Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Hello, it’s time for another lovely edition of random musings or, by it’s fancier sounding name, unrelated observations of Peru. The random musings tactic is like the clip show of blogging; it’s something that the blogger can do to provide content without the structured thinking that a normal post requires. Or when your life is just a bit boring (really, how many times might people who are not my family want to read about getting taxis and grading papers). Essentially, this is the lazy person’s way to blog and, if you notice the time between my posts, I’ve been pretty lazy. Of course, like all lazy people I’ve got a ton of great excuses, like “I’m super busy at other things!” Well, the semester here is winding down and plenty of students need help on their final projects so…on with the show:

  • Well, even though it’s not quite summer yet the weather has definitely changed. The temperature has risen and it gets pretty sunny (more or less). The most unusual aspect of the weather is how most days begin overcast but changes into a brighter day with slightly clearer skies. Even when it stays a bit overcast, it usually warms up to a comfortable level, even if most days start of a bit gloomy.
  • A few weeks ago, we hired a maid on the suggestion of one of our friends. Her name is Teo, and she does a fantastic job with the apartment. The thing is, I still feel a bit awkward about having a maid (or limpiadora) in the first place. My family never had a maid nor did we ever rent a cleaning service, so it’s a change to have someone in my house cleaning up after me (Comment from my mother below in 3…2…1…). I don’t know if my feelings about Teo are leftover baggage of bourgeois guilt or just one the new cultural differences with which one must be accustomed.
  • My new favorite food here are anticuchos. I don’t want to spoil them for anybody, but if you happen to meat eater they’re delicious.
  • I feel like my Spanish is definitely (or at least hopefully) improving. A lot of times, I can understand what is been asked or said to me, even if I can’t necessarily translate the words verbatim. Of course, I still get a little lost whenever a person uses too much slang or mumbles. Yet improvement is improvement, so I’m just happy that the language blocks are getting fewer and fewer.
  • After quite a few experiments, all done in the interest of science mind you, I’ve discovered that Cusquena is much better in a bottle. Though, if you must, drinking it in glass is still pretty good.
  • Finally, on a bit of a home sickness note, I absolutely miss Autumn. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, this time of year (calendar wise) has always been my favorite part of the year. The changing flora and fauna, along with the opportunity to wear all my cool sweaters, puts me in a good mode. In Lima, the opposite change is, of course, occurring as the seaons is getting warmer. I feel all discombobulated as my body seems to expect the weather to get colder. Yet, whenever I’ve mentioned this to any of my friends back in the US–especially the ones living in colder climates–they tend to give me a fairly snarky remark. I think I can actually hear them roll their eyes through the computer.



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Sign in the makeshift library at USIL (they're building a new library)

I have begun (finally) the teaching job that was the reason I moved to Peru. Although it was only little over a month, the time between my arrival and the start of the job felt interminably long, a sort of purposelessness wandering that fell somewhere between a vacation and a relocation. Thankfully all the people at USIL, both my bosses and colleagues, have been really wonderful. It’s no small exaggeration to say I couldn’t have survived without them. (On a side note filled with extreme nerdery: the pronunciation of USIL sounded, early on, like “USUL.” If you get that reference, you get a free ride on the giant sandworm.)

Beginning to teach, plan lessons, and interact with students has given my days a nice rhythm (though dealing with commute is still a royal pain). As much as I’ve bitched and moaned about teaching in the past, there is a certain pattern that has come to order my days and keep me motivated in other areas of my work. This post is about some of my initial experiences teaching in Peru. Think of it as sort of a gringo diary.

One of the first things learned about teaching overseas is actually more of a flashback to my days teaching as a graduate student. I’ve gained a new appreciation for all the non-US teachers I met during my grad student days. I didn’t ever really understand their difficulties, fears, or anxieties. Not that I totally understand them now, but at least I’ve been given a little glimpse. I guess it is, in a way, very appropriate since it’s such a gringoesque sort of viewpoint and matches with the spirit of this blog (or at least it’s pasty writer).

The Main Building on Campus B

The feeling of cultural difference I’ve experienced is not the product of one major element; instead, it’s more like an accumulation of little differences. For example, greetings and personal space are understood here on a more intimate level. Students routinely shake my hand after each class and female colleagues greet me with a hug and a brief peck on the cheek. I get embarrassed sometimes about the latter because I’m still not quite accustomed to the greeting. The greeting itself doesn’t bother me, but I am insecure cause I think act like a robot when it happens (it still catches me off guard). In the classroom, the students are also more “touchy-feely,” which is a change from the more Protestant version of personal space exhibited by the students I taught in the States. Neither form of personal space is qualitatively better, of course. It’s just different or, more accurately, different to me.

