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Teaching and Learning

25 Jan

DSC01326Thoughts on teaching and learning from migrant workers from Nepal and Sri Lanka…

Tutoring the workers has been an outstanding privilege.   In our short time with them ideally we can help them help themselves in their process of learning, but I’m stuck with one thought: it is a rather unequal exchange.  I can teach them a word in English, but hearing their stories – the distances traveled, the families left at home – are worth so much more.  They force me to reflect on what global travel means to me relative to others’ movement and what is demanded by the differences.  Hopefully by the end of our sessions together the exchange grows to be more equal.

– Daniel

My muscles are committed to the contours of my keyboard, able to effortlessly punch in a password after years of computer use. The students squint at the screen, repeating the motions of Shift + H with varying levels of frustration. No easy task, it is an action that requires specific subtlety. Don’t press too hard, avoid the caps lock, and navigate tiny tiles in an unfamiliar language, all while your letters are masked by those damn black dots. But with each small victory – opening Tamil Wikipedia, finding a video on Youtube –  the computer becomes less an object of difference and more a tool for exchange.

– Marielle

DSC01333My greatest joy came out of working with Sandosh. I had a great conversation with him (considering his level of English and my level of Hindi). Finding out he is only twenty-two years old makes me even more appreciative of my own opportunities. He said he was a cleaner here but the other day I saw him working at Papa John’s rolling out pizza dough. I was not positive it was him but as soon as he returned my smile, it was confirmed. I said hello to him and he replied, “Hello, ma’am!” with such excitement that it warmed my heart. We continued our short conversation and I felt this tug at my core solidifying my desire to help him as much as possible.

-Asha

“I’ve been so spoiled,” I think to myself. My fingers dance across keys at such high speed that I rarely, if ever, look at the keyboard itself. Sometimes I don’t even look at the screen. His fingers move slowly, the index hesitates above a black key with a tiny white image. He’s right. At least, I know he’s right. He presses the letter, and I list off the next one. The little black dots that obscure what he’s typing multiply. He hesitates again. “Click the blue circle,” I say. The desktop loads.

-Tahirah

DSC01332Tutoring has been an amazing and overall positive experience. The workers’ kindness reminds me that the most valuable part of teaching is building a relationship with them and giving them an hour out of the day to make them feel like someone cares about them and their future is more valuable than teaching them a few words in English. I first had difficulty trying to balance my attention, it was natural to give more attention to the worker who struggled more, but I realized that the other workers need just as much attention. I learned that by giving everyone equal attention, some workers might not get as far in English, but they will all feel like someone cares about them.

-Marie

With only seconds left before the end of a Nepali music video, I looked to my right and found a young man’s frustrated face pointed toward his keyboard with a forced smile. “Learning to type … well, it is sort of like learning how to dance,” I said. After a moment of consideration, he looked up and began to laugh hysterically. “I do not dance like the video,” he replied. “That does not matter,” I assured him, “It is all about learning the steps and practicing until it becomes effortless.” He contemplated this notion, I patiently waited. A few seconds later, I watched as strong fingers began to delicately search the keyboard for Ctrl+Alt+Dlt – the first steps to any “computer dance”.

– Alexandria

DSC01331Working with Education City’s cleaning staff has been a really cool experience. My favorite things about our lessons together are the small moments that confirm for me that what I’m doing is relevant and impactful. Often times when I am teaching or demonstrating, I wonder if what I am communicating is truly going to be helpful in the long run. But the men that I have worked with are constantly interested in trying to stretch beyond the limits of the class and return to the next class ready to learn even more! Sometimes I can’t even get them to close Rosetta Stone.  It’s great to work with people whose energy levels are so high!

-Wesley

On our first day of teaching, I was paired with a young Nepali woman named Sumitha. We started by trying to get to know each other. I asked her questions about herself which she answered by smiling and nodding… after a few questions (“Where are you from?” etc) I realized that she didn’t understand a word I was saying. Surprisingly, I think that coming to that realization made me just as uncomfortable as she was! After some awkward giggling and half-communicating through gestures, we managed to develop a system in which I would google an image of something, teach her the word in English, and she taught me the word in Nepali. By the end of the class we were both laughing and knew the words for cat, dog, man, woman, boy, and girl, in each other’s language.

-Molly

DSC01336After hitting “Enter,” the screen was once again marked with a small red “X” and the phrase “Invalid username or password.” I exhaled, smiled, and suggested that we try again. The last thing that I wanted to do was provoke feelings of frustration, but I felt like that was exactly what I was doing. Learning computer skills, especially learning how to log in to a computer system using a set of letters, a keyboard, and a language that one does not completely understand can be extremely difficult. How could I even explain the importance of logging in? I was elated when the screen eventually read, “Welcome.” We went on to look at some pictures of animals, learn some vocabulary about color, and discuss our families. I hope that I get the chance to share similar successes with the same student again.

