The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

What Could You Do with a One-Minute Story?

Emily Casriel, Head of Editorial Partnerships and special projects for BBC World Service Group, gives a detailed account of her project Take 10 animation in a blog post published a month ago.  

This project involves MA student animators from the Animation Department at the University of the West of England (UWE), who were given a great challenge: to animate 10 one-minute audio clips, inspired by 10 inspirational stories  from BBC World Service.

Here is how  

Student animators get creative with one minute World Service stories

Testimony of former child soldier Deng Adut, animated by Laura-Beth Cowley and Carwyn David.

Take the harrowing tale of being hauled in front of Islamic student activists in Iran, the search for an elusive bird in East Africa or the first-person experience of a child soldier. Hack each complex and rich story to precisely one minute. Now present those 60-second tales to a bunch of student animators and ask them to draw upon their wildest creative imagination to craft films that are so full of personality that they will engage people across the world. 

When I visited the Animation Department at the University of the West of England UWE to meet its MA students, I was presenting them with a demanding challenge. As I played the one-minute audio clips, drawn from a range of BBC World Service output, the animators listened intently with furrowed brows and occasional smiles.  

The students were already visualising how they could bring to life an attractive story while plotting how they could wriggle out of being assigned the toughest stories. Who would be tasked with imagining the story of a corrosive Soviet town and who would have fun bringing to life the wine-loving bear?

I first developed the partnership with the University of West of England (UWE) two years ago, when it was already clear that animating audio was an effective way to engage audiences which might not already be consuming BBC News content. Bethan Jinkinson from BBC World Service Digital was excited to collaborate on this project because of its potential to showcase and share the richness of our audio offer.

Research with the BBC’s Global Minds panel indicated that audiences liked snacking on content. The combination of factual content with a creative treatment seems to be attractive, perhaps because it engages both sides of our brain. Sharing something intelligent, yet still accessible, makes people look informed in front of their peers, which in turn drives viral success.

The search for a rare East African bird inspired animator Thomas Porras.

The BBC is increasingly experimenting with animated audio – from Omar’s Journey which depicts the journey of a teenage refugee in the Jungle in Calais based upon his own drawings, to The Today Programme animating the news. When I used to run the ideas discussion show The Forum I even experimented by personally animating its 60 second idea.  

I sought out UWE in Bristol as it is renowned for its creative flair and enjoys links to some of the most successful animation companies in the world, such as the local Aardman studios, home of Wallace and Gromit. Back in 2014, we collaborated with Chris Webster, the course leader, and his second year BA students to produce an animation based on a BBC World Service Outlook interview about Antarctica, saunas and naked running. Truly.

There were many exchanges over the tiniest of details from the texture of the sky (richer and more artistic) to permissible nudity (bottoms acceptable, full frontal not). I learned that the students needed to be encouraged to fly free of a too literal interpretation of the spoken word, while still keeping to the spirit of the message. This knowledge was useful when I briefed the graduate students this year for our more fully fledged partnership.   

My follow-up visit to the MA students was exciting if a little daunting for all of us. The students, who had been attracted to the course from across the world – from Vietnam to Venezuela – were now on the cusp of exposing their creative imagination to an external client for the very first time, awaiting judgement on the first ‘draft’ of their one-minute masterpieces.

From the moment the first film was shown on the screen, I could see that the MA students were in a different league to their BA counterparts. Yet I was a little confused by seeing a set of wooden films with little movement. The students patiently explained to me that the animatic wasn’t the finished film, merely a moving sketch book.

They had all put tremendous energy into researching the world behind their one minute clips.   Michail Gkialas Fikaris had watched numerous YouTube videos of his beatboxing subject (above) to understand not only the artist but also the beatboxing culture.

Linh Nguyen had drawn upon a Japanese vintage aesthetic to animate the story of a robot (above) which was born the moment its mother unwrapped the packaging. Not content with the audio narrative that I had presented to her, she had inserted an angry unicorn with a murderous laser beam as a visual sub plot. This burst of creativity led to a discussion about the importance of a visual narrative that would complement rather than compete with the audio. Linh’s finished animation sticks a little more faithfully to the audio clip, though it is still full of visual jokes reflecting her subversive originality.

I was also impressed with how Nagore Rementeria Muriel used stark black and white graphic images and negative space to create a tense atmosphere in her depiction of fear in revolutionary Iran (above). She built a 3D model of an Iranian man to rotate for the animation, and scribbled intimidating anonymous figures.  

Hannah Stevens had enlisted the help of her six year old cousin to imagine the two headed purple mutants of a fabled Soviet town, and then drew on World War Two propaganda films to create a cinematic atmosphere (above).  

And it was fantastic to see some stop motion animation in the mix with Sasha Lawrence’s story of the first legal inter-racial marriage in South Africa. Sasha took plywood and plaster to create a three tiered wedding cake (above) and found a 1980s Jet Magazine picture of the couple online to inspire her creation of the bride and groom puppets. 

At the end of our session together, tutor Chris Webster told his students that one of the most valuable lessons of this partnership was to understand the mindset of a client and the likelihood that they wouldn’t understand the animating process. He is committed to helping his students not only develop their own voice – all of the animations are highly individual – but also equip them with skills that will enable them to succeed in the world of deadlines and client demands. 

I am excited to share these jewels with our worldwide audience by publishing them on the BBC website, broadcasting them on BBC World News and seeing reactions as we share these films on a whole range of social media platforms. I hope that people around the world will appreciate the thought and inventiveness that has gone into these richly layered treats and feel tempted to find out more.       

The animations are available on the BBC News website, BBC World News and across social media. 

 

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Filed under: 3►STYLE, 5►LEARN MORE FROM:, ■ ANIMATE, ■ Animations, ■ Communicate, ■ Creativity, ■ How to Tell a Story, ■ Movies, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ■ Thinking Space, ►META PHORS▼

Shh…tresss

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

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Kelly McGonigal interviewd by TED Blog (January 8th, 2014)

The Science of Willpower: Kelly McGonigal on why it’s so dang hard to stick to a resolution

It’s the second week in January and, at about this time, that resolution that seemed so reasonable a week ago — go to the gym every other day, read a book a week, only drink alcohol on weekends — is starting to seem very … hard. As you are teetering on the edge of abandoning it all together, Kelly McGonigal is here to help. This Stanford University psychologist — who shared last year how you can make stress your friend — wants you to know that you’re not having a hard time sticking to a resolution because you are a terrible person. Perhaps you’ve just formulated the wrong resolution.

