Saturday, October 24, 2015

Post-Guatemala Reflections: Poverty and Literacy

Well, I planned to blog every day we were in Guatemala, but it didn’t work out that way. Very long days and evening meetings… the week was intense and flew by. Back in the States, I continue to reflect on the global service learning experience. Today’s topic: Poverty.

After spending a week there, I’m not sure how else to describe the everyday lives of so many Guatemalans. If you have not been to rural Guatemala, the documentary, Living on One Dollar, depicts it well, and the filmmakers grapple with heavy questions like, “How can we eradicate poverty in these communities?” Where does it come from?

Although small, Guatemala is a fairly diverse place. Especially in Antigua, where we stayed, there are a lot of do-gooder gringos (people from the U.S.), Canadians, and Europeans. Some of us are here for a week or two with a university or church. Others initially came on “missions” (a term which, I have learned, has a very broad definition) and stayed.

Ethnically speaking, Guatemala, like many places in Latin America, has a large indigenous population of Mayan decent (“los indígenas”), and a Spanish/Mestizo contingency (“los ladinos”). Also like in many places, the indigenous communities were initially colonized and oppressed, with historical-political atrocities forming the basis of the poverty in which many in this community find themselves today. However, it’s not just the rural, indigenous communities living in poverty in Guatemala (although the great majority of them do). For example, in the capital city, thousands live and work in Central America’s largest garbage dump.

One problem with poverty is limited educational opportunity. As one of our students pointed out last week, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs dictates that individuals need to meet basic biological and psychological needs (water, food, shelter, safety) before prioritizing things like literacy. Due to this and other issues, in Guatemala, only 3 out of 10 children make it through grade 6. Although I am staunchly anti-deficit perspective when it comes to education and research, the effects of poverty and lack of education in Guatemala cannot be denied or overlooked.

There are so many possibilities for literacy programs in Guatemala- from preschool age to adult. The goal of our department –that is, what we can offer in terms of community service here- has been literacy enrichment. This means reading and writing with children in varied contexts and, thanks to donations from Lectorum and Scholastic, gifting books to children and families, as well as donating books to schools and programs that work with children.

Reading with Indigenous girls at a community center

Reading and writing with local kids at a clinic

Presenting to parents about language-literacy development at a private, special education school
Interested in learning about and/or supporting a literacy program in Guatemala? Here are a few to consider:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Day 3: En Mi Salsa

Today was a great day. Memorably, our SLP team hosted a parent workshop at a school for children with language and learning disabilities. I had been in touch with the school’s educational coordinator, who thought this would be a good idea. When we arrived, however, and found the workshop scheduled for 1:00 on Monday, I wondered who would show up.

Well, in the spirit of time flexibility, we actually started the workshop at 2:30 and, by about 2:45, had almost 30 people in the room. Our students had developed a flyer about typical language development and how to support it at various ages and stages, as well as how to engage and support students in literacy. Before we started, we had the parents introduce themselves and share about their children’s challenges. This was important for the students, to get a picture of the varying disabilities -at varying levels of severity- present in each of the school's, multiage classrooms. 

In spite of my students’ language barriers, they presented their information and I interpreted, naturally expanding when appropriate, to ask parents questions and provide examples. For me, it wasn't interpreting, it was teaching. Thus, unlike the very rewarding but very challenging interaction in the Rett Syndromeclinic on Sunday (more to come on this!), this was completely easy and natural. Talking about language and literacy, connecting with parents… estaba en mi salsa

In addition, one student each from OT, PT and Nursing joined us, and made valuable contributions. It was a very rewarding team effort that I know was helpful to the parents who participated.

Parent workshop on language and literacy development
Continuing our journey… more to come soon!


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Guatemala, Day 1 and the beginner's mind

Today was basically the trip here and settling in. At some point on the plane, one the students made a memorable comment: “I just have no idea what to expect.” To me, this was just amazing, as it reflected her open mind, a clean slate upon which to write who knows how many kinds of new and different experiences.

