Monday, 7 April 2014
Erasmus exchange - Universidad de Murcia
It's been almost a year in the planning - longer if I consider that I have wanted to make an Erasmus staff exchange visit for the past three years - but finally I am here.
Why did I want to do this?
Well - firstly as a student of the language, it was a goal to aim for: to feel sufficiently fluent to be comfortable working (largely) in castellano and to be able to get by on my own in a strange city.
After 10 years of studying, I finally feel ready for the challenge!
Secondly, I have been following various Spanish and spanish speaking "professors" on Twitter for a number of years and have an impression that there is a lot of great practice here in Spain that it would be good to see first hand.
Thirdly, and specific to Murcia, I formed a connection with Linda Casteñada some years ago when I attended the first PLE conference in Barcelona. She later helped me with one of my Spanish homework assignments by sending me a wonderful book she and her Head of Department - Maria Paz Prendes - had written about the University of Murcia's transition to a connected campus. What better place to come!
Finally, I know that Linda uses technology with her students and works with them to develop their Personal Learning Networks. Although she works with primary teachers in training rather than with social science students, as I do, I still thought this an ideal place to come and observe the similarities and the differences, to learn about some innovative good practice and generally have time to think about ways I could improve my own approach. And it's sunny!
So - Day 1: started off well being picked up by the lovely Maria del Mar in her impressive big white car in which I was whisked off to the palm tree lined campus at Espinardo. We were met by Linda and Manel Rives - the guest speaker for the first session - and what followed was a lot of kissing. Later I met the rest of Linda's team and her boss - and there was even more kissing! Well - because of the cultural differences I should say more accurately that there was a lot of fumbling as I first held out my hand, then realised that the two cheek kiss was the official protocol. I also learned, by the way, that loud "mwah" sounds are not de rigeur - in fact they might even be frowned upon - but I was much too embarrassed in my quaint English fashion to fully notice all the nuances of these exchanges.
Kissing over, I attended a really interesting workshop run by @manelrives in which he explained the many great learning opportunities to be had through mobile apps - and then led a workshop in which Linda's students found some and explained to one another how they thought they could be used in the classroom. (at least, I think that was what was happening - my castellano was flagging after an hour!)
The one slightly worrying moment came at the start when Linda's students presented their guest speaker. They had been charged with exploring his online identity to find out as much as they could about him and put this, along with any photos they could find on the web, into a charming Powerpoint presentation. Oh dear! It's my turn in the morning. (Note: I really must Google myself tonight!)
The rest of the afternoon was spent in my new temporary office - with aircon and wifi I'd kill for in my "4 star" hotel in the centre of Murcia. Linda ran through the week's itinerary of meetings and social events (I'm even going dancing one night as Maria is also an avid salsera) and I prepared my workshop for tomorrow. It will be in English as this is a bilingual class and English is compulsory. As a bonus, the University has a publicly accessible swimming pool (thanks again to Maria for the investigations) and I shall explore that tomorrow after the class.
I finished the day walking over to the tram stop for a pleasant ride back into the centre of Murcia. As I walked down a shady tree lined boulevard back to my hotel, I really felt that this was living my dream! If an Erasmus exchange is about anything, it must be about a short, intense, immersive experience of a different culture and whilst I "know" Spain as a tourist and holidaymaker, being here as "prof" and student rolled into one is giving me exactly that.