hunger or mid-afternoon snacks. If your budget allows, a small efficiency or cottage will be even better. The extra cost may be worth it if you can save money by cooking in.
  2. Plan your travel based on your kids needs, not yours. (Ultimately, they are the same, after all. If they're miserable, so are you). If you have to take a long journey and your kids are very physical kids, plan a layover to allow them to move around. Or, maybe getting there as fast as possible is best, so book a direct flight. Also consider the best time of day to travel. My son can sleep anywhere, so red-eyes work well for him. If your kids won't sleep on a plane, avoid red-eyes at all costs!
  3. Set clear expectations for the journey (Your own expectations, that is). Do not expect the travel time to be relaxing. Sure, you may have slept on previous plane trips, but don't expect that to happen now. If you go in expecting no sleep and end up getting some, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
  4. If traveling by plane or train, book seats for your infants/toddlers if you can possibly afford it (even though they're usually allowed on your lap until age 2).  This is particularly true for long trips. Seriously, spend the money. You'll be glad you did. Many airlines offer discounted seats for children, especially infants. Bring your car seats and install them in the plane (make sure they are plane approved). The kids will be more comfortable and also be more likely to sleep in their familiar, supportive seat than in an adult-sized seat. We took our daughter's car seat to India solely for the plane ride, since there are no seat belts in most cars in India. But that plane ride was LONG and we wanted her to be as comfortable as possible. Caveat: One airline we flew with (I believe it was Alitalia) did not allow us to install the car seat. Check with your airline first.
  5. Plan and pack well for entertainment while traveling. Packing your carry-on is the most important part of successful airline (train) travel with kids. Remember to bring books, activity books, travel games or other items that your children enjoy. If appropriate for your children, have them pack a favorite stuffed animal or snugly toy for comfort. They also substitute for pillows.
  6. Related to #4, if you have an iPod or similar device, download audio books for your kids. Bring along headphones (and a splitter if you have more than one child). My kids will listen to the same audio books over and over again. It's educational and keeps them occupied for hours. If you're driving, you can play them through your car speakers, or choose to use the headphones and splitter so you can listen to what you want while they listen to their audio book. (Trust me... after hearing The Absent Author several times, you'll be sick of it!) You can probably download books free through your library.  If you don't have an iPod, check your local library for a "play away." The device comes with the book already loaded. You just provide ear buds/headphones.
  7. If traveling by plane, pack something to help with pressure in their little ears. For babies, nursing or sucking on a bottle, or pacifier helps. For older kids, gum works well but isn't the only option. Try chewy foods like raisins or dried cranberries. 
  8. Pack snacks for the trip. There's nothing worse than a hungry kid and the plane has no food left. Trust me, I've seen it happen, especially now that most airlines charge for food. You may try to order and find they only have the cheese box left which is filled with artisanal cheeses your kid won't eat. Fruit is always a good choice since it fills bellies and helps them stay hydrated. (If you're traveling to another country, pack a few familiar foods that your kids like- a box of mac-n-cheese, some dry cereal or granola bars. My kids loved the food in India but were ready for a break from the spiciness now and then. They also woke up hungry at random times due to the time change. Having familiar foods on hand for 3 am snacks provided some comfort to them and us. You can always purchase things like eggs, fruit, peanut butter, or bread once you arrive).
  9. Drink loads of water. Make sure your kids drink loads of water. You cannot be happy, patient people if you aren't hydrated. We bring our empty stainless steel bottles through security and refill them inside.
  10. Plan to relax when you arrive at your destination. For kids, that may mean running around outside or playing quietly with their LEGOs. Allow them to guide your relaxation. Don't try to rush off and go sightseeing.

Finally, as I've mentioned before... remember to pack patience and your sense of humor. You'll enjoy your children and have a much better time.

Do you have any tips to add to this list? Please leave them in the comments. 