This comment also reminded me of my yoga practice. I remember one of my teachers used to say that, no matter how advanced you become in the practice, it is important to always approach things with “a beginner’s mind”.

A beginner’s mind: The feeling of openness, the excitement of trying something totally new… not knowing… not being sure of yourself, maybe even feeling some insecurity or discomfort. Now I am thinking that this is how most of my students are feeling here, this week. And this is a good thing!

This also makes me think of something I learned in Spain last summer, at the CIEE International Faculty Seminar on Intercultural Development. The facilitators talked about zones of comfort we all experience when engaging with other cultures (e.g., in a global service learning program). I need to find the reference for this, but, basically, there is the comfort zone, where we are most of the time in our regular, everyday life. Then there is the stretching or the challenge zone, where we need to go in order to learn new things. Finally, there is the panic zone, when we have no idea what to do or how to deal with unexpected obstacles or stresses. Hopefully, our students will not be in the panic zone this week, but it’s great for them –and for all of us- to step out of the comfort zone and into the challenge zone, in order to be open to new things, participate, and grow.


I even did this yesterday, when our whole group went to eat lunch at a fast-food place called Pollo Campestre (“Country Chicken”) -not the best vegetarian option, right? With pictures of fried chicken all over the menu, I thought I was doomed to another Lara bar meal. However… I was happily surprised to find a great salad that included avocado, beans, cheese, tomatoes, etc. that I actually enjoyed. A small thing but, nonetheless, it was a moment of taking a beginner’s perspective. Thankfully I did, or I would have stayed hungry.


So, this week, I am going to remember my student, not knowing what to expect, coming in with a beginner’s mind. This will help me empathize with all the students, who are certainly going to spend a lot of time in their challenge zones here in Guatemala. Hopefully, it will also push me to keep the beginner’s perspective as well. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Return to Guatemala... Tomorrow!

As I prepare my suitcase for my departure to Guatemala tomorrow, I'm feeling like it's been a long time since I've spent time in Latin America. Not so long, however; the last time I went was also to Guatemala, in January of this year. Still, tonight it feels like a long time ago and a long way away.

Once again, I will be facilitating a global service learning program for speech-language pathology students, who are teaming up with students from physical therapy and occupational therapy to offer various services (e.g., literacy enrichment) in rural communities outside Antigua. I know the students are excited and, the fact is, so am I. I can't wait to be in a Spanish speaking environment, in a town where people can walk everywhere and there is piazza culture, and where I can eat some real, homemade tortillas.

Guatemalan sweets at a street stand
As for the global service learning conundrum, it is still alive and well. I have even had some pretty interesting conversations about it with students, who are also wondering who really benefits the most from these types of experiences. Keeping in mind that these programs are designed as service learning experiences (not voluntourism), there are clear learning objectives for the students. But what about the objectives for the recipients of our "service"?

Thus, I am going to Guatemala tomorrow with a few questions in mind for the week. Hopefully, I will be able to make some follow-up posts exploring some answers. Here are the research questions for the week:

1. How can we foster sustainable relationships with community partners in the towns we will visit?

2. How can we find out, from the communities themselves, how we can participate with them? What do they really want from this collaboration?

3. What are the long-term impacts of global service learning on the participating students? How will this experience influence their academic and professional inquiries and applications at home? What is my role as a facilitator in supporting/enhancing the students' learning?

Stay tuned for approximations to these questions, and, certainly, even more questions, as the week progresses. ¡Hasta pronto!

In January: An SLP student reading with a shopkeeper's daughter




Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Return to bilingualism: Like tuning a piano

While I was developing my Italian in Padova last year, I came up with several metaphors of bilingualism, summarized here (and one more, here). All of these have to do with acquiring a second language in the context of living that language (e.g., me learning Italian in Italy).

A few weeks ago, I spent 10 days in Madrid, the last few of which involved having a great time with two, dear friends who joined me from Padova. These wonderful ladies were my travel companions to London last year, where I, ironically, had my most intense Italian language immersion. Thus, one year later, I had the chance to revive my Italian to travel with my friends in Spain.

