A day in the life at GIAL

Last Thursday was one of those examples of how my time at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics is the fruition of some of my hopes and dreams.

The day’s highlights began with an interview for class. It may not sound all that fascinating, but it turned into a firsthand account of the joys and trials of literacy work among a minority people group.

IMG_0574(2) IMG_0576Kelly Walter is now on the Admissions Team here, but up until 10 years ago she was a literacy specialist in rural Cameroon. She graciously agreed to be our case study interviewee for the grant proposal Shelly and I have to write as our last course project. There are many like Kelly here at GIAL; don’t let their current job titles fool you — they offer a wealth of stories from years of living in multilingual places all over the world, if you’re curious enough to inquire and listen. Among all of them, they’ve seen and done it all (practically). Over lunch, Kelly gave us a realistically confounding picture of the issues we will encounter when developing a program of mother-tongue reading and writing. Some of it depressing, some of it hilarious, all of it so valuable. First-hand experience in the work that I’m pursuing, sitting live and in person across from me at a picnic table under the noonday Dallas sun…

As if the day couldn’t get better, I then spent the better part of the afternoon attending a seminar on “village cooking” held in the home of a GIAL professor. Sally Dye and the several other women who helped with the demonstrations have all raised and fed their families in remote places overseas while going without many conveniences and appliances. These are a few of the incredible kitchen techniques they showed or explained:

  • multiple ways of making a cake without an oven
  • making bread with no yeast and in a frying pan
  • making tea from the part of the pineapple that usually gets thrown out
  • dehydrating meat and vegetables
  • canning and preserving fresh meat
  • growing sprouts
  • making your own yogurt (check! Thanks Mom for already teaching me that one!)

Techniques like these are quickly becoming a lost art to my generation, yet here I was surrounded by women who had survived on them and could pass on their tips. They exhorted us to start practicing now, when our lives don’t depend on being able to feed ourselves with no electricity or refrigeration. I have no idea yet what my living situation overseas will be like. But hey, one never knows when she might get to live (and cook) in a village. And I wasn’t once nominated “most likely to survive on the Oregon Trail” for nothing! Goal #1: build a solar oven (after figuring out how to).

With my head a-buzz with creative cooking techniques, I returned home to work on a prayer postcard for my upcoming trip to West Africa. I’m mailing it out as a way to keep people in the loop as I prepare. That evening I was printing them out using the color printer given to me by one of my GIAL professors soon after my arrival last year. A printer may not seem like anything extraordinary, but this one is to me. I smiled to myself as I remembered with gratitude my exchange with the professor; upon hearing me mention needing to print my newsletters in color, he asked if I could use a color printer, and if so, he had one for me still in its original packaging. I had been prepared to pay him for it, but he would hear nothing of the sort. I told him he could have it back when I left in the spring, and he looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “A gift is a gift. I’m not expecting it back,” he said, laughing. I didn’t know how to thank him. What kind of institution of higher education had I landed in?

After some postcard printing, I went for a run along the trails you can pick up from campus. What could be better for some introspection after a full day than running in the fresh air at dusk, up to my armpits (literally) in Texas wildflowers?

Thus ended a wonderfully typical day in my GIAL life, full of great learning and great people. Days like that help explain why some days in class, I feel like I should pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming…

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