Meeting Latin Americans

I love meeting Latin American people because whenever I do the following dialogue ensues (translation is mine):

Latin American person: So where are you from?

Me: Ukraine.

Latin American person: Uruguay, you mean?

Me: No, Ukraine.

Latin American person (looking perplexed): Then you probably lived in Latin America for a long time.

Me: No, unfortunately I never got the opportunity to live in any Spanish-speaking country.

Latin American person (looking extremely perplexed): But how is this possible?

I especially love it when such conversations take place with my students standing around us and making little “wow!” sounds in the background. I can practically feel myself grow 10 inches when that happens.

Learning Spanish as fast and as well as I did is an example of human will and perseverance triumphing over an inhospitable reality, adversity, and hardship. Yes, such situations also make me very pompous. I’ll try to get over it by tomorrow but I’m not promising anything.

Vargas Llosa to Speak at St. Louis University!

You probably think we have all just fallen off our pumpkin carts here, in St. Louis Metro area, right? Well, think again. Our cultural life is rich and vigorous. Next Monday, for example, Mario Vargas Llosa, the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, the greatest Peruvian writer and my favorite living Latin American writer (and he’s just one person, too), will be speaking at St. Louis University:

Noted author Mario Vargas Llosa will receive the 2011 Saint Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates at a special event from 5:30-6:45 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, in the Anheuser-Busch Auditorium at SLU’s John Cook School of Business, 3674 Lindell Blvd. A book signing with the author begins at 4:30 p.m., followed by the presentation of the award and a conversation with Vargas Llosa led by Olga Arbeláez, Ph.D., professor of Spanish in the University’s department of modern and classical languages.

To say that I’m excited is an understatement of the month.

If you haven’t read anything by Vargas Llosa, please, please do. He is really amazing. Garcia Marquez doesn’t deserve to bring him his slippers (in my highly subjective opinion). The writer’s books are all translated into English.

You can start with his early work Cubs. It’s short and much easier to read than the writer’s longer novels. And, of course, Vargas Llosa’s great novel The War of the End of the World is highly recommended. People often disagree but I think this novel is his masterpiece. For the romantically minded, Vargas Llosa’s attempt at a non misogynist Latin American novel about love, The Bad Girl, might be of interest.

If you follow the links I provided, you will see that Vargas Llosa’s books can be acquired very cheaply.

My sincere gratitude goes to Nancy P, a long-time reader of this blog who informed me of this important event.

Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Inside an American High School

I’ve taught high school students in this country but I’d never actually been inside an American high school until yesterday. So I decided to share my impressions with my readers.

As you can see on the photo, the school is very beautiful. Many American schools look like penitentiary facilities on the outside, which is why I’m happy that our local school was designed by somebody who doesn’t associate education with incarceration.

Inside, the school is really beautiful and very clean. Classrooms are decorated with course-related materials, photos of students, and things students made themselves. Students look very happy, comfortable, and excited to be there. There are endless lockers for students to use. In my country, the concept of school lockers is non-existent and it is a horrible drag to lug around all of your stuff with you all day long.

Bathrooms are clean and they have doors. Soviet school toilets never had doors in the stalls, so you can imagine the daily joys of urinating, defecating, and changing your sanitary pad in full view of your classmates. This is why I was very excited to use a high school toilet that had a door.

Of course, we need to remember that this is considered to be one of the best schools in the area. We are a small town but our high school graduates thousands of students each year. People bring their kids from all over the region to our school.

One thing I found strange is the environment in the classroom. I don’t know whether it is always as relaxed and undisciplined as it was during the class I visited. Maybe it’s just the personal style of the teacher who taught that particular class. I’m used to a much higher level of discipline in the classroom, so I was quite taken aback by the amount of talking, shouting, walking around, and discussing things that had nothing to do with the class that was being taught. I’d say that about 15-20% of class time was wasted on this unruliness.

I loved being in this school. The moment I walked inside, all four generations of teachers in my family that came before me awoke and started screaming with joy. There is something very special about being in a school. It gave me such a positive charge of energy that I kept walking around with a goofy smile on my face until the end of the day.

How Can a Child Be in Debt?

I’ve been staring at this photo for two days but I honestly don’t get it. How can a child be in debt? Do banks lend money to small children? Can anybody explain?

I have to confess that I find the banking system in this country to be very mystifying.

I found the photo here but the accompanying post provides no explanation for it.