Tag: learning

Yesterday, Nestle Milo hosted their annual five-kilometer race through the city — the Milothon. Out of the near 10,000 youth that participated in the event, the winner, in my eyes, was a 17-year-old in crutches who finished the race strong.

Christian en la Milotón de Huancayo
Christian shared his message with all the youth at the 5K race that they too can overcome any obstacle.
I had the chance to meet Christian because he wanted to take a picture with one of the dance groups that performed for the event, but he didn’t have a camera. Needless to say, I was happy to take some pictures for him and send them to his email address.

What instantly captivated me about Christian was his cheerfulness and warmth, even as he told me about the naysayers along the route. He kept on keeping on despite those who pitied and ridiculed him along the path. They told him that this race wasn’t for people like him. Little did they know that the Milothon hasn’t been his only event. He also finished the Andes Marathon — yes, the full 26.2 miles — even though it took him double the time that it takes a typical runner.

Christian con Ignition Crew
Christian wanted to take a picture with Ignition Crew, a Huancayo dance group, and I happily obliged.
Physical disability is common and open here in Huancayo because most people with disabilities resort to begging in the streets. I have a feeling that Christian’s not going to be one of them. It was his social worker who told me that his parents can’t afford the physical therapy sessions he needs; his father drives a taxi and his mother washes others’ laundry. The social worker also mentioned that he has had this problem with his legs since birth; I didn’t ask, but I suspect it’s polio.

Nevertheless, you don’t see Christian asking for pity. He says that he wants to study medicine and I think Huancayo needs more doctors who have his strength, compassion and humility.

Feel Christian’s warmth yourself in this short message he wanted to share with all of you:

How have you shown enthusiasm and perseverance against a recent obstacle in your life?

It turns out, the world of blogging is hardly unlike the global community I discovered in Chile. In just these past three months that I’ve started taking blogging more seriously, I’ve forged valuable connections with inspiring people from all over the world. To keep the ball rolling and build on my energy, the universe sent some positive vibes to the Central Andes and I was ridiculously fortunate to win a contest at Chris Richardson’s Travel Blog Support website, where he provides detailed yet easy-to-understand tips and help on optimizing blogs, travel-related or otherwise.

The prize: Migration of my free hosted blog to its very own server!

I’m so excited to announce the launch of my brand-spanking-new professional blog!

To commemorate this occasion and inspired by a couple of my favorite bloggers (Diana Simon and Janine Ripper), I’ve decided to try my hand at posting twice a week starting this coming Tuesday! As I continue working out the kinks until then, have a look around and send some comments my way if you have any recommendations, suggestions or critiques of the new website. =)

— Can’t thank Chris (a.k.a. The Aussie Nomad) enough for literally making this all possible! If you ever need support with a blog transfer, I highly recommend Chris because he made it seamless and had infinite patience with my IT newbieness along the way. =)

I had the privilege of spending these past two weeks in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, assisting at a conference that endeavored to apply research to education. The Latin American School for Education, Cognitive and Neural Sciences brought together not only recognized authorities from around the world, but also an international group of PhD candidates and new professors. They gathered in the small town of San Pedro (population: approximately 5,000) in the middle of the Atacama Desert.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
San Pedro de Atacama is surrounded by miles and miles of desert.

There’s something about being in the middle of nowhere that amplifies similarities and fosters connections. We were all affected by dry skin and an unreliable Internet connection, awed by the expansiveness of the desert and the actual number of potentially visible stars in the night sky (San Pedro is one of the best places in the world to stargaze), and afflicted by the earthquake in Japan. For the purposes of the conference, the aura of fellowship encouraged thoughtful discussion about applying the learning and intellectual sharing to the real world. The atmosphere generated ideas, cultivated future research collaborations and motivated each participant to pass on new knowledge to their respective areas.

It was a beautiful example of how the strength of similarities could overcome differences and the beauty lies in getting past stereotypes to experience a true willingness to learn from and through others. There was less identification with divisive labels, such as Costa Rican versus Uruguayan, student versus faculty and scientist versus educator. Instead, the conversation shifted from a comparison about what each person could or couldn’t do to a sense of teamwork with a focus on how people could work together to achieve more than one could on his or her own. We became humbled learners who recognized the essential humanity that bonds us together as part of the same global community.