Related Posts:
Travel Tuesdays: Pack your Sense of Humor
Travel Tuesdays: Holiday Travel
Travel Tuesdays: Affording to Travel

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paper Wasp Nest

When I dropped by my parent's house one day last week, my mom gave me a little present she'd been
saving for me:

Of course, I was super excited! It's a paper wasp nest that fell out of a tree in their front yard. It was damaged in a storm and abandoned by its residents (So no danger to me).

Check out the amazing patterns. I've seen many of these nests over the years but never one with such a beautiful pattern.

When I taught 4th grade, I used to bring cool items like this into my room all the time, so my mom got in the habit of saving interesting nature items she found for me. Sometimes it would be a dead dragonfly or monarch butterfly, other times a gall of some kind. The more I brought those items in, the more my students would bring them in, too. Our science table overflowed.

This one went to my son's classroom for observation.

The next time you head out in nature, see what you can find to bring back and observe. Please do not remove living things if removing them will cause them harm. For example, I've brought back a cocoon and placed it in a butterfly house for observation but I wouldn't uproot a sapling. If you catch insects, worms, slugs, etc, place them in a proper container with air holes in the top and items from their environment such as soil. After your observation, return them to their homes. And be careful to provide proper accommodations for animals that live in water or have moist skin such as salamanders and frogs.

Next Friday, I'll share a strategy that will help kids dig deeper and really investigate the items you collect.

What interesting items have you found in nature lately?

Related Posts:
Mystery Caterpillar
Mystery Caterpillar, part 2
Nature Observations With Young Children

Wordless Wednesday: Autumn in New England

Photos taken 13 November 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Affording to Travel

My husband and I have always known that travel would be a part of our lives, even once we had kids. Many people wonder how we can afford it. The simple answer is that it's important to us, so we budget for it the way others budget for a new car or a flat screen TV. If you live a moderately comfortable life, travel is possible for you, too, even if you think you can't afford it. I know not everyone truly can afford to travel, but many who say they can't really can. Perhaps they can't travel to China, but they can enjoy more modest trips. And many people who take trips to Disney World with their families spend far more on their vacations than we do. It's simply a matter determining your priorities.

We only own one TV and it's an OLD one with a tube. Our cable plan basically provides TV reception (you know, the cheap plan that costs about $10 per month). Our two cars are 5 years old. We bought one new back in 2007 but we bought the other used. Our cellphones are just phones. Not fancy phones with a data plan. Those things just aren't important to us. But there's something we really care about.

This isn't to say you need to forgo cable or a new car or a fancy phone. But if you are a regular reader of this blog, you’re either interested in exploring nature with children or learning about other cultures, so travel may be important to you too.

If you wish you could travel, maybe it's time to talk with your family about your priorities. I've had many people say something like, "I wish I could take a trip like that." So consider this...Is taking a trip important to you? To your spouse or partner? To your kids? Often, you really can afford to plan a trip with some changes in your spending.

I know you've heard it all before- cut the $5.00 latte from your daily purchases, pack a lunch instead of going out, carry a refillable water bottle instead of buying water. The list of ways to save money is endless. But, the truth see those lists over and over again because they're true. Most of us can cut some daily expenses if we determine we'd like to use our money for a different purpose. The key is to decide what you want and go after it.

Once you decide to travel, the location you choose will have a big impact on your costs. For example, traveling to Italy in the summer will cost you a small fortune in air fare. We had planned to go to Italy last summer but changed plans when the budget didn’t allow it and went to Mount Desert Island in Maine. Our only real expenses were the cost of renting a cottage and gas for the drive up. Other than that, we cooked most meals at the cottage, so we had limited meal expenses. All of our outdoor recreation was free except for the cost of an inexpensive park pass for Acadia National Park. We could have spent even less money if we had chosen to camp.

If this is a topic that interests you, I highly recommend you read Alexis Grant's blog, The Traveling Writer. She backpacked solo through Africa and blogged about the experience. Recently she's been blogging about how to "Take a Leap" and go after your dreams. If you dream of travel, Lexi has some great advice to offer. While most of her recent advice is for folks wanting to take a professional leap and become a solopreneur, her ideas work for travel, too. (You can also search her archives for posts more specifically about travel).