McGonigal has, for years, taught a course called “The Science of Willpower” through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and, in 2011, she spun it into a book, The Willpower Instinct. The TED Blog spoke to McGonigal this week about how willpower is often misunderstood, and what we each can do to improve it. (We also asked her about today’s talk — Why dieting doesn’t usually work.) Below, an edited transcript of the conversation.

First question: why is willpower such a struggle?

It’s a great question. I define willpower as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. That begins to capture why it’s so difficult — because everything we think of as requiring willpower is usually a competition between two conflicting selves. There’s a part of you who is looking to the long-term and thinking about certain goals, and then another part of you that has a completely different agenda and wants to maximize current pleasure and minimize current stress, pain and discomfort. The things that require willpower pit those competing selves against each other. Willpower is the ability to align yourself with the brain system that is thinking about long-term goals — that is thinking about big values rather than short-term needs or desires.

The reason that so many things can trigger that kind of conflict is because that’s the essence of human nature. Modern cognitive neuroscientists see this as the fundamental structure of the human brain — that there are competing systems that think about the world differently and that respond to challenges differently. I think of it as: the immediate self versus the future self. We need both systems for survival.  But a lot of our modern challenges really tempt us to be in the mind-state of immediate gratification, or escaping immediate discomfort. It can be quite a challenge to access the part of you who is willing to take that big picture and tolerate temporary discomfort.

So, given this idea of two competing selves who want different things, how effective are New Year’s resolutions for tapping into the ability to think long-term?

I think it depends on how you go about making your New Year’s resolution. Typically, when people are making a New Year’s resolution, they don’t start with the right questions, so they end up making a resolution that is ineffective. Most people start with the question: “What should I do?” It may not even be a conscious, implicit kind of thing, but they start from: “What do I criticize about myself that it’s time to change?” Or “what is it that I don’t really want to do that I know I should do?” It’s kind of a typical self-improvement perspective. “I don’t really like exercise, I guess I should do it.” Or “my closet is a mess, it’s time to get organized.” “I’ve never had a clean desk in my life, but I think that good people have clean desks, so this is the year I’m going to have one.”

People come up with resolutions that don’t reflect what matters most to them, and that makes them almost guaranteed to fail. Even if that behavior could be very valuable and helpful — like exercise — if you start from the point of view of thinking about what it is you don’t really want to do, it’s very hard to tap into willpower. If there’s no really important “want” driving it, the brain system of self-control has nothing to hold on to.

The kind of New Year’s resolution that works is when you start really slowing down and asking yourself what you want for yourself and your life in the next year. What is it that you want to offer the world? Who do you want to be, what do you want more of in your life? And then asking: “How might I get there? What would create that as a consequence?” When you start from that point of view, then New Year’s resolutions can be incredibly effective. They begin to turn your attention to choice points in your everyday life where there really are opportunities to align your energy and attention in the direction that matters to you. I think most people start from the choice points, without wondering whether this is even the right thing to be choosing. People get to the behaviors too soon, in my opinion.

Any tips for how to find those big things and then narrow them down to specific resolutions?

A very practical way is to ask: At the end of 2014 — on January 1st, 2015, looking backwards — what are you seriously going to be grateful that you did? Is there a change you know that you’re going to be glad you made? What would that feel like? That can tap into something that feels really authentic.

I was just doing a radio interview at one of the NPR stations in New York, and I was chatting with the studio producer. I asked her if she had any New Year’s resolutions, and she’s like, “Oh yeah — to stay fit.” She sounded so not enthusiastic. Then after a few seconds of silence, she said, “I’m kind of thinking about finding a way to play the piano again.” She was lighting up a little more. “It used to be so important to me, and I really miss it. It’s like my soul wants to play the piano again, and it would be giving it back to my soul.” And I’m like, “That’s your resolution! What is this getting fit stuff?”

By the way, you can spend the first week [of the year] looking around. One year my resolution was to focus on being a better mentor, and to look for ways in every professional relationship to do that. You start looking around, and you see every conversation as an opportunity to choose that value and move toward that goal. Just spend a week saying, “If what matters is improving my health, if what matters is spending more time with my family, if what matters is reconnecting to creativity, what choices do I make every day that either could get me closer to that?”

So on those things you feel like you should be doing — the going to the gym or the quitting smoking — is there a way to build your willpower towards those things?

One of the things I always encourage people to do is to not try to do things alone, and to start outsourcing their willpower a little bit. If it’s exercising, you should be doing it with a family member, a friend, a co-worker. Or sign up for a series of classes after work. Because then, it’s like a bigger pool of possible willpower. If you’re exhausted after work, and you normally would say, “Screw it, I’m going home,” if there’s somebody who is going to meet you in your office, and say, “Hey, aren’t we going for a walk now?,” it doesn’t matter if you feel like it in that moment. There’s going to be a bigger pool of motivation that will support you through when you’re feeling most exhausted or least motivated.

Another thing I encourage people to do is — if there’s a behavior that they put off or don’t do because of anxiety or self-doubt or because it’s boring or uncomfortable — bribe yourself. If you hate exercise but truly, truly want the consequences of exercising, you should give yourself permission to do whatever you don’t want to let yourself do — like read trashy gossip magazines, or download a whole series of a TV show that you can plop on in front of you on the treadmill. As long as it doesn’t conflict with your goal, then you should go ahead and pair the thing you don’t want to do with a reward that you might otherwise not give yourself permission for. That can be very effective for beginning to prioritize and make time for things.

Also, give yourself permission to do small steps rather than think that there’s an ideal you need to meet. I wrote a review paper about two years ago showing that you can get pretty much the same health benefits from doing 5 to 15 minutes of exercise a day as from an hour. There are a lot of things like that, where we think, “I won’t get my novel done unless I can put aside a whole weekend to write.” Well, you could create a novel in a paragraph a day. So I encourage people to think: what’s the smallest step that they could take that is consistent with their goal? And not necessarily worry about whether they believe it’s sufficient.

That is actually very freeing.

New Year’s resolutions can be fun! If you think of them like a science experiment, you can always learn something from a resolution.  A lot of times, people aren’t willing to learn the lesson — and sometimes the lesson is that you think you want to change this, but you don’t really want to, and sometimes you don’t need to. That sometimes we look for the things we think we can control.

