Sunday, 17 September 2017

The First Few Weeks as a Fulbrighter - Work, Work, Work!

Now that we've been here in Bloomington, Indiana for five weeks, I figured I'd write something about the many different things I actually have to do here. It's not all fun and games! Actually, much to my surprise, the schedule here is very, very, very busy - let's just say that at times, I'm panicking about there not being enough hours in a day to get everything done, and in particular there not being enough time to focus on the Inquiry Project, which is a crucial part of being a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher. This post might end up sounding quite burned out, which is why, to balance it out, my next post will be all about free time.

Audit Courses
Each Fulbright teacher needs to audit two courses at Indiana University. (Auditing pretty much means showing up in class and doing everything the actual students do minus some or all of the assignments depending on the teacher.) Both of mine are on Tuesdays, which is nice as it means I have an extra day off every week. This is my timetable:

1 pm to 3:45 pm Diversity and the Communities of All Learners
4 pm to 6:45 pm Multicultural and International Children's and Young Adult Literature

For my Diversity course, I need to read around three articles for every week (sometimes it's more than 60 pages per week, sometimes it's only 10 pages) and write a question or a comment on a paper slip on each article I read. The course mainly deals with special education and learning disabilities, but we've also had one session on the importance of cultural pluralism in the classroom instead of trying to ignore the fact that people come from different cultural backgrounds and thus emphasising the mainstream culture and excluding any minorities. I'm taking this course together with Team Morocco as well as Adina from Israel, and the rest of the group consists of grad students transitioning into teaching. There are around 20 students including us in the group, and the teacher is great.

As for my Multicultural Literature course, I need to do a lot more! It's just me with only 8 other people, mostly PhD students. I need to read 9 YA novels, one per week, and write a 2-page response paper on each book. In addition, I need to make a 15-20-minute author presentation, and I also needed to write a 2-3-page Multicultural Autobiography paper. I'm not sure yet, but I might also need to write a mini-paper and present at a symposium on multicultural literature so that I choose a culture, read three YA books on it (on top of the 9) and then prepare a paper and I guess also some kind of presentation on it. I'm not sure if I'll actually have time to do this, though, so I might need to tell the teacher that I'm skipping it. After all, in addition to the YA novel, I need to read three articles for this course every week as well (usually 90 pages altogether). It's a lot of work! Luckily I got all the YA novels from the library so I didn't need to buy anything. (Not that I'm against buying books, but I wouldn't be able to take them all back home with me, which would be horrible. #nobookleftbehind)

In case someone is interested (you should be!), these are the books we need to read for the course. So far, I've read 2,5 and have loved everything.

The topics of these books vary from islamophobia to gay teens to Asperger's syndrome to sexual violence to racism to immigration to living in the middle of war. Extremely powerful, and highly recommended reading for anyone at all!

We also do weekly snacks, so for example next Tuesday, it's my turn to bring some food to class. A lot to do, but a lovely group and a lovely teacher as well.

School Visits
We visited Bloomington High School North first as a group - we toured around the school with the assistant principal (one of many) and got some information as we went along. The school is quite far away from where we live, but there's a bus (#1) that goes there, you just need to walk 10-15 minutes to get to the bus stop and catch the bus that goes at 7:15 am. Michelle in our group has a car, and we've been riding with her quite a lot, which is very much appreciated! I've done two school visits on a Wednesday and one on a Monday - you can pretty much choose when you want to go between Monday and Thursday. We also need to write a School Visit Reflection paper on each school visit.

By this point, I've done three school visits out of the compulsory six. Four of the visits need to be with the host teacher while the other two can be anywhere else as well. The biggest differences between Finland and the USA for me would probably be the following:

1) Everything is huge in the USA! The building, the classrooms, the letters on the walls, the gym (and there's a swimming pool as well!), the's absolutely crazy! The school has 1600 students, by the way! Imagine that!

2) The students are quite passive because the teacher does most of the work for them. I always thought American classrooms would be full of discussions and group work, but here, it's mainly the teacher who does everything while the students just sit and listen. They sit in groups but don't really do anything else in groups, which feels like a waste of 30 interesting brains! There's a lot of video watching and independent reading as well.

3) Different people are shown support in the school. The school library has a flag for each country they've had or have students from, and there's also a huge rainbow flag there. Classroom doors are marked with "Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Youth" stickers, and there's a vibrant gay straight alliance club that gets together every week. It feels so nice! The school library also has so many books on so many different topics, and they have an LGBTQ+ Reading List on their website as well as a Trans one, so anyone looking for books on these topics will find them easily. I love it! From now on, I want to be involved in all these things back home!

