2012-13 Fulbrighters to Spain: Hola!

24 04 2012

Fulbrights to Spain for the coming 2012-13 academic year – HOLA QUE HACE?

No but really. I can hear you hovering. Spain’s sent that mystical fat envelope your way at last, hooray and enhorabuena!! However, now that the seemingly endless limbo has graciously come to a close, your inner anxious academic takes over once more, peppering the innocent consciousness with queries.

What I mean is, I see you – I’m a WordPress stats nerd, and I check out what folks search for that guides them in a tomato-y direction – and I know you’re nervous. A handful of you have actually written me emailed queries regarding what’s in store for the coming year, and I figure it’s highly likely there are more who have considered it.

This post is an open invitation to ask questions of me regarding my experience, as well as what you might anticipate from yours. I’m no expert, but I’ll tell you just about anything you’d like to know according to my own time spent in Spain.

Janel Torkington, A Professional Primer:
I graduated from Earlham College with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature in May of 2009.
I spent the following year adventuring around Thailand, then received word of a Fulbright award in April 2011.
I was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant for the 2010-11 academic year.
I was assigned to one of the older bilingual high schools in Madrid, IES José Luis Sampedro.
Along with the other Fulbrighter at IES JLS, I took responsibility for the Global Classrooms (Model UN) project in my school.
I was nominated as one of two Fulbright representatives to accompany the top ten Madrid students to the international Model UN conference that year, which took place in downtown Manhattan in May of 2012.
I had such a positive experience my first year that I renewed at the same high school for a second term.
The second year has continued to be enormously rewarding, and I plan on remaining in Madrid for the time being.

I’d be more than happy to answer questions as I receive them in the comments, as well as through email (contomates [at sign] gmail [dot] com).

quicknote: probably a good time to re-mention the bit they ask you to put on the blogs – I’m in no way an official Fulbright rep, and my views don’t have to do with their official positions on anything whatsoever. That’s a good thing! You can ask me about stuff like the truth about oreja, how much hell finding a piso actually is, and where exactly to get your hands on elusive ground cardamom. Fulbright Inc. doesn’t have a heap to say about any of those.





((vamos lo mas de prisa posible))

7 06 2011

Back.

And yet, where, precisely? and for how long? Are these the most relevant questions, situated smack-dab in the middle of madrileña spring, two weeks left of classes, summer’s curly golden locks splayed free and beckoning at the window?

We’ll begin with the direct: what’s happened?

What hasn’t? In the previous month and a half – that’s mid-April through the beginning stirrings of June – I’ve been back and forth across the Atlantic in the name of Global Classrooms, which probably accounts for the most notable “event” as such. My work with the model United Nations program through Fulbright in Madrid afforded me a shot at one of the two available spots as designated representatives to the international conference in downtown Manhattan, and Lady Luck took a liking to the shine of my boots. As such, I accompanied the ten student delegates from each of the ten long-standing bilingual high schools in Madrid to New York City for a week-long stay, which included participation in the Global Classrooms conference along with a few days of US Embassy-sponsored sightseeing.

My own role was that of seemingly lowly Logistics staff, which meant my crew and I picked up slack wherever it was to be found – think setting up seriously bitchy A/V equipment, sprinting freshly copied resolutions across the hotel to the designated plenary, playing UN security guards, etcetera. It was actually a marvelous role for someone with zip experience with the model UN program; it meant I got a thorough behind-the-scenes examination of how such an enormous event is put together. In the process, I managed to meet a couple fun folks from all over the states, all a fascinating combination of UN geekery and serious party-beasts.

It was both an honor and a pleasure to have been able to kick it with the exceptional Spanish students in the States; I know it was completely perspective shifting for the lot. Working with colleagues David Hinojar, Hernán Jaén, and Rebecca Chadd was a total dream – our varying strengths played off each other to provide a solid experience for all involved. Perhaps the standout highlight of the trip was the 86-floor climb up the Empire State Building at midnight on our final full day in the US. After the requisite period of awed silence, floating high amongst the mystic hazy clouds emitted by the building’s own climatization system, David turned to me and said – “This is a gift.” I couldn’t agree more.

In the meanwhile – I’ve changed homes! After tumultuous times in the Palos piso, various turns of events led to me moving near metro Bilbao, in the cutest lil’ blue triangle-shaped room you ever did see. The place is sprawling, home to nine inhabitants total. I’m the youngest at 24; we range up to 36, meaning we’re workers on the whole rather than students. The place is lively without being party-hardy, and everyone asks me ¿qué tal? I’m enamored.

Other bits: recent bouillabaise house dinner involving entire hake a serious success, intimate friendships fostered/maintained with Fulbrights/ex-Fulbrights, Spanish success steadily steaming along, love of literature rediscovered through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, job at José Luis Sampedro up and down and up up up again, painting pursuits reinitiated on canvas rescued from Chueca dumpster, certain long-standing chapters finally, fondly, firmly closed, such that new adventures may have their proper due along the space-time continuum.

