Unforgettable Summer 2012 in the USA
On the 15th of June 2012 four Norwegian teachers ( Barbara Anna Zielonka, Irene Brendehaug, Kristin Melhus and Tom Waade) set off for the USA in order to participate in the Teachers Summer Institute 2012 in Amherst (Massachusetts) sponsored by the United States Department of State under the Fulbright Program. The main aim of these this 6-week program on the American continent was to gain first-hand knowledge and to deepen understanding of U.S. culture, politics and contemporary issues and to explore different parts of the USA.
As one of the selected teachers who had a chance to participate in this year’s short- term visit I would like to describe this unforgettable summer. It is also my aim to acquaint other secondary school teachers/educators of this wonderful program offered by the Norway Fulbright Foundation.
Together with 28 secondary teachers selected from 25 countries all over the world, including those from China, Africa and Latin America, we arrived to group and start our adventure at Amherst , Massachusetts on the 15th of June 2012.The teachers in the 2012 group were mainly teachers teaching English,Social Studies, Information and Technology and teachers of their mother tongue.
We spent our first 3 weeks in Amherst- a beautiful and very peaceful city located in Hampshire county, Massachusetts. From Monday till Friday we participated in several lectures given by distinguished university lecturers coming from Amherst College, Smith College and University of Massachusetts. Their professional attitude and extensive knowledge of their area of expertise made these lectures and workshop well- tailored for our needs and gave us better insight into the American history, literature, social and economic issues. Out of many varied lectures we were exposed to , I personally liked lectures that involved interactive discussion, critical thinking, dialogues between participants and those that presented real life experiences. One of the lecture I was most impressed by was a lecture on “Opportunities and Challenges for Women” by Leslie Laurie and Judie Terapulsky- two very influential women working in Massachusetts. Their openness towards the audience and deep reflective skills made that lecture very successful.
During these first 3 weeks we were not only participating in lectures but we were also given the chance to discover the area of Massachusetts(MA). Some of the fieldtrips worth-mentioning here were the visit to the Skinner State Park in the Holyoke Range, historic Deerfield walking tour, tour of the Mead Art Museum, tour of Emily Dickinson’s Homestead, canoe trip on the Connecticut River and visit to Boston- the capital of Massachusetts and the oldest city with deep historical roots in the USA with such places as Harvard University, Quincy Market, Freedom Trail, New England Aquarium and Prudential Observation Deck.
Besides that most of us also took part in many sports activities offered by the Amherst College’s campus in our free time or enjoyed cycling due to the unlimited access to bikes at the place of our accommodation. Institute for Training and Development (ITD) staff with especially Julie Hooks Davis and the program’s academic director Frank Couvares, Amherst College Professor of American Studies and History looked after all our needs and were always willing to help and answer our questions. If it hadn’t been for them, we would not have been able to fully experience and get the real taste of the United States.
Although the schedule looked very tight each of us had a chance to visit a typical American family who hosted us to dinner. This visit enabled us to become familiar with American customs and discuss the most recent issues within American society as seen through the eyes of a typical American family.
After three weeks in Amherst we spent the fourth and the fifth week on our study tour. This was the “travelling “part of the program to other places, regions and interesting places in the U.S.A. I consider this part of the program to be the high point of the program and it was a highly anticipated part of the program by the whole group. Firstly, we went to Salt Lake City- The Mormon capital of the U.S.A in the state of Utah that really stands out from other American states. The first thing that we noticed while staying in the most populous city in the state of Utah was a splendid Temple Square and high number of dedicated and faithful Mormon guides showing the tourist groups around the city. Next attraction worth-mentioning here was the participation in the Sunday’s broadcast by the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir that made a very big impression on all of us in terms of the music and the well-furnished auditorium. Secondly, we travelled by bus from SLC to the Yellowstone National Park. Being able to admire Yellowstone’s natural features such as mountains, waterfalls, geysers, hot springs , and to see wildlife such as bears, wolves, buffalos in big numbers, different birds at close quarters were truly exceptional and will probably stay in our memory forever. In addition staying in small outdoor yellow cabins close to the forest and Yellowstone Lake added colour to our stay there. Thirdly, we went to Jackson Hole located in the state of Wyoming that looked like a typical cowboy city in the West that we read about or see in western movies. Cowboy shops, ranches, steep mountain slopes, antlers in the city centre, galleries selling pictures depicting Native Americans make us think about westerns such as 3 Bad Men from 1926 and Shane. After several days in the West we went to Washington D.C.-the capital of the US and the home to many national museums and monuments. This place offered a very good insight into the working and institutions of the American government, history and art but one could spend several weeks exploring the beauty and diversity of 19 Smithsonian museums and galleries. Time flew quickly so most of us were able to pick up the ones that we were interested in. The last and very important place we explored was New York- City that Never Sleeps. Here we could visit the astonishing Ellis Island- the gateway and arrival point for millions of immigrants to the US, United Nations Visitors Centre, Statue of Liberty-the most well-known monument worldwide, Empire State Building,Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum and listen to spectacular live jazz orchestra in the evening and the touching new Memorial to remember the September 9/11 tragedy of the Twin Towers.
During the last week of our stay in Amherst we were given the chance to finish our final projects that we had already started in the beginning of our stay here. The product could have been a lesson plan, research paper or an article that we had presented in front of others at the end of the programme. One of the conditions that must have been fulfilled was to cover some of the American issues that we had discussed earlier. Furthermore we could choose between several advisors who were at our disposal during our whole stay in the USA.
The high number of visited places and lectures, competent and devoted to their work people, well-organized activities made this programme very successful and useful for our needs as teachers at high schools. I wish that more teachers could participate in it in order to improve qualifications and become a better teacher of the American studies.
I have been only able to very briefly describe a selection of the diverse activities, visits, lectures, I participated in during the six weeks of the program. It was a real kaleidoscope of priceless experience, sights, sounds and interactions that has enriched us both at a professional and personal level.
I should also mention that while all these activities were going on , the members of the group were building friendships and planning to continue contacts with each other after we return to our own countries. I am sure this program has given us a life-long network of friends around the world based on this mutual experience in the U.S.A.
I am yet to feel the full impact of my 6 week in the US in my teaching and my understanding of American culture, history and politics. This is such a tremendous program I consider it to be the best way to understand a country.
I would like to express my gratitude and thanks towards all the people who contributed to making these 6 weeks so exceptional and wonderful. My best thanks go to the ITD staff, The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and Norway Fulbright Foundation.
I thank everyone involved for giving me this priceless experience.
Written by Barbara Anna Zielonka (Nannestad Videregående Skole)