Achieving openness can be facilitated by a purpose, such as the aim of the LA School, but I believe that this phenomenon can actually happen anywhere. It just requires that you step outside of your comfort zone, outside of the categories that your mind has already formed. The surprises you’ll find can diminish fears, break barriers and, most importantly, construct a sense of connectedness that has the power to lead to positive changes.

Have you been surprised by similarities you share with another? How have you seen or experienced the power of connectedness?

P.S. I made it back home to Huancayo safely and am slowly settling back into the groove of things. Thanks for your patience!

You Interpret Me

A couple months ago, I had the chance to meet with a professor in Vancouver who grew up and studied in South America earning her Master’s before moving here. At one point in the conversation, after demonstrating my Spanish ability, I share that I would like to take some courses while in Peru, but that I have a really difficult time with academic articles in Spanish. I feel comfortable conversing with others and defending my opinions, I even recognize most of the vocabulary, but I always finish reading feeling as if I hadn’t understood.

To my surprise, she completely understood and had an unexpected (to me) explanation. How could a born-and-raised South American ever feel the same as I do about reading in Spanish? It turns out, it all has to do with writing style. In North America, there is a clear introduction outlining the body of the paper, then each issue one-by-one, and then a conclusion summing everything up. That’s the way I learned to write and communicate. On the other hand, a respected academic paper in South America can have a lot of back-and-forth arguments with only the mere suggestion of a point – one has to interpret what the author is trying to say. It was why she had a hard time translating an article written by her Peruvian colleague for a North American audience.

To me, it was a concrete example of how a circular or cyclical worldview could permeate a lifestyle and it only made me more excited about what other new ways of being and knowing I will discover.

A good friend of mine lent me his Teaching Company DVD on the Conquest of the Americas. The professor, Dr. Marshall C. Eakin, is talking about the key factors that led to European expansion and eventual colonization of the Americas – political centralization, economic dynamism (capitalism, trading), technology (ship features, astronomy, math), and culture/mentality.

This last factor was the most complex and the most interesting to me. It encompasses the development of modern science (the world should be manipulated and dominated) and the role of religion (aggressive evangelism). It became clear that it wasn’t only science promoting the premise that the natural world was ours to understand, when Dr. Eakin quoted Genesis 1:28 – “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.”

Both science and religion also follow a linear and progressive worldview. There is a beginning and an end, a strong belief in cause-and-effect. It’s the notion of being on a path and that one will finally get “there.” In fact, I can see how this kind of uni-directional point of view permeates many (all?) different fields and ways of knowing. It’s at least one way of understanding what’s behind these ideas: that I achieve by setting excellent goals, success = completion, the drive for “conquering” or “finishing”, or that it’s possible to have the “answer(s)”.

Dr. Eakin contrasted this with the cyclical and seasonal worldview of Asians, Africans, and Native Americans, at least at the time. Their focus was on recurring patterns, balance between different factors, and fluidity. It was less time-oriented and they valued intuition.

It’s why the idea of living and learning in another country is so appealing to me. Of course, I learn the language as best as I can and I learn about the customs and traditions, but beyond that I absorb an entirely new way of being that affects how people express themselves, how decisions are made, how relationships function, and so much more.


The first phase of the project has finally come to an end. We have officially conducted sixty parent questionnaires in sixty homes to assess the general development of sixty babies. As we take our first peeks at the data we’ve collected and as we clarify and refine the approach for the second stage of the project (much to the surprise, confusion, and sometimes frustration of Maria and I), I have had more than a couple moments of the “What am I doing here?” sentiment.

There is first the “What am I doing here? I’m not right for this job. You have the wrong impression of me. Everyone has been introducing me as a ‘specialist,’ but that doesn’t mean my textbook knowledge is more valuable than your empirical experience. How can I give you advice on parenting? I’m not even a mother yet. I don’t think that I know enough to teach you anything new or to answer all of your questions properly. In fact, maybe I don’t know what I’m doing at all.”

