On Reverse Culture Shock


Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.



Fulbright teacher alumni jumping for joy at last year’s orientation.  Photo cred: Stacey Tatera

In two days, I’ll kiss a plane.

As much as I love the opportunity to see stars from a different vantage point in the world, I’m terrified of flying to get there.  So, as superstitious and silly as it may be, I must kiss every plane I walk onto.  I’ve been caught once or twice by flight attendants who gaze at me with a mix between amusement and pity, and I’ve gotten ninja-quick with how fast I can kiss my hand and press it against the plane.  Sure, it’s a small, futile gesture, but it’s something that calms the panic building up in my ears.  And makes me feel oddly sunny to know that there are planes in the air right now that have my smooch-blessings on them.

I’m going to Washington D.C. to greet the newest batch of incredible Fulbright Teachers at their orientation.  It’s strange  to think that was me two summers ago, feeling mostly like I didn’t belong there, that they had chosen the wrong girl for the Fulbright.  I was unconfident in myself, and I spent more time studying my shoes than facing forward toward the transformative experience that was to come.  And now, two years later, I refuse to look down, and I find much gratitude in being able to embrace things head on.  


Presenting at the Fulbright orientation last year 

One of the most impactful sessions for me during the three and a half day orientation was on reverse culture shock.  I had never considered that when I returned from my trip that I’d feel anything other than happy and grateful.  But as the speaker Craig Storti, the author of The Art of Coming Home expressed, home has changed. And I have changed.  When I returned, I did struggle with adapting with feeling like I constantly wanted to talk about this life-changing-sound-the-trumpets-I-uncovered-the-best-me-and-I-want-to-conquer-the-world-now year, but never actually talking about it as I felt that no one would really understand it.  Luckily, the orientation helped me moved pretty seamlessly into my new kiwi culture, and it got me emotionally prepared for the occasionally turbulent transition back into US culture.  But what it didn’t prepare me for was how occasionally funny that transition could be.

When my family picked me up on Christmas Eve eve from the airport, we decided to stop into Buffalo Wild Wings because I was dying for some Asian Zing chicken.  Within a few moments, I turned to my brother Danny and exclaimed, “Why is everybody screaming?!”.  For the first week or so, I felt like everyone was talking at me in all CAPS, and I put earplugs in my Amazon wishlist (which coincidentally I realized I still had in there as of a few days ago, so I swapped it for back-to-school scratch n’ sniff stickers).  


My brothers and I reunited after my Fulbright experience. 

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The Powerful Pōwhiri : Now on Video!

One of the highlights of my year of many highlights was the pōwhiri, or Māori welcoming ceremony.  And I am now pleased to note that it’s now available for video streaming!  I’ve completed a video guide (ah, the teacher in me) so you can see the elements of what is occurring, and I  bolded the portions that were the most touching to me.

0-1:00 visitor Karanga whakautu (response to our off camera opening call)

1:36- 3:34 Tangata whenua whaikōrero  (host speech),  Ray DeThorne, Chief Marketing Officer of The Field Museum

3:45-4:57 Waiata (song), OPRF Gospel Choir singing “Makanaka”

5:11-11:10 Host speech, Joe Podlasek, LCO-Ojibwe/Polish

11:11-12:48 Jingle Dress dancers with drum song

12:49-18:24   Host speech, Stephen Isoye, OPRF Superintendent and Jahmari, OPRF student

18:36-19:09 Waita, lead by Daejia, OPRF student (Note: this was my favorite song I learned it New Zealand.  It means “Love, Faith, And Peace Be Among Us All”)

19:32- 20:55 Manuhiri (visitor )speech, Niko, Te Kāpehu Whetū student

20:56- 21:50 Manuhiri  waita (visitor song) 

21:51-27:39  Manuhiri speech in te reo Māori, Ralph Ruka, Te Kāpehu Whetū educator

27:40-30:40 Manuhiri speech in English, Ralph Ruka,  Te Kāpehu Whetū educator

30:41- 32:10 Manuhiri  waita (visitor song)

33:30-39:10 Marianne Craven, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs, US State Department, perhaps some of the most kind words ever uttered about me

39:11-42:12 Joe Podlasek speech

42:54-51:53  Speech and presentation of koha (gifts), Raewyn Tipene, CEO of Te Kāpehu Whetū

51:54-52:44  Haka

52:50-55:10  Whakaratarata (Reception Line) Most powerful part of the ceremony: the kisses and hongi (pressing of noses).   Every person in the room participated–it went on for quite a bit longer.  My students said this was their favorite part!