4) The sense of community! Anyone who goes to Bloomington North is a cougar (hehe), and Cougar Pride seems to be an important thing: there's a shop where you can buy Cougar products like clothes, key rings, mugs, pens and so on; the walls of the school celebrate the achievements of its students whether it's in sports, literature, journalism or theatre, and GO COUGARS! is written on the walls in huge letters. The school's colours are gold and maroon, and the timetable is built so that Gold Days and Maroon Days take turns (both days have their own timetable). Cougar Pride is always mentioned in the morning announcements as well - "It's great to be a cougar!". There are pumas everywhere as well - statues, plush toys, paintings, you name it!

5) There are no breaks. There's a passing period of 5 minutes between lessons when the students go to their next classroom, and the lunch break (35 minutes, and the burgers in the cafeteria cost around $2 and are really bad) is in the middle of the third period (the lessons are called blocks or periods). Other than this, no breaks whatsoever. It feels horrible!

I've observed a lot of English lessons, two meetings, two DENs (homeroom), one tutorial (40 minutes in the middle of every day are dedicated to either homeroom or tutorials where you can go to a specific teacher's classroom to finish what you haven't yet or ask for help in something you haven't understood properly), and one gay straight alliance meeting. The school days feel long and they drag on - I hope my lessons are not like that, but in case they are, I'm so sorry! I think the teachers at Bloomington North are good, but the students don't get to be involved enough in my opinion. Each student gets a laptop from the school and they're also allowed to take it home, and instead of textbooks, mostly all material is prepared by the teachers in subject groups according to the grade they teach. The online platform for all courses is Canvas, just like at IU.

A school visit on September 11th.

Friday Seminars
The whole Fulbright teacher group has a Friday Seminar every Friday from 9 am to noon. We've agreed that countries take turns in bringing breakfast to class, which is really nice (so far we've had stuff from Singapore, Mexico, Israel...). We have guest lecturers as well as our own two instructors, who talk about the topics of our Inquiry Projects and also inform us on any practical issues regarding it. We've also had to have presentations on the education systems in our countries as well as a show-and-tell on ourselves.

Here, everything is timed, and sometimes it feels as though no one really cares about our presentations as long as they're short enough (5 minutes!). While we present, there's always someone looking at the stopwatch and telling us how we're running out of time ("You have two minutes left!" "You have 20 seconds left!"). That's something I don't really like here, to be honest. Other than that, though, the Friday Seminar is a nice opportunity for our group to get together every week and vent about anything and everything that's bothering us.

Hämeenlinna! Picture by Balakrishnan.
Inquiry Project
Okay - we've been here in the US for six weeks now and I haven't written a single word yet. This stresses me out. Immensely. There hasn't been any time whatsoever to focus on the project. This morning, I have sent my inquiry project coordinator a Literature Review Concept Map with a 400-word paragraph detailing what I'm planning to do. There's been a slight focus shift to my topic, which is now approved by the IIE, Fulbright Finland and IU, so officially, this is what I'll be doing here:

Inclusion of LGBTQ+ Students in the American Classroom

I'm super inspired when it comes to my topic! What I've actually done so far is that I have borrowed a pile of books from the library (maybe 15) and found relevant research articles on EBSCO (the university database). I've read a full book as well as around 10 articles to have a proper idea of what kind of themes I'm dealing with. In the literature review, we're required to have around 20 sources. The literature review is supposed to be around 5-7 pages (mine will be longer).

Also, people will be doing different types of projects. I'll be writing, but some will be compiling material for a course or filming video clips to be used in their classroom. However, everyone will need to write a literature review, no matter what.

I'm hoping to have my literature review written by the end of September, but we'll see what happens. The rest of the project will be focusing on my findings as well as resources for teachers to make LGBTQ+ students more visible and included.

There's also been many meetings with many different people: my Faculty Advisor, my Inquiry Project Coordinator, our Program Director...My calendar is full of little meetings, which altogether amount to quite a lot of time. Every day off is interrupted by something = no proper time to focus on the project. Aaargh! At the same time, though, it's good that we're well taken care of.

Dinners and Luncheons
I already wrote about business casual and mingling in one or more of the previous posts, but there's been more of it happening lately. Just yesterday we had an INSPIRE Dinner hosted by the INSPIRE students of the IU School of Education. Next Friday, we'll have a luncheon with Armstrong teachers, who are a group of distinguished teachers from the USA. We're usually placed so that there's one Fulbright teacher sitting with a group of US students or teachers. This has been quite difficult for me, coming from a country where you usually sit wherever and talk to no one and it's okay. I feel quite stressed out about having to socialise with people I don't know all the time. I'm sure it's a skill you can learn, but it's also something that at times causes me great anxiety.

Panels and Interviews
We're also required to take part in all kinds of things at the School of Education, and this is something I've enjoyed a lot as I see it as an opportunity to represent Finland in a professional context, as opposed to the more personal context of the dinners and luncheons. I was a panelist in a Global Gateway panel, talking about the Finnish education system to students at the university, and yesterday I was interviewed (on being a teacher and, once again, the education system in Finland) by the INSPIRE students for a larger IU project on international education. Some of these things happen in our free time while others are part of the Friday Seminar sessions.

