Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Week 1 as a Fulbright Teacher

Where to begin... where to begin. This week has been packed with so many rewarding, yet challenging experiences.

On Monday, I met with the students who are going to be taking my "Contemporary English Conversation" course. I was fully prepared and very excited to get the year underway. This was our first class meeting. I didn't actually start teaching on the first day; instead I used the time to get to know my students, spend time reviewing the course syllabus , and allowing the students to ask me questions. I designed a fun PowerPoint to introduce myself to the students. My PowerPoint had pictures of my hometown, my family, Juniata College, and places I have traveled. The students really seemed to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, only about 25% of my students actually showed up to class. This was a bit disappointing, but my colleagues told me that this is very common for the first week. Students know that the professors will only be giving a brief introduction to the course and reviewing the syllabus, so many of the students are not motivated to come to class on the first day. I thought that because I had all 4th year students they would be a bit more enthusiastic about attending class on the first day. Sadly, it's just not an expectation or standard here. I did have around 20 students show up, but that's it out of all of the four sections of this course that I will be teaching. This definitely makes teaching a bit frustrating because now I will need to spend part of my class in Week 2 telling all the student who didn't show up to class about how the course will be structured and what is expected of them in their course assignments. My colleagues have told me not to worry about it and just plan to start teaching. However, because my method of teaching and my course assignments are going to be so new to the students, I really want to make sure we are all on the same page right from the start. It will make me feel more comfortable and give the students more time to think of questions to ask me.

On Wednesday, I met with my students who are enrolled in "Teaching Young Learners." This class was awesome. More students showed up for this class, then the class I taught on Monday. It was about 35 students. So around 40% of my students showed up. I considered this to be really good. Once all of my students arrived and got situated, I started out with a fun ice-breaker/energizer. We all did "THE HOKIE POKIE." It went over really well and all of the students enjoyed participating. I started out by demonstrating the dance first, and then I cranked up the speakers and we all joined in the dance together. It really got the students to relax, laugh, and made for a great start to the class. After the "Hokie Pokie," I asked my students what they liked about this activity and why they thought starting class off with an activity like this would be good for young learners (age 6 to 13). I got a lot of great responses/feedback from my students and I have decided that I am going to begin every class off with this type of activity. Next week, we will start of with the game "Simon Say's." I'm excited to see my students response to this activity. I think this is a great way to give them ideas for classroom activities they can potential use when they graduate and start teaching their own English classes to young learners. After all, that is the whole purpose of the class.

I did have all of my students complete a short document I created called: "Student Information Sheet." I designed this document intentionally so that I could 1.) learn more about my students and 2.) have it serve as an assessment so that I can see what level they are at in regards to writing, speaking, and reading. I started reviewing them as soon as I got home and I must admit that I was quite impressed with their writing sample and the personal information they shared with me. It definitely makes me feel more grounded and has given me some direction as to how I should structure my next few lessons in order to best prepare my students for their first major assignment.

Overall, week one went very well. Unfortunately, I had to cancel all of my classes for this upcoming week because I am having a tooth removed (bottom left molar, #8). It's giving me horrible headaches and ear aches. The U.S. Embassy recommended a dentist for me to go see and they said right away I would need the tooth removed. I felt really bad, but my department chair advised that I cancel my classes. I had the surgery yesterday and my recovery is going well. I told all of my students that this was their "Mountain Day," a special tradition we celebrate at my undergraduate institution.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo... and Ferdinand's Bridge!

With only a few days left before the fall semester kicks-off in Montenegro, I knew it would be nice to get-away for the day. So... I said to myself, "Why not explore Bosnia?" Thus, my journey to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina began. Sarajevo is located northwest of Montenegro. The city was founded around 1461 by the Ottoman Empire. For
those of you who are history buffs, Sarajevo played a significant role in triggering the start of World War I when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in Sarajevo in the year 1914. You might also recall that Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympic games. Pretty cool! huh?