It’s funny how this happens sometimes even when we go after the things that really are core to our identity. I did this New Year’s resolution makeover once with this woman who had made the same resolution year after year to become a better cook, because she thought that’s what good moms and good wives did. She was a terrible cook, and she didn’t want to learn how to cook. That’s a mistake people make, is they think they’re just going to fundamentally change who they are with a resolution. “I’m going to become a morning person.” “I’m going to become a health nut.” “I’m going to become organized.” The best resolutions are ones that strengthen something you already are, but you may not have been fully investing in.

Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourselfDerek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself I wanted to ask about the idea of working with other people and outsourcing willpower. Have you ever seen Derek Sivers’ talk on TED.com? It’s called Keep your goals to yourself and it suggests that people are more likely to achieve goals if they keep them private.

There is some data that suggests you might feel like you have accomplished your goal if you can create a public identity as somebody who is pursuing that goal. And I have overwhelming feedback from my students in my Science of Willpower class that, if they actually can truly create the identity — that they really sense that “I am someone that trained for a marathon,” or “I am somebody who is committed to this” — that it actually makes it easier to make choices.

People are really interested in creating habits, and there’s so much excitement now about habit design. Habits are really, really hard to create because they require complete automaticity. You need to basically be making choices in the absence of any motivation and it takes a long time to get that in place. But when you have a value or commitment, that’s something different. It can be a conscious choice that when you’re in a restaurant — if your identity is as somebody who takes good care of your health — then that becomes a default way to make a good choice in that moment. Anything that you do to create that identity can actually make it easier to make choices that don’t feel like deprivation.

That’s one side of that research. Then there’s the whole other side of how social support and pride can support having more strength to move towards your goals. If you know that other people are paying attention to you, and you know that you’re going to be able to celebrate your success — you’re going to be able to post on Facebook that you actually did run that marathon, or even that you just made it to spin class, or whatever your version of that is — that anticipating that social sharing is very motivating for people. It’s more motivating than even success in itself. The self-savoring is not as motivating as knowing you’re going to be able to savor a success with somebody else. Then when you hit the wall — when you experience setbacks — social support encouragement is also so important for getting back on track.

I think that from top to bottom, making your resolution social allows you to access different supports, both internal and external. One more reason to go public — being a role model for someone. People will do things when they know that they’re inspiring change in others. It’s a natural progression that you see in many areas — whether it’s people who are recovering from addiction, or someone embarking on a physical challenge. This is what people naturally do.

Sandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn't usually workSandra Aamodt: Why dieting doesn’t usually work And did you see Sandra Aamodt’s talk, Why dieting doesn’t usually work?

Yes! My talk was right after hers at TEDGlobal 2013. I remember basically agreeing with everything she said.

So her idea — that the brain seeks to keep weight stable over the long-run, and so dieting can often backfire because it makes a person so focused on food — fit with the research you’ve looked at on willpower?

There are two things she said that really stood out to me, and that I agree with very seriously. One was that she talked about the importance of being kind to yourself. She made the point that self-compassion is much more motivating than self-criticism. That’s very important. When I first started teaching the Science of Willpower, it was the thing nobody believed — researchers and psychologists and writers have done a great job of getting this message out, because I don’t get near the resistance I used to get to the idea. And still, it’s so amazing how many people believe that they are more motivated by self-criticism and shame than anything else. They aren’t really paying attention to the effect on their behavior and choices when they are that hard on themselves.

The other thing I remember Sandra saying was about the futility of trying to lose weight. And that’s absolutely right. Whenever I’m in any situation where people are asking me to talk about losing weight, I always try to change the language to creating health because you cannot control weight. It’s exactly what Sandra said — the brain and the body, they will fight you. Losing weight is almost always a consequence of making good choices — but it’s not always a consequence. You can make good choices and not lose the weight. The most important thing in Sandra’s talk was the idea that making the healthy choices is going to give you the consequence of health, even if you don’t lose the weight.

She showed a really interesting graph of four health factors — eating fruits and vegetables, exercise three times a week, not smoking, and drinking in moderation — and how, if people who are overweight do just one of those things, their risk of mortality lowers to the same level as a normal weight person.

I hope TED has more talks from obesity experts, because nobody knows this research about how weight doesn’t predict health. There’s so much important science out there that people are not paying attention to. That was my favorite part of her talk.

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friendKelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend To bring it back to your TED Talk, How to make stress your friend, it sounds to me like what you’re saying about willpower is related — that it’s not so much whether you have willpower, but how you think about willpower.

I’ve been joking about that — that my work has always been to basically take an inner experience that people reject, force them to accept it and understand it, so that they can make peace with it. One of the reasons why I teach this Science of Willpower class and wrote the book is because I kept hearing from people that they felt like they had no willpower. They thought they were the only ones and that their willpower struggle was uniquely wrong with them — they were so lazy, they were so stupid, they were so hopeless. They didn’t understand the fact that we all experience willpower challenges. It’s part of what it means to be human.

It is similar to the way that I’m now trying to help people appreciate stress, and understand that this is human and that it can help us. It’s not always helpful, but there are aspects to it that, when we can make friends with it, we have a lot better chance of using it to good ends. I feel the same way about willpower. When you understand what a craving is and why it’s there, you can also appreciate the part of you who can make a different choice.

One of the big lessons from The Science of Willpower is if you really fight the inner experiences, it’s not going to end well. If you decide you’re going to fight cravings, fight thoughts, fight emotions, you put all your energy and attention into trying to change the inner experiences. People tend to get more stuck, and more overwhelmed. When you try to control the things that aren’t really under your control, you get to feeling more out of control. Whereas where you really have the freedom is in your choices.

That’s very similar to stress. If you think you can’t feel stress and that stress is always going to be toxic, you’re magnifying any of the toxic aspects of stress. By fighting stress, you’re making stress worse.

So, make friends with the fact that you can move towards goals that are really important to you?

Yes. Willpower is about being able to hold opposites. So I can feel the emotion, I can feel the craving, and at the very same time, I just make my awareness big enough to hold my commitment to make a different choice. Your ability to hold those opposites is what gives people willpower over time.

Filed under: ■ GLOBAL, ■ Happiness, ■ Stress, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

TED Talks Pinned: Speaking of HapPINness

Recipes for feeling happy? Browse through the talks & sites below and decide what suits you best.

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■ Stay in the moment

About Matt Killingsworth’s TEDTalk

When are humans most happy? To answer this question, researcher Matt Killingsworth built an app, Track Your Happiness, that let people report their feelings in real time. Among the results: We’re often happiest when we’re lost in the moment.