After the ceremony, was the Hākari, or food, that lifts the weight of the sacred ceremony. All of the students from New Zealand and OPRF took off their shoes and entered the marae, and prayed and sang together.  To say it was special and sacred, is to state an understatement.

E hoa ma, ina te ora o te tangata

My friends, this is the essence of life




A Powerful Pōwhiri in Pictures

I need pictures to say the thousand words I wish I could use  to describe the incredible week I’ve just experienced.  

During my time in New Zealand, (click here for a recent article on my Fulbright research and the subsequent exchange) working with indigenous Māori people allowed me the opportunity to witness first hand the profoundly positive impact that placing culture and heritage first in education has on eliminating the racial predictability of student academic achievement. I came back from my Fulbright experience a changed human.  The trip  inspired me to find my roots and ancestry through embracing the land, sea, and where I come from.  Although my students couldn’t go to New Zealand this year, this exchange to Oak Park allowed my students to witness a new culture and ignite curiosities that will inspire them explore to US and the world in the future.

Through a serendipitous encounter in Rotorua, New Zealand (blog post to come),  I had the great privilege to collaborate with Raewyn Tipene, the amazing CEO of the Te Kāpehu Whetū school in Whangarei, New Zealand, and together we worked on a cultural exchange between our two schools.   It was meant to be, as the world renowned Field Museum has one of three marae, or Māori meeting houses, outside of New Zealand.  The marae comes from the iwi (tribe) in Tokomaru Bay, and some of the students from the New Zealand school have ancestors from there.

In order to welcome them appropriately, we completed a pōwhiri , or a traditional welcome ceremony.   And I can’t explain how much it touched me to bring 80 students and have them feel how I felt a year ago this week when I went through my own first pōwhiri .   Because I can’t even attempt to adequately explain it,  I’m using these pictures (best ones are towards the end!), taken by the amazing Fredy Peralta through APJ Photography.  I hope they can speak the words I cannot write.  Enjoy!

Picture of the marae

Photo credit:  APJ Photography
The marae (or the meeting house) is ready for the ceremony.

Picture of the marae

Photo credit: APJ Photography
The beautiful marae

Photo credit: APJ Photography The Marae

Photo credit: APJ Photography
The Marae

Photo credit: APJ Photography The marae

Photo credit: APJ Photography
The marae

Photo credit: APJ Photography The Field Museum's Mary Ann Bloom does the welcome call for our guests to enter.

Photo credit: APJ Photography
The Field Museum’s Mary Ann Bloom does the karanga, or call for our manuhiri tūārangi, guests from afar to enter.

Photo credit: APJ Photography Te Kāpehu Whetū enters the space while we all stand.

Photo credit: APJ Photography
Te Kāpehu Whetū enters the space while we all stand.


Photo credit: APJ Photography


Photo credit: APJ Photography A whaikōrero, or speech from Ray DeThorne, Chief Marketing Officer of The Field Museum

Photo credit: APJ Photography
A whaikōrero, or speech from Ray DeThorne, Chief Marketing Officer of The Field Museum

Photo credit: APJ Photography The OPRF choir responds with a waiata, or song

Photo credit: APJ Photography
The OPRF choir responds with a waiata, or song

Photo credit: APJ Photography Joe Podlasek, LCO-Ojibwe/Polish, speaks his welcome words on behalf of the First People of the United States, and explains the importance of the Eagle staff he presented

Photo credit: APJ Photography
Joe Podlasek, LCO-Ojibwe/Polish, speaks his welcome words on behalf of the First People of the United States, and explains the importance of the Eagle staff he presents.

Photo credit: APJ Photography The First People respond with drums and a beautiful jingle dancer.

Photo credit: APJ Photography
The First People respond with drums and a beautiful jingle dancer.

Photo credit: APJ Photography The drums and song

Photo credit: APJ Photography
The drums and song

Photo credit: APJ Photography Jingle dancing

Photo credit: APJ Photography
Jingle dancing

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The Imprint of Leaving New Zealand on both my Heart and my Foot

Jess makes a snow angel

So much snow in Chicago!

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

My car sits in a blanket of snow.  We’ve just had the 5th largest snowfall in Chicago history after Monday’s blizzard, and I know that soon I’ll be on my way to Michelle Obama arms after I manage to shovel my Pontiac from its white cocoon.  It’s hard to think that just a few weeks ago, I was sitting in the blazing warmth of a sunny Sydney summer, and now I am checking my cupboards to make sure I have enough hot cocoa to help defrost my fingers later this afternoon.