It was an early start. 6:30AM to be exact. Danielle, Isabelle, John, and I all met up at my apartment and took a taxi to City Hotel Podgorica to meet our bus. About a week ago, I stumbled across this excellent travel agency called "In-Travel." They offer great, low-cost trips to a variety of major cities located throughout the Balkan's. It took us five hours to go from Podgorica to Sarajevo. The ride did not seem to long though. Of course, our eyes were glued to the bus window the entire time.

Our trip began by waving goodbye to Podgorica and traveling north through Niksic (the town my faculty is located in) and onward towards Dormitor National Park and Piva Canyon. The drive was out-of-this-world. We passed tall, rugged mountains that cascaded down into what seemed like a never-ending canyon. It was just astonishing. The roads were filled with tunnels built into the sides of the river bed cliffs and rich, turquoise blue water flowed swiftly through the canyon.

The magnificent Piva Canyon in Montenegro!

In the center of the old city you will find 1,000's of pigeons waiting to be feed.

After we crossed Piva Canyon Bridge, we entered Bosnia. It did not take us long to cross through border/passport control. However, the road conditions changed drastically. The road from the border of Montenegro to Sarajevo was awful. It was literally a one-lane road, filled with sharp turns, falling rocks, uncooperative cows, and reckless Bosnian drivers in vehicles of all forms (i.e., motor bikes, tractor trailers, cars, etc.). Of course, it wasn't half as bad as the roads I experienced in The Gambia and Senegal, but somewhat close. The drive itself was beautiful, but with no guardrails and plummeting cliffs it made for a not so smooth ride.

A small glimpse at beautiful Sarajevo!

When we arrived in Sarajevo, we were greeted by a friendly tour guide. Our tour guide was quick to point out that Sarajevo is home to many different religious groups (i.e., Muslim, Orthodox Christians, and Catholics). We went though the four major city districts and our tour guide showed us many of the major political/government buildings, mosques, cathedrals, and synagogues. Sarajevo is a wonderful city, and it doesn't take long for one to see and feel the presence of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian time periods. Sadly, throughout the course of Eastern European and Balkan history, Sarajevo has experienced great attacks (i.e., fires, bombings, etc.) resulting in much destruction to the city. The most recent war, known as the Bosnian War, took place between 1992 to 1995. Despite these wars, citizens of Bosnia persevered and rebuilt the city time and time again after numerous attacks.

World War II Memorial in Sarajevo

For lunch we feasted on a big portion of famous Bosnian "Ćevapi." It was excellent. Ćevapi is dish of grilled minced meat with onions served inside flat bread.

Bosnian delicacy, Ćevapi.

I really encourage you to learn more about Sarajevo. It's a radiant city, rich in history, and I can't wait to go back and visit Bosnia again.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Climbing Mount Lovcen!

What an incredible afternoon. I spent the morning working on my lesson plans, and around noon Isabelle and her husband, John, called and asked if I would like to join them in their attempt to climb Mount Lovcen. (Isabelle is another Fulbright Scholar spending the year in Montenegro, and she will be teaching a course tiled "American Short Story" at Universitet Crne Gore Niksic.) Of course I told them "Yes," and by 1:00pm we were on the road. We took a taxi to the farthest possible point up the mountain. The road to this point was filled with sharp turns, few guard rails, plummeting cliffs, the occasional crazy Montenegrin speeding driver, and captivating views.

The top of Mount Lovcen. Beauty at its finest!

The hike to the top is not extremely rigorous, but it does require one to climb 461 steps. The hike up is relaxing, and since tourist season is officially starting to end, the trail and overlook weren't crowded with people. Once we made it to the top, it wasn't long before we started making friends. We met three young students who are studying in Podgorica at Universitet Crne Gore. It was nice great to meet them and we were able to use their flag for a few great pictures.

Our new friends.
You might be wondering why in the heck we are all giving the loser sign,
but this gesture/non-verbal cue actually means "Independence" in Montenegro.