About Matt Killingsworth

Researcher Matt Killingsworth designs studies that gather data on happiness. While doing his Ph.D. research at Harvard, Killingsworth invented the Track Your Happiness app.

He’s now a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar examining such topics as the relationship between happiness and the content of everyday experiences, the percentage of everyday experiences that are intrinsically valuable, and the degree of congruence between the causes of momentary happiness and of one’s overall satisfaction with life.

Web Resources

Related TEDTalk: Dan Gilbert on “The Surprising Science of Happiness”

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■ Slowing Down

About Carl Honoré’s TEDTalk

Journalist Carl Honoré believes our society’s emphasis on speed erodes health, productivity and quality of life. But there’s a backlash brewing, as everyday people start putting the brakes on their modern lives.

About Carl Honoré

Carl Honoré is the author of In Praise of Slowness, which dissects our speed-obsessed society and celebrates those who have gotten to slow down. Honoré is an advocate of the Slow Movement, an effort by those all over the world to decelerate the pace of their lives, with everything from “slow cities” to “slow food.” He’s also the author of the book Under Pressure.

Web Resources

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■ Less = HappIer

About Graham Hill’s TEDTalk

Can having less stuff, in less room, lead to more happiness? Writer Graham Hill makes the case for taking up less space.

About Graham Hill

Graham Hill is the CEO of LifeEdited, which works with developers to market buildings that embody small space living. Hill is also the founder of TreeHugger.com, which aims to push sustainability into the mainstream with a design-forward style.

Web Resources

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■ Misfortunes, Stops on the Road to Happiness

About Dan Gilbert’s TEDTalk

We’re doomed to be miserable if we don’t get what we want — right? Not quite, says psychologist Dan Gilbert. He says our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

About Dan Gilbert

Psychologist Dan Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, where he runs the Hedonic Psychology Laboratory. He’s the author of Stumbling on Happiness. In the book, Gilbert argues that our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes, Gilbert says, our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy.

Web Resources

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Be Grateful

About David Steindl-Rast’s TEDTalk

We all want to be happy, says David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, being grateful.

About David Steindl-Rast

David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk who writes about gratefulness. Since 1953, Brother David has been a monk of Mount Saviour Benedictine monastery in New York, dividing his time between hermitic contemplation, writing and lecturing.

He was one of the first Roman Catholics to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and is the author of The Ground We Share, a text on Buddhist and Christian practice, written with Robert Aitken Roshi. His other books include GratefulnessThe Heart of Prayer and Deeper Than Words. His most recent book is 99 Blessings. He’s the co-founder of gratefulness.org.

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Filed under: ■ GLOBAL, ■ Happiness, ■ How to Live, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ TED, TOPICS▼

1, 2, 3, Think, Read, Speak!!!

Like most students, Millenials or otherwise, mine love to stay current & be able to discuss the latest trends, so here’s a Think & Read three-pack I came up with to help the discussion flow & connect present to future technologically as well as linguistically. The texts below are taken from Content Loop, one of our latest favourites here at the ELB.

Have a fab Feb and keep your mind well fed with valuable information!

(Further reading suggested:

click the numbers pics 4 extra reads on senses, skating & L o V e <3.)

1

No.

 THINK about your TOP 3 most annoying habits people have connected with technology in your opinion (like spending time checking the phone during face-to-face meetings) and think of ways people should/could change those habits.
READ this article on technology etiquette for the emerging generation, write down any tricky words, phrases & questions you might have for further discussion.

2

 No.THINK about the specific traits of our generation, the Millennials. (In what ways are we different from other generations?)
READ this article on  how to grab the attention of Millenials via email and compare your ideas against the ideas presented in the text. Would you read mails written in the styles suggested in the text? Which style(s) would you find more appealing? Why? Why not? Be ready to speak your mind on the issues you find most relevant to you, your life & living today.

 3

No.THINK about the type of content/topics/styles/genres you like to read about and describe it/them briefly. Then try to analyse why  you are attracted to these types of content?
READ this text about the link between viral content and emotional intelligence. What do you agree and disagree with, and why?

Filed under: 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, ■ Communicate, ■ CONTENT LOOP, ■ Generations, ■ Inspiration, ■ Physics, ■ Relation ships, ■ Science & Technology, ■ Technology & Our Generation, ■ The W W WEB, ■ The World, ■ Thinking Space

Last Classes, New Ideas :)

Happy summer holiday 2013!!!

Happy summer holiday 2013!!!

Hello!

This school year is rapidly drawing to a close, so I will take this opportunity to wish you all a very peaceful summer and to reassure you that the ELB is going to still benefit from new thoughts in the summer, just like before. After all, life’s lessons never seem to go on holiday like we do. They are always there, for us to take our pick and share. 🙂

I am writing this post below, to share some thoughts with you, yes, as I have been known to do,  on prejudice and intolerance, the lack of which will help us maintain and cultivate broad-mindedness. Or open-mindedness, if you will. 🙂 Now, what is different about this post is that, in truth, it hasn’t happened yet, by which I mean that the activities I will describe and the links I am about to recommend below are going to be put to work with the students in one of my adult learners groups later today for the first time. Imagine their surprise when I will disclose to them the existence of this article at the end of the class. 🙂 I will be back with impressions in a little while, so hang on.

“Things Should Be as I Think

or

I Know Best About This (Whatever This Might Be)”

 

The first two activities I have come up with sprang from a dialog I witnessed at a class one week ago between two of my students. The general topic of the dialogue was good manners around the world, and the more specific aspect discussed was ways of spending Christmas in Poland. I was surprised to discover how certain one of these students was about THE way of spending Christmas in Poland, the one and only PROPER way. The discussion turned out to be very insightful, as it showed that even open-minded people can have strict ideas and views on certain topics. There is, or there may be prejudice, my dears, even in areas we least expect it to appear. The good part is that once exposed hovering around some ideas in our minds, it can easily go out in a splash, like a candle blown out by a kid at bedtime.

ACTIVITY 1

Imagine:

– that you were offered an all-inclusive opportunity to travel to an area in your country or to an area that you have never visited beforein a poor country. What would you choose and why? 

– that you were living in a slum (a poor urban area in a big city, sometimes found in  developing countries). How would you feel? What would your celebrations/ anniversaries look like? Would you miss anything?

