Monday, 25 February 2013

Vietnamese proverb

Vietnamese proverb:  Khi một con ngựa bị ốm, những con ngựa khác không ăn cỏ

English translation:  When one horse is sick, the other horses don't eat grass.  

What do you think this proverb means?  

(a)  it is a proverb about being careful:  when others get sick, pay attention to what they did, or what they ate, and don't do/eat the same things.  

(b)  it is a proverb about unity/solidarity:  if your friend or family member can't enjoy something, then you also go without that pleasure until you can enjoy it together.   

(c)  it is a proverb about greed; if you take too much of something, you will make yourself sick, and there will not be enough for others.

The correct answer is (b).  Vietnamese society values solidarity and unity within any group or family.  Children are taught that the needs and goals of the group are more important than those of the individual, and expressing individuality is not encouraged.   For more information about the the culture and values of Vietnamese society, from Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, Australia, click here

Thanks to my student Ha for sharing this proverb, and thanks to my colleague Chi for helping in the editing process

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Life in Spain: First Impressions

In January, Corin and I spent a couple of weeks travelling in Barcelona, Seville, Granada, and Madrid, visiting palaces, cathedrals, museums, and all the usual tourist attractions.  As a bonus, we got to ski a couple of days in the Sierra Nevada mountains, from where, ON a clear day, IF the lift to the top of the mountain is open, you can see Morocco.  Unfortunately, these conditions weren't met when we were there  (which means we''ll be going back to try again!)

Alhambra, Granada
Corin with our cool Portuguese ski guide, José

ceiling detail, Alhambra

As travellers, we learned various random things:
Granada, 13 dias de huelga

  • how to spot pickpockets on trains.
  • to ignore street vendors (except those selling umbrellas on rainy days)
  • what happens when rubbish collectors go on strike (it all piles up in the streets and the people shrug their shoulders and walk around it or over it).
  • that doing laundry at a hotel is more expensive than throwing the clothes away and buying new ones. 
  • that buses can make it safely down a steep, narrow mountain road with hairpin curves and vertical dropoffs.  In a blizzard.  With a driver who bursts into song at all the scariest bits.  (You just have to remember to breathe).
  • that despite the economic crisis, money is being poured into infrastructure, particularly the railway system, with new trains, tracks, bridges, and tunnels.  

So, after about two weeks in Spain as tourists, we arrived in Santander and moved into the 2 bedroom apartment/flat/piso that was to be our home away from home for the next four months.  

We are now really 'living in Spain', and what follows are our first impressions, in photos:

We live in the 'barrio pesquera' (fishing neighborhood).  Next street over is the fishing port:

We live on the 6th floor.  Here's the view out of the window (mainly of other people's windows!)

There's a school down below.  A couple of days after we moved in, they had a peace (paz) celebration out in the playground.  It happened at the same time that Valencia was celebrating 'conversation on peace', which I thought was cool.  Here's a picture I took from the balcony.  The music was a bizarre blend of Beethoven's 9th and Lady Gaga.  Sorry, no video! (just as well perhaps?)

All the apartments are above shops and businesses.  We feel pretty safe because the business below us is 'Academia Cop,' a security guard training school!  On our left is a bookstore, and on the right, a bar.  There are bars and cafeterias everywhere, and both sell more or less the same selection of drinks and tapas (the difference is the opening hours; cafeterias open and close earlier than bars).  Even in freezing weather, there are always people sitting at tables or standing on the street outside the cafés and bars, drinking and talking with friends.  Children and dogs are also welcome everywhere.

This next part is my favorite:  We have a car-free life.  From where we live, it's an easy walk to the markets, the port, the shopping areas, the bay, and the beaches.  Corin takes a local bus to the university, and we take regional buses and trains if we want to go outside the city.  There isn't one transport card like Oyster in London; each company has its own system.  There are two train companies and two bus companies operating in Santander, so we need to buy pre-paid cards for each of them.  To cross the bay we need another card for the ferrry.  It's a bit confusing but I'm getting used to it!  (Corin was somehow used to it before we even set foot in Santander).  Most of the time, I just walk, because I like walking.  Here's a picture of one of my favorite places to walk:  the promenade along the bay.

And here's the view across the bay:  

Next topic:  Food.  Here in Cantabria, everything we eat is caught, grown, baked, or otherwise produced locally.  We buy our food here.....

Fish market 

... here....

Produce market

..... and here ......


I don't think I have anything I can add to those pictures!  We are completely spoiled now for food quality and freshness.  But, we do have to remember that the markets and most shops close between 2 p.m. and 4:30.  

