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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ecuadorian Culture

How is the culture of the country you are teaching in reflected in the school?

Consider class subjects, discussions, classroom design, schedules, assessment, etc.

Today I walked into my classroom and was taken aback by the topics we were going to cover during our “Health Talk.” Once a month, one teacher in the school travels to every classroom and teaches each grade level about a different health aspect. My students were being taught about the dangers of smoking, drugs, and alcohol. While this seems like a normal lesson from the topics I just mentioned, it was not!

First off, the lesson was in Spanish. By now I am used to everything in Spanish since I speak it in my dreams. But, this day was different because I have never spoken Spanish with my students. They were all amazed that I was able to get anything out of the lesson and did not believe me when I told them I understood everything the visiting teacher had said. Some of them tested me to see if I was really paying attention, while others began to see me as an equal. I think it was nice for them to see that I was a struggling Spanish learner just as they were struggling English learners.

But back to the lesson, the smoking culture here in Ecuador is extremely different than in the United States. Here you are considered “chevere” (or cool in Spanish) if you smoke. If you are out at night and do not smoke you are considered an annoyance. Because of this many of my students parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and relatives all smoke. This is a terrible influence on the students at Colegio Menor because they are unable to see the implications of this action.

During the lesson the children began to get worried because they were being taught that smoking causes lung cancer, a very serious illness. The students asked questions such as, “Will my mom and dad die because they smoke?” It was sad to see because in the United States a lesson like this is innate and we do not even have to be taught this. The visiting teacher told them that their parents will be okay if the students go home and try to be advocates to get them to stop smoking. This solution made the most sense to me because a child is able to convince their parents to do almost anything if it has to do with their health. One girl in my class soon told everyone that she actually had made her mother stop smoking because she told her second hand smoke kills. An interesting thing I learned today was second hand smoke in Spanish is said “fumador passivo,” which a direct translation to English is a passive smoker. I believe this terminology teaches the youth of Ecuador that they are actually already smoking when their parents do it so they might as well take up the habit, too.

Drugs in Ecuador are everywhere and on most street corners. There are people trying to sell you drugs just to buy food for their family. Most of the students in Colegio Menor live a sheltered life in the country because they are wealthy. In this regard they are very lucky. The students were taught about cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, and more. Most of the children have never heard of these drugs so they were not very interested in this topic.

When the teacher began to talk about alcohol there was a sudden burst of laughter in the classroom. Each student said that they have seen their parents after some drinks and they thought it was really funny. The lesson was mainly about teaching them the effects of drunk driving. In Ecuador, it is very easy to pay off a police man instead of getting a ticket. Because of this many of the wealthy believe that it is okay to drink and drive because they will not get into serious trouble because of it.

One student told a story of the time that they were at a family party and their father had drank a lot. Her grandmother told him that he was not allowed to drive his family home and they would have to stay the night. She viewed it as a fun sleepover at her grandparents, while the teachers and I viewed it as a teaching moment when we could share with the students how lucky the girl was to have such a thoughtful grandmother.

While this lesson taught me a lot about the Ecuadorian culture, I thought it was interesting how different this is than in the United States. At this age our students already know the negative effects of smoking, drugs, and drinking. My students in Ecuador were surprised by all of this, which was truly shocking to me.

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