I have had the enormous luck to have seen so many friends, old and new – Andrew, Catherine, Alicia, Alex, and more – with visits to and from further just beyond the horizon – Isana, Aldo, Clara! Dearest readers, the Spanish summer promises to be bang-up. Stay tuned.





Global Classrooms Conference: Act 2

19 03 2011

Onward, young delegates! Onward, points and motions! Onward, magenta business suit!

Yet another bright and early madrileña morning finds delegates and dais alike all chipper jitters pre-debate. My plenary – UNICEF 2, more commonly known as The Best Plenary – gets pointed upstairs and far to the right: the music room. My dais – my ultra-capable Director, Rapporteur, and Staff – contemplates theoretical opening ceremonies on the bongos as we alphabetically place placards. Oh my god, I think I hear the students. Are we seriously gonna be able to pull this off?

Cue the filing in of our thirty delegates, representing fifteen countries from all corners of the globe – from Sudan to Cape Verde to El Salvador to Belgium. They are looking mad sharp in their formal business attire, which lights up the geekiest debater remnants floating around in my skull. My heart she is a-thumping; the dais glances nervously at each other. Do we start? Where’s Somalia?? Who are the native English speakers here anyway???

Five minutes later and Somalia shows, and I listen to myself decisively bring down our stylin’ wooden gavel, calling the 2011 annual Madrid Global Classrooms Conference to order. Rapporteur James calls formal roll – all are present – and assures me that we have quorum. I clear my throat and prepare to center the room’s focus for the next six hours of debate and dicussion regarding our designated topic: Children in Armed Conflict. I’ve prepped a three-minute speech with a good smattering of harrowing imagery, trying to carefully walk the line between the serious nature of the topic and the early morning hour. It goes over well enough, and I proceed to open the Speakers List.

Every placard in the place shoots up – looks like these folks have been properly prompted. James and I do our best to skip around the room to construct a fair order of speakers, because once we get this ball rolling, it’s much more up to the students to determine the flow of the day’s proceedings. The U.K. begins, delivering a 1 minute and 30 second prepared speech on their country’s position – and I’m all of a sudden seeing all those practice rounds and rough drafts manifesting into calm, clear, and composed delegations. Isn’t English these kids’ second language? How can they possibly be discussing global strategy? Even barring that, how can they be speaking at length in front of a crowd of critical peers and judges? My fretting as to whether we would be able to fill the scheduled six hours of debate begins to melt away – these kids are determined to engage on a high level without pause, and I’m a mere loud-mouthed facilitator. It’s a beautiful thing.

The Speakers List moves into a series of moderated caucuses, then several extended unmoderated sessions where the students may rise and move around for more intimate and rapid exchange of ideas, plus planning of the all-important resolutions. After all, that’s the aim here; although technically the delegations are competing for awards at the end, the idea is to reward those representatives that best encourage cooperation amongst the countries. This makes things extra-sticky when the time comes to convene regarding just which delegations merit the dais’ recognition as outstanding – there’s no simple point system here, and my scrawled multi-hued notes have surely missed some key strokes of genius on the parts of various countries. Over a greedily scarfed lunch well-within illicit proximity to the priceless bongos, we manage to come to consensus. Miraculously, so do the quibbling delegations during the final round of debate: we collectively pass two forward-thinking, well-written resolutions. It’s not a mandatory part of the day’s events, but it feels productive; we done good.

Buses zip everyone back to the hoity-toity Asemblea, where the chairs of each plenary are ushered into a prominent position within the horseshoes of seats. After a few deservedly sappy wrap-up speeches from members of the Comunidad de Madrid and representatives from the American Embassy, the spotlight shines to us to present the awards. My quickly-scribbled ditty:

The Chair would like the recognize the honorable delegates from UNICEF Plenary 2, UNICEF Plenary 2, you do NOT have the floor – sorry – but you HAVE impressed me! I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed six hours of discussion regarding theoretical trade embargoes and international monetary funds so much as today. Together, we have passed two – count-em-two! – outstanding resolutions to combat the international issue of children in armed conflict, and it absolutely would not have been possible without your preparedness and professionalism. I could not possibly be more proud.





Global Classrooms Conference: Act 1

9 03 2011

The Chair rules that motion DILATORY!!!!!

Let’s rewind a tic to last spring and the sneer on my lips upon being informed that I would be working with Madrid’s Model UN program. Given the general complete dearth of interest on the part of American high school students to participate in such an event, how, precisely, was I meant to enthuse and encourage a batch of Spanish teenagers? For god’s sake, they didn’t even speak English.

Skip forward a scene or two or three (you have a one of those fancy DVD clickers, don’t you?). Enter David Hinojar, master of the social sciences and professor extraordinaire. José Luis Sampedro has set up the Global Classrooms program this year as a fully-blown course (as opposed to its previous iteration as an after-school extracurricular), and David is at the helm, trusty Fulbright mateys Laura and Janel at his swashbuckling side.