Then there’s the “What am I doing here? I’m now realizing how massive this project is. How can we interpret the data properly? There is so much more that I need to know. Why do the mothers here behave the way they do? How much of this is attributable to culture? How much of the culture do I have yet to understand? How can I possibly contribute to this project if I don’t understand the people I’m studying? I should have locked myself in my room, reading about Peru, when I had the chance to in Nova Scotia. I should have at least travelled to Latin America before. I should have…”

Of the six different areas of development we evaluated, the most staggering outcome of the infant assessments was a clear deficit in infants’ social-emotional development. This area of development refers to their ability to manage or regulate their emotional and social behaviour in a way that society considers appropriate and acceptable. And this is where it gets tricky – what is “appropriate” and “acceptable” in this context and who decides?

Some examples of questions I had a difficult time consolidating:

  1. One of the questions on the social-emotional questionnaire asks something along the lines of: “Can your baby calm him/herself within a certain period of time if you leave his/her side?” We found that a decent chunk of mothers responded no to this question, but we also noticed that many mothers didn’t seem to be worried that their baby could not “regulate his/her emotions” as we would say in child-development-speak. “No, of course my baby can’t be without me,” was a classic answer. At the same time, over 90% of the mothers were amas de casa (housewives) who spend almost 100% of their time with their babies. Is it so surprising that their babies are not accustomed to being alone?
  2. Another question asks if the baby ever puts a banana to his ear, pretending it’s a telephone, or puts some other object on top of his head, pretending it’s a hat. I clearly remember one mother’s answer – in a tone suggesting that she was a little offended – which, to me, explains a common attitude towards pretending/imagination here, “If my baby knows it’s a banana, why would he use it as a telephone?” This strikes my “chicken and egg” curiosity – is this attitude a result of the living situation or does the lack of pretend play (which links to creativity) speak to the way people live here?
  3. During some of the interviews, Maria and I would sometimes notice violence being encouraged. “Go hit the pig to scare it out of the house.” “Throw something at the dog so it’ll stop eating out of the garden.” This had implications for one of the social-emotional questions that asks if the infant or child is ever violent towards other children or animals. But being commanded to be violent towards animals in this way doesn’t necessarily imply an inherent violent nature, neither at this age nor in the future.

The question, then, is whether we can make solid conclusions about the infants’ social-emotional development if it may be considered acceptable and appropriate, at least in some of the towns we visited, for babies to be unable to regulate their emotions without their mothers, for babies to not engage in pretend play, and for babies to show occasional violence towards animals.

Part of me feels a little disillusioned – I knew I couldn’t come here and be a hero, but I’m now recognizing a small part of me that wanted to save the world. There is the temptation to say, “This is how it works where I come from. You’re doing it all wrong. You should do it this way,” and to be harshly honest, I have met my share of development specialists who harbour this attitude. For this reason alone, I’ve found that it’s so important for me to say “I don’t know” and to not be afraid of admitting it. I’m not sure what’s best for you. How can I tell you that the North American theories of parenting are best, let alone that they apply in this context? I can’t make the conclusion that you don’t love your child because you don’t spend a lot of time with him/her – your priorities are drastically different and I respect that needing to survive can be more important than finding time to play with your child.

So, I have come full circle back to the approach I knew I should have had from the beginning – ultimately, this is about sharing. It’s about taking advantage of what little time we do have here to exchange preoccupations, thoughts, and ideas. I learn from you as much as you learn from me. I dispel some of your unawareness of the importance of play, for example, and you teach me the importance of simplicity and working hard. Your knowledge is just as valuable as mine if not more valuable. I am honoured to absorb your wisdom.

