Weather: Absolutely chaotic. Some cool rainy days, some sunny and warm. Occasional earth tremors.
Dissertation status: Has been sent to the rest of the committee, and am set to go back home and defend in Fall. Yay!
So. Done with the final draft of the dissertation and done with the summer course I was teaching. Done, as well, with the consulting job for the City Government of Guatemala.
I really believed I would be able to write throughout the month of June about my teaching experience in Guatemala, documenting it as a journal of sorts. Despite my best intentions, however, it was not to be.
The summer course involved a 3.5 hours class twice a week, and grading papers or preparing for class took up most of my time.
Many of my students were professionals (journalists, a university dean, the chief of communications of a large government dependency, non-profit officials, and so on). They were very engaged, interested in the topic and then always wanted to stay till the very end of class.
Now that I am not used to, even in the US!
As a student I loved going to class, yet I cannot recall ever wanting to stay beyond the allotted time! Well, only when it was art class ... but those were the fun electives that didn't really "count."
Only about half my students here seemed trained, however, in analytical writing. And this was a master program, yet I got quite a few papers which basically amounted to summaries and high school-style reports of class material and readings. I guess they still do a lot of rote memorization.
This is not their fault. They don't have here the kind of resources we have in the US for research, such as access to Lexis-Nexis, JSTOR or any sort of academic database. Those are way too expensive and I doubt that most universities here can afford it.
Overall, it is clear that most locally-educated professors have not been trained in that sort of research nor do they encourage debate the way which most classes do that I ever took back home. This is what students told me and it did seem difficult for most to engage in class interaction that did not involve repeating what the class readings said.
It reminded me of my Japanese and Korean students in the US. Not big on class debate! (Until they got used to it, and after that, often they would get into the fray, albeit somewhat tentatively).
That with all these challenges, I still got some truly excellent papers and good class commentary, just goes to show how enthused many of the students were, how well-prepared and eager to learn. In many ways, they were more inquisitive than my US students, and often, more sophisticated.
It helps that the university is engaging in efforts to attract foreign-trained professors, as well. I met academics there from the US, for example, and others trained abroad in countries such as Spain, Mexico, France, etc.
Despite the lack of research resources and databases, there is a lot of academic cross-pollination and hands-on experience with primary research. That is, students get involved in actual research involving surveys, interviews, field observation, etc., all of which is good.
But still. Theoretical underpinnings and access to similar studies worldwide are limited.
One of my favorite things there is the balcony for professors. We get a huge computer lab, with sofas and tables, a balcony that opens onto the gardens and forest, free coffee and water. So I would go sit outside with a cup of coffee, enjoy the lovely weather, grade papers, read a book, chat with other professors ...
The cafeteria is also lovely. All classrooms are fully equipped with the latest technology. So overall, no complaints. It was a great experience.
It was enjoyable, interesting and utterly exhausting!
Nevertheless, it had its down side. I had to fail two of the students for not presenting work up to par, and another one for plagiarism. I have zero tolerance for late work, and even less for plagiarism. Students not happy, of course, and boy do they give drama.
I did get full administrative support on these issues, to my surprise. Many had warned me that in Guatemala they are soft on plagiarism, but that did not turn out to be the situation in the case I encountered.
Many Guatemalan students I talked to do want to have some academic experience abroad. A young student of architecture, for example, told me he took a course in Argentina and wants to transfer there because they encourage the students to debate in class, and also offer much more research access.
Many Guatemalan professors, too, seem to constantly be searching for research or training opportunities abroad. Moreover, universities keep inviting and hiring academics from abroad, be it for full time teaching or short courses.
So other Latin American countries may be ahead. While I believe Guatemala is behind in those issues, however, it is clear that some universities are making serious efforts towards achieving higher academic standards and more up-to-date research skills.
Lately I have been really into drawing glass and fabric.
Some of these drawings have translated into my printmaking classes, where I have been printing a series of drawings of Victorian female fashion--which presents complex treatment of fabric and lovely shapes which are very akin to instruments of torture: the corsets, the high-necked enclosure, etc.
The printmaking workshop where I take classes is bringing some very well-known printmakers and serigraphists to teach a workshop. They do this every year, but are limited of space and people have to apply for a spot. This year I was accepted, for the first time, into two of the 4 workshops, which was lucky.
Most applicants were accepted into only one of four, and others didn't get in. So as soon as the class I teach at the university ended, I got my plate full of art classes for the month of July.
I also finished my consulting work with the City of Guatemala and cashing my check at the City Cashiers window, thought I, would be a bureaucratic nightmare (after all, it took 3 months for the paycheck to be issued), but turned out not to be too bad at all.
I have been quite lucky in that sense. I hear horror stories from friends dealing with government bureaucracy, but have yet to find a truly nightmarish government line. I am sure, however, that my day will come.
Talking of The City Government, works to recover and remodel the main downtown street, La Sexta (6th Avenue) have begun in earnest. It spans 10 blocks, and will make it a pedestrian space with open cafes, trees, and so on. The throngs walking the avenue despite heavy work, bulldozers, and dangerous ditches and holes, are amazing to behold.
It reminds me of children playing with water. You know, when children are allowed to get all wet when usually that is verbotem! Now they get to walk the street free of its usual congested traffic.
The Colonial Era water pipes are AWESOME. Any student of history, archaeology, architecture or anybody just plain curious would love to see them. Like mini-Roman aqueducts, made of clay and brick and of course, by now fully dysfunctional yet .... that is what The City has been using! (no wonder there are such water shortages!) The old pipes are already being covered up again. I saw they are installing new metal piping now.
COOL STUFF: By the way, if you want so see some really interesting pictures of Arquitectura de Remesas (the architecture born of the monies sent by Guatemalan immigrants in the USA) click here. I will go check the photo exhibit this weekend. Can't miss out on that one!
The inn has been busy. Lots of US academics and European journalists coming in and we had the hotel full for over a week by a group of indigenous Aymara--I think!--from Bolivia, coming in for a big American Indigenous Convention. The admixture of people who come and go never fails to fascinate me!
Thunderstorm rolling in and with this I shall bid you adieu, so that I can turn the computer off.
Bed & Breakfast - Lofts - Parking
In the Heart of the Historic Center of Guatemala City
In the Heart of the Historic Center of Guatemala City