A common metaphor for picking up a skill we have abandoned for a while is that it's "like riding a bike". However,  after much thought, I have decided that reviving a second language is not like riding a bike. You don't just jump right in and speak like you did, at the height of your language proficiency, one year before (although some people argue in favor of the riding a bike metaphor; Google "language like riding a bike" and you will find both perspectives).

So today, interestingly, while I was actually riding my bike, I came up with a better metaphor for reviving a second language: It's like tuning a piano.

Since I've never actually tuned a piano (or played one, for that matter), I looked up how to do it so I could make some comparisons. Basically, when you think of tuning a piano, you think of a fairly challenging, time-consuming process, right? This is because a standard, modern piano has 88 keys, each of which is linked to 1, 2, or 3 strings that vibrate at specific frequencies to make the sounds we hear when the piano is played. Pressing a piano key causes a hammer to strike the strings, causing them to vibrate. The frequencies produced are amplified by the soundboard and resonate inside the wooden frame. When the key is released, a damper comes down and stops the vibration of the strings. Don't forget, a piano also has foot pedals which serve different functions, for example, to simultaneously lift all the dampers, or to produce a softer tone.

In short, like a language, a piano is a complex, dynamic instrument that, to be played correctly, involves the coordination of multiple functions and systems. It seems that, with all this complexity, there are lots of opportunities for something to break down (a key, a string, a hammer, a damper... ); again, just like language: phonology, morphology, semantics, syntax... .

Basically, after a year without speaking much Italian, meeting up with my Italian friends in Madrid made me feel like an out-of-tune piano. It was very difficult to remember words, coordinate number, gender, and verb morphology, and form smooth, fluent sentences. I didn't just hop on and ride the bike... I had to slowly and patiently refine my phonemes, adjust the morphemes, and tune up my grammar, sort of like tuning a piano that has been out of use.

As you might expect, tuning a piano requires specialized tools and a specific procedure; however, the tuner ultimately relies on her ear to adjust the instrument. Again, to parallel this to second language revival, it is possible to take a systematic approach to regaining previous linguistic proficiency; however, jumping right in (like I did with Italian in Madrid) might not allow this luxury. Instead, the speaker must rely on previous knowledge and understanding of how the language works, to piece together what remains and rebuild.

Fortunately, after a couple of days and, in spite of continuous mix-ups, I felt pretty comfortable speaking (mostly) Italian again. In fact, it became difficult to speak Spanish, as Italian became the language inside my head. I think this is because my brain realized I needed more practice. Wait! Practice. Isn't that how you learn to play the piano???


The Spanishized version of the Italian, dish, gnocchi (note both the spelling and plural morphology). 

Spices and teas from around the world at Mercado San Antón, in Madrid.
If only we could speak the languages of all those flags! 
      

      

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Madrid: The Top 10

After ten days in Madrid (including a couple of small trips outside), I can hopefully compose a "top 10" post. I learned that Madrid, like many large cities, is divided into various neighborhoods, each of which has a distinct personality. So, I will organize my hit list by neighborhood. I should mention, if you like to walk and have comfy shoes, you can get to everything listed here on foot. If it's too hot or you want to save your energy, use the very clean and user-friendly Madrid Metro.

Important note for students and teachers: Anything in Spain that is considered "patrimonio nacional" (basically all museums and historical sites), is FREE for you, so be sure to bring your ID.

So, what to do in Madrid... let's start at the center of the city, Puerta del Sol.

1. La Mallorquina. Serving traditional Spanish pastries since 1894, La Mallorquina, in the plaza Puerta del Sol, is a dangerously delicious way to start the day. Walk right in and order in the front of the store for a pastry to go, or stand at the bar in the back for a coffee/tea and sweet. If you go upstairs, you can sit at a table and be waited on.

Breakfast at the bar in La Mallorquina
Moving on to "the classics"... a short, winding walk westward from Sol will take you to La Opera/Palacio district.