Search Him

So, I’m going for a walk with my friend, Kevin, through the streets of Huancayo. There are always a lot of people out and about in the evenings in the centre of the city. On a whim, I ask if we can cross over the walkway that spans the busy highway. It’d be fun to see the cars whizzing by from above, I think. We’re walking up the stairs when we run into two young guys chilling in the stairwell. They start talking to Kevin in Spanish and I can’t understand completely what they’re saying. I think at first they’re just saying “Hi” until I notice that they aren’t smiling and that Kevin has given them 1 sol. We’re being robbed.

As far as I understood, Kevin was trying to negotiate. “Search him,” the taller guy said. So far, they’ve left me alone. I’m frozen, watching all of this in amazement and fear. The shorter guy leans in to pat Kevin’s pockets (or maybe to reach inside), but Kevin pushes the guy away. I imagine he’s saying something like, “Calm down. I’ll give you more money.” He takes out his wallet and gives them 2 more soles. They aren’t satisfied. “Search him,” the taller guy insists. I’m thinking of how much money I had in my pockets and in my shoes; if they only knew.

I’m really scared and a million thoughts run through my head. Give them my money. Help Kevin. Escape. Yell. There are so many people walking along the pathway just below us. I feel horrible because this was all my idea. I feel horrible as I start to instinctively inch my way towards the staircase to escape. The taller guy notices me move and puts him arm around me, blocking me. I have never felt so afraid in my life.

The taller guy lets me go for a moment to help his friend out and I run down the stairs, turning back once or twice to see Kevin getting hit in the face, double teamed. A few seconds later, Kevin is beside me. He was hoping for and waiting for me to escape. Apparently he’s a scrapper, has been in many fights before, but was being passive because he was afraid of what they might do to me. On the way home, he spits out blood more than a couple times. I’m saying “sorry” over and over again. He’s just happy that I’m safe. So am I. Peru can be a dangerous place. It was a lesson I needed to learn because I tend to see the world as one big happy place; I tend to be very gullible, trusting. Next time, they might not be amateurs. I’ve gotta be street smart and even then, you just never know.

Update 2/15/11: After traveling through Peru and living in Huancayo for an extended period of time, I’ve learned to become more street smart and I feel incredibly safe living here. In fact, Peru is one of the safest places to live in South America — It’s why I’m back here!

A big part of this trip is reassessing myself. What does it mean, for example, to be Canadian? In Japan, I often brushed off the question by focusing on Canada’s multiculturalism. We’re so diverse that we don’t really have a common way of being, acting, or believing, I’d say. Upon reflection though, I think my answer stemmed more from ignorance.

Today we had a full orientation for the Coady participants who arrived through the past weekend including some skits on life here in Canada. We did some role-playing to introduce them to some Canadian conventions that may be different from the norms in their country – greetings such as “how are you” or “see you later” that shouldn’t be taken too literally, the important of showing up (generally) on time instead of too late or too early, and paying the price on the tag instead of bargaining. An eye-opener for me is that we, as Canadians, may greet someone’s dog before the owner (e.g. “What a cute little puppy you are!”) and we may not even address the owner at all. I mean, I know we do that, but how weird are we to do so?!

This wasn’t addressed in the skits, but on a more personal level, I’ve come to the conclusion that the notion of “me time” might be a Canadian or North American attitude as well. I was having a difficult time last week because I felt like I had no “me time” – I was taking classes with the other interns, eating with the other interns, and spending the rest of my time with the other interns living at the dorm together. Many families or groups around the world (as in the orphans in the Stephen Lewis film on grandmothers in Africa and even my mother’s family when she was growing up) don’t place such high value on independence, privacy, or “me time,” if at all.

Some of the reasons I was attracted to this internship included wanting to gain that broader perspective, which I hope will provide motivation for me to simplify my lifestyle, and wanting to serve, which entails putting others before myself. I realized, after talking to my mom, that I shouldn’t be waiting until I arrived in Peru to start working towards these goals. So, I made a conscious decision to change my attitude and welcome the nearly-24/7 group atmosphere. When I started taking the time to just be with others, not only was I learning more from them and about them, but I was also learning a lot more about myself, about being a group member, about socializing and networking. Here’s my chance to practice and soak up tips on improvisation, being witty, and being a good journalist (e.g. asking good questions).

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