Friday, May 15, 2009

Private School in Baku, Heydər Əliyev Adına Müasir Təhsil Kompleksi

The main school in which we are working in Baku City, the private school, is absolutely beautiful. "The floors were clean. The children were polite, engaged, and active. The teachers we met seemed passionate about the subjects they teach. Even the cafeteria food was delicious, and that is definitely a rare occurrence anywhere." (Beech, J., May 13, 2009) It is even more grandiose than the private schools in America that I have seen. There are several buildings, including a separate one for kindergarten and one for the administration. This school seems to focus more on the needs of the students; the kindergarten has playground equipment and separate nap time space, there are tennis courts and soccer fields for when the older kids get a break from school, and students can run in the hallways. It is a much more relaxed setting, aside from in the actual classroom which seems to be just strict enough that the students are very well-behaved and respectful of instructional time. The teachers were a great deal younger than I was expecting and everyone was genuinely helpful. I hope if Azeri teachers visit our schools we could show the same courtesy. "I feel a little funny because most people know all about American culture, but I do not know much about Azerbaijan. Luckily, many of the teachers seemed excited to meet us." (Manci, C., May 13, 2009) They all made us feel very welcome, which is comforting in a large new city. "Gulya, the head of the department of language, was asking me about my opinions on education theories about learning foreign language"...Gulya was interested in "some innovative teaching strategies, so I hope I have something to bring." (Manci, C., May 13, 2009) The director of the school specifically asked us to give constructive criticism and feedback at the end of our stay here; he seemed to truly respect our opinions and wants their school to be the best it can be.

My peers and I each observed five different classes today. Here I will provide a composite portrait of a typical classroom at Heydər Əliyev Adına Müasir Təhsil Kompleksi. "Some of the differences I noted in the school were that the students were allowed to run from class to class, but were very behaved in the classroom. Since the students stay at school all day, they do many extracurricular activities in the school such as dance, music, and art." (Manci, C., May 13, 2009) Classes began and ended with a traditional greeting in which the students stood up and greeted the teacher and the teacher greeted the students and asked of their well being, and then the students responded. "Since classes were very small students got a lot of individual attention. The classrooms were spacious and the windows were open. The walls had a few posters and a picture of the president. I noticed that every time a student answered a question the student would stand to speak." (Manci, C., May 13, 2009)

The classes were very lively and there was a high level of interaction between teachers and students. Teachers used many different interactive activities during the lessons, such as picture association activities, greetings, rhymes, and songs. "All of the students were eager to answer, and raised their hands every time there was a question posed. They were practically falling out of their seats to be noticed, so that they would be called on. The lesson was very interactive, and the format allowed them to speak a lot. They started by reading three useless inventions that they made up for homework, which was silly so they had a good time. Then, they watched a video about the way people lived in the past. The video included a sing-along song, and the second time the students sang with it. I thought that this was a great way for them to practice pronunciation, because they were mimicking the singer of the song. Finally, they played a game like Taboo. They drew a word from a hat and had to explain it, and they got a point for a correct answer. The class was pleasurable to observe because the students were so excited about learning." (Manci, C., May 13, 2009) I enjoyed watching these engaging lessons; I believe when students interact with each other and their teachers, it allows more to be learned. "I was very impressed with this school and really look forward to meeting more of the teachers and students who experience this place in their lives daily." (Beech, J., May 13, 2009)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

First Impressions

Visiting a new country is always exciting. There are things to learn, places to see, and people to meet. Even though I've only been here for one full day, I've already learned that Baku is full of interesting people, sites, and surprises. Riding into the city from the airport, I noticed the distinct lack of traffic lanes. To someone who is not used to people moving their cars about wherever they please, this kind of driving induces a lot of white-knuckling. Once you learn to trust the person that you're riding with, the next thing you notice is the buildings. This city is enormous and sprawling, but not as tall as most cities of this size. "I'm still shocked at the size of Baku City. Many people in the states have not heard of Baku City, so the general assumption is that it is not an urban area. This is not true." (Manci, C. May 13, 2009) There is a great contrast throughout the city. Historic twelfth-century buildings contrast the more modern architecture of buildings built for the twenty-first century. Dilapidated buildings of the Soviet era sit across the street from polished glass store-fronts. Even the cars in the street portrays these contrasts: shiny new BMWs honk and speed past dirty Ladas on their last set of tires.
"Baku city is undoubtedly beautiful and has culture and history included in absolutely everything, which incorporates some western European and traditional Eastern style." (Knapp, K. May 13, 2009)

"People themselves are very curious. Everyone we met had a lot of questions to ask us about how we like everything, and they truly seemed concerned about our responses. Their concern did not seem like simple small talk, but instead people were interested in our opinions and perspectives." (Knapp, K. May 13, 2009)
"The clothing is an aspect of the culture that I find very interesting. Most of the people are formal most of the time. For example, I have not seen any person in shorts or sweatpants on the street. The women wear a lot of black and high heels, while men wear suits. Women's clothing tends to have a Western silhouette with Eastern influences, such as jewelry, make-up, and embellishments. People seem to take time on their appearance, and I really enjoy this aspect of the culture. I am interested in the difference in the perception of beauty here in Baku." (Manci, C. May 13, 2009)

"So far it has been a fascinating experience, one very different from American life. I did not know what to expect coming here because it is not exactly a tourist destination and I did not know anyone who had ever been in Baku so there was no one I could question. It is much more full of culture, history, and beauty than I had imagined. I am looking forward to memorable adventures." (Knapp, K. May 13, 2009)
"I am most curious about what people value the most here, and I hope I can have an open mind." (Manci, C. May 13, 2009)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Accommodations for Participants

We are sharing pictures to show you living conditions of our participants during this Study Abroad Program. There are one or two students in each bedroom. They share full kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathrooms. They have Internet access and cable TV with wide selection of international channels. Enjoy this small selection of pictures of the apartment that our participants share.

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