Year in Review

Dec 31, 2015

The second half of my Fellowship year began in New York with a short stay in a hotel a few steps from Times Square. The weather was extremely cold with temperatures in the single digits and teens (I really like the US weather lingo). But despite such low temperatures and freezing winds my stay in NYC was amazing, just as the city itself, no matter what time of year it is.
This winter was fierce and long-lasting - it was only in the second half of April that it slowly gave way to spring.
In February I traveled to Washington D.C. and San Francisco, where I attended some conferences and to Nashville for a reunion with my friend Myra, who I hadn't seen for 8 years.
Bart and I continued our collaboration and led the second run of our successful Augmented eTwinning Reality online course for 219 eTwinning teachers from all over Europe.
My husband arrived for Spring Break and we traveled a bit more - to Washington D.C. and Baltimore and then across the US all the way to Oahu - one of the Hawaii islands. Later in March there was a chance for another family reunion when my sons, my sister and my nephew arrived and stayed with me in State College.
In April the Humphrey Fellows presented their capstone projects. This was a great opportunity for us to show what we have learned and how we are going to use our knowledge when we get back to our countries.
I spent a week in Boston as a guest of the Bunker Hill Community College faculty because I was selected for the Community College Residency Program.
I checked another item off my list -  beautiful  cherry blossoms in Washington.
The academic part of the Fellowship ended in April and we all received our diplomas and certificates - from the PSU and the US Department of State.
I moved to Washington D.C. because of my Professional Affiliation (PA) which I did in the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).
My friends Myra and Terri introduced me to Jenny and Tom, the kindest people in the world, who gave me their beautiful condo in Alexandria to live in until the end of my Fellowship. My husband arrived for another ten-day visit which we spent exploring D.C. and the Eastern Seaboard - Maryland and Delaware. Myra and Terri also  came for a visit and we had lots of fun.
June was the month of reunions: my friends from Georgia, Marianne and Bob, visited me in  Alexandria and on June 13 I arrived home happy to meet my family and friends. Here's the compilation of my Fellowship blog posts: A Life in the Year of a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow.
I was home for just a few days before going to Latvia to attend the eTwinning ambassadors conference, where Bart and I gave 4 workshops.
I was selected  to take part in the Special Task Force for EFL and Cross-Curricular ICT  Curriculum Design . This meant that I was seconded to the Department of Education to work on the new curriculum so I did not go back to school in September.
The self-paced course Connected Learning - Leading and Learning with Social Media that I designed for CoSN as part of my PA was tested after which it was opened for enrollment. I'm very pleased to see that it is up and running and that it attracts US educators who want to use social media in their teaching and for professional development.
My new temporary job started in September and ended in December. It was a period of hard work, lots of reading and learning, writing and fruitful discussions with the other task force members. The work is now done and I'm proud of what we have accomplished.
I traveled to Brussels on two occasions - first to attend a Future Classroom Scenario workshop (this was my award for the best eTwinning project in 2014)  and then to deliver two workshops with Bart at the Annual eTwinning Conference. We received great news that a piece about our learning events that we wrote earlier this year was accepted for publication in 2017 by Routledge.
My younger son is spending this semester as an Erasmus student in Portugal so we paid him a visit. We stayed there as guests of my friends Miguela and Marco, who I first met through eTwinning and who were so kind to  invite us to their home. We had a wonderful time in Portugal.
This is my second year that I'm serving on the Program Board of the CARNet User Conference. This year's conference was held in Dubrovnik and it was a great opportunity for me to meet with two outstanding keynote speakers - Dr. Kyle Peck, my PSU mentor and Dr. Dragan Gasevic, who I had a pleasure to meet at PSU earlier this year.
My visit to Dubrovnik ended badly, with fractures and plaster casts because of a nasty fall by a pool.
At my school we organized the first transnational meeting as part of our Erasmus + project Make Me A European. We hosted 26 students and teachers from Germany, Italy, Cyprus and Poland and we all did our best to make their visit a memorable experience.
I was very pleased to have been re-elected as an eTwinning ambassador.
My older son has just left for San Francisco. He has been appointed as a Visiting Student Researcher at the University of California Berkeley. I'm so excited about this amazing opportunity he has been provided with. I'm very proud of my sons and their accomplishments and I'm thrilled that they are studying in Portugal and in the USA. And I'm sure I'll figure out how to come to terms with the empty nest.