Having worked in another country earlier in my life, I think I sorta shrugged off these differences because I didn’t realize how they would alter my life. Not only does it show my naivete, but also it reveals how being a world traveler is always different from living in a place. When you live somewhere you have the time to notice the little things about a culture and, more importantly, the need find your place within that culture.

One of the student computer lounges

In my role as a teacher, I’ve often had to rearrange and adjust quite a few elements of my style. I have to think about how everything, from classroom analogies to entire lesson plans, might need to be changed in order to better accommodate the cultural references and learning styles of the students. This can be especially tricky or annoying when I need to change any of my “go to” lesson plans. Every teacher worth their salt has a set of successful and time-tested “go to” lesson plans, and having to change those plans is both frustrating and difficult. “I spent three years getting this damn lesson correct, now I need to change the goddamn thing,” I’ve often thought. Even this early in my teaching experience I’ve had to redraft my “go to” plans, handouts, and lectures. This revision needs to be done not so much to adjust for any cultural sensitivity, but for simple effectiveness. It still comes down to finding the best way to help the students understand and use the concepts presented in the course; to get them from point A to point B in the best possible manner.

Another interesting element, which is tied to teaching in a developing country, is that here it’s much more difficult to teach on basic material level. Finding certain things can be pretty difficult. Each classroom has a whiteboard, but you must present your ID to a staff member in order to get markers, which must be returned immediately after the class. I decided just to purchase my own set of whiteboard markers as it was just easier that way (and now I guard them like Gollum guarded the One Ring). The rooms also have the basic projector set up found in many universities, but teachers have no access to the remote. You’ll need to wait (or go hunt down) the remote guy who goes classroom to classroom turning on and off the projectors. Most classes here work on a photocopy basis, as it’s very difficult to order books in Peru. Consequently, most books are photocopied and dispersed among the students. Depending on the class and the instructor, this is either done in accordance to copyright laws or not.

Yet, it’s not all alienation and difference, struggle and frustration. For the most part, 16 to 18 year old students seem pretty much the same. Some are hardworking, some not. Some really enjoy the class, some don’t. Some do all the readings, some just look bored. They’re all attached to their cellphones, so it’s the same battle to get them to not text during class. So to present everything like I’m a stranger in a strange land would be disingenuous. Thankfully, the job still comes down to teaching the students the best you can in the most honest way you can. The good feeling you have when a student grasps a concept is still there, just remember to purchase your own markers before the semester starts.

Oh, and the student restaurant Don Igancio’s is absolutely fantastic. The students are all the sous-chefs, and it’s better than any restaurant, including the private ones, at my old university.

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Perception is, bluntly, a summabitch. One of the most annoyingly persistent, and difficult, perceptions I still have about Lima is the fact that it’s dangerous at night. And not just normal dangerous, but “where is the goddamn Batman!” dangerous. Now, like many of my beliefs about Lima, this an idea is founded in some fact. Peru is a developing country and, therefore, it has dangers that many cities, even large ones, in developed countries do not possess. To ignore this fact is to be dishonest about the realities of this country in which I’ve chosen to live. Now, of course, it’s also a developing country and not a war-torn nation. Also, this fear is compounded by my language difficulty. However, unlike any of my fears or anxieties I have about not knowing Spanish, the night has more of an irrational hold on me.

If you look closely you can see Batman

The are legitimate dangers that occur (or can occur) at night, more so than any of the possible results of my simple fear of looking like a douche at the Vivanda cause I can’t order meat properly. It’s smart to be vigilant at night in Lima, this is just a fact. However, vigilance can easily (for me) mutate into paranoia. Paranoia is no fun, despite what Thomas Pynchon may think. Not every corner hides a mugger, nor is every cab driver looking to separate me from my kidneys. Trying to find a balance between these two emotions is difficult, but the main thing I’ve decided is to not live in fear. To live in fear is to live such a small, isolated life.

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Objects on blog may appear smaller than they actually are

This week was a busy one here in Lima. I found an apartment, started the employment paper work at the university, started using cabs more, had my first Spanish lesson, signed the contract for the apartment, finished some syllabi for my upcoming classes, got lost trying to walk somewhere, purchased a prepaid cellphone (but haven’t figured out how to use it yet), and, well, I think that is about it.

