International Day at UNSIS

What? You haven't heard of International Day? Unbelievable! It's only the most important event in the university calendar! The students wake up at 5 a.m. eagerly anticipating proceedings like kids awaiting their Christmas presents.

I wish.

International Day is basically a showcase day for the Languages department at the university. Each department (Nursing, nutrition, business etc) has their own jornada with a conference in the auditorium and in February, I came up with idea of doing one for the Language Centre.

The title of the day went through many changes - 'cultural day', 'intercultural day' 'international intercultural day' . . . so we were just glad to settle on something roughly accurate in the end. The department hosts American, Canadian, British, Irish and Australian teachers in addition to some of the Mexican professors and students that participated. So, with more than a few nations represented, we plumped for "International Day of the Centre of Languages." Just to clarify, although the only language we officially teach is English, we included a few tasters of different languages and viewpoints across the day too. Also, as far as we are aware this is the first event of its kind at any of the Oaxaca SUNEO campuses.

Since the idea was approved around two months ago, we've had countless meetings, schedules drafted and re-drafted, and put in a lot of work in additional to our normal classes. So why would we want to make all of this extra work for ourselves?

1. For the students - Students enjoy their English classes (on the whole), but they still have a very narrow perspective about learning, the world, and don't really know us that well either. We wanted to do something fun to include them and show them why learning English is a good idea.

2. For the department - As an obligatory course with no clear mission statement for why the students learn English, our department often gets overlooked. We get the worst class times, few resources and requests often get ignored by the administration. With a high profile event like International Day, we would hopefully rise up a few places in the departmental pecking order.

3. For the other professors - Language teachers are indeed a strange species, and whilst the department is friendly with several Mexican profs, most of the UNSIS staff avoid us like the plague. We wanted to open up a conversation with them and also show them what we do, because our job is very different to theirs.

So, after a lot of meetings, planning, designing, cooking, swearing at computers and running around making last minute changes, here's how the day went down.

8am - I arrived to the auditorium to discover that half of the student projects had fallen down over night, so I spent a while sticking them up again before heading to set up the 'food fair' area. One of the other profs came in babbling away saying that he'd brought apples with Hershey's chocolate sauce instead of flat breads. I was feeling the pressure of the occasion at this point and professed to not really caring. To be fair, this particular teacher is not known as being the slickest operator and we're lucky he even remembered that International Day was happening. He once got invited to a Rodeo and ended up smacking horses' arses (not a metaphor) and running away from the bulls.

I went back to the auditorium to help get the audio and projector set up and discovered Temo, the technical helper, in full reclining mode.

"Nothing is working Temo" I stammered. "How are we going to fix it?"

"Ni vale maaaaaadre, no pasa nadaaaaa" he replied lazily.

I had to virtually prise him out of his seat with a crowbar in order to check the microphones and the slide show. By 10am, we were just about prepared and the seats were starting to fill up. We managed to ensure a packed house each hour by bringing our classes to the event and ushering them into the seats which was an additional stress of added questions and Spanglish banter. I finally settled down in my stage right position in front of the master presentation computer and was ready to begin.

10am - We had the usual University administration pomp with various powerful people doing an inauguration speech. The admin staff are certainly egotistical as they have to sit centre stage and receive a round of applause regardless of whether they say anything or not. The vice rector even brought her secretary to stand menacingly behind the table of top brass as a symbol of power. Weird.

We kicked of with a song from the Magic Man's students, which was great fun and well rehearsed. See if you can guess the Beatles' number from the picture. It was an a capella version, which made clapping along a little harder, but it went down pretty well.

The singers with the conductor in the 'orchestra pit'
It was followed up by 5 reasons to learn English, presented by the boss, and two talks from Mexican professors who had studied abroad. I was the one pushing the buttons on the computer and was already starting to feel under pressure. One of the teachers took a little long describing eating her lunch in the library at the University of San Diego, and the other gave a rather dry account of 'logic trees' during his study of computer language interpretation in Rochester. Who new that so many 'fascinating' industries like Xerox and Kodak were located in upstate New York. His "back one slide, forward two slides, stop! repeat and fast forward" method started to give me the jitters, but we eventually made it to the last slide . . . and the crowd went mild.

11am - I ran over the the food fair which was already in full swing and encountered a queue of about 200 hungry students trying to squeeze their way up the stairs. Maybe they had heard something about those delicious apples! Each teacher had brought in traditional food from their country and there was just about enough bite size portions to go around. We had:

Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches (Ohio)
Oatmeal Cookies (California)
Biscuits (Kentucky)
Devilled eggs (Iowa)
Chiles en nogada (Mexico)
Mac 'n' Cheese (Colorado)
Quiche (Hertforshire)
Soda Bread (Ireland)
Potato Salad (Canada), and much more.