Week 44: The "I Made It Moment"

Jun 16, 2015

It’s been a phenomenal, once in a lifetime learning journey - my Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship. It’s been an amazing year filled with friendships for life, laughter and joy, reunions and get-togethers, cheerfulness and bliss. But it's also been quite a challenging year marked by nostalgia, lonely nights, tears, disappointments and frustration. It's been a year of determination and perseverance. And courage. And  I made it happen.

Week 43: America Is Its People

Jun 11, 2015

The question everybody asks me these days is what I like about the US most and what I'll miss most when I get home. I'm definitely going to miss the rich multicultural diversity of its people. For me, America is its people. Open-minded, generous, kind, helpful, supportive, warm-hearted, caring - people who have made my Fellowship year a once in a life time experience.

Week 42: Living in Virginia

Jun 3, 2015

Living outside of DC has its advantages and disadvantages. I commute to the District every day. It’s not a long commute, about 30 minutes on a good day. Traffic in DC is heavy, parking is scarce and expensive so lots of people use public transportation to get to the City (New Yorkers would say there is only one City and that’s not DC!). Because of that, buses and metro run frequently during the week, but at weekends they get really slow. So I tend to spend weekends in Alexandria instead of going to DC. I live in an affluent neighborhood where people know their neighbors, where even I know my neighbors. Passers by say hi to me even though I don’t know them. This is a neighborhood watch area and people often get together, like at the potluck by the community pool this past weekend. 

Week 41: Working in DC

May 26, 2015

My working hours are flexible, I can come to my office on the 10th floor anytime between 8-9 am and leave anytime between 4-5 am. I like that because I don’t have to rush in the morning and worry if I’m going to be late even though I leave early, before rush hour really begins so I'm at the office at around 8.
On the bus there are the same people every morning, most of them with their heads buried in their phone screens. The metro is more crowded than the bus, but early in the morning it’s not too bad. I like when the Yellow Train suddenly pops up from the underground tunnel to cross the Potomac River. The early morning view of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument is absolutely unbeatable. 

I get off at the White House.  This area is a bustling business district with high-rise office buildings with lots of restaurants. Tens of thousands of office workers work there. When the weather is nice, everybody eats outside in the parks – sitting on the grass or on a bench, it doesn’t matter – as long as it’s cosy and with colleagues from work. Food trucks that are especially popular with Washingtonians. Every day there’s a different offer of food  – food as diverse as this city, or as this country – Ethiopian, Jamaican, Mediterranean, just name it, Washington has it all. 

Especially popular with office workers is Farmer’s Market near the White House where local produce can be bought. I like it too, and my favorite is kale and green apple smoothie made of local produce. 

It may be over 30 C outside, but inside the buildings it's rather cold. Air conditioning is set so low that you need a sweater (and sometimes even a heater).

Week 40: Shopping

May 18, 2015

I've been in the US for 9 months now and people often ask me if it's cheaper or more expensive to live here in the US or back home in Croatia. Of course, there is no yes/no answer to this question, so here's a brief comparison of some of the bare necessities or so.

Clothes, shoes, accessories - you can find some great bargains every where every day, not only at sales. Actually, there are sales  almost all the time - next week for example, all the shops will have a three-day Memorial Day sale. If there are no holidays on the calendar then shop owners would just introduce a three-day kick off sale, whatever that may mean. Then there are outlets where you can buy some ridiculously cheap things, with discounts of 70%, like my new green bag below.

Fruit is much more expensive than at home, for example, 1 orange was 1 $ at one of the grocery stores this winter, whereas at home I can buy two pounds of oranges for 1 $. Milk is almost the same and so are the other groceries. Bread is more expensive, except at Walmart where they sell one loaf a $. Cosmetics are much cheaper here: decorative products, skin care, perfumes, everything.

Cars are much cheaper and gas is ridiculously cheap. Right now gas is sold at 2,59 $ a gallon. Car rental is easy and affordable - we recently rented a Mazda 6 for three days, paid 160 $ with all the waivers included, drove 400 miles and filled it up only once for which we paid 30 $.
Americans do love their cars.

My Croatian salary is three times lower than the salary of my American peer. So yes, she can afford much more than I can. Her purchasing power is higher when it comes to eating out, too - restaurants are more affordable for her than for me.