On to more mundane matters:   Laundry.  We hang our clothes out on a clothes rack on the balcony and then iron them dry.  People who don't have balconies hang their clothes over the street and cover them with an umbrella or a tarp when it rains.  The umbrella/tarp mechanism is built into the clothes lines.  Strange but true.

Lastly, the rubbish.  All of Europe recycles, although each country has a different system.  Here, we have three separate bags for paper (blue), plastic/metal (yellow), and orgánico (green).  Every street has at least one set of these color coded bins, as well as several for glass, and they are emptied daily (except when there's a huelga!)  So, the chore of 'taking out the trash' in Spain involves going to the end of the street and dumping the three separate bags into the three separate bins.  Not something you can do in your pyjamas, like at home!

Coming soon:  More on Santander and Cantabria (coast and mountains, local customs, local food) and the university (international education and the exchange experience).  Please subscribe to the blog if you would like to receive notification of new posts by e-mail.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Invisible gorillas, PJI principle 8, and Cultural Lessons in Barcelona

Parque Güell, Barcelona

Feb 11, 2013: 

Have you seen the 'invisible gorilla' selective attention video?  If you have, and you were one of those who missed the gorilla, like me, then you might be interested in this article published today by Alix Spiegel for NPR, called 'Why even radiologists can miss a gorilla hiding in plain sight.'

You can read the full article (and watch the invisible gorilla video) here, but the gist of it is that, in a selective attention study, 83% of radiologists did not see a picture of a gorilla superimposed on a chest x-ray.  Why not?  Well, the 'obvious' answer is that they weren't looking for gorillas; they were looking for tumors.  Nevertheless, when you look at the picture, it's hard to believe that they could have missed it.

So can it really be the case that you can look right at something and, if it's not what you're looking for, not see it?  We all know the expression 'you see what you want to see', but it might be more accurate, then, to say 'you see what you expect to see.'  Whichever it is, if you are not seeing something that's clearly there, simply because you are not looking for it, that must have important implications for, well, just about everything.  If you're not convinced, here's the conclusion of the NPR article:

'In other words, what we're thinking about — what we're focused on — filters the world around us so aggressively that it literally shapes what we see.' 

Yes, that's pretty powerful.  And it reminds me of something:  Principle 8 of the Valencia Peace and Justice Institute's 'how we treat each other.' 

Principle #8:  Identify assumptions.  Our assumptions are usually invisible to us, yet they undergird our worldview.  By identifying our assumptions, we can then set them aside and open our viewpoints to greater possibilities.  (To see all 13 principles, click here)

I remember reading this for the first time and thinking 'easier said than done!'  If our assumptions are invisible to us, how can we identify them?  It seems an impossible goal.  But perhaps we need to think of our assumptions as the invisible gorilla.  To see the gorilla, you first have to know it's there.  So how do you know whether what you know about the world is real, or whether it's an assumption?  What is reality, anyway?  Is anything real?  Isn't everything just perception?  (Think Matrix, Plato, Sophie's World).  We may never be able to answer these questions, but what's important is that we ask them.  If we keep asking, and keep our minds open to what others are telling us, we may be able to shift our perception enough to spot the gorilla.

So this brings me to a story about a 'spot of bother' I got into last month in Barcelona, and my faulty assumptions that were exposed as a result. I was having a coffee at an outdoor cafe by the port, when a man with a basket of roses approached me.  He handed me a red rose and held his hand out for payment.  I didn't have any cash on me, nor any intention of buying a rose.  So, I smiled at him and explained politely in Spanish that I was sorry, I wasn't carrying cash, and didn't want to buy a rose.  He didn't answer but kept pushing the rose at me and holding out his hand for money.  Assuming it was my poor Spanish that was the problem, I tried again to explain using different words, but it didn't do any good; he started making gestures and noises of desperation and grabbed my hand with his two hands and started pulling on it!  I looked around frantically for the waiter, expecting him to show up any minute and ask the man to leave, but he didn't.  I continued trying to come up with alternative vocabulary to convey the message that I had no cash, and to please leave me alone.  But he wouldn't leave me alone, and the waiter never came to rescue me. 

The point of the story is that my poor handling of the situation was based on no less than three false assumptions, as explained to me later by the waiter.  

Assumption #1:  That I had failed to communicate effectively in Spanish, and that's why the street vendor didn't understand me.  (In fact, it turned out that he was from Pakistan and spoke no Spanish).

Assumption #2:  That the harassing of customers would be speedily and effectively handled by the restaurant management.  (In fact, it wasn't!  And when I asked the waiter whether aggressive selling was allowed on restaurant premises, he shrugged his shoulders and said 'of course, this is Spain.')

