After completing my 3-yr-long master and getting it accepted by The Australian National University, I took 4 months to top up my funds and climb some trees. I was an installation manager for Mobile Illumination, Inc., wrapping big trees with Christmas lights for, basically, the rich and famous of LA. After my funds were topped back up again, I was free to go back to Australia and explore the wildlife there again, this time with a big-lens camera .
The context of the trip was to join up with my old supervisor to do a reccy (reconnaissance mission) for the next round of Palm Cockatoo research. This time, as opposed to my masters time, I’m always photographing and videoing birds, mainly Palm Cockatoos, and, when the weather is good, heaps of other birds, too. It’s so fun. I can get some pretty ripper shots and footage with this pro-camera gear I’m getting around with. See below for some of my best recent photos.
In terms of the project reccy, I’ve been on a serious roll: I’m up to 16 hollows that I’ve found, as in 16 trees that have cavities in them that I’ve seen Palm Cockatoos (PCs) sitting on (they may end up being nests or just display hollows). That’s about how many hollows I found in 6 months of fieldwork 2 years back, and this round has only been 1 month. I’ve seen only one PC drum so far, which is a bit of a drag that it’s only one b/c that’s the main footage I’m after (for the project and for my video journal I want to make about PCs). I have seen them nest-building on two hollows, though. Yippee . So those may turn into nests (they maintain multiple nests, just to make it more difficult on us researchers).
I’ve also gotten into this habit of finding Green Pythons in the rainforest and sharing it with camping tourists – great way to make instant friends! I gave a PC talk to 10 trash-picker-upper volunteers the other night before a nighttime spotlighting session in the rainforest. They knew they wouldn’t have any luck finding anything without some expert help . Sure enough, the green python I found for them was way off the side of the road in the scrub and everyone else had missed it. Needless to say, they were much appreciative of my time and help.
I’ve made lots of local friends with good hook-ups, too. Like this one old fellow who has a shack and 2-acre property by one of my fieldsites. He has welcomed me to camp there on his property, which is higher than all the surrounding land and overlooks the ocean. There’s even several 70-year-old war bunkers there, too, from WWII, when the Americans had a base up here in Northeast far north Queensland.
I’m also soon heading out with this old croc-hunter bloke (he used to sell croc skins, I think) to this remote creek where he has seen heaps of PCs, including drumming behaviour. It’ll be great to hear all his bush stories of this wild place.
Permission from local aboriginal land-owners for the project is going pretty well. They’ve all been positively responsive to letting me trek around and do this reccy, plus research down the track. Some are particularly keen b/c having me there researching PCs will help them have a stronger case for acquiring gov’t funds (perhaps for rangers) for conservation on their Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA). It is hard to get onto (find) these folks sometimes though.
One bit of bad news is that Rob, my old supervisor, can’t make it up here after all. We were going to do this big exchange of information and I was going to introduce him to all these key people up here, but his vehicle died on the big drive up here (3,600km/2,237mi) and he has run out of time. He’s keen to have me back next year, and he’s working on getting funding to pay me wages, too. Check that out. Haha. It’s a good gig, coming out here and getting to play out bush. It only feels like work every now and again, like when PCs are being slack and not doing much or never letting you get close to them.
Lastly, after this stint, which ends in 20 days or so, I head down south to the Daintree Rainforest (oldest RF in the world) for 18 days to help my good mate do her research for the AUS government’s study tank (called CSIRO). After that, I go to Darwin (Northern Territory) to present my PC research at a big conservation conference. I’ll likely fly back to LA come end-Sept. and hop straight into MI again (that Christmas-lighting business) to top up the funds so I can be free and do fun wildlife things again next year!
**All photos © Christina Zdenek. See www.ChristinaZdenek.com for more photos and stories.
Nearly a year has passed since I returned from my Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in Indonesia. Currently, I am taking pre-medical courses at City University of New York, Hunter College in New York City to eventually pursue a medical degree, one day. The shift in my life’s focus from the social sciences and the humanities is not so much a completely new track as it is a slightly different finish to the same material. I still love learning about peoples and cultures. But now, having lived another culture that I was neither born nor raised in, I feel that my perspective has grown in a dimension that books, movies, and photos cannot quite teach. I find myself seeing a bigger picture that I often had trouble imagining before.
Conversely, I’ve also realized the importance of the minute and the seemingly unimportant.