I nailed it by making scones for the first time which I served with cream, jam and Tetley's tea. I was under such pressure from the grabby students' hands that I was struggling to field the questions.

What tea is it?
English tea or breakfast tea . . . black tea

How do you pronounce scone?
Skohne . . .  or Skon . . . it doesn't matter.

Where is the tea from?
England . . . India . . . China . . .err yeah

Cream first or jam first?
Cream . . . jam . . . stop eating it without any cream. You need cream!!!

With milk or without?
Whatever you want just stop with the questions and move along!

12pm - After the food was finished the room looked like rubbish tip after being attacked by a flock of angry seagulls. I left some others to clean up and headed back to the Auditorium for more PowerPoint perfection.

We had presentations on Japanese letters and words, experiences from Mexican profs living abroad, and some student videos about nursing around the world.

1pm -  I had curated the 'Arts hour' which couldn't fail to be the most popular section of the whole day, could it? Now it was my turn.

First off Guy pranced his way through a performance of 'Shakespeare and the theatre', with a slide show expertly put together by yours truly. There were lots of boos, hisses, and throwing stuff . . . which was part of the show, not because it was so bad.

The thespian masterpiece was followed by a rather confusing look into the hidden messages contained in 'The Little Prince' (which I had never even heard of), and then a gallery of Berlin street art.

I teamed up with Brian, of PBJ sandwich fame, and followed up with a journey through the Rock ages. I think everyone liked the presentation and the accompanying videos, but I felt we missed a trick by not getting students more involved. They could have partaken in some headbanging or air guitar, whilst we should have at least worn some silly clothes or KISS masks.

I managed to get some food down me at lunch and spent time tweaking presentations and photos until Temo returned to the auditorium full of tortillas and ready for an afternoon doze.

The line dancers in action
4pm - 'Traditions' started with a bang as Kate donned her boots and a checked shirt to talk about cowboy culture. This was always going to be a winner as I think the only place with more cowboys than America is Mexico. She got one of her classes to do a line dance and the audience loved it. One thing you can say about the kids here, is that they are willing to give things a go. I can't imagine grumpy high schoolers in the States or moody university students in Britain wanting to get up on stage.

For the rest of the hour we took a look at Chicano murals in San Diego, and American traditions. One of our outgoing teachers who is a dead ringer for Woodly Allen, nervously stammered his way through a 4th July slide by informing everyone that "I don't like to go to fireworks celebrations . . . you know . . . because . . . err . . . they take too long to get to and err . . . they've got massive queues." Fascinating, please tell me more.

I then improved on my earlier performance with a rousing demonstration of some weird and wonderful British traditions (think Cheese Rolling and Morris Dancing). I managed to get the audience involved a bit and will upload a video of the talk if I can get hold of a copy.

9/10 students rated this presentation as the best of the day.
5pm - We played more student videos at 5 because many of the higher levels had produced clips about Nursing, Municipal problems and business commercials. One group of my students came in dressed in full formal clothing looking very nervous.

"Don't worry girls", I told them "we are just going to play your video, I told you not to come in dressed formally".

"OK teacher" they said looking relieved and a little sheepish.

6pm - Due to lack of caffeine, I was starting to lose the plot. Remember, we had set up everything ourselves and had virtually no help from the 'powers that be' in the university. No coffee, no food, no technical support (well, Tranquilo Temo), and no one to help usher the students into place. We prepared gift baskets for every Mexican teacher who gave a speech in English, but there was nothing left over for us native speakers. Where was my certificate and basket of sweet treats?

As I drifted in and out of consciousness during the final hour, my dreams of a cold Corona were interrupted by Edna screeching 'next slide . . . NO! . . . The NEXT one . . . ahhh YAAAAA!' Oops, sorry! We were nearly there. We had a few more presentations and wrapped up with a hastily constructed student photo slide show set to some music - you've guessed it:

♩ ♪ ♫ "You say goodbye . . ." ♩ ♪ ♫ 

The UNSIS players
After a bit of cleaning up, we headed to a local pizza joint for some well earned food and drinks. The atmosphere was a bit like an opening night party after a theatre performance, everyone was on a high and we were really pleased with how it went. I may have been the protagonist, but it was a big effort from everyone, and I want to say that I'm lucky to work with people who are willing to put in the effort and keep and open mind. Unfortunately, this thank you message must exclude Mr. Chocolate Apples, who spent most of the day locked in his office sulking.

I think the day was a success in all three of its objectives. The students loved it, we've gotten lots of messages of support from other profs, and the administration even gave us some new computers. The food was a real hit, as were any sections that included student participation, so that's a good learning for the next time.

All hail International Day!
¡Viva el día internacional!