– that you are a CNN reporter who is given an assignment to interview one of the following people: a trainer from India, an Australian writer or a famous person in your country. Who would you choose to interview and why?

ACTIVITY 2

Use the words below to frame or express your own idea about your outlook on the world, on personal success, values and lifestyle:

passion           (a sense of)  purpose             humour              the voice within                   generations                

inhibitions                failures                 disabilities                         problems                          

(passing on) legacies                  (ways of )speaking                  sensitivity (to various issues)                   

Would you cross out any of these words as unnecessary? How about adding anything else to the ones you selected? Explain.

ACTIVITY 3

Watch the recently published TED video below (one of the 29,409 vids currently on the TEDx Youtube channel), in which the stand-up Indian comedian from Bangalore, Sandeep Rao, uses the concepts in Activity 2 above, to shape his own view of life and living. 

Do his views differ from yours? In what ways?

ACTIVITY 4

This is another video to watch and analyse, which is the second part in a CNN series called Talk Asia. It is a very special video to me, because it is a brief, 9-minute guided tour of the Indian universe described in one of my favourite books, Shantaram, a tour given by the author himself, the Australian-born,  controversial and very charming Gregory David Roberts.

There are a zillion questions I could think of asking after watching this video, but the ones that I would probably go for at my class, a few hours from now, are:

  • Can Christians, Muslims and Hindus celebrate together? Can people, in other words, celebrate together if their beliefs, background, and outlooks are very different?
  • Would you like to be able to be “adopted” by a society that is very different from the one you were born in?
  • Do you think you would be able to “adopt” someone who comes from a society very different from yours? How would you welcome them into your world as you know it?
  • How long do you think a society can last? Can societies disappear completely or do they change into something else? What can they change into, if they do and how are these changes possible?

* * * 

Enjoy and be back for extras!

Good day to you all!

 Alina Alens

Filed under: 0►TRUST, 1►LISTEN▼, 1►TO DO, 2►READ, 3►SPEAK▼, 4►LIFE, ■ Celebrations, ■ Christmas, ■ Compassion, ■ Empathy, ■ Gregory David Roberts, ■ Inspiration, ■ Meet my friends, ■ Talks & Conferences, ■ The Path of Metaphor, ■ The Voice Within, ■ Travel, ■ Voice Matters, ■ Writers, ►META PHORS▼

Congratulations Are in Order! David Crystal is Going Global

This post is dedicated to David Crystal, who has recently inaugurated his brand new website.

Here is the story behind it, in the great man’s own words.

The pregnancy is over. The conception was nine months ago, and I have been observing the slow but steady progress of the foetal website ever since. Yesterday and today saw its birth – two days because of the time it takes for the server to point everything in the new direction. This post is the equivalent of a birth announcement, except there is no gender or weight. You will find the baby here.

And also a response to a few correspondents who have asked me why a new site was needed. The motivation was actually the idea which became the Crystal Books Project, a feature of the new site. I am frequently asked for ways of obtaining some of my books which have gone out of print, and there was no easy solution. So the CBP is a way of solving that problem. The intention is to make available, in electronic form, my out-of-print back list. It will take a while for them all to get up there, because in the case of the older books they have to be rekeyed. No convenient electronic files in the 1960s – or even the 80s. Indeed, in the case of one of my books, published in 1976, I see that my first draft is entirely in handwriting – something I find inconceivable now!

The first few books are now available, in e-book form, and will shortly also be available as pdfs and as print-on-demand copies. The publishing firm that has provided the platform for the website, Librios, is exploring the best options as I write. Four e-books are now ready: the two Language A-to-Z books for schools (student and teacher book), which went out of print about 15 years ago; the Penguin book Language Play, which went o/p in the UK somewhere around 2005; and Words on Words, the anthology of language quotations, which went o/p at more or less the same time. All have a search function added, in their e-book incarnations.

 There is a complete bibliographical listing of books and articles on the new website, as there was on the old one, but with better search facilities. One can now order searches by title or by publication date. And there is a more sophisticated range of filters – for example, one can search for Shakespeare + books, or Shakespeare + articles, and so on. We’ll be refining the filter list in the light of experience.

You’ll notice that most of the articles are downloadable. The ones that aren’t are those I don’t have a copy of. So, if anyone ‘out there’ notices a missing download and realises they have a copy of it, would they let me know? We can then arrange a way of getting the text online?

And with a new website comes new e-publishing opportunities. I haven’t used the medium in this way myself yet, but I do have in mind some projects which simply would not work in traditional publishing terms, but which would suit an electronic medium. More on this in due course. In the meantime, Hilary Crystal has chosen e-publication for her first children’s novel, The Memors, and that is available on the site too. This is a techno-fantasy tale aimed chiefly at that awkward-to-write-for group, the 10-14-year-olds, or tweenagers, as they are so often called these days. This is very much an experiment on our part. For it to work, the news of the new product needs to travel. So, if readers of this blog have tweenage contacts, do tell them about it.

… which is what we proudly did! 🙂

Filed under: 9►EXTRA, ■ Books, ■ Celebrations, ■ David Crystal, ■ Generations, ■ GLOBAL, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

Conversation Topics: Success + Extra Bonus: the World Sm:)le Day

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Yesterday, on the World Smile Day – details below 🙂 , I had my very first “sandwich” conversation class: a class with a given topic (Success), attended by both advanced and beginner English learners.

The fact that, at the end of the class, the students filed “today” and “our conversation class” in the Examples of Success category is, in my opinion, a great achievement I can only congratulate myself for. 🙂

Here is how we started. Step 1, I wrote on the whiteboard useful vocabulary to use, especially as a handy reference for the brave beginners who took on the challenge of showing up for a non-compulsory class on Friday evening aaand mingle with the fierce… advanced. 🙂

Verb (achieve, enjoy, have) + Noun (success) collocations 

Adjectives in the same word family (successful, unsuccessful)

Adjectives and other determiners qualifying success (from lack of success, little success to extraordinary/ remarkable/ enormous success)

Step 2, I used a quote to spark up discussion.

It’s more important to grow your income than cut your expenses.

It’s more important to grow your spirit than cut your dreams

As with any good quote, I recommend turning it into a fill-in type of exercise, in which you ask the students to get creative or more meditative, why shouldn’t they?, and add more valid options to income and spirit, on the one hand, and to expenses and dreams, on the other. 

Step 3, I initiated a discussion starting from that (you could, of course, use any other meaningful) quote, and as the conversation flowed, I sprinkled it with questions like:

– Can  you think of a successful man or woman? What is the source of his/ her success?