Blogger Elizabeth J. Bird over at L’appel du Vide has also been offering money saving tips for travelers lately. And, if you’re a really adventurous traveler, check out Rolf Potts’ Vagablogging (author of Vagabonding). If you're interested in longer-term trips, he's the guy to read. You can spend less money traveling than you will living in the US for the same period of time if you're flexible and adventurous. 

How have you budgeted for travel? Do you have any money saving tips for travelers?

Related posts:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Backyard Visitors

Look who wandered through our yard on Thanksgiving Eve:

Apparently they didn't get the memo about the coming holiday and the demise of millions of their cousins. (These are wild turkeys, not the domestic kind you buy in the store for your Thanksgiving meal).
 I love the patterns in their feathers.


I hope all of my U.S. readers had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday, full of friendship, family, and good food.

Have you had any wild visitors in your yard lately?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Holiday Travel

In an earlier post, I encouraged you to pack your sense of humor when you travel. Today, as we enter the holiday season, I also encourage you to pack patience as you set out to visit friends and relatives.  If you'll serve as host/hostess, be sure to dig yours out, as well.

Of course, patience isn't a thing you can literally put in your suitcase. But as you pack your bags, you can take a minute to consider the virtues that will make your holidays more enjoyable. The holiday season can be a wonderful, joyous time of year. It can also be incredibly stressful. Perhaps you try to squeeze too  many activities into too little time. Or maybe you squeeze too many people, related or not, into a small space. Or you set too high expectations about what the perfect meal or party should be...the variety of stresses I could list is endless. You know what they are for you and your family. Plan for them so you can get on with the important business of enjoying your family and friends.

Once you pack the clothes, shoes, presents, and toiletries, take some time to mentally prepare for the stresses you'll face. Then toss your sense of humor and your patience in your suitcase and go have a good time.

Do you celebrate a holiday in November or December? What holiday? What will your celebration be like?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Holiday Season

Several weeks ago, a photo that juxtaposed two images popped up on Facebook. The left was a photo of (I assume) a "starving African child" lying on the ground wearing only a tattered shirt. The right was a Christmas tree with a huge pile of presents spewing out from underneath it. While I am uncomfortable with the exploitative nature of the child's photo, I appreciate the underlying message.

Before you rush out to buy your children every toy in the world, and perhaps rack up thousands of dollars on your credit card, think about ways you might make your gift-giving more meaningful, personal, or charitable.  Whether for Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, or other celebrations, is spending thousand of dollars on more "stuff" necessary? When our friends visited from India they commented on how much "stuff" Americans have. We have relatives who live in the UK and they've told us the same thing.

This holiday season, I encourage you to slow down. Enjoy your family and friends. Instead of spending an entire day out shopping, dedicate that time to making simple gifts for friends and family. Bake cookies and give those as gifts. Provide a variety of papers, glue sticks, scissors, stickers, etc. and have your kids make cards. Provide paints and paintbrushes and have them paint pictures for their relatives. Buy simple frames at a craft store or discount store to display them. If you're interested in more specific craft ideas, there are LOADS of resources in your local library and on the Internet that offer simple, inexpensive gifts you and your children can make.

Another way to make the season more meaningful is donate money in someone's name. There are so many ways to give back. Here are two of our favorites:

1. Heifer International  focuses on raising people around the world (including the US) out of hunger and poverty by helping them become self-sufficient. They provide animals appropriate to the region in which a family lives and teach them how to keep the animals healthy and productive. When the animal has babies, the family "passes on the gift" by giving the offspring to others in their village. Heifer provides lovely gift cards that announce your gift, or you can have an email sent to the recipient.

To teach your children about the benefits of such a donation, read them Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier. (If you purchase the book, a percentage of the proceeds go to Heifer). Beatrice's life in Uganda improved dramatically after her family received a goat from Heifer. I was lucky to have Beatrice visit my classroom in 2001. She was an intelligent, lovely, 16 year old. She spoke several languages and shared her story with my students in English. They were so moved, they began a fundraiser for Heifer. We have been regular supporters of the organization ever since.