2. Plaza Mayor. From Puerta del Sol to Opera/Palacio, stop by Madrid's main plaza, one of those tourist must-sees. I actually found the walk to and from a lot more interesting than the plaza itself, especially on a very hot, sunny day with no shade in sight. Just around the block is the Mercado San Miguel, a great place to grab a snack.

Intense heat and sun in Plaza Major
3. Palacio Real (royal palace). The official palace of the Spanish government, build in the first half of the 18th Century, the palace has about 3,000 rooms, 23 of which are open for tourists to visit. A great respite on a hot, sunny day, a walk through the palace is a nice place to start a visit to Madrid. Whether or not the Spanish royal family still live there is questionable... I heard both answers from reputable sources.

Palacio Real
In the other direction, in the areas of Parque del Retiro (an attraction in itself) and Atocha...

4. Museo del Prado. Of course, this truly must-see could take a week. Or, you could go in with a plan. Pick up the museum map at the info desk as soon as you walk in, and target your visit to the masterpieces list. For 5 euros at the gift shop, you can buy a small guide to the 50 masterpieces, which has an easier to navigate map, as well as pictures and descriptions of all of these major works. Well worth it, as is the visit to one of the most celebrated art museums in the world.

Resting after a marathon visit to Museo del Prado
5. Museo Reina Sofía. Although they are neighbors, I would not suggest attempting both Prado and Reina Sofía in the same day, unless the only thing you want to see at the latter is Picasso's Guernica. That being said, Guernica alone would actually be a perfectly acceptable -better said, spectacular- reason to enter the Reina Sofía Museum.

Museo Reina Sofía: More modern than expected
The rest of my Top 10 are neighborhoods themselves, and a few interesting things to discover in each one. We'll work our way walking back from Reina Sofía to Puerta del Sol and then farther north.

6. Lavapiés. A historically working class neighborhood, Lavapiés is the most diverse area of Madrid: dynamic, colorful, and definitely the place to go when you are tired of Spanish food. In this neighborhood, you will find authentic Asian, North African, and Latin American restaurants, as well as interesting art galleries, including La Tabacalera, former tobacco factory turned art/community center. During my first visit to Lavapiés, I walked into the plaza and passed by an Indian restaurant playing salsa music, bought a lychee juice at a corner shop, and admired beautiful Turkish pastries at a bakery. A few days later, I returned and ate my favorite lunch in Madrid at the Restaurante Achuri (delicious dishes and great vegetarian options!).  

Barrio Lavapiés, home to a diverse community and thus, great restaurants! 
An example of hybridity in Lavapiés: An Indian restaurant offering Spanish tapas and raciones, as well as kebab
7. Las Letras. Poetry in the street, literally. In Las Letras neighborhood, the streets are named for literary figures, and passages from Spanish poems and prose are embossed in gold letters into the sidewalks. It's hard to walk without stopping to read. Not to mention, there was a great antique market going on as part of an art/deco festival last weekend. Local businesses showed off their creativity with spectacular window displays, inside and out.

Awesome window/shop displays in Las Letras



Finally, on the north side of Puerta del Sol...

8. Museo Sorolla. What a treat! This museum was the home of Spanish impressionist artist, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, and its courtyard and gardens are nearly as beautiful as the paintings. Sunlight, sea, and family life were Sorolla's primary subjects, and the paintings are truly luminous.

Inside Sorolla's studio
9. Chueca. Known as Madrid's center for LGBTQ pride, Chueca is full of colorful shops and trendy cocktail lounges. Also of note are a few fresh juice bars and a gluten-free bakery, and the upscale Mercado San Antón.

Too pretty to eat? Gluten-free cupcakes in Chueca

Spices at the Mercado San Anton, in Chueca    
10. Finally... Malasaña. Adjacent to Chueca, Malasaña is the "hipster" area of Madrid. Pedestrian streets make for easy window (or real, if you so desire) shopping in the neighborhood's numerous designer shops and elegant boutiques. What did I notice in Malasaña? Lots of tea shops! If you want to buy tea, go to Malasaña.