Mount Lovcen (5,738 feet) is nestled along the Adriatic cost and prominently stands out compared to its surrounding mountains. Rumor has it that on clear days one can see across the Adriatic Sea and spot Italy. It is one of the major historic sights and attractions located in Montenegro. At the top of Mount Lovcen one will find a beautiful brick path that leads to a mausoleum and terrace. Inside the mausoleum resides a large statute that honors Saint Peter the Second, a former Montenegrin king who died before the age of 40, and a vault that holds his remains. In his will, St. Peter the Second requested to be laid to rest at the top of Mount Lovcen.

Here is a short video I took at the top. I did a 360 degree film shot. This is for you dad. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

More About My Classes, Observations and Eating Octopus!

Danas je ponedjeljak! (Today is Monday). My Crnegorski language skills are improving. My language lessons are officially underway and this past weekend a friend of mine said I speak the language very well. I am learning Crnegorski quickly and my vocabulary has expanded significantly since my arrival. It’s really a fun language to speak.

Today was full of excitement. This morning I met up with Marija (a Native American Professor at Universitet Crne Gore Nikšić) again, and she drove us to Nikšić. On the way, two other colleagues from our department joined us. We had a full car! I met Peter, a young professor, who teaches writing in our department. He's great and lives in Podgorica as well. It was so nice to talk with him because we are relatively close in age (he's 25), and I really enjoyed hearing about his experiences working with the students and taping into his knowledge about the structure of the university. Peter and I share a lot of common interests (i.e., passion for writing, traveling, and public speaking.) I am looking forward to getting to know him better, and other faculty members in our department.

When we arrived to Nikšić, I met with Biljana (my department chair) and Marija to discuss my teaching schedule, to receive my office/classroom keys, and to review the course syllabus I developed for "Teaching Young Leaner's." I will teach all day on Monday's (4 classes) and Wednesday's (4 classes) from 9AM to 5PM. All of my classes will have about 15 to 20 students in them, so it’s manageable. Biljana and Marija were extremely thrilled and very pleased with the syllabus I put together. They both commented, "You are so well organized and detailed Dustin. It's perfect." I couldn't help, but laugh. I was just relieved that they liked my syllabus and lesson plans.

On Monday's, I will be teaching a course called "Contemporary English Conversation." The course meets once a week for forty-five minutes and the course is a requirement for fourth-year students. In a nutshell, the course is designed to help students improve their speaking (grammar) accuracy, among many other things. The course will be heavily discussion based. The department requires that the students read one novel in this course. The novel selected is called "The Sea, The Sea" by Iris Murdoch. Outside of this requirement, I am free to pretty much teach and engage the students in a number of conversation based activities. I will have to develop one oral mid-term exam (administered in October) and one oral end-of-term exam (administered in December). In January, the students will have a Final Exam for this course. The subject they will be tested on is the novel they were required to read.

I am starting to discover that the Montenegro grading system is quite different from the United States. The majority of the professors in my department have told me repeatedly that many of the students will not appear in class until a week before exams start. (I pray that this will not be the case with my students). I am quickly learning that Montenegro is an exam-based society. In the majority of classes, students are studying and preparing for big tests that they must take at the end of every semester. Things such as class attendance and participation are not seen as critical or mandatory. This is certainly not the case with all classes, and even students, but I have been told that I should not expect high and consistent attendance rates in my classes. However, because I will be teaching fourth-year university students, Biljana said the students "tend" to be more responsible, committed to their studies, and mature. I guess I will find out soon.

This morning I had the opportunity to speak with the Dean who oversees the entire Faculty of Philosophy at Nikšić. He’s an older gentleman who speaks very, very little English. Marija ended up serving as our translator. He was extremely friendly and eager to have me join the staff for the next academic year. He said, "We have you now." I must say that I am impressed with Universitet Crne Gore. I was so nervous that things were going to be extremely unorganized and chaotic, but really everyone I have met so far has been well-organized and punctual. My department is truly exceptional and the professors seem to be very dedicated to their students. I love the climate of our department. People are great communicators, and they are always willing to answer any and all of my questions.