Assumption #3:  That the way to refuse an unwanted sales pitch is to smile and decline politely. (In fact, I was told later, that was where I had made my fatal mistake. I was instructed that in future I should ignore street vendors; not smile, not speak.  Behave as if they are not there.  'If you make eye contact, you are doomed!')  Note:  I still find this difficult. From my cultural perspective, ignoring people who approach you is just plain rude.   

Of course, in the overall scheme of things, this minor incident is of no consequence.  But, it does illustrate how strong our invisible assumptions can be -- and could help explain why we keep using the same strategies to problem solve, even in the face of irrefutable evidence that they aren't working!

Pictures from Barcelona, Jan 2013

La Sagrada Familia

Up on the Olympic Hill, with a good view of the port, and the QM2!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Visit to International College of Seville Jan 16, 2013

Acronyms used in this post:

ICS:  International College of Seville
CCIS:  College Consortium for International Studies
SAGE:  Study Abroad and Global Experience

This morning, Corin and I went to visit the International College of Seville.  This visit was part of my sabbatical plan to further the goals of Valencia's Strategic Plan for International Education (for a copy of the plan, click here)

Background:  With Valencia's Study Abroad and Global Experience office (SAGE) I'm on two committees:  (1)  internationalizing the curriculum, and (2)  international student recruitment and engagement (for full list of all SAGE committees and their members, click here)

My first sabbatical goal is related to committee #1:  To increase 'outward' internationalization by making connections (or strengthening existing connections) designed to 'increase the number of students on semester study abroad programs' (international plan, page 16).  My second sabbatical goal is related to committee #2:  To increase 'inward' internationalization  by 'increasing international student enrollment' (international plan, page 21).

So, today's visit was related to goal one.

Why Seville?  A few years ago, a group of Valencia faculty went to visit the International College of Seville, a CCIS center affiliated with Broward College, with a view to offering a study abroad in Seville option for Valencia students.  Because the ICS is a CCIS center, all of the work to establish equivalencies has already been done, and their classes use the American course numbering system.  For example, their SPN 1120 is Beginning Spanish I and counts as 3 credit hours.   In case you haven't heard of CCIS (I was only vaguely aware of them before today) here is a brief explanation, copied from their website:

The College Consortium for International Studies, a partnership of colleges and universities -- two and four year, large and small, public and private, domestic and foreign -- encompasses the broad spectrum of international higher education. CCIS members sponsor a variety of programs, notably study abroad programs and professional development seminars for faculty and administrators, which are designed to enhance international/intercultural perspectives within the academic community.

If you'd like to know more about CCIS, here you go:  CCIS website

I was planning to be in the south of Spain in January, so I thought it could be useful to strengthen the connection already established between Valencia and the ICS by paying them another visit.  Jennifer Robertson, director of SAGE, provided me with a site visit questionnaire, which would help give us the information we need to better promote the program to our students.  So, this morning, Corin and I walked over to the International College of Seville, located just outside a beautiful city park.

Here's a picture of the park (and me in it):

Site visit at ICS, 1/16/13:  We met with the director, Dr. Ignacio Martinez Rojas, and some of the faculty and staff.   They were friendly, knowledgeable, and clearly dedicated to students.  We discussed all aspects of the programs they offer, and I've listed the main points below:

  • Classes have been assigned equivalent US college/university course numbers
  • Classes are offered in Spanish language and culture
  • Other classes are offered in English (for example, business classes)
  • Professors have master's degree or higher
  • Small class size (maximum of 15 students in language classes)
  • Students can come for semester programs or summer programs
  • Students stay in private homes (home stay)
  • Students with advanced level of Spanish can also take classes at the University of Seville 
  • Extracurricular activities including excursions and service learning

There is lots more information available on their website -- check it out!   ICS website 

Here are some pictures of the school with the director, faculty, and staff

We also got to visit one of their typical homestay providers, a short walk from the college along a street lined with orange trees.  In fact, all the streets in Seville are lined with orange trees.  The trees are full of  oranges -- nobody picks them.  (There's a lesson about supply and demand here somewhere, but I don't know what it is).

Here are some pictures from the homestay, showing a typical student room and the living/dining area.

Gina de los Santos is the housing director for the ICS; here she is in her office (and you may also recognize her in the pictures above)

Conclusion:  As a result of my research and my visit to the college, I think it would be great to offer this program as one of Valencia's study abroad options.  I liked everything about it -- the school, the staff, the homestays, and the city of Seville.  The school adds some important personal touches; for example, they pick students up from the airport, they provide students with mobile phones, and they interview each student personally during a two-day orientation/placement period.

Lastly, see below for some miscellaneous pictures from around Seville.