‘Refugee’ Revisited: Rio 2016

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Image Credit: Kirilos via Flickr

The Olympics aspire to inspire. This year, nothing has captured that spirit more than the standing ovation received by the first Refugee Olympic team at the opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One team member in particular, 18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, captured the world’s attention through her story of having pushed a sinking dinghy to shore, saving 20 lives as she and her family fled Syria.

Through all the (indisputably worthy) praise for Mardini and the rest of the team, less energy has been invested in exploring the conditions that engineered such a team into existence.

International policies are accountable for forcing these athletes, and countless others, into refugee status. These policies were enacted by many of the same countries whose athletes paraded alongside the refugee team. The same culpability resides with transnational bodies such as the International Olympic Committee: How do we, for example, reconcile the paradox of welcoming a refugee team during an event responsible for displacing 77,000 more?

A partial answer comes in recognizing that “refugee” is not a nationality, a flag by which to march under, but a status we as a global community have forced upon these individuals. Continue reading

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Tips for Teaching Abroad

TravelThis week, I ran a workshop for college students thinking about teaching English abroad after they graduate. It’s been a wile since I was on the teaching abroad circuit, but for those interested in this life-changing opportunity, I hope this information will be helpful.

For those more up to date than I, is there anything I missed? (Keep in mind this workshop was directed toward newly minted college graduates with little to no work experience.)

Take Your Teaching Career Abroad! 

Congratulations on your decision to consider teaching abroad. My name is Chris Bacon. After college, I did the Peace Corps in Morocco, taught ESL in South Korea, and tutored my way through South America and the Middle East. 

The information below is based solely on my own experiences – so definitely do more research for yourself. But since the possibilities can seem endless, hopefully this information will help you narrow down the field. 

FAQ’s

How long should I go? 

Programs vary, but worthwhile programs often want a commitment of at least a year. (This is a good sign – you may not want a “revolving door” program that’s ok with people coming in/out as they see fit.)

Be warned though, many people tend to love this lifestyle and extend for multiple years in multiple countries!

Will this look like a “gap” in my resume?

Absolutely not. No matter what field you enter, employers will be interested in talking to you about this experience. It’s a powerful way to differentiate your resume from everyone else that also has a college degree, a high GPA, and countless extracurriculars. I did the Peace Corps almost a decade ago and it’s still comes up at almost every job interview.  Continue reading

The Grass is Always Greener – in China?

Made in ChinaWhen President Obama made his first trip to South Korea in 2009, he created a national buzz by declaring his deep admiration for the South Korean education system. And how could he not, with its stedfast students and astronomical test scores? Since then, Obama has repeatedly reaffirmed his call for the U.S. to learn from education systems like South Korea’s.

Back in 2009, I found this deeply ironic: At the time, I was living in South Korea and worked at a private English academy. The company’s main selling point was advertising a unique, “American-style” curriculum in which students engaged in critical thinking and problem-solving as opposed to rote memorization and test prep – educational emphases that nearly every teacher, student, and parent I met in Korea realized would not make their country globally competitive for much longer.

Now, working in the U.S., I often hear the argument that we desperately need to learn from, admire, and emulate education systems like South Korea’s. And I must say, I’ve long been confused by this mutual envy. Do we have such diverging needs? Does one system really have it right? Or is it just that the grass really does look greener on the other side? Continue reading

Finland’s Big Secrets

This week, I was able to hear Finnish education researcher Pasi Sahlberg speak as part of Boston College’s “Secrets and Lies of International Performance in K-12 Education” series.

FYI: This video is of a different talk than the one he gave at my school, but a good overview in Sahlberg’s own words. 

As you’ve probably heard, Finland has one of the top-ranked education systems in the world. Sahlberg, author of “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” let us in on some a few “secrets” behind this success, some of which I’ve highlighted below (and the last one’s a doozie).

Secret #1: Equity Enhances Excellence

Perhaps unsurprisingly, countries with more income, gender, and racial equality tend to perform better on international education measures than comparably wealthy countries with wider social disparities (ahem, the US). This fact isn’t a shocker in itself, but remember that educational policy conversations usually talk around this subject – acknowledging that rampant inequality exists, then passing the buck on to schools to remedy the (obvious) outcomes of an unequal system.

Continue reading