Hopefully, I will finally be able to move out of the hotel on Thursday. It’ll be nice to have my own space, but I’m already thinking about some of the annoyances that are coming up. For instance, I’ll need to go shopping for all the basics (cleaning supplies, toilet paper, dog treats, food, etc). I’m not sure if I want to do one large trip or do a couple of medium-sized trips. There are a few small markets/shops in walking distance of the apartment that could probably work for some day-to-day meals, but I imagine I’m gonna want some things on hand. If to just embrace the occasional moments of laziness, as they occur.

As for the job, things are finally beginning to progress. I have started my contract and visa paperwork–boy, in Peru they love to stamp documents and stick these fancy little seals on everything (don’t know if that is a South American/Colonial holdover or Peru specific, though). The most striking thing about the campus is it’s size. The school is much larger than it appears in the pictures on the net, and it’s split over two main campuses. Everyone seems pretty nice, though most of the faculty is on vacation at the moment. Also, all the men working at the university wear full suits (the women too, though there seems to be more variation from just the normal pantsuit). Every single dude looks he’s gonna go work at a bank. On my visits I have dressed in business casual (dress shirt, slacks, appropriate shoes, but no tie or jacket), and have felt a bit out of place. The only person I met who wasn’t wearing a suit was one of the program directors who, strangely, was wearing shoes that individually accommodated each toe (Toeshoes?). I don’t really want to wear a suit to work everyday, but I also don’t want to wear something inappropriate or incongruous with the culture of the workplace. Hell, if a guy wears Toeshoes to work, I guess I’m probably okay with the business cas’. I’ll post more about the university as the semester gets closer.

I feel sorta bad, as this week was more of a grind than my previous weeks; therefore, the blog sorta reflects that “mehness.” My one excursion into Miraflores was when I promptly got lost, so there really isn’t anything to write about on the travelogue front. Do I wish this was just a travelogue type blog where I could just get my Bourdain on? Why yes. Yes I do.

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The past few days have been an interesting concoction of travel weariness, culture shock, and, surprisingly, boredom.  The first two are pretty self explanatory, as I’m gringo, with poor Spanish, living in a new city.  Mostly, I was expecting culture shock, language problems, urban shock, and so forth.  I feel like I am the embarrassed, yet annoying, bane of servers and convenience storks clerks who are trying to do their jobs whilst this bumbling guy is trying to practice his “eating out” phrases. Once I’m settled, I really want to start taking Spanish lessons.

Parque Olivar

What has been more difficult is the boredom. Living in a hotel always makes me feel as sanitized, cleaned, and regulated as the rooms themselves.  It’s like I’m Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation (right down to sitting in my window in my underwear; of course, I don’t have an audience staring at my butt…I mean existential angst). Most of it is all inevitable, I arrived over the weekend and am waiting until Monday to get started on my job.  I’m just annoyingly stir-crazy, which is surprising.  The work can’t come soon enough…I know, spend your entire graduate school time bitchin’ n’ moaning about work and teaching; now, without the work, I’m bouncing off the walls (on which is made mostly of windows, such an odd room design).

Well, enough woe is me crap.  Today I walked around San Isidro, which was really nice.  I tromped on past the Lima Cricket Club, Golf Course, and on to Parque El Olivar (a park that was once an old olive plantation). I also passed a bunch of national embassies (Side Note: I passed the Swiss Embassy, which reminded me of my  friend Karen. I would’ve taken a picture for her, expect for the two guards with sub machine guns guarding the gates. Didn’t trust my Spanish to tell them that I’m not an Italian spy–or whoever hates the Swiss enough to spy on their embassy).

San Isidro is definitely Swankty, Swank with expensive and wonderful looking condos, houses, and apartments all over the place.  All the condos/apartments are squarish, usually a white or light pastel color with awesome looking balconies. Very reminiscent of the International style of architecture. The embassies are all old Spanish style buildings, or at least what you can see behind their walls and gates (another odd note, the Russian embassy was by far the biggest one I saw today).

Huaca Huallamarca

Placed in the middle of the apartments and embassies is Huaca Huallamarca, a clay Inca (I think) ziggurat, which is pretty cool.  The juxtaposition between the old, brown structure and the modern, wealthy neighborhood is jarring, it seems as if one of the two realities (archeological or modern) is false, some Disneylandesque fabrication.  Also, the guard dog was a Chinese Crested Dog. Look it up, not the most intimidating pooch.

Today, after my little stroll around San Isidro, I think I can finally say I’ve had a bit of taste of one the areas of Lima.  Like any big city, there are more than one Lima(s), just as they’re more than one New York(s) or LA(s). It was a fairly rewarding walk.  Maybe in the next post, I’ll talk about my experiences at the Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant.

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