After all of my morning appointments, Marija and I went to one of the nearby lakes in Nikšić for lunch. It was an awesome restaurant and the scenery was beautiful. Nikšić is surrounded by several large lakes and tall mountains. Actually, Nikšić use to be a part of Bosnia, but was given this territory after the Second World War. King Nikola has a palace (or summer estate) in Nikšić and there is beautiful monastery that was built at the end of the 19th Century (pro-Serbian) that is located near the city’s center. Anyway, back to our lunch by the lake, Marija order us a bunch of fresh, homemade Montenegrin delicacies that are native to Nikšić. The food was marvelous and our main dish was OCTOPUS. I was told Montenegro is a great place for sampling octopus. Well after having octopus as a main dish I can officially attest to the fact that the rumors are true... it is exceptional. Why? I even think I prefer it to lobster, mussels, and shrimp.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

HELLO from Dubrovnik, Croatia!

Danielle and I had the opportunity to go to Dubrovnik, Croatia on Wednesday for the day. Dubrovnik is an incredible, historic, and enchanting Croatian city that looks out across the Adriatic Sea. It as about a four hour drive from Podgorica. The road to Dubrovnik takes one along the coast and mountains of Montenegro with stops in towns such as Budva, Kotor, and Herceg Novi. Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After visiting I now see why, I have never seen anything like it before. Words alone can not describe the beauty that one will find hidden in every corner of this marvelous city. Here are a few photo's for your enjoyment.

The Old City

A glimpse of the coast!

My First Day At Universitet Crne Gore Niksic + An Update On The Courses I Will Be Teaching

On Monday, I made my first visit official visit to Universitet Crne Gore Niksic. I loved the university and the building facility is very nice. I ended up not having to ride the bus because one of my new colleagues, Marija, (Dean of International Study Abroad Programs and a Native American Literature Professor) invited me to ride with her from Podgorica to Niksic. We had a wonderful conversation. Marija was actually a U.S. Fulbright Scholar that taught and conducted research at the University of Louisiana in Fall 2009. Her English is superb and she has published a few books and journals. Marija mentioned that the University has a Simga Tau Delta Chapter (International English Honor Society). I about jumped out of the car window because I a member of Sigma Tau Delta. She said that the university's chapter has been fairly inactive over the last few years. I told her that will most definitely change in this upcoming school year. I am going to serve as a the chapter's advisor and try to coordinate a number of professional development workshops for English majors, social functions, and more. It's going to be a blast. With this arrangement made, we arrived in Niksic.

As soon as we arrived in Niksic at the University, Marija took me on a wonderful tour. However, nothing could really prepare me for what I was about to witness and see. When you walk into the university building there is a big lobby. To the right is a small book store that sells basic school supplies, snacks, etc and to the left is a coffee shop. Marija needed to go to the Registrar's Office to sign off on a few students diploma forms. When we entered the Registrar's Office, I about fell over. There were probably 50 plus students waiting outside with these little green books. Every course a student takes has to be documented in this note book. It is the students responsibility to keep track of their little green note book. It basically serves as their university transcript. The professor writes the name of the course and their final grade in the book and then stamps and signs off on it saying they have passed. There was no special computer program or database to keep track of student grades and produce student transcripts. There were student folders everywhere. No filing cabinets in sight. It was definitely a mad house and the lack of organization made me realize that I was definitely no longer at an American University.

From the Registrar's Office, Marija took me to the Print and Copy Shop. Thankfully, I will have free access to copying and printing at my university since I am a professor. The guys who work there are friendly. Marija then escorted me into the library. The library was nice and I was really impressed with their collection of books. The library at Universitet Crne Gore Niksic houses the second largest library in the country. I would say there total volume of books is probably under 12,000, which is impressive. They also have a number of books in English. The library was literally a place for books. There wasn't any study lounges or places for students to access computer terminals. We finally made it to where my department is located in the building. I am going to be sharing an office with my Department Chair, but I will also have access to a few other large spaces if I need to meet with students for advising, out of class help, etc. The office is simple and standard. It will be a fine working space.