Madrid, like any big city, can be overwhelming at first, but when you look at it as a group of unique neighborhoods, it's easy to appreciate the city's diversity and charm. So take a walk outside the typical sites, eat some great food, and enjoy the nonstop night life of MAD.











  

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Food in Madrid: Green eggs and ham?

Admittedly, I have only been in Madrid for a week. Still, I can certainly say that the major culinary emphasis here is ham, of many types. There is even a Museo del Jamón down the street. Very impressive, but perhaps not the best environment for a vegetarian.
Various types of ham, with a bit of manchego cheese, another ubiqitous item

A fried egg and chunks of ham on top of "pisto", a tomato-based, vegetable stew

For those of us attempting to not eat ham, there is no shortage of protein in the form of eggs. I have had many slices of tortilla de patatas (a big, thick, potato pancake cut into slices like a pizza), but beyond this, eggs are added to everything else... even things you wouldn't suspect, like gaspacho (as bits of hard boiled egg sprinkled on top). I have to say, this week I have felt a little bit like Sam I Am from the beloved Dr. Seuss book (especially where the ham is concerned). Not to worry, I have made up for any missing calories in the form of sweets!

Apparently, cloistered nuns make the best cookies. In Chinchón, a small town about an hour outside Madrid, eight sisters in the Convento de las Hermanas Clarisas sell simple, but delicious, cookies involving flour, butter, sugar, and eggs (with various nut options). Your purchase is a tasty contribution to a good cause.

Almost gone... butter cookies baked by nuns in Chinchón

Of couse, I had to try the Spanish classic, churros con chocolate... fried dough sticks to be dipped in sugar or thick hot chocolate with the consistency of pudding. A pleasant surprise was the popularity of frozen yogurt. So far my favorite is Llaollao, a franchise froyo place that combines fresh fruit granizado (imagine a watermellon slush) with natural frozen yogurt, more fruit, and warm, creamy toppings like white chocolate sauce. YUM! 

Churros con chocolate

My sensacion from Llaollao 




  



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pocos días en España: More on speaking the wrong kind

Hola de Madrid! A couple months ago, I wrote a post about language differences and "speaking the wrong kind". My first time in Spain, I am attending a CIEE International Faculty Development Workshop on intercultural development this week. Of course, when it comes to intercultural anything, the first thing on my mind is language. In this case, I came here wondering, what happens to people (e.g., me) who speak Latin American Spanish in Spain? How are they (we) perceived? What adjustments might need to be made to facilitate communication, and how do these affect the speaker's identity?

For months, I have been trying to find an article or blogpost I know I read about Latinos in Spain, from a language perspective. I remember clearly that the author, a Latin American immigrant to Spain, talked about speaking the same language, but constantly being made to feel that her Spanish was incorrect, not "proper", or somehow lacking. Interestingly, one of my colleagues at the seminar has lived this experience, and we had a very enlightening conversation about it.

My new friend, who I thought was, without a doubt, Spanish due to her way of speaking, told me yesterday that she is really, in fact, from South America. My immediate response: "No! Wow! I was sure that you were Spanish. How did you change your entire way of speaking by living here?"

She said it wasn't that difficult, but she also felt obligated to do it. Without speaking like a Spaniard, she felt she would always be considered an outsider, a foreigner, and she didn't want that. She has lived here for 15 years, is married to a Spaniard, and has children born in Spain. Still, however, to the native Spanish ear, her language is still not perfectly local- she has been called out on minor, pragmatic nuances (the differences in usage between escuchar vs. oír, for example).

I tried to imagine what this would be like. It feels so awkward for me to say, "graTHias" or "plaTHa", and pronunciation is really just a minor detail. There are systematic, grammatical differences as well, and, of course, lexical differences on many levels. I spoke with another seminar participant about it as we walked to meet the group for tapas. I said, "imagine moving to say, England, and feeling like you had to completely change your accent and vocabulary, your language use. Wouldn't this affect your identity?". As it turns out, the guy I was talking with is a Canadian living in the U.S. (and nothing about his language indicated this to me). He said that his language has defintely changed since he moved south to complete his college education and begin working as a professor. Now, in fact, when he goes to see his family in Canada, they tell him he speaks like someone from the U.S. But, he insisted, this is no big deal; it just happened naturally.

