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5 posts categorized "Kevin Mermel"

History in Guimarães and Christmas in Porto

Hello All,

My time in Portugal is winding to a close. I only have two weeks remaining before the end of the program. Afterwards I will spend a week in Ireland before heading back to the US for Christmas. Still, I'm taking in as much as I can now since I know it will be over soon. 

One of the unanticipated benefits of my time abroad with CIEE has been that, while working alongside teachers, I have been able to learn along with my students. Since I went to school in a different country and culture, much of the subject matter is new to me - especially Portuguese history, which I help with for one hour a week. I learned that the country was founded during the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, an era I am familiar with from studying abroad in Spain during college. In 1128, the Kingdom that would become Portugal split from several other kingdoms that would later become Spain. Many consider this the year of the country's founding, which makes Portugal the oldest still-existing state in Europe.

This weekend, I saw Portuguese history in person when I visited the city of Guimarães. The Portuguese call Guimarães "Cidade Berço" or "The Cradle City," as it is considered the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. Not only is it said to be the birthplace of the country's first King, but it also was the site of a consequential battle that led to the founding of the Portuguese kingdom. It is fitting, then, that visitors to Guimarães are greeted by a wall with the words "aqui nasceu Portugal" - "Portugal was born here" - on the side. The city center is preserved with its old medieval architecture. I found an old castle, a duke's palace, remnants of the city wall, and many old houses, monasteries, and plazas. Europe is full of these fascinating old cities, and Guimarães' importance to Portuguese national identity made it particularly interesting.

The next day, I went into Porto with my host family to see the Christmas season in full effect. Porto's urban, modern pace was quite a leap from the time capsule atmosphere of Guimarães.  In addition to taking in all the Christmas lights and enjoying the music and the festive atmosphere, I visited Livraria Lello. This famous bookstore was the inspiration for several scenes in the Harry Potter films - you'll see the resemblance in the photos! 

That's all for now. I am currently working on Christmas-related lessons for my classes. I will write again at the end of the next week to let you know how it went, and to give some final thoughts on Portugal and my volunteer experience. 

Below: Scenes from Guimarães, Porto at Christmas, and Livraria Lello

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IMG_0496 Lello2
Lello2


 

Teaching,Turkeys, and Travels

Hello All,

I am now two-thirds of the way finished with my time in Portugal – six weeks down, three weeks to go. I’ve greatly enjoyed the program, and am very appreciative of the way the teachers have worked to involve me in lesson plans and make sure I am well taken care of. In addition to my regularly scheduled 12 volunteer hours, I have three hours a week with a Portuguese tutor, and I regularly visit high school classrooms to show them the presentation on American history and culture that I mentioned in my earlier posts. It keeps me busy, and I feel like I am growing from the experience while making useful contributions. That said, I think I will be ready to get back to the US when the time comes. I travelled for several weeks before arriving in Portugal, so all together, I will have spent three months in Europe by the time I get back to America.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was planning several lessons on Thanksgiving. The teachers have been enthusiastic about the opportunity for their students to learn about American practices and customs, and as Thanksgiving is so important, it was a no-brainer for me to include some material on the holiday. For the older kids, this meant a powerpoint presentation and vocabulary exercises. For the younger kids, this meant an arts and crafts activity that every eight-year-old American is a pro at – hand turkeys! In order to demonstrate for my classes, I made my first hand turkey in probably 15 years or so. Below, you’ll find my hand turkey and the work of my first grade class. You will know which one is mine, because it takes up most of the page.

Outside of the classroom, I have continued to travel on the weekends. I only work Monday through Thursday, which means I have Friday through Sunday free. The best part about visiting Europe is how close together everything is. Before coming to Portugal, I visited six other European countries, and since arriving, I have travelled to Spain and the Netherlands.