– Can you think of examples of successful days? (Here I was given wonderful responses – one of my students shared with us the story of her 50th birthday that turned into an example of great personal success, despite the fact that it had started as a sad day; for two other students becoming a mother and becoming a grandfather reigned in the top of the category.)

– Is success linked with happiness? and the like.

And so, you could gear up to the conclusions of the discussion, trying to pull up at every stop, if time allows you to. My piece de resistance was another quote I jotted down recently after watching the last 2 minutes of what must have been a very interesting documentary about a man who successfully escaped from prison. Alright, I didn’t know the facts of his story, but let’s presume he had been wrongly imprisoned and escaped after 10 horrible years in a very dark place, to be reunited with his lady, and spend the rest of his life in the simplest, and possibly poorest, but, most importantly, 🙂 in the most meaningful of ways. Here is what he says at the end of it all, and you could use it as a challenge for your students to either predict the man’s words or make inferences on the man’s background (he mentions riches, so maybe he was involved in a robbery…). In either case, invite them to read what he says and analyse the deeper meaning(s) behind his words:

A meaningful life is worth much more than (here they can be prompted, again, to add their own points of view) quick riches.

Quite a huge step to take from “What does … mean?” to a discussion on the meaning of life, isn’t it? But what can I do? I just  LOVE taking huge steps. And I’ve got a sneaky suspicion my students love that too… even in a “sandwich” conversation class. 🙂 Hilarious!

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Here’s another reason, if we ever needed one, to smile and have a… ball every day, not only on every first Friday of every muggy October:) :

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As is well known by now throughout the world, Harvey Ball, a commercial artist from Worcester, Massachusetts created the smiley face in 1963. That image went on to become the most recognizable symbol of good will and good cheer on the planet.

Harvey Ball

As the years passed, Harvey Ball became concerned about the over-commercialization of his symbol, and how its original meaning and intent had become lost due to its constant repetition in the marketplace.  Out of that concern came his idea for World Smile Day®. He thought that we, all of us, should devote one day each year to smiles and kind acts throughout the world.  The smiley face knows no politics, no geography and no religion.  Harvey’s idea was that, for at least one day each year, neither should we.  He declared that the first Friday in October each year would henceforth be World Smile Day®. Ever since that first World Smile Day® held in 1999, it has continued every year in Smiley’s hometown of Worcester, MA and around the world.

After Harvey died in 2001, the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation was created to honor his name and memory.  The Foundation continues as the official sponsor of World Smile Day® each year. (Source: theworldsmileday)

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Filed under: 1►TO DO, 3►SPEAK▼, ■ Ha, ha, ha!, ■ Success, ■ World Smile Day, TOPICS▼

Conversation Topic: Compassion

Be Happy* 

Be happy in the morning with what you have. Be happy in the evening with what you are. Be happy. Don’t complain. Who complains? The blind beggar in you. When you complain, you dance in the mire of ignorance-condition. When you don’t complain, all conditions of the world are at your feet, and God gives you a new name: aspiration. Aspiration is the supreme wealth in the world of light and delight.

What is compassion?

Definition: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is striken by misfortune/ in a difficult situation, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering (improve that situation).

Synonyms:

– kindness, benevolence, consideration, humanity, empathy, mercy, charity, fellow feeling, grace, tenderness/ softness, tenderheartedness/ softheartedness, sorrow

– non-discrimination, fairness, tolerance, impartiality, self-sacrifice, openmindedness;

Antonyms:

– cruelty, hatred, indiference, meanness, merciless, tyranny, antipathy, animosity, enmity,

–  discrimination, inequity, injustice, intolerance, partiality, prejudice, bias, narrowmindedness.

Topics for Discussion

1. You are a very successful person, who, at the end of 2011 has made considerable profit. What kind of charitable act, fund, foundation or institution, would you choose to invest the extra money in?

2. Read or listen to these stories and make comments about compassion and the compassionate nature of the characters. 

1

The moon cannot be stolen

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the thief, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.”

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and went away in shame.

Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon.”

2

The Ideal of Forgiveness

From Gopal’s Eternal Brother And Other Stories for Children

by Sri Chinmoy

Once there was a great king named Vishwamitra. One day he learned that there was a saint in his kingdom whom everybody adored. The name of this saint was Vashishtha, and everyone gladly touched his feet. Now, although Vishwamitra was a very great king, nobody used to come and touch his feet. People were afraid of him, and they would tremble before him. But with Vashishtha it was different. People gladly touched Vashishtha’s feet with deepest appreciation and admiration. So Vishwamitra was extremely jealous of Vashishtha. Vashishtha was a very great saint. After praying to God for many, many years, Vashishtha had realised God and could speak to God face to face. Vishwamitra knew that this was the reason why everybody was adoring Vashishtha instead of him, so he too started praying to God. He prayed to God for a couple of years very seriously, often fasting but still he did not realise God. Then he became impatient. He went to Vashishtha and said, “You have realised God, but I have not been able to. I wish you to tell the world that I have also realised God, like you.”

Vashista replied, “How can I say that?” “You can say it,” the king insisted. “If you tell people, everybody will believe you, because you yourself have realised God. You know who God is, you speak to God. Tell everyone that I have realised God. Otherwise I shall kill your children!” Vashishtha said, “You can kill my children, but I cannot tell a lie.” Vishwamitra was a most powerful king. One by one he had the hundred sons of Vashishtha killed. The hundred sons were very well educated, kind and spiritual. They had studied the Vedas, the Upanishads and other religious and sacred books. Nevertheless, the notorious king killed them all. Even after doing this Vishwamitra was not satisfied because Vashishtha still refused to announce that he had realised God. After a few months he thought, “This time he has to tell the world that I have realised God, or I shall kill him!” With this idea in his mind he went to Vashishtha’s small cottage. Before knocking at the door he stood outside quietly listening to the conversation inside. Arundhati, one of Vashishtha’s wives, was saying to her husband, “My lord, why don’t you say that Vishwamitra has realised God? If you had said it I would still have all my children. They were such nice, kind, devoted children. They were all jewels. But just because you wouldn’t say that he has realised God, he has killed all my children, and who knows what he will do next!” Vashishtha said, “How can you ask me to do that? I love him. He has not realised God. How can I tell people that he has realised God? I love him and that is why I cannot tell a lie.” Even though Vishwamitra had killed the hundred sons of Vashishtha, the father could still say that he loved him! When Vishwamitra heard what Vashishtha said, he came running in and touched Vashishtha’s feet, crying, “Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me, my lord. I never knew that anyone on earth could love a person who had killed all his children.” Vashishtha placed his hand on Vishwamitra’s head and blessed him. He said, “Today you have realised God, because today you know what love is, what truth is. God is all forgiveness. I am forgiving you because the God in me is forgiving you. Today you have realised God.” What do we learn from this story? We learn that the ideal of forgiveness is the supreme ideal. When we pray to God we see God’s qualities: love and forgiveness. When we receive love and forgiveness from God we can behave like God towards other people. Vashishtha’s hundred sons were killed, yet even then he loved Vishwamitra. Then, when Vishwamitra begged for forgiveness, Vashishtha gave it immediately, as well as giving him his inner Light, Joy and Power. Like Vashishtha, we always have to forgive people when they do wrong things. In this way we give them our Light, our Truth, our Joy. From this story we also learn the importance of associating with holy men. When we are in the company of a spiritual person, even for a second, what transformation takes place in our life! Our life is changed in the twinkling of an eye.