I did get to see a few classrooms. They definitely are not as advanced as what we have in the U.S. All of the classrooms have chalk boards, T.V 's, wireless internet, radios, and basic audio equipment. I am not for sure if it all works, but I will figure all of that out soon. I am planning to bring my lab top with me to class every time I teach. I am hoping that I will be able to connect my lab top to the T.V. Overall, the classroom space is very nice and it will serve as a wonderful teaching and learning environment.

After my tour, I had the opportunity to watch the Diploma Thesis Paper Defenses of three, fourth year English Literature university students. I really enjoyed getting to sit in on their presentations, hearing about their research projects, and seeing the differences between American Thesis Defense Presentations and Montenegrin Thesis Defense Presentations. I was very impressed with all the students that defended their final diploma papers. The topics ranged from Oscar Wild to the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. All of the students spoke excellent English and they made very compelling arguments. Similar to America, the students were required to assemble a committee that would evaluate their Diploma Papers and determine if they would pass or fail. All of the students I watched passed. I was cheering for all of them. Before we went in to the Defense Presentations, I had the opportunity to meet all of the professors serving on the committee. After the presentations were over, the students were asked to leave the room and the committee discussed each students presentation and diploma paper in detail. I was surprised because they asked me for my feedback and what grades I thought they should be awarded. I offered my initial perceptions and feedback on each students presentations. I did not have time to read all of the papers, just glance through them quickly. I really enjoyed being able to observe and to learn about how this whole process works. I would say it is very similar to the U.S.A., but with a few minor differences. The Defense Committee didn't ask a lot of questions. However, when they did ask questions, I was surprised by their simplicity. I expected their questions to be more thought provoking, reflective, and challenging (not so much). The Defense Committee was very positive the entire time, but behind closed doors (once the students left) they were much more honest and critical about the quality of the students work. The nice thing about observing the Diploma Paper presentations was that it helped ease some of the anxiety I was having about the students. The students that I observed were clearly dedicated, bright, intelligent, committed, and the cream of the crop. I'm not going to try to pretend that all of my students will be like this, but it was nice to know that the students are genuinely dedicated to their studies and passionate about learning.

A fourth year English Literature University Student receives her Diploma at Universitet Crne Gore Niksic. (From the left Aleksandra, Marija, Student, and Biljana)

I had the pleasure of finally meeting my department chair, Biljana, in person. Biljana and I have been communicating through e-mail since the beginning of May. She is wonderful and has a warm personality. She takes her work seriously and like all department chairs, she is a very busy woman. It is going to be an absolute pleasure to have her as my department chair, mentor, and colleague over the course of the academic school year. She is very supportive of all of my creative ideas and values enthusiasm.

Biljana and I had ample time to talk about the courses I will be teaching this semester. I am going to be teaching eight classes. At first I started to panic thinking, "Oh my gosh... there is no way I am going to be able to teach eight classes." Biljana assured me I would be fine and explained that it will actually only be two, but I'll have four sections of both classes.

The first class I am going to teach is titled "Teaching Young Learners." I'll teach the class four times a day ever Wednesday for 16 weeks. Each class will last approximately an hour and thirty minutes and I will have 12 -15 students per class. The title of the course describes the course well. I will be doing just that, teaching teachers how to teach for the primary school level (ages 6 - 13). This is pretty much all we did in Washington, DC during Fulbright Teacher's Training. They gave us a plethora of teaching resources and taught us basic teaching methodology and pedagogy for teaching English as a second language. The class is pretty much mine to develop from scratch. I am planning to make the course very practical, with lots of in-class activities, mini-presentations, journal writing, group work, field experience, and essays. I am working away at my syllabi now. I'm not really intimidated by it anymore, as I am excited to get in there and deliver my first lesson. It's invigorating.