2. Support a family in need in your community. We donate to a locally run organization that helps families in our area. Nearly every town has an non-profit organization or church group that supports families in need. Many school nurses also know of families in need and can arrange for anonymous donations to help those families. Many retail establishments also have tags listing needed items. You can choose a tag, make a purchase and deliver it to that store.

Related to this point, our children receive an allowance every week. To "store" their allowance, they have three jars. One is labelled "Save," one "Donate," and one "Spend." We've told them a minimum amount they need to put in the "Save" jar (to go in the bank). Otherwise they divide their money as they see fit. Then they choose how to donate the money they save. Last year, both kids decided to use the money to buy a toy for a child in need. We went out as a family and made our purchases, then we delivered them to the organization that ensures anonymous donations.

If you look closely at the two ways my family supports others in need, you'll see they match what is important to us. That is not to say other organizations are not important. Of course they are. But one family can only donate so much. Find what you are passionate about and choose an organization that supports those passions.

One final note: If you find your family in tough financial times this year, don't be afraid to reach out for help. There is no shame in asking your community to support you in your time of need. Some day in the future, when you get back on your feet, you can "pass on the gift" by helping someone else.

Have you benefited from the generosity of others? What are your favorite charitable organizations? (Please include links, when possible, so others can learn about them. Note: charitable organizations only, please).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: The Philippines "Growing Up"

As promised last week, here is an essay I wrote about my experiences as a Rotary exchange student. This essay was written in 1997 and was originally published in Voices: Reflections from a Community of Writers (The Educators' Journal of the Plymouth Public Schools, Plymouth, MA) in Spring of 1998.

I have evolved as a writer over these last 13 years. Part of me wanted to revise the heck out of this before posting it for the world to read. But, I decided to leave it. It reflects who I was at that time in my life. My usual blog posts reflect me now.

Growing Up

In June of 1985, at age sixteen, I boarded a plane for the first time. Not only was I facing my first plane ride, I was leaving my family and friends for one year. I was beginning the first leg of a trip that would take me half way around the world to the Philippines. I knew nothing about the people, culture or language, yet I knew it was an experience I could not miss. I thought about the fun my high school friends would have without me. I thought about my two younger sisters and the parents who raised me to be open to the journey upon which I was embarking. My father cried as I boarded the plane, but I knew he still wanted me to go. I had to find out what was out there.

Within four months time I was able to engage in simple conversations in Cebuano, the local dialect. At a local function, I even sang a popular song in Tagalog. People told me that they forgot I was an American, despite my blue eyes, fair skin, and light brown hair. They told me I acted and spoke like a Filipina. I felt like I belonged.

Three months later, as tensions grew between Marcos and Aquino, I found myself caring about the oppression that had existed under Martial Law and joined my friends in their cries of “People Power.” I attended rallies, at which Aquino spoke, and supported my friends in their desire to make change. The day Marcos fled the country there was much celebration! “People Power” actually worked! There was no fighting. Peaceful protests and rallies had made a difference.

With Marcos gone, I was able to travel extensively. I took a bus up a winding mountain road to Baguio. I slept under a mosquito net in a nipa hut while a typhoon raged outside and a coconut tree crashed through the roof. I stood on the bamboo drying racks of a seaweed farm house (a building on stilts in the middle of the ocean) as I watched a water spout come straight toward us and then reverse direction as quickly as it came. I listened to my host father speak at a high school graduation in the barrio trying to empower the students to use their sustainable, local resources to provide income for their families.

I learned many things that year, but none was as important as my appreciation for diversity and my willingness to adapt to new situations. I “grew up” in the Philippines. I became and adult who sees the world in a different way. I learned to appreciate the freedoms we have in the United States but also to see the tremendous value in maintaining the local cultures of other nations. United States citizens do not know the only way to do things. My growing up there has guided every decision I have made in my personal life. It has also affected the way I run my classroom, relate to my students and teach them about the world.