September sees us talking climate change, assigning countries at random (“North Korea! Poland! Laos!”), and introducing the basic concepts of parliamentary procedure. This last bit activates all kinds of dormant debate geekery in the vestiges of my Lincoln-Douglas inundated high school brain, and I soak up the new series of rules alongside the students. Honorable Chair, Saudi Arabia has a point of personal privilege – can we open a window?

Mid-December brings an informative email from the Comunidad: the two debate topics of the year, Trafficking of Wild Animals and Children in Armed Conflict, along with our list of assigned countries. Laura and I have a decent understanding of the dynamics within our group of precocious cuties at this stage, and we assign accordingly. We advise familiarization over the winter break in between bites of roscón de Reyes, since upon our return we’ll have a mere two months together as a class to make Model UN magic.

January is all position papers and practice. Each pair of delegates composes a single-page document detailing their country’s experience and opinion of the assigned debate topic, each of which goes through three thoroughly revised drafts thanks to serious editing effort on the part of Laura and myself, mostly taking place during the daily Cercanias commute. We also hold what feels like an endless number of practice runs, obligating the students to make use of their country-specific research in conjunction with the newly acquired procedural knowledge (OBJECTION!!!!! … I may be crossing wires, here). I begin flexing my wings as flamboyant chairperson, functioning as both Master of Ceremonies and Keeper of the Pace, cracking the verbal whip when necessary.

The Fulbrighters reconvene for yet another Jornada at the end of the month, wherein the infinitely talented Adam constructs for us a significantly clearer image of how the actual conference will proceed. We here cast ourselves in the various roles of the dais that will convene each of the five plenaries at the conference. The Staff member takes care of note-passing and general running around tasks, the Rapporteur keeps time, the Director handles resolutions, and the Chair bangs the gavel. Was there ever really any other option for this debate nerd at heart?

… to be continued…





Reception, End of Orientation, Beginning of Beginnings

9 09 2010

Munching breakfast goodies in the Colegio Mayor Mendel caf’.

The lovely catered reception Fulbright threw for us, complete with caviar and champagne (sometimes it pays to work for the government).

Post-champagne, however, it turns out getting Fulbrighters out of the reception hall is much like herding cats.

La voy pasando de maravilla.
“I am passing it like a marvel.”

Okay okay, so I am having a marvelous time! No qualifications, no reservations, no “if-onlys.” This city and I are deeply communing. Each time I pause to check the blocky lights of pisos on the skyline, the soft breeze tickling the trees sprouting everywhere out of the sidewalks, the plazas full of the smoke of sharply-dressed Spaniards, the distinct aromas winding their way out of each and every door (tortilla espanola! indian curry! comida cubana! lebanese pitas! doner kebabbb!!), I find myself filled with the joy of possibilities stretching themselves out before me in this gorgeous, vivacious place.

I realize deeper than ever before that you get out of life exactly what you put into it, both in terms of effort and love. You can work really hard at being angry! I’m in such an excellent place internally that I’m seeing opportunites for excitement and adventure everywhere I look – this year is already AMAZING.

Fulbright ETAs teach approximately 16 hours a week, which is spread out over four days. This leaves us with plenty of time each night to play with as we wish, plus a three-day weekend during which absolutely anything is possible. You can bet that yours truly is bubbling over with glee at the range of possibilities. I’m thinking writing for a local newspaper, picking up a class in German, beginning a mural project, slam poetry, volunteer work, tutoring for some spending money, starting up international cooking classes, visiting el País Vasco, starting work on my first book…

I begin my actual Fulbright work at José Luis Sampedro on the 15th – you can anticipate another outpouring of emotion then. I’ll be working with Global Classrooms, a Model UN program in Spain and beyond. During orientation, we were briefed on what it will end up looking like, and also informed that it will simultaneously be one of the most exhausting and rewarding experiences of our time here. The students apparently ADORE it, and my school should be well-versed in how it goes down since they’ve done it several times in previous years.

On Tuesday, we did a mock debate regarding landmines, complete with country placards and rules of decorum. My old speech-and-debate sensors fired all at once; I ate it up. Point of inquiry! Point of personal privilege! Motion to suspend debate! I am going to have a blast.

I also very briefly met my coordinator, Rachel, whose English has an impeccable British accent. She also looks uncannily like…… me. I am going to have to get a photo to prove it, I know, but I saw her across the room and did a double take, thinking at first that my aunt Janet had somehow snuck her way into my luggage. She even has the short dark hair going on – no fauxhawk, however.

Speaking of which, apparently dress code for teaching in Spain is incredibly informal. I won’t be out of place with a button-down shirt and slacks, but a blazer might be pushing it. I plan to push it! The flexibility will be wonderful, though.

Fulbrighters are slooowly dispersing across the city; I’d give a wild guess that perhaps half of us have found pisos already. I’m really glad I reserved the room at Colegio Mayor Mendel through the 11th; it’s not in a very useful area of town, but the convenience of not having to worry about moving my luggage is absolutely worth it.