I would occasionally ask myself, “Why does teaching English abroad really matter to me if I’m not to become an English teacher, a public speaker, an anthropologist, or an expatriate of some sort?” And I started to realize throughout my time in Indonesia that it was not so much the task that was of prime importance, rather the countless other things to be learned and taught by everyone involved. While I was there to teach English, what I felt seep into my bones was humility. I was humbled by the kindness of people and the beauty of our world; humbled by Sisyphean struggles of individuals and the volatility of the Earth; humbled by realities that inspire and realities that demoralize. Now, while I imagine myself slightly overwhelmed in a much larger world with so much more to grasp and comprehend, the boundaries with which I function are no longer in sight.
Yes, it was just that amazing.
First post: Oxford is a series of contradictions- both ancient and modern, charming and exasperating, intimate and aloof, egalitarian and hierarchical. The system of exams and tutorials dates back centuries and yet Oxford is in the grips of the modern higher education funding crisis. The slow-paced lifestyle of a small town is charming and yet the amorphous and ill-defined bureaucracy of the university leaves you wondering what is expected of you, much less who to ask. The college system creates small, intimate communities where you see the same people at meals and wave while you walk through the quads on your way to the library or your room but this can also make you feel disconnected from the rest of the university. And while the system of academic advisors provides a unique level of access to professors, the university is overtly hierarchical as epitomized by the “high table” where the faculty sit during meals.
The amazing talks and lectures hosted every day at Oxford are enough to keep my calendar full, but the English seem to eat a disproportionately large amount of potatoes and mayonnaise and a dearth of fresh vegetables, so I figured that some physical activities were in order. I joined the water polo club at Oxford and after playing competitively at UC Irvine, adapting to the laid back and recreational atmosphere has been an adjustment, but I am eager to see the team improve and the Cambridge match will be a great way to take part in one of the world’s oldest sports rivalries. Rowing is also a quintessential English experience and one that I couldn’t pass up. Even at the novice level it is clear that this is a sport that fetishizes pain- the early morning practices on the frigid river, blisters all over the hands and agonizing sprint sessions on the erg machine are all part of its weekly charms. This week my boat finally got to the point where we could get all eight people rowing at a time and that has been a comedy of errors- people get out of synch on the strokes, then the boats starts rocking violently and eventually someone’s oar loses traction with the water and the handle comes sailing towards their head. And they say rowing isn’t a contact sport!
The other highlight thus far has been the Rhodes community. Rhodes scholars are a dime a dozen at Oxford. There are approximately 200 of us in residence here at any given time and several thousand have passed through these halls in the last century so no one is automatically awed by our brilliance or taken aback by our curriculum vitas. But on the whole, I can’t say enough about how much I have enjoyed getting to know the other scholars. They are a truly exceptional group of people. And it has nothing to do with overt displays of intelligence. Everyone is incredibly understated but has a fascinating life story and a vision for global change. There are frequent opportunities to get to know the other scholars, whether it is the weekly gatherings for tea, the monthly Meet and Mingle nights or the ad hoc pub crawl or touch rugby match. This week at tea, my conversations ranged from the ideal flour for baking bread and research on using beta-blockers to inhibit memory retention in PTSD victims, to perceptions of female education in rural Pakistan and comical mishaps during block-starts at swim meets. I can’t imagine a better depiction of what Rhodes scholars are like and am increasingly convinced that these small exchanges, more so than any curriculum or grand adventures, will prove to be the most cherished element of the Oxford experience.
Last post: Nine months is not enough to truly enjoy all that Mexico, or any other country, has to offer. One of the greatest aspects of the Fulbright ETA is that your schedule mirrors your students’ schedule so you get a lot of free time to explore your interests and travel. From seeing the air in Michoacan thick with thousands of migrating butterflies to splashing with the locals at the breathtaking clear blue waters at Agua Azul, I discovered that there is so much more to Mexico than the stereotypical tourist destinations. Reports on the dangers of Mexico have been greatly exaggerated as well. There are only a few states that I would not go to, and the locals were very helpful in telling us which ones to avoid.