Last week, I visited Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Spain’s unique northwestern region of Galicia. Santiago de Compostela is famous for being the end point of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage that is today a major tourist attraction. Numerous walking paths converge on Santiago de Compostela from as far away as Switzerland, culminating at the famous cathedral that is believed to be the burial place of Saint James, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. Today, the city’s medieval architecture style remains, but Santiago de Compostela is a bustling, active university town. I found “hipster” (to use an American term) coffee shops and bars with poetry readings and live music, and posters with activist political messages were in numerous shop and apartment windows. This made the city a fascinating contrast of old and new.

This past weekend, I took Thursday off work and flew to Amsterdam for a long weekend. The city lived up to its world-famous reputation. I immediately noticed the city's the unique infrastructure, as I saw far more people walking, biking, or riding trams than driving cars. The city’s famous canal belt is post-card ready, as are the houses that line it, and there is no shortage of things to do. I visited the Van Gogh Museum, took a guided boat tour of the canals, and went to a tasting of Dutch cheeses. It was a full two days in a beautiful and unique city.

I suppose the takeaway from this blog post is this: If you teach abroad with CIEE, you'll have a great experience getting to know the country you teach in. But if you're lucky, you may get to experience other new and exciting places too!

Below: Hand Turkeys, and scenes from Santiago de Compostela and Amsterdam



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Handturkey
Handturkey
Handturkey
Handturkey
Handturkey

Exchanging Cultures

Hi All,

As the weeks go by, I am getting more chances to participate in the classroom. One of my primary goals is to help introduce the students to American culture. Last week, I gave one of my classes a presentation on American culture and history, with an emphasis on the Mountain West region where I grew up. The presentation went well, and I will have the opportunity to give it to several other classes this week. I am also planning to teach my elementary classes duck, duck, goose, and am putting together a lesson about Thanksgiving.

Of course, this cultural exchange goes both ways. This has been a great opportunity to learn about Portuguese customs and ways of life, and I thought I should share some of my observations with you.

First, the cuisine. Trying new food may be my single favorite part of travelling, and I always try to sample the local fare. Below, you will find a picture of a typical Portuguese plate:  fish, roasted potatoes, and spinach, with a glass of red wine on the side. Given Portugal’s location on the Atlantic, it follows that seafood features prominently in the cuisine. I have eaten fish fried, grilled, roasted, and as part of soups and casseroles. The picture below is of salmon, but the most commonly eaten fish is bacalhau, or codfish. One of my coworkers told me that there are 100 different traditional ways to prepare it! Portugal also has an abundance of delicious soup, the perfect warm snack on cold, rainy autumn days. And of course, Portuguese love their coffee. I like to order mine as a meia de leite, which is an espresso shot with steamed milk, alongside a pastel de nata, a popular cream pastry which originated in Lisbon.

Like other Southern European countries, Portugal has a strong wine culture. The country’s unique wines span the spectrum from Vinho Verde, a crisp, sweet white wine, to Port, which takes its name from its origin city (Porto). Red Port tastes like liquor, at least to my admittedly inexperienced palate, and is often served with desert. This weekend, I traveled to wine country with my host family. It is remarkably beautiful, with rolling hills colored by rows and rows of colorful terraces on which the grape vines grow.

Finally, just as I will teach my students about Thanksgiving this week, I have also been exposed to traditional Portuguese holidays. In Portugal, November 11 is São Martinho’s day. The Portuguese commemorate the day by eating roasted chestnuts, which I had never heard of before outside of the famous Christmas song (“chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”). My school ordered the chestnuts from a local bakery, and had all the students and staff come outside for a party when they were delivered.

Hope you enjoyed reading! Until next time,

Kevin

 

Below: Me presenting in class, a meia de leite with pastel de nata, a Portuguese dinner plate, pictures from wine country, and chestnuts. 

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Presenting
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Presenting Chestnuts


New Perspectives

Hello All,

I have now been in Portugal for three weeks. After two weeks observing the classroom, I began to take a more active role in lessons this past week. I have also visited more sites around the country.

