Thursday, May 24, 2012

School's out for summer!

Well, not quite yet. Moroccan schools stay open until mid-June, when students take their year-end exams. I mentioned in a previous post that the biggest of these year-end exams is the one for high school seniors, called the "Baccalaureate," or BAC for short. You can think of this test a bit like the SAT, except that a student's score on the BAC determines his or her entire career prospects - what university or technical school he or she can get into (if any), what job he or she can get, etc. Whereas in the U.S., even with a bad SAT score a person can typically find a community college or a technical school, in Morocco with a bad BAC score, there are few to no options. And if a student fails the BAC exam, he or she must redo the senior year of high school and retake the exam.

So it's a pretty intense test. Subjects vary depending on the student's track in school, but most include English. So, Justin and I decided to end all of our other classes in advance of the end of school so that we can focus on the BAC students. We are doing lots of one-on-one tutoring, grammar classes, practice exams, and review sessions. So far most of the students who have come to the sessions are the ones who are most motivated and less in need of help, but even if our sessions will help these students to increase their score by a point or two, it could make a huge difference.

To celebrate the end of our other classes, we threw small parties in each class. Here are photos from each of the parties:

Our Beginner Kids class - ages range from 12-16 years.
The guys of our Beginner Adults class (one of the guys did not want to
take a photo with girls, I assume for religious reasons, so we did separate
male/female photos)
The girls of our Beginner Adults class.
Our Advanced Speaking class.
It has really been an educational experience for me in learning how to teach over the past few months. I have learned how to think about topics in creative ways and to determine the best means of teaching with the students' needs and levels in mind. I have learned how to incorporate multiple learning styles into one lesson. I have learned the importance of continuously reviewing old material, even if it feels repetitive to me. And I have started to learn what students like and what they don't in the classroom (more learning through games and conversation, less lecturing on grammar). Another really interesting part of the experience has been working with Justin - In a way, it has added a new element to our relationship, learning how to plan and work together. We've learned about each other's strengths and weaknesses in the classroom and how to best utilize those to be as successful as possible.

I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to continue teaching in the fall, now that I have a better handle on what I'm doing. We'll be continuing to teach until mid-June, then we'll launch into the summer, which will consist of meetings, visitors, and lots of traveling. I look forward to sharing the adventures as they come along!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What time is it??

One of the toughest adjustments to living in Morocco has been getting used to cultural differences regarding the concept of time. During our first two months of training, we learned that Morocco tends to have a "polychronic" culture, compared to America's "monochronic" culture. In polychronic cultures, people are not as ruled by precise calendars and schedules; human interaction is valued over time and material things, leading to a lesser concern for "getting things done" - they do get things done, but more in their own time (sometimes quick, sometimes not so much). Additionally, a polychronic system has a much more fluid approach in scheduling time, and many things are done simultaneously, in a way that Americans might consider less efficient.

Interesting stuff huh? Well, it's very interesting to read about but waaaay harder to live it! A few examples of how this has affected us - We might speak with a friend about meeting at a cafe in the afternoon and we set up an exact time to meet. As you can imagine, we arrive at the cafe right on time (because that's how we monochrons roll, right?) and the Moroccan strolls in an hour late. Are we upset? Maybe a little, but if we take off our American cap we realize that this is due to cultural differences in the approach towards time. 

Another example is with lines at the post office. Well, I can't really call them lines, it's more like mass huddles of people around the service window. The postal employee does not help people one by one; rather, she tries to help five people at the same time and whoever gets their letters nearest to her are the ones who are helped next. What works here to my benefit is that she often sees me (because as you can imagine, I stick out here a bit!) and will gesture to me to come up to the front of the "line." In America this would be unheard of, but here, with a more fluid approach to time, it's the norm.

And just when you think you have it all figured out, Moroccans throw you a curveball - daylight savings time! Which started a few weeks ago, changes back during Ramadan, and then changes back again afterwards. But what gets confusing is that not everyone changes their clocks. Government-run offices (i.e. banks, post offices) seem to run on new time, and our Youth Center runs on new time, and schools run on the new time, except for Fridays when schools run on new time in the morning and old time in the afternoon (that's because prayer time at the mosques runs on old time and Friday afternoon is the most important time for prayer). Local stores and the markets seem to run on old time, so whereas we used to get groceries around 4 PM, now we have to remember not to go until at least 5 PM. Individuals are totally mixed; we have some students and friends who automatically made the switch, but many who stroll in at the end of our classes and then realize that our classes run on new, not old time. And many times when we make plans with people, we have to confirm with them if our plans are based on new or old time (but they'll be late anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter too much!).

Confused yet? On a positive note, it's a really great way to shed the impatient-New-Yorker mentality :)  I spent an hour on the phone today, booking plane tickets due to a delightful quirk in Iberia Airlines' website. In New York I would have been fuming. Here, no big deal. Where are we going??? In true polychronic style... I'll post it when the time is right!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Moroccan Travels, Part Two... Meknes

Justin and I recently took a day trip from Tiflet to Meknes, only a few hours away by bus (a bit quicker by taxi, but we are on a Peace Corps budget these days!). Meknes was founded in the 10th century, but did not rise to prominence as one of Morocco's "imperial cities" until the 17th century, when the sultan at that time built beautiful gates, ramparts, palaces, and mosques throughout the city, many of which still stand amongst a beautiful countryside, earning Meknes the nickname "the Versailles of Morocco."

We spent a very short time here and definitely plan to go back, but below are some photo highlights of a busy afternoon.

Entering Meknes from the bus station, through the "Bab el Khemis."
Close-up of some of the beautiful tiles and carvings.
Inside the Musee Dar Jamai, a museum in a beautiful 19th century palace.
Close-up of some of the amazing carvings in the Musee Dar Jamai.
In the Musee Dar Jamai, a beautifully decorated traditional Moroccan room.
Habs Qara, a series of underground cells that was either
a prison for Christian slaves, or a place for
grain storage. Either way, a bit creepy!
The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, a sultan from the 17th century.
A beautiful fountain in the Mausoleum complex.
Bab Monsour, one of the most famous gates in Morocco.
Close-up on Bab Monsour.

In other news... it's starting to get HOT here. Which makes me a little nervous, since it's May and only the very beginning of the summer. Should be interesting! 

We are nearing the end of the school year, and Justin and I are helping to prepare some of Tiflet's high school seniors for a huge exam that they will take called the Baccalaureate. The score that they make on this exam largely determines their prospects for careers or future technical/university studies. One section of the exam consists of English language testing, so we're trying to do as much as we can to help them, ranging from grammar review classes, to open tutoring sessions, to weekly practice tests. The exam is about a month away, so we'll see how it goes. More updates to come soon!