Teaching adults who were teachers was intimidating, but I grew to love it. Working with teachers meant we could have mature discussions about serious topics and shared a passion for pedagogy. I even learned some teaching tips from my students! I also learned a lot about teaching, time management and how to handle unexpected situations. In my spare time, I went around to local high schools and colleges and guest taught to gain more experience working with different age groups. We are so blessed in the United States to have such small classrooms for K-12. Most of the classrooms I saw had up to 60 students in one class, which made both learning and teaching more difficult!
One of my proudest achievements was climbing the third highest monolith in the world, the Peña de Bernal. I am not a very experienced hiker and it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I was also proud of the inaugural multicultural exposition I created and implemented at my school. Students from all levels of English classes researched and presented on American, British and Mexican culture. Researching different aspects of the different cultures helped students break stereotypes and compare similarities between cultures. Some of my students and I decided to dress up as American pop culture characters. It was hilarious seeing Charlie Brown and Minnie Mouse talk about eating burgers and pizza. The exposition was so well received that the school is going to make it an annual event.
I miss Mexico very much, from its delicious but potentially dangerous street food to its passive-aggressive no-parking signs (“We’ll puncture your tire for free!”). No matter what program you choose or where you decide to apply, you will have an invaluable and unforgettable experience. If you are interested in learning more about a different culture or country and love learning, research, teaching, business or music, the Fulbright will be perfect for you. The application process and competition can seem daunting but the knowledgeable staff at SOP will help you every step of the way. Their careful editing and suggestions and personalized advising will help you create the strongest application possible for you to win the Fulbright and beyond!
Hello! My name is Liane; I graduated from UCI in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in French and I’m in France through the TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France). This means that the French Government hired me to be an English Teaching Assistant for 7 months and is paying me a living wage to work 12 hours a week (and enjoy living in France…). Oh – and did I mention that here in France every 6 or 7 weeks the schools have 2 weeks of vacation?
I’ve been here for about two-and-a-half months now and have been having a great time. Besides teaching, I’ve gotten to travel in Belgium for a week, do Paris and visit Heidelberg in Germany (not to mention a few little day trips to places in France and in Germany!). Oh, and this weekend I’m going to visit Luxembourg!
I was placed in Freyming-Merlebach. Where is that – you ask? Why, that’s due east of Paris, past Metz, and smack dab on the German border. It’s a little town with a population of 14,000 or so. It is a great location to visit a number of different countries! I work 8 hours a week in a Vocational High School and 4 hours a week in a Middle School. The two schools are very different from one another and so are my jobs in each one.
At the high school, I’m working with the “less academically inclined” set of students. These are all students that aren’t bound for the university and will, instead, be going straight into the real world as chefs, waiters, salespeople, or will work in childcare or with the elderly. Here I mostly do what the teachers ask me; normally, I do a lesson here and there about American culture or a presentation to model how the students should do one, but mostly, I try to help prepare the students for their oral exams they will have to pass to graduate and get a job.
At the middle school, the students understand just as much as the high school students (and sometimes even better!). I have very little guidance in this school and get to choose any topic I want. And, I also have the freedom and autonomy to choose if I want to work with the whole class at a time, or work with half the class first and then switch. I’ve done the basics on Halloween and Thanksgiving, but also lessons on Dr. Seuss and football! The students are really eager to learn and it is a lot of fun.
I’m one of the lucky assistants, in that my post offers me free board. I live in the school “dorm” which houses about 40 of the high school students during the week. During the weekend, everyone goes home and the building is empty. I’m allowed to stay, but I always go home with one of the teachers if I’m not doing a little traveling. I’m a bit isolated, but the teachers I work with do a lot to compensate by helping me get to the train station and making sure I have everything I need.
Overall, I’m having a good time and this is an amazing opportunity for anyone who wants to teach or just work in France. For anyone who is interested, you don’t need to know a lot of French – sometimes it’s better to not know too much French because then you won’t be tempted to use it in class, which is a bit of a challenge for me. If you want to know more details about my time here, check out my blog (http://suivrelapiste.blogspot.com/).
Here are Mark’s final thoughts on his time in Indonesia:
Two years ago I found myself overlooking the United Nations’ New York headquarters listening to past recipients and some Fulbright admission staff. Students tuned in via video conference from across the country to ask in countless ways, “How do I get a Fulbright Fellowship?” Boy was it intimidating especially with the array of Ivy League alum and undergraduates. After endless revisions, with the help of Ms. Newman of the Scholarship Office, I was flying into the Jakarta airport in Indonesia ready to start my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.