Note: Here, to realise means to bring the existence of God into your daily, practical understanding and, as a result let it influence you life.

 3

Sympathetic Oneness 

From Garden of the Soul by Sri Chinmoy,

published by Health Communications

A father and son were walking together, enjoying the early morning breeze. They had covered a good distance when the father stopped suddenly and said, “Son, stop!”

The son said, “What’s wrong?”

The father said, “Nothing in particular, but let’s not walk any farther on this road.”

“Why not?” asked the son.

“Do you see that elderly man coming toward us?” the father asked, pointing down the road.

“Yes, I see him,” replied the son.

“He’s a friend of mine,” said the father. “He borrowed money from me and can’t pay it back. Each time he sees me he tells me he’ll borrow the money from someone else and give it to me. This has been going on for a long time, and I don’t want to embarrass him anymore.”

The son said, “Father, if you don’t want to embarrass him, why don’t you tell him that the money is a gift and you don’t want it back?”

“I’ve already told him that,” said the father. “When I said, ‘I don’t want it back; it’s a gift,’ he got mad. He said, ‘I’m not a beggar. I’m your friend. When I was in need, you gave me money, and when I can, I’ll give it back. I want to remain your friend, not become a beggar.’ Now I don’t want to embarrass him, and I don’t want to be embarrassed myself. So let’s take another road.”

The son said, “Father, you are truly good. I’m very proud of you. it’s usually the borrower who tries to avoid the lender. It’s usually the receiver who is embarrassed, not the giver. But you want to spare him embarrassment. What I have learned from you is a sympathetic oneness.”

The Three Hosts 

From Garden of the Soul by Sri Chinmoy,

published by Health Communications

One day a king and his minister went out for a walk incognito. The king said to the minister, “I want to give a reward to anyone who is hospitable to us during our walk.”

The king and the minister went up to one man and said, “We are travelers. This is a fine town and we would like to spend the night here. Could we stay at your house as guests?”

The man insulted them, saying, “How do I know you’re not criminals?”

Then the king and the minister went up and knocked on somebody else’s door. When the man opened the door they asked, “Can we can spend the night here? We are travelers and it’s getting dark.”

The man said, “First tell me how many of you there are. Then I’ll decide.”

The king said, “You see that we are only two. We don’t have much money, but if you allow us to stay with you, before we leave tomorrow morning we’ll pay you what we can.”

Then the king said, “It is still somewhat light out, and your country is very beautiful. We’ll walk around and come back in an hour or so.”

So the king and minister continued walking. They approached another house and knocked on the door. The king said, “We’re travelers. It’s getting dark. Could we spend the night at your house?”

The man said, “Certainly! just tell me how many of you there are.”

The king said, “You can see we are only two.” The king told that person also that they would come back in a while. Then they went back to the palace.

The minister had taken down the address of each person to whom they had spoken, and the following day the king summoned all three to the palace. To the one who had insulted him the king said, “I don’t need you in my kingdom. When travelers come from a different kingdom, we must offer them shelter. You could see we were respectable. It was obvious we weren’t thieves.” And the king threw the man out of his kingdom.

To the second man the king gave a large sum of money. To the third one, who immediately offered shelter and only afterwards asked how many were in their party, the king gave his crown.

He told the man, “In this kingdom we need the kind of people who offer everything without hesitation and only then seek to determine how much is necessary. When we approached you, you didn’t ask how many were in our party. You just said, ‘Come, come!’ The other man first asked how many we had. If we had more people, he might not have agreed to shelter us. We need more people like you.”

So the third man received the crown from the king and took it home as his most treasured possession.

_________________________________

About Sri Chinmoy

Sri Chinmoy is an Indian-born poet, writer, musician, artist and spritual teacher who lived in New York, US from 1964 until his passing in 2007. (See the blog entry on Sri Chinmoy’s passing.)

Sri Chinmoy was born in 1931 in Shakpura, Chittagong in what was then British India, and now Bangladesh. At the age of 12 he moved with the rest of his family, to the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry, south India. Here Sri Chinmoy practised many spiritual disciplines, which led to a profound state of Self-Realisation. As well as spending many hours in meditation, the philosophy of the Sri Aurobindo ashram encouraged an active outer life. This philosophy is known as integral yoga, the idea being to bring spirituality into all aspects of one’s life. In the ashram Sri Chinmoy proved to be an excellent athlete and also he began his first attempts at poetry.

In 1964 Sri Chinmoy felt an inner inspiration to travel to the West to offer the wisdom of Indian spirituality to western seekers. Since arriving in the West, Sri Chinmoy offered many lectures, meditation classes and soulful concerts of meditative music. Sri Chinmoy also serves as a spiritual guide to seekers from around the world. There are now Sri Chinmoy Centres in many different countries in Europe, America, Asia and Australasia . For 37 years Sri Chinmoy offered prayers and meditations at the United Nations in an attempt to foster greater world harmony.

Sri Chinmoy’s teachings advocate a balanced life based on inner spiritual disciplines like meditation and prayer. Sri Chinmoy was also a firm believer in the benefits of physical exercise and completed many marathons and ultra marathons himself. Related to the concept of physical exercise, an important aspect of Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy is self transcendence – the concept of reaching beyond the limitations of the mind to discover your hidden possibilities.