Also, quite a large chunk of my time has gone towards different applications. I have applied for a Professional Development Grant to go to the PEN Conference in Boston (let's see if my application gets approved in time...). I've also been to the Social Security Office to apply for a social security card, and I've applied for a Zip Card for Zip Car, which is a car sharing service I'd never heard of before coming here. My card should now be in the mail. Searching for suitable conferences and writing the application was quite a long and time-consuming process, and for the Zip Card application I needed to scan my driving license and fill in and scan an application form. Tip: You can scan and print in the Evermann Computer Lab.

Other Opportunities
This is the fun part! Unfortunately, I won't be able to do all of it, though. I was invited to go and speak about my project at California State University in Fresno but I won't be able to go because there's no time and no funding - so sad!!! However, I've also been given the chance to write a blog post on my experiences here for the website of the Embassy of Finland in Washington DC. I'm loving it - I'm happy to do as much writing as I possibly can!

So yes! If you're feeling exhausted now, then tune in for my next post focusing on free time here in B-Town!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A Day Trip to Louisville, Kentucky

Last Saturday, September 2nd, most of us Fulbrighters and our families got taken to Louisville, Kentucky to explore for one day - thanks CIEDR! We left in several massive cars at 7am and had until 5 pm to do what we wanted in Louisville. I have to admit I knew absolutely nothing about Louisville before the trip, but after some research, we decided we'd go to Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory as well as the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.

The trip from Bloomington to Louisville takes around two hours by car. It was a rainy day, thanks to the tail end of Hurricane Harvey reaching this part of the country, and once we arrived in Louisville, we found a complete ghost town. Louisville looks like a big city with its skyscrapers, but honestly, there were no people to be seen anywhere at all. Maybe it was just too early? A very, very quiet and empty place nevertheless.

We got dropped off at the Muhammad Ali Center and were then free to go where we wanted. Julcsi and I decided not to do the Muhammad Ali Center because we have zero interest in boxing - apparently, it's quite a good museum when it comes to things like the 1960s and civil rights as well, but we had other things in mind, and so after taking a couple of pictures in the lobby, we left for the Slugger Museum.

The good thing about Louisville is that all the places of interest are very close to each other and there's no need to catch a bus to get to different attractions. I think it took us around 10 minutes to walk to the Slugger museum from the Ali Center.

Now, what is a slugger, you might be wondering? It's a baseball bat, and not just any bat, but the Official Bat of Major League Baseball. I've loved the film A League of Their Own since I was maybe 12 and because of that, I feel this deep love for baseball. Thus, this place was a must for me! The museum part is not particularly large, but you are also taken on a factory tour where you get to see how the sluggers have been made throughout their history, and how they are made now. Very interesting, loved it! You're not allowed to take pictures on the factory tour, but as a consolation prize you get a mini souvenir slugger to take home with you.

The Big Bat in front of the museum.

Absolutely enjoyed the experience! We then headed for the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which unfortunately wasn't such a good one for me because of a rude tour guide. Because of him, I wouldn't really recommend the place - otherwise, it was quite nice. We managed to get ourselves on the 12 o'clock tour, and the tour was around 60 minutes. You go from room to room, watch videos, and listen to what the (in our case rude and annoying) guide has to say. At the end of the tour, you have an educational bourbon tasting.

Horse statues are everywhere because of Kentucky Derby.

By this point, we were really hungry and decided to go and find something to eat. This turned out to be tricky - just so you know, the restaurants are mostly on 4th Street! We wandered around, and instead of a restaurant, we ended up admiring the Ohio River with a lovely river boat on its way somewhere.

There was an international festival called WorldFest going on by the river, with food, dance, culture and many other things, and since we were there, we had a brief look at it, too. Apparently this was where all the people of Louisville were spending their Saturday!

Eventually we found our way to 4th Street and Smash Burger, after which we had coffee at Starbucks with a bunch of Fulbrighters.

More horses :).

A 4th Street city view.

Finally - fooooood!
Before leaving, we still had time to quickly pop into the Louisville Visitor Center where you can meet Colonel Sanders of KFC as well as Muhammad Ali, and buy some Louisville merchandise. Very friendly people working there, too!

Finally, we walked back to the Ali Center to meet up with the rest of our group and catch our ride back to Bloomington.

Jennifer Lawrence is from Louisville, too :).

The Muhammad Ali Center.
A nice albeit somewhat gloomy day (it's still T-shirt weather in Bloomington, so this day was an exception weatherwise). I would say that you don't need more than one day to explore Louisville - however, it's a nice way to collect a new state :D! Yay to Kentucky!

Stay tuned for posts on my free time as well as my responsibilities here in Bloomington, Indiana!