The second class I will be teaching will be a course titled "English Conversation." This course is mandatory for fourth year university students. The class is pretty self-explanatory and much of the course content has already been determined. The class is 45 minutes and I will teach four sections of it. It's going to be a discussion oriented course. The university has decided that they would like me to teach the novel "The Sea, The Sea" by Iris Murdock. Many of our discussions will revolve around this novel.

Overall, I could not be happier with my Fulbright Teaching Fellowship Placement. The faculty are exceptional and the classes I am teaching will provide me with new and rewarding experiences and challenges. It's time to dive into lesson plans and course syllabi now. My Fulbright work has officially begun.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Registering with the Policja and my first swim in the Adriatic Sea

The road to Petrovac!

I successfully registered with the Policja (police). It was quite an experience. Montenegro allows foreigners to enter the country without a Visa. However, within 24 hours of arriving you are required to register with the Police. I didn't exactly meet this deadline, but it was okay. When I had my Security Briefing with the U.S. Embassy they provided me with an official letter (one in Montenegrin, one in English) that explained that I will be an Engleski (English) professor at Universitet Crne Gore Niksic. My landlord had to accompany me to the Police to tell them in person that I will be living in one of his rental apartments in Podgorica. My landlord speaks very little English. (When I say little, I really mean none.) It made communicating difficult, but it is serves as a crash course in Montenegrin.

Thankfully, I made a great friend (Danka), who I introduced to you in my last post, and speaks excellent English. Danka served as our translator. After registering with the Police, my landlord asked me to go to coffee. I asked Danka to go with us as well. It was nice to learn a little bit more about my landlord, Vasa, and his family. Vasa is the only boy in his family, outside of his father, and he has six sisters. He is married and used to work as a top manager for a home appliance company in the former Yugoslavia. He's retired now and makes his own honey and rakeja (which is the american equivalent to home made moonshine). When he comes to collect my rent for October, he will bring some and I will try it. I am a bit nervous. I heard this stuff is strong and does not go down easily. Many Montenegrins make their own Rakeja. Despite my nervous hesitations, I will definitely try it. On a positive note, the cafe we went to was AWESOME! I found ice-coffee. It was SUPERB.

Yesterday, Danka and her mother asked Danielle and I to go with them to an annual fish and wine festival in Petrovac. Petrovac is about a 45 minutes drive from Podgorica. It's right along the coast and very close to Budva. I had a blast. Petrovac is a beautiful, sea side town literally built on the side of a mountain that cascades down in to the Adriatic Sea. I have never scene anything like it before. The beach was packed and so were the streets.
Dustin, Danielle, Danka, Nikola, and Valentina at the Beach

We went straight to the beach and I took my first swim in the Adriatic Sea. The water is unbelievable. It's warm and relaxing. It was crystal clear and turquoise. As you swim, you can look straight down to the bottom and see coral rocks and tropical fish (they were blue). When you look back to the coast, all you see is this big stretch of beach umbrellas and towering mountains that surround the coast. It's really hard to put into words how beautiful it is here. I mean every time I look at something I want to snap a photo and turn it into a postcard.
Petrovac sunset! Beautiful

After swimming, we had to wait in a long line to get our fish and wine. The wine was made in Montenegro. Unfortunately, they ran out of fish. We arrived late; so next time we will be sure to arrive earlier. I was sad because the fish looked really good. Instead, we ended up going to a great restaurant along the coast. At 9PM, a huge concert began on the beach. The concert went on until 4AM. We only stayed until midnight. The first performer was a famous pop-artist from Serbia. She was really good. I loved listening to music in Serbian and Montenegrin. I could even pick up a few words. I could not get over the crowd. It was insane. I mean there had to be close to 15,000 people or more on the beach. It was a mad house, but totally worth it. There was no form of crowd control and very few police. This was definitely different from
My delicious dinner by the seaside.

I am really starting to get a good since of the way of life in Montenegro. It's calm and the people are laid back. There's no real since of urgency here, which I LOVE! People are welcoming, and eager to engage in conversation. I have only been here for seven days and my networks are building. I have made many great friends. I am comfortable and ready for my first great weekend in Montenegro.