As I mentioned, I don’t have much experience with children. This has added another learning experience into the mix, but it helps that the kids treat me like something of a celebrity (quite the ego boost, even though I'm not sure I'm worthy of the distinction). I have also enjoyed the chance to see elementary school education first hand, since I have not spent time in an elementary school classroom in over a decade. Today, the teacher I was working with brought examples of different kinds of old technology from throughout history. Alongside centuries-old navigation instruments, such as a globe that with an inaccurate depiction of the Americas, she included a film-based camera from her childhood and a 1990s cassette tape. This was a fourth grade class, so the students were born around 2007, the year the iPhone came out. It occurred to me that they may never have seen these devices that I used at their age– and I am only 23!

I have also had the opportunity to visit with several high school classrooms to help them practice English. With the younger children, my primary role is to introduce English vocabulary into lessons. Many of the high school students can speak English at a conversational level, and enjoy the opportunity to ask me questions about my personal background and American culture. When studying languages in the past, I always jumped at the chance to speak with natives, so I enjoy helping students of my own language do the same.

Outside of the classroom, I have continued to explore Portugal. I spent last weekend in Lisbon, and I already consider it one of my favorite cities I have visited. It is visually striking, with white buildings with red tile roofs situated between rolling green hills and the blue sea. The white buildings provide a canvass for the creative and colorful street art for which the city is known. At night, the winding streets come alive, as revelers pack the countless taverns, dance clubs, and wine bars. I had the opportunity to attend a fado performance, which is a traditional Portuguese folk music. When I travel, I seek out live music performances and unique cultural experiences, so the fado show was a great way to enjoy both at once. Meanwhile, back in Porto, I attended a Champions League soccer match with my host family. The home team, FC Porto, won 3-1. I am a big sports fan, so attending a European soccer game was high on my bucket list.

That’s all for now. This weekend I will visit Vigo, Spain, about two hours north of Porto. Next week, I will continue to take on more responsibility in the classroom – I even have to plan a whole lesson! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Best,

Kevin

Below: Lisbon Skyline, Lisbon Street Art, and me at the Porto match

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Lisbon skyline
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Porto match

Teaching in Portugal

Hello All, 

My name is Kevin. I grew up in Billings, MT, but I graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder (Go Buffs!) a little over a year ago. As many 20-something recent grads do, I decided I was ready for a change of pace. I have long wanted to teach English abroad, because not only do I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, but I also have a passion for learning languages and would like to help others do the same. This is how I ended up in Valongo, Portugal, where I will serve as an English Language Teaching Assistant for the next two months in a public school. To use an American term, Valongo is a suburb of Porto, the country's second largest city. I visited Porto on my first free day after arrival, and took the photo you see of the river flowing through the city center. 

I am spending the first two weeks observing the classroom environment before I begin participating in the lessons, so thus far, I have been getting situated in my new surroundings and learning about the program. I am participating in a government-backed
bilingual education program, which means that I will not just be teaching English. The curriculum is designed for students to learn all of their subjects in a mix of English and Portuguese throughout their school career, with the goal of them being fully bilingual by the time they finish school. So in addition to helping out in English classes, I will also participate in science and history lessons, among other subjects. The students are all under ten years old and in their first few years in the bilingual program, so this will be a great chance to help them become familiar with the language. I do not have much experience with children, as I was the youngest in my family growing up, but it will definitely be a learning experience - after all, I came abroad to step outside my normal comfort zone. 

I have also studied the Portuguese language myself in the past, and am looking forward to working on it here and improving my abilities. It's been a challenge so far, as I learned Brazilian Portuguese in school. While I can speak decently well, comprehension is difficult for me, particularly because the accent is noticeably different, and many of the sounds that I am used to listening to as "cues" for certain words do not exist here. But like I said, I came abroad for new experiences, so I am excited to have the opportunity to branch out and learn more as I spend more time here. 

Finally, I have already been struck by the generosity of the Portuguese people. It sounds cliché coming from an international traveler, but I have truly been welcomed here. My host family has made it clear that I'm "part of the family," and the teacher coordinating my stay has gone to impressive lengths to make sure I have everything I need to do my job well. They have also both taken me out to meals already, and bought me gifts for my birthday this past week despite only knowing me for a few days. 

That is all for now, but I look forward to sharing my experiences with you over the next few months!

 

Porto

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