Have you been an exchange student? Have your children? Have you hosted an exchange student? Please share your experiences. 

Related posts:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Drum to the Beat

Last summer, I blogged about a drumming circle, facilitated by Otha Day, that was sponsored by our public library. The community enjoyed the experience so much that our PTO decided to hire Otha for a drumming residency at our school. As chairperson of the PTO cultural committee, I was the lucky parent who got to spend two full days drumming,clapping, dancing, and singing my heart out. It's impossible to participate in a drumming circle and not feel great at the end. To quote a friend who attended the community drumming circle last summer, (as best I can based on memory) "After the drumming, I felt the way I feel after I run- like I had a runner's high! It was awesome!"

I don't want to restate what I already blogged, so please hop over and read my previous post for more details. As I stated then, please consider hiring Otha Day of Drum to the Beat to come to your school. You won't regret it!

And now...a some photos for your viewing pleasure...

Having a little fun with soda bottle shakers. (They're filled with popcorn kernels)

 It's a little blurry... but I had to include this! Do you think he's having fun?!

Have you ever participated in a drumming circle? How was it for you?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Exchange Students

"Travel has taught me the fun in having my cultural furniture rearranged and my ethnocentric self-assuredness walloped. It has humbled me, enriched my life, and tuned me in to a rapidly changing world."
Rick Steeves, Travel as a Political Act

When I was a kid, my sister's best friend often hosted Rotary exchange students. I most remember Anita from India and Jorge from Mexico. I was fascinated by Anita's musical accent and the anklets that adorned her ankles. I remember Jorge as more reticent, though he was interested in talking to us and sharing Spanish words.

So several years later, when I was a sophomore in high school, I was excited by an announcement on the school's PA system that said the Rotary was seeking host families for future exchange students. I remember this day so clearly- this day that changed my life. For dinner, I sat at my usual seat at our red formica table with chrome edging and asked my parents if we could host a student from another country. I'm not sure why, but I remember being nervous about asking.

My mom looked right at me and asked, "Why don't you go?"
"Go where?" I asked.
"Go to another country. Be an exchange student."
I looked at her dumbfounded. I had never even considered this an option.

In hindsight, I feel like my fate was sealed in that conversation. I got an application the next day, applied, and went through a thorough application process culminating with an interview. I don't remember any questions I was asked except the one that, in my memory, was last.

The interviewers explained that Rotary exchange students could not choose the country they'd visit. They could list preferences, but ultimately they could not choose. "What will you do if you're told you will go to a country you didn't choose."
"I'll go," was my reply.

I think of my response now and wonder, Where did that come from? I had never even been on a plane. I also wonder how my mother had the courage to suggest I be an exchange student in the first place. I was 15. If chosen, I would leave just 2 months after turning 16 and be gone for a whole year. Aside from a road trip to Canada and (I think) one trip to the Bahamas, my parents had never left the country. How does a parent have the courage to suggest such a thing?

Whatever the reason, I'm so thankful my mom made that outrageous suggestion to teenage me. I'm also thankful that my parents had raised me to be secure enough to embark on such an endeavor. And, let me tell you, they had a tough year while I was gone. I'm dating myself, I know, but I ended up going to the Philippines from June of 1985 to June of 1986. Do you remember what happened in the Philippines in February of 1986? Yep. A revolution. Filipinos had been living under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos for too many years when they rose up with cries of "People Power." (Marcos fled to Guam on February 25th and conceded to Corazon Aquino).

I jumped straight to the most challenging part of my year abroad to make an important point. Despite being scary for my parents at times ("I saw them on TV. They're burning the American flag"), I wouldn't change a thing about my year. As hard as it was for my family, I don't think they'd change it either. Yes, they were scared at times, but guess what? We all survived and are the better for it. I was never afraid and I was never in any real danger. And, my life is so so much richer for having been there.

Come back next Tuesday to read an essay I wrote about my year titled, "Growing Up."

In the meantime, if you're a parent, consider the opportunities that might arise if your child were to be an exchange student. Could YOU say to your child, "Why don't you go?" I know I will.