However, things get tough for her when it comes to  health care and higher ed. A doctor's bill can easily come up to several thousand dollars! How can a family afford to send their child to college, I have no idea at all, when a year in college costs 40,000 $ and more (and this is for tuition only). Higher ed and  health coverage are unfortunately out of reach for many.

Week 39: Professional Affiliation

May 10, 2015

After submitting all my class assignments, making the apartment ready for inspection, packing all my things (for some unknown reason there was much more stuff than when I first arrived in the US) and taking special, loving care of my newly acquired certificate signed by President Obama, I embarked on the second part of the Fellowship program - professional affiliation. PA is the culmination of our year - it is a professional development opportunity to meet and exchange information and share experiences with our American colleagues. 

I'm fortunate to be doing my PA at CoSN - Consortium for School Networking:

But CoSN is much more than that! CoSN is the amazing people who I have a pleasure to work with and learn from. They're all very knowledgeable, willing to share and very supportive. So over the next six weeks I'll be learning about educational technologies and the certification of education technology specialists, about global leadership and the digital leap, about connected learning and leading with social media and mobile technologies I'll be meeting and working together with district leaders and CTOs (chief technology officers) from all over the US. And upon my return home, I hope to share the knowledge I gain with my fellow teachers from across Europe.

Week 38: Signed by the President

May 2, 2015

This is my last week at Penn State. I'm writing this post in my apartment where there's nothing there, except the inflatable mattress that I bought upon my arrival here in State College 38 weeks ago. It's been an amazing experience.

The highlight of the week was the Year-End Banquet, which started with a video message by President Jimmy Carter, who congratulated the Fellows on a successful completion of the program year. Dr. Michael Adewumi, Vice-Provost for Global Programs at Penn State University also congratulated us and Mayor of State College, Elizabeth Goreham, proclaimed that we are now citizens of State College.

Receiving Proclamation

Emily Heddon from the IIE awarded the certificates signed by President Obama to all the Fellows. Here's mine and I'm especially honored and proud to have received it. I'll cherish it forever.

It was a great honor to receive my Penn State Certificate from Dean Monk, who is the Dean of the College of Ed. 

My PSU Certificate for Teaching and learning with technology
Brinda gave a wonderful emotional speech on behalf of all the Humphrey Fellows and after that the Community Service Awards were announced. I was thrilled when Talat announced that "the first prize for extraordinary community service went to .... ME! 
Herizal and Wafaa were also awarded for community service. All the three of us did our community service at the Mid-State Literacy Council, where we enjoyed working with English tutors and international students.

After the ceremony we took lots of photos and selfies and then had our last  potluck in my apartment. 

Tomorrow as we're leaving for other parts of the US,  we'll say goodbye to our coordinators, Leila, Talat and Jane,  to all our friends who we have met here and who have made our stay here a wonderful experience. I'm grateful to every one of them. Goodbye Penn State, goodbye Pennsylvania, I will never forget you.

And to my Humphreys: Be there on Tuesday 1pm  no matter where you are. 

Week 37: Reverse culture shock

Apr 29, 2015

The academic year is drawing to a close and our flights home have already been booked. These 8,5 months have passed in a flash. When we came over we talked a lot about culture shock and how to minimize its effects. Now they're telling us about the reverse culture shock and how to minimize its effects. I somehow don't believe that I'll suffer from  culture shock when I get back home - because it's HOME that I'm going to!

Some photos to debunk stereotypes

Apr 26, 2015

Contrary to the beliefs and perceptions of so many people worldwide, American food is not the food you can buy at McDonalds, Burger King or Dunkin Donuts. American food is so varied as the country itself. Seattle's typical meal is totally different from Buffalo's typical  meal.  My favorite Bostonian clam chowder tastes completely different than its San Francisco variant.  American food is delicious and yummy! Here are my top 5 list and some mouth-watering photos:

1. Boston clam chowder in a bread bowl
2. Philly cheese steak
3. Soups - all kinds
4. Cranberry sauce made of fresh cranberries
5. Chocolate chip cookies
... or let it be top 7:
6. Cheesecake
7. Apple pie, or any other pie for that matter
... or 11
8. T-Bone steak
9. Strawberry shortcake
10. Blueberry bagels with Berkey Creamery cream cheese
11. Death by Chocolate ice cream

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