The year passed so quickly I can hardly believe I lived in Indonesia for 9 months. I learned so much from my teaching experience in Indonesia – how to get students excited about learning, how to present to an audience, and how much opportunity my students could gain from learning English. I even had opportunities to conduct English language seminars at major universities in Indonesia. Outside of the classroom I was able to join local groups that enhanced my experience ten-fold. Imagine trail running 5km through rice paddies, forests, mountains and rivers in a group that ranged from 10 – 20 runners; or late-night individualized pencak silat (Indonesian martial arts) training sessions at a master’s home; or bicycling through the streets of Jakarta on weekends or cycling across the island of Java for charity. I was able to do most of this while fulfilling the Fulbright mission as a cultural representative of the United States. I couldn’t quite cycle across Java – I only made it 1/3 of the way and had to stop preemptively for medical reasons.
Sure, the Fulbright application process was long and arduous, but the rewards are worth so much more than the invested time and effort. I wish my former students luck and encourage them to work hard to attain their dreams. For you future UCI Fulbrighters, believe in your credentials and abilities, and listen to Ms. Newman. You may just find yourself inspiring young lives during the week and chasing sea turtles on the weekends.
Sometimes not winning a scholarship is not the end of the world, or the end of a proposed project. Strauss applicant Alex Colavin, who proposed a community garden at UCI, did not win a Strauss Scholarship. But with tenacity and vision, he ended up getting the project funded anyway. Here is his story:
Eighteen months ago, I halfheartedly proposed a new campaign to the Real Food Challenge at UCI – a student organization dedicated to increasing the procurement of environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically viable food on campus through advocacy and education projects. The idea was simple: lets start a student run food garden that operates more like an extended classroom than a farm. The garden space would provide food education through volunteering opportunities, workshops and extension of university curriculum.
A group of five undergraduates began meeting weekly, and in no time, we had the support of hundreds of students, and several key faculty and administrators. In the Fall of last year, the Scholarship Opportunities Office helped me identify appropriate fellowships for which to apply, and then continued to provide essential feedback throughout the application process. In the end, I was selected as an alternate by the Strauss Fellowship Foundation.
Concurrent to the Strauss application process, we also applied for a grant from UCI’s very own TGIF – the Green Initiative Fund, from whom we were granted over $30,000! I’m glad that I was able to use some funds from TGIF – which is student funded – to provide students with a new resource.
Finding land for the garden was also a lengthy bureaucratic nightmare worth noting – nearly all of the land at UCI has been planned for development, through the Long Term Development Plan established decades ago. In the beginning of September 2010, we finally were able to settle on a quarter-acre plot of land in Arroyo Vista. This would not have been possible with out support from key administrators, including Dan Dooros and Stacey Murren.
The groundbreaking of the garden occurred in February.
I am graduating in Spring 2011, with a B.S. in Physics. It is heartwarming to see the campaign that I have worked diligently on for 18 months come to fruition, and I am overjoyed that I can leave behind a legacy at UCI and provide new opportunities to fellow students. Before June, I will help strengthen the foundation of the garden and do my best to guarantee its future success.
I must confess that this project is my love child – a campaign that quickly grew beyond my expectations and took a lot of time from my academics and other interests. I’ve come to peace with this imbalance. Undertaking this project has only been a rewarding experience, and one from which I’ve learned more than I would have from any classroom. I encourage anyone with ambitious ideas to pursue them, for the sake of the experience. I am fully convinced that UC Irvine has more opportunities for undergraduates to pursue more cocurricular and extracurricular activities than even the most prestigious universities.
The garden would not have been possible without the encouragement and invaluable help of the following entities and people: The Scholarship Opportunities Office Counselors; ASUCI; TGIF; The Strauss Fellowship; Kevin Schlunegger; Megan Braun, Dan Dooros, Richard Demerjian; Sitara Nayudu; Logan Frick. The garden would have been downright impossible without the Anteater Garden Initiative: Alexandra Nagy, Lauren Hopfenbeck, Steve Han, David Lee, Sandy Chirico, Alexis Kim and the Real Food Challenge at UCI.