So, I concluded, maybe it really isn't that hard, not that dramatic or life-changing. Maybe it's just another one of the many, major and minor adaptations immigrants go through when relocating to a different place. However, the variations between Canadian and U.S. English don't seem nearly as plentiful (or linguistically complex) as those between the Spanishes (but maybe that's only my perception as a second language speaker). In any case, the more important difference is that the Canadian in the U.S. shifted his language almost involuntarily, without really thinking about it ("no big deal"). The South American in Spain, at least to my ear, drastically changed her language on purpose, with a sense of obligation and necessity. This is the impact.

So I am here, just for 10 days, speaking "the wrong kind" of Spanish, and finding more questions than answers. More to come about Madrid, a la turista.

Can you say gnocchi in Spanish?





             

Friday, June 5, 2015

A summer of intercultural journeys begins... Madrid awaits!

You know how teachers get at the end of the school year? The anticipation, the countdown, the desperation for a break? That's exactly how I was feeling about a month ago. Happily, the semester ended, I finished all the grading, and the university parking lots cleared out. A couple weeks ago, I attended graduation, hugging each of this year's nearly 20 grads who earned their Bachelor's degrees with a minor in Speech-Language Pathology.

For university educators (and many K-12 teachers, as well), summer break is just a myth. That is, the end to teaching does not mean the end of work. In fact, everyone seems to have a huge list of summer projects: data to analyze, papers to write, conference proposals to submit. My focus this summer is a bit more hands-on (and fun!): intercultural learning and development. Even though I have personally experienced intercultural learning, I am just now studying the theories and research related to it. Delving into this field is important, due to my involvement with global service learning and the development and teaching of related courses at my university.

I began the summer by co-presenting at the NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo, in Boston, last week. NAFSA focuses on all things international/global in education: study abroad, global service learning, advocacy, international student services, and social responsibility in international education, for example. It was my first time at this conference, and I loved it! My goal was to learn how to better prepare students, as well as how to develop sustainable projects for our college's global service learning in Guatemala. I learned so much about research on cultural competence, how to engage students in international contexts, dimensions of culture, and potential ways to bridge cultural chasms.

The Expo at NAFSA: Candyland for international education junkies

Next on the agenda is a CIEE Faculty Development Seminar on Intercultural Development, in Madrid, Spain. I can't wait! There has been quite a bit of preparation for the seminar. For starters, I took the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a well-established, valid tool for assessing and coaching intercultural development. The IDI experience included a 12-page profile and a one-hour, individual debriefing with a trainer. Results show that my perceived level of intercultural development (acceptance) is higher than my actual level (minimization). No worries, though, as I also received a lengthy, individualized development plan to help me move to the next level.

The IDI continuum. See http://idiinventory.com 
One thing I learned already, and it may seem obvious (but since I'm a minimizer I tend to think everyone is the same), is that everyone's goals for international education are different, and that everyone is in a different place in their own intercultural development. Thus, in planning global service learning experiences and preparing our students, we need to start where they are and have realistic expectations of what they will get out of the experience.

A few other things I have been exploring in the area of intercultural learning:

1. The Hofstede Center: A tool that allows you to compare two countries on 6 cultural dimensions. Obviously, this is not all you need, but it's a great start.

2. globalsl.org: I think I've already mentioned this, but it's a valuable resource for global service learning research and practice. They also have a blog.

3. Developing cultural mindedness: A guidebook for generating stronger intercultural service. After attending an IARSLCE webinar on global service learning, one of the participants, Kathryn Burleson,  emailed me with this excellent tool, which she developed.

4. Purdue University's Passport to Intercultural Learning (PUPIL), recommended at NAFSA, a strong model for how institutions of higher education can promote students'  intercultural learning.