Sri Chinmoy was a prolific author having written almost 1,500 books at the time of his passing, with more unpublished writings still to emerge in the coming years. These are mainly on spiritual themes and include many volumes of poetry. […]

More on Sri Chinmoy on the official complete source here.

This is the main website for Sri Chinmoy. It offers selected writings on spirituality, these include both poetry, questions and answers and talks by Sri Chinmoy. There is also a section called Kind Words. These are pages on Sri Chinmoy’s conversations with prominent world leaders and humanitarians, plus a selection of the tributes that came pouring in from all over the world following his passing. It includes Pope  John Paul II and Pope Paul VI, Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Extra info – by courtesy of musician Atma Anur

Sri Chinmoy was the guru of John McLaughlin, the leader of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and one of the founders of the music style called „fusion”, who played with Miles Davis and other jazz legends and is still performing today. Sri Chinmoy was also the guru of Narada Michael Walden (and actually gave him that name, Narada) – the producer of Aretha Franklin, Withney Houston or Mariah Carrey, as well as the guru of Carlos Santana.

____________________________________________

*Another featured aphorism on Sri Chinmoy’s site:

My ultimate goal is for the power of love
To replace the love of power
Within each individual.
My ultimate goal is for the whole world
To walk together in peace and oneness.
–Sri Chinmoy

Definition of aphorism: short, significant statement of an evident truth concerned with life or nature; distinguished from the axiom because its truths cannot be subjected to scientific demonstration. (Hippocrates was the first to use the term for his Aphorisms, briefly stated medical principles. Note his famous opening sentence: „Life is short, art is long, opportunity fleeting, experimenting dangerous, reasoning difficult.”)

Filed under: 3►SPEAK▼, ■ Atma Anur, ■ Compassion, ■ Compassion - Sri Chinmoy, ■ Sri Chinmoy, TOPICS▼

On Erasmus in Barcelona

The essay below was written especially for the ELB readers by Nina Romanska, one of my former students. I would like to thank her very much for her insights and I would like to wish her “Happy Birthday!!!”, as she is celebrating her birthday on this very day. 🙂 🙂 😉 🙂 🙂 

The Erasmus Experience

in

Barcelona. 

A Student’s Account

Erasmus is a popular student exchange programme nowadays. As many other students, I decided to take part in it because I had studied abroad before and I knew that it would be an amazing experience. I love Spanish, so Spain was an obvious choice for me. I didn’t have any doubts about the city either, I knew that Barcelona would be a perfect place for me. It’s a big city, the capital of Catalunya, definitely one of the most interesting places in Spain. I had never been there before, but I simply trusted my intuition, the view of the city from “The Shadow of the Wind” written by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and “L’Auberge Espagnole,” known as the “Erasmus movie,” which describes the Erasmus experience of a French student in Barcelona.

However, my beginnings in that beautiful city were like from some comedy-drama. I remember my first day there. I arrived in Barcelona at about 2 o’ clock at night, tired after the bus ride from the airport in Reus. It was really hot, but I was wearing the coat and pullover that I didn’t have place for in my luggage. I took the metro to a district nearby the Sagrada Familia, where my friend was living. The escalators were out of order, and I could’t find any elevator either, so, with no Spanish prince on a white horse to come to my rescue, I had to carry my suitcase and my backpack all the way… Finally, I saw the Sagrada Familia. I stopped for a while to admire it and then went to look for the direction of my friend’s place. I was really impressed with the church at first sight, but the truth is that I was more concerned with being robbed at the time, as I was carrying all my jewellery, and had the money to rent a room on me.

Next day I woke up at 6 and started to look for a room to rent. The experience was totally horrible. Even if, on the outside, the old buildings in Barcelona are very beautiful, inside I came across dirty rooms and flats, strange people of all ages (renting is really expensive there, so not only students share flats), old guys with propositions, loads of insects, lack of sunshine, funny smells. All of these at an incredibly expensive price. Until I found a suitable flat I decided to share a room with another Polish student. She lived with the owner of the flat, a guy from Morocco who was walking half naked in flat, wearing just pants and a DJ cap, so I felt like I needed to hide myself. He worked as a bodyguard in club, so I could go back to the flat after 11pm, when he went to work.

After six days of looking for a flat from 8 am to 11pm, I found my room and started my true Erasmus life. My new flat mates were three Erasmus students from Romania, Finland and Germany. My room was really small and without any windows, but somehow I got used to it. 😉

Once I got time more time on my hands to explore, I realised that Barcelona is a really great city. There are a lot of really interesting places to see. Thanks to Gaudi (the Catalan Modernist), no other city can be compared to Barcelona. This Catalan architect gave Barcelona a really beautiful gift: an originality and style that made me feel that buildings of his project were taken out of some kind of fairytale kingdom.  Barcelona has everything; we can lose ourselves in the narrow streets of the Barrio Gothic and Raval, admire the elegant buildings of Gracia, walk on the beach or go to a match of FC Barcelona at Camp Nou.

There are, however, some bad points of living in the city. Loads of turists… almost everywhere you look, and this results in high prices and robberies. Barcelona is a really cosmopolitan city, so I felt more Spain in Madrid or Sevilla.

Somehow, Catalan wasn’t a big problem for me. It’s something between Spanish and French, so I had no trouble understanding most of it.

Even though I really loved Barcelona as a city and my newly-found home, the best part of my exchange program there were the people. I met a lot of great people from all over the world. The community of international students became my family, which is something that I really miss right now. Meeting people of different cultures, religions, beliefs and from different continents is a beautiful experience and made me more open-minded. Poland is a country of one nation, one religion, so my friendships with other Erasmus students helped me realise that many stereotypes about particular nations and countries were totally wrong.

As a nation, the Spanish are really cheerful compared to the Polish. They don’t care so much about exams, money, or the perfect look. I would like to follow that joy and optimism in my life.

I studied at the Faculty of Law of the University of Barcelona. The lectures were quite interesting. They gave the students interested in international law a wide range of study opportunities. 

 I also took part in the special programme ‘Introduction to Spanish Law,’ which was organised for international students. The teachers were friendly and much less formal than in Poland. Half of the available courses were in Spanish, and the other half in Catalan.

I would recommend taking part in an Erasmus programme to any student out there. It’s a great adventure, one impossible to forget! 😉  

Filed under: ■ Erasmus, ■ Good Old Student Life, ■ Movies, ■ Nationalities and Stereotypes, ■ Spain, ■ The World, ►12.OFF THE MAP▼

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