I am currently working at Rothschild, Mexico and taking MBA courses at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico through my Fulbright binational business scholarship. It has been three months since embarking on my experience and I have not been disappointed. 24 hours in a day become short to take advantage of everything there is to experience and learn. This dynamic scholarship is granting me a multifaceted experience. I am learning first hand how to value and understand the logic of Mexican businesses in my placement by contributing work to financial restructuring and merger and acquisition projects. Interacting with Mexican professionals is also granting me a unique perspective to learn how to view business, Mexico, and the United States from different social lenses of Mexico’s diverse society classes. There is never a lack of opinion on Mexico’s interdependence with the United States. My enjoyment comes in having my perspective of what is Mexico enhanced and enhancing Mexican perspective of the United States and Americans. Being in Mexico during its 200-year independence anniversary is the best aspect. Mexico’s culture is historically vibrant but this year its vibrancy is enhanced with a bicentennial touch that the government and the majority of society have made a priority to celebrate. I am enjoying every minute of the bicentennial, especially on my program integrated culture days. I have had a fast paced first three months and I look forward to continue making the most of the remaining time in Mexico.
The 4:30 AM call to prayer has become a part of my daily soundtrack to life in Indonesia. Torrential rains are often a signal to the end of my day. Each teaching day I hear the chorus of “Hello Mr. Mark” as numerous students either give me an oddly familiar teenager-style handshake or touch the back of my hand to their head or their lips. I live and teach at an Islamic boarding school where half the female students wear jilbabs (head coverings) and half the student body is originally from outside the island of Java. My teaching efforts here are to shoo out malu malu kucing (shy shy cats) from the classroom and encourage self expression and creativity. We are, as my Indonesian pedagogy teacher proclaimed, here to change the dynamic of English teaching in Indonesian classrooms; each small success feels exhilarating.
Life in West Java, Indonesia as an ETA has not been quiet since I arrived. I recently returned from the cultural capital of Java, Yogyakarta (pronounced joke-jah-kartah), but my trip was cut short after the nearby volcano forced our evacuation. While awaiting our train to depart, the West Java ETAs found out that we received tickets to attend President Obama’s Speech during his 24hour stopover in Indonesia! Other, more frequent, travel experiences are haggling for souvenirs and taxi rides, listening to street performers with portable karaoke systems, and refusing sellers of cigarettes, tissues, drinks, and freshly fried snacks. Amidst the countless activities and apparent chaos there is a consistent kindness in all the people I’ve met in Indonesia: a willingness to smile, laugh, and entertain my amusing, but horrendous Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian). I’m three months in with so much more to learn and experience about teaching, Indonesia, and myself.
Hola from Mexico! I have been in Queretaro, Mexico for about 2 months now on a Fulbright teaching assistantship. Aside from teaching four days a week, I have been trying to absorb as much culture as I can. I recently started to take a class on how to make Mexican mythical creatures called alebrijes.
I feel lucky to be in Mexico for both the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence and also the centennial of the Mexico’s revolution. The bicentennial was an unforgettable experience. Thousands of people swarmed Queretaro and joined in a practically week-long celebration with native dancers dancing in the streets, fireworks, and an independence shout lead by the mayor of Queretaro. It was complete madness!
As for teaching, I have an unconventional group of students in that all of my students are teachers themselves. It was pretty intimidating at first to teach people who are significantly older than me but my students made me feel welcome. I teach all levels, from those who do not know the alphabet to those who can carry a decent conversation in English. One thing I have found is that to really learn a language, one must practice it frequently and spend many years learning it. Many of my students are frustrated that they aren’t really improving their language skills from a once a week class. I didn’t realize until speaking with students about their struggles to learn, but I have been learning Spanish for over 7 years (and am still not completely fluent!). I am not sure why it is expected of them to reach fluency in such a short period of time with so few classes!
I have learned a lot about myself from teaching and just being by myself in Mexico. Oftentimes, I am not told what to prepare for a class until the day before or even 10 minutes before the class starts. The first time this happened to me I almost had a panic attack! I walked into a classroom full of about 30 students and had to create a lesson on the spot. I actually ended up going overtime and felt like the students were not aware of my unpreparedness. Mexico has definitely taught me to be more flexible and spontaneous. Trying to make friends has been an adventure and has made me a more open person. I have made friends from all walks of life including a vibrant 80 year old woman, a homeopathic pharmacist, a professional soccer player, and a dancer who performs in a circus. All in all, my time in Mexico has been a blast so far!