5. Vande Berg, Paige, and Lou's (2012) book, Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it. I read a couple chapters for the CIEE seminar, and it's a worthwhile read. It was also recommended at NAFSA.

6. For those of you looking for research articles, the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning (from U. MI), current issue, has a special section on global service learning.

In a future blog, I'll talk about strategies for developing/practicing intercultural awareness and communication. Stay tuned for touristy posts from Spain, as well. ¡Nos vemos en Madrid!


Enjoying Boston at the NAFSA Conference





Thursday, May 14, 2015

Poetry of immigration, and being in the middle-ground

I have been tutoring ESL and literacy since the beginning of this school year at an adult education center. Almost every student attending this awesome school is an immigrant, in various stages of education and English language acquisition. I have been working with a group of four inspiring women, from Brazil, China, Guyana, and Morocco. Each one has a different home language/s, a different journey, and a different story.

A couple of weeks ago, we read Deb Smith's insightful blogpost, "I am a triangle", which beautifully illustrates the process of moving to a different culture, acculturating to a certain extent, fitting in to a certain extent (but never fully), and then returning to your home culture to find that you don't quite fit in there, either.

Deb's metaphor is that you begin as a circle, growing up and living in a circle culture, where you fit in and are comfortable. You then move to a square culture. At first, you are still a circle, and so you feel lost in the square world. Eventually, with time, you adapt, but can never really be a square. So, instead, you approximate, and become a triangle. The challenge is, when you return to your home country, circle culture, you remain a triangle. Thus, you never really feel at home in either culture. Deb has great illustrations for this process.

I absolutely experienced this myself when I was living in Chile. I adapted so much I almost became a square. However, not having shared my childhood with the squares of Chile sometimes gave me pointy edges... I was really just a triangle. Coming back to the U.S. was always a challenge: I was still a triangle. Of course, this was many years ago, so now I am back to being a circle and living in a circle culture (for the most part). In contrast to my experience in Chile, during my brief stay (4 months) in Italy last year, I didn't become a triangle. I basically stayed a circle in a square culture, a challenge that I came to accept knowing my stay there was only temporary.

After analyzing and discussing Deb's metaphor, my students wrote their own reflections on this phenomenon. Two of them, who have been in the U.S. 8+ years, considered themselves triangles. Laughing at their early cultural-linguistic faux pas, they decided that they have changed over the years, but still have a lot to learn. They realized that, if they went "home" now, they would see things differently, and might not fit into the cultural practices that once simply felt like water to a fish.

Another student, who recently celebrated her one-year anniversary in the U.S., feels that she is still a circle in a world of squares... still on the outside, trying to figure things out. She is frustrated with the language and is not comfortable or happy here. However, she cannot go back. She has no choice but to wait it out, keep trying to adjust, and hope to eventually shift her shape.

All of this got me thinking about theory and literature. There is actually a lot of scholarship about border culture (Anzaldúa, 1999) and third-spaces (Bhabha, 1994), places of hybridity. Immigrants experience, perhaps necessarily, the identity crisis that arises from the tension of existing in the middle-ground, neither here nor there. I wrote about these theories and their embodiment in the story of "Manuel", in a recent article, The meaning of roots: How a migrant farmworker student developed a bilingual-bicultural identity through change.

So, our next project, in the tutoring group, is to explore these middle-groud spaces by writing our own immigration poetry. For inspiration, we learned about Angel Island and read some of the poems discovered there, written by detained immigrants from China in the early 1900's. I have found some good immigration poems on Power Poetry, which also offers tips for writing. Here's a great bilingual poem by Gustavo Perez Firmat.

Of course, I am reminded of my favorite poem, Gabriela Mistral's Desolation, which spoke so powerfully to me when I was living in Chile. In Desolación, Mistral is not in a foreign land, but in Patagonia, the extreme south of her own country, showing that differences in regional cultures and climates can shock a migrant, too.

Feeling triangular after about 5 years in Chile
I can't wait to hear my students' poems. Hopefully, I will be able to publish them here. Stay tuned, and feel free to post resources for immigration poetry.