24 August 2008

My International Music Video Debut

The port in Hamburg (Germany), along the Elbe River, is massive - like the guts of a city with big shoulders - and yet fairly accessible to little people like you and me. It is a lively tourist destination, a popular venue for local events, and a fitting companion to the city's saucy Reeperbahn district.

When I was there in August, that ship from Monrovia (pictured above) was in one of two dry docks across the Elbe from the Landungsbrücken metro station, which is sort of the pedestrian's gateway to the harbor. You can transfer from the metro to a ferry on the same ticket and ride up the river past the dry docks to the beach at Neumühlen. If all that is not cool enough, you can take an elevator down into the ground and walk under the Elbe through two tunnels to look at Hamburg from the other side. Not so very long ago, cars, loaded with shipyard workers, used to take larger elevators down into the ground and drive through the tunnels, too. Now note just how small the white van is compared to the Monrovian ship's propeller, let alone to the ship itself.

I was in Hamburg in August with 10 teenagers from Tapa to participate in (another; my second in two years; ssshhhh) international youth exchange. The host organization was Weltenlos e.V. , and the name/theme of the youth exchange (or, jugendbegegnung in German) was Europe: Your Roots. Your Targets. Your Actions. Youth from Sliven, Bulgaria, population 110,000, and Ancona, Italy, population 102,000, as well as Hamburg, population 1,800,000, joined us country bumpkins from Tapa, population 7,000.

The beauty of an international youth exchange - well, I think there are many, especially for the teens in a relatively small and backward town like Tapa and a relatively poor and under-developed country like Estonia. Of course I really enjoy riding the inter- and intra-city trains in Germany. Truly, the Estonian passenger train service (as hard as it tries) is just one step above horse-drawn carriages compared to German rail service. Yet I get more of a kick out of seeing young people, particularly my students from Tapa Gümnaasium, grow, adapt, blossom, branch out, connect, mature, etc. over a 10 or 14 day period. At first, it's within the Estonian group. Gradually, it expands into other country groups. After a week, a couple of kids have enough self-confidence in themselves and their English that they come to feel right at home with the whole group, with the youth and the adults alike.
Although Hamburg was about as damp and dark as Estonia (IT'S AUGUST FOR GOODNESS SAKES), the kids heated the place up by creating their own multi-lingual music video All Is Love, with a young man from Tapa in the leading role and a young woman from Tapa one of the principle singers (and I thought all Estonians were shy). My close-up in the video, unshaven and all, comes at 6.37 by the way.

01 August 2008

Õpilastega: London

Six 12th graders from Tapa Gümnaasium and I were in London from Friday, July 25 to Tuesday, July 29. I had my wallet in my back, left pants pocket; DK's Eyewitness Travel: London Pocket Map & Guide in my back, right pocket; my Oyster card in my front, left pocket; and my "handy" (as the Germans call cell phones) in my front, right pocket.

We again stayed at the London Backpackers Hostel across from the Hendon Central Tube station on London's north side. Over the course of four nights, I had roommates from Mexico - sisters on their way to Rome and a Ph.D. student coming back from a conference in Glasglow; Switzerland - a junior at university majoring in biology going to an intensive English course in Edinburg; Canada - a photojournalist who was a little vague about his assignment in London; Germany - a young woman putting off starting university; and Oregon - another young woman who had just flown in from China where she is teaching English.

The weather was fantastic. So I hung out in Hendon Park - just half a block from the hostel - in the morning with a cup of coffee and one of London's dailies and in the evening with a proper doner kebab and brochures from the museums we had visited during the day. One evening, I watched a group of Indians play cricket. Yes, maybe it moves a little faster than baseball, but I think you would still need a beer, some peanuts, a "Kissing Cam", and fireworks to really enjoy the game.

On this trip (by the way, my second in two years), for the very first time, I walked around the Brompton Oratory in Knightsbridge, walked along the Princess Diana Memorial in Hyde Park, walked through Southwark Cathedral in Southwark, and finally - after more than 25 years - got to Brent Cross Shopping Center, a 10-minute walk from the hostel and probably a 15-minute drive from Finchley, where I lived in 1982 during my semester in London with Rosary College.

Like last year, on the day of our departure, from the time I got to the school in Tapa to the time I got through passport control at Stansted Airport, I second guessed myself: Is it a good idea to organize a trip like this? Am I doing too much? Am I taking too many risks? Is it too much responsibility for me and too much to ask of students? What will their parents think when they tell them about the hostel? the snack food meals? the crowds of people? Then, in London, first in Camden Town and then at Oxford Circus, I saw groups of kids, younger than the students from Tapa, smoking, of course, speaking Spanish or Italian, and, eventually, huddled around a twenty-something adult in a blue EF shirt, listening for details about what was going to happen next, as soon as so-and-so appeared. So, yes, I re-assured myself, it is a good idea (certainly not a novel one). The more I do it, the easier it gets and the more the risks are minimized, or at least anticipated. I like the hostel (with a full kitchen and renovated bathrooms), the neighborhood (with the park, a grocery store, and Brent Cross), transportation from Stansted and to central London, and, well, while I would pay 22 pounds to see Vanessa Redgrave in the Year of Magical Thinking at the National Theatre, even with a real job, I don't think I'd pay 16 pounds to go into the Tower of London, especially when the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate, and the Wallace Collection are free.

English Teachers in Latvia

Õpilastega: Ohepalu