-Marcy

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Doha Diaries

25 Jan

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Short reflections on life in Doha…

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The group’s “alternative tour” of Doha was an important experience.  History is best understood not by those who write it, but those who really build it: the common man.  We left Education City and went to see a factory and parts of Doha that are normally hidden from the tourist’s eye. The contrast between the city’s grandeur (Education City, its museums and expanding skyline) and where the hands that created that grandeur lived was eye-opening.  It made me think to myself, “Who really builds our greatness?”

– Daniel

Pedestrian life does not exist in Doha, a city shaped by unbearable summer heat and an automobile obsession. Life shuttles from building to building, AC blasting throughout any interior.  Migrant workers walk alongside roads clogged with SUVs and sports cars, yet my restructured routines leave me envious of the freedom found elsewhere to wander by foot. Walking is now a luxury for me and a struggle for many others.

– Marielle

Trying on a burqa to enter the mosque was quite the transformative experience. I have always felt the need to look away from a woman wearing a burqa unless I was interacting with them directly. So I was quite surprised with the calming effect wearing it. In addition, the way appearances are completely transformed as one is only able to see a person’s face is fascinating. It gave me a greater understanding of women who wear burqas in their daily proceedings.

-Asha

I entered the space swathed in black fabric, my face and hands my only visible flesh. The cloth around my face loosened, knowing it was unwanted. I don’t define myself in relation to religion. When asked, unaffiliated is the best answer I can give. I appreciate religious spaces with stunning architecture or a curious history. My focus shifts beyond their walls to the events that occur within them, events so foreign to me that I tense up. It’s as odd as listening to a conversation about hair styling amongst women with straight or wavy tresses that flow down towards their backs. My tightly coiled curls that grow thick, up, and out know nothing of those things.

-Tahirah

One of our favorite places to go out in Doha is a shopping district called the Souq Waqif, which is modeled after an old marketplace with winding streets and lots of local vendors. Our first night out together as a group, we happened upon a tiny bread shop completely by accident and ended up with 5 huge pieces of the warmest, softest, most amazing flat bread for 1 Riyal (about $0.27). It was so nice to sit around a rickety wooden table outside the shop and start getting to know each other over something as simple and delicious as warm bread. The shop is now one of our regular destinations at the Souq Waqif and the bread we eat there has remained one of the highlights of the trip.

-Molly

Stepping out onto a collection of rocks to find a seat where the waters of the Persian Gulf glisten below and the Doha skyline sparkles in the distance; it is difficult not to find wonder in a city in which a mere stone throw away from such a magnificent spot is a small shop on an unpaved road that serves delicious Karak Chai Tea. Essentially sitting on a tiny intersection between old-Doha and new-Doha, I couldn’t help but hope that no matter how small – pieces of old-Doha would prove resilient to efforts that might build them away.

– Alexandria

During the Alternative Tour of Doha, we visited the industrial area, where I realized the extent of segregation in Doha. Uday pointed out that this segregation is frustrating especially because the segregation prevents the people who built Doha from entering Doha. This made me ask myself “What is Doha?” Doha is defined by these workers, not by the tall buildings. After this tour I realized I’ve spent my time in the western areas of the city. My ability to select the places I go limit my experiences. The tour also made me realize how lucky I am. We live in a world where it’s easy to take our lifestyle for granted, it’s important to appreciate what we have.

-Marie

I got scolded today. Apparently, on the day that our group had gone on a fantastic alternative tour of Doha, some CMU-Q friends had secretly conspired to surprise me with a shopping trip to buy my very own thobe. Far and away, the most exciting thing about Doha is the incredible hospitality of the people here. I have made so many friends in such a short period of time that boarding the plane for our final destination will actually be difficult for me. Students in Doha have made sure that I have had something fun or interesting to do every night since I have been here. It is impossible to overstate their warmth or friendliness.

-Wesley

We were instructed to look for “community assets” as our bus made its way through what is called the Industrial Area of Doha: things like pharmacies, grocery stores, venues for entertainment. I did not really know what to expect, in what form these “assets” would be made manifest in this neighborhood. As our bus rounded a corner my gaze was attracted downward to a movement on the ground. In the shade of a parked car, for the brief moment that the speed of our vehicle permitted me to observe them, I saw three men crouched around a board game. One player’s roll of the dice was what caught my eye, and at once it surprised and comforted me to find some relatable joy that connected my own memories of childhood to this city of such rapid change.

-Marcy