Week 2: SUSI Celebrations

92 degrees and rising is what welcomed us on day 1 of week 2. Hot hot hot.

For most it was nothing – maybe even comfortable – as they are far more accustomed to the heat.

This week I introduced the wonders of a couple online tools – Wix for web development and Gliffy for sitemaps and wireframes.

To see their excitement, watch them manage the frustration of lost work, witness their joy at the completion of something new – it never gets old.

They convened in groups this week – “country groups” as we are loosely calling them – to tackle a web project that will serve as a portfolio piece and hopefully higher purposes.

Their task – select a focus for your website that has meaning to you as individuals – something you can be proud of, get your arms around and find meaning.

…Iraq is creating a SUSI testimonial website – from the student perspective and voice.
…Yemen is focusing on the promotion of regional volunteers and philanthropies through story.
…Oman is putting together a site to raise awareness and support for funding programs for special needs children.
…Bahrain is creating a site for “Bahrain Students Abroad” (BSA) – a scholarship program that does not yet have a digital presence.
…And Palestine is doing a tourism-based site that is image-focused and showcases the beauty and wonders of Palestine.

After establishing their focus – they were tasked with completing one of the Cooney Questionnaires (I do love my grids) – a website planning document they have never seen – a task of determining purpose, audience, target geography, goals, features, navigational structure, desired user path and outcomes.

To watch their banter, listen to their debates, see them find synergy was truly amazing.

We had competitions this week too – a Scrabble Scramble exercise further drill students on key terms and jargon of digital media.

So competive are my new Arab friends! In the end we had Iraq vs. Oman in a final :30 stand off for which group could put together the most terms in classic Scrabble form.

The debates were long. 20 words each. In the end I gave up and everyone got a prize. Mustache magnets and ring pops. It’s a hipster thing.

Each day I try to introduce something very American. One thing I have noticed most is how much we take the day-to-day for granted. It’s not a criticism  or something to be ashamed of… just a reflection of how complacent we can become.

One day I brought my kids’ favorite snacks – and the Nilla Wafers my brother loved as a boy. Oreos, Nutter Butters, Chips-A-Hoy. It was a hoot and very well received.

On our last meeting of the week I gave them a little craft challenge with the creation of “Fuzzy Bags” (and “warm fuzzies”).

It’s a simple concept – students decorated standard brown lunch bags with their name and personality using markers and stickers – showcase their artistic talents (Violet, Zuha and Malik – amazing!) – and they are given  a stack of plain paper scraps. These bags are taped to the wall in our classroom and will hang there until the end of the program on July 22. Over the next few weeks students will write little notes to each other and put them in the bags. These are notes of encouragement, words of wisdom, friendly hellos, even candy or other little treats. At the end of the program each person will take their bag as a keepsake and reminder of this experience.

On Tuesday the students visited Orphan Acres – a farm outside of Pullman that houses inferm horses. I was not with them but I heard the stories and saw the photos. It was another great adventure.

And then there was the absolute joy and mahem of yesterday’s 4th of July celebration – a nonstop thrill-ride of frisbee, BBQ, soccer, dancing and fireworks. It was like being back in highschool with the unending energy and freedom of running around, acting silly and dancing to the live music on stage.

I spoke to a few of the students during quieter moments of yesterday.

The women told me more about the  hijab (veil) – why some wear it, why some don’t. What is based in tradition vs. religion. Why some wear it at home but not in America. It was an interesting perspective – I feel that I have a much greater understanding behind the meaning, value, respect (and sometimes, oppression) the hijab represents for each woman.

I learned that in Yemen there is no woman without the hijab and one male student shared that he has never seen the hair of a woman in Yemen. They are always covered.

We chatted about Sunni and Shi’a – how 911 and the ongoing conflicts created fundamental change for the current generation on how each group is seen and treated.

They are so open, so willing to share, so eager to learn themselves. Their smiles remain infectious, their laughter is song.

Today they are off to the Colville Indian Tribe to meet yet another cultural experience (including camping!).

I am sitting out on this one – focusing this weekend on family and curriculum prep for fall classes.

Next week I plan to host the women at our house as we work around the observation of Ramadan (dinner will not be served until 9:20p!). Chris and I will host the men the following week.

My 13yo daughter Sawyer returns – so anxious to meet the students, put on a little singing showcase with her friends, and hopefully get the long-anticipated henna tattoo from sweet Violet – a talented artist in our group.

Until the next installment… السلام عليكم (peace be with you)

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