Side by side comparison of Sydney and Wisconsin

Left Sydney, right Wisconsin. The only thing they have in common is that I love them both.

The end of my official Fulbright experience was a wonderful blur.  Sometimes, it’s not until we say goodbye to a place that we realize how much that place has impacted us.  As I gave my final hugs and my final gazes at places that have become security blankets, I realized just how grateful I was to have this experience.

Maurice and Jess

Remember Maurice, the neighbor who helped me get through a New Zealand winter? Well, here he is. I miss him!

When I arrived home from the Milford track, I only had three days in Wellington before I left the country, as Fulbright granted me the dream opportunity to spend two days in Sydney, Australia (blog post to come).  It was a crazy three days attempting to sardine in all of the suitcase packing and goodbye hugs that I wanted to do.  And on top of it all, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Education read this very blog you are reading now and called me in for a meeting to gain my perspective on New Zealand partnership schools (again, blog post to come).  These events all led to a very exciting homestretch of my Fulbright experience.

But it wasn’t without an interesting finish.

One of my goals while I was living in my beautiful apartment on Oriental Parade was to walk out of my apartment one sunny morning, cross the quiet street, walk across the golden sand, and run out into the sea, arms outstretched to embrace the watery soul of the earth.  But then it never got quite warm enough for me to want to venture into the ocean. If I’m honest, I barely dipped my toes in. It felt so much more beautiful (and comfortable!) to look the ocean from the warmth of my apartment.

Picture of farewell dinner

The farewell dinner with my Fulbright friends: Tricia, Max, and Sarah.

After a wonderful farewell dinner, a couple of my Fulbright buddies decided to come back to my apartment, partly because I didn’t want to say goodbye, but mostly because I needed people to sit on my suitcases so I could get them shut.  As we chatted in my living room, I started to feel some pangs of regret.  How is it that I lived on the ocean for over four months and never swam in it?  What kind of adventurer am I?

So, while my friends continued their chatter, I slipped into my bedroom to sneak on a bathing suit.  When I came out in a towel, my friend Sarah exclaimed, “You’re doing it?!”  And I was.

Sarah and Max braved the rain and wind–Wellington’s retaliation of my departure was to withhold drops of sunshine in my final days–to witness my venture into the sea.

They thought I was just going to prance around in the water and run right back inside.  But oh no, if I was going to run into the sea, I was going to run. into. the. sea.  And it was pretty much how I always anticipated.  There I was, running out into the ocean, arms outstretched, traveling deep enough to submerge myself, and then…


A sharp pain shot up my left leg.  Thinking I stepped on a sharp rock, I paused for another second in the water to complete one more pseudo-doggie paddle, and then I turned around to limp back to shore.

As I high knee-d in, shivering and smiling, Sarah and Max wore impressed expressions on their faces.  I felt proud that I had accomplished a personal goal, but I was worried about my left foot.  As we walked back up the four flights of stairs to my apartment, I favored my left leg, not wanting to look to see if there was blood.  I really, really don’t do well at the sight of blood.  I hopped immediately into the shower to wash the sticky salt and sand from me, giving me a clear picture of what happened to my foot during my dip in the ocean.

Uh oh.

There was definitely blood, enough that I had to slump against the glass side of the shower to collect myself.  And it was more than just a scrape or a cut– inside my foot were about 15 puncture wounds with little brown tips sticking out of them.  It could only be one thing: a sea urchin.

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Teachers as Changemakers: The Sunshine of my Fulbright Research Project

Picture of flyer

The flyer for our presentation today.

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

Today, I get ready for my first presentation about my Fulbright project.  I’ll present with Amy and Tricia at Victoria University of Wellington at 3:30.  As I prepare my notes and my smiles, I can’t help but have my thoughts tugged by the news of Michael Brown’s non-indictment yesterday.  As my mentor Rob posted on his Facebook wall, “It ain’t right Atticus, it just ain’t right,” from Harper Lee’s famous novel.  It isn’t right that Michael Brown was not even given the dignity of a trial, that we keep hearing language and belief systems that are symptoms of the sick cycle of oppression in the U.S.

But today, I am glad more than ever to be an educator.  I have the great privilege and responsibility to give hope, to make change, and to interrupt racist systems.  I am proud to be an educator, and I am proud to work with the young people who will be the change of the future.  And it just so happens that my project addresses implicit racism in education, as the focus is on eradicating the achievement gap/educational debt between students of color and white students.  This blog, therefore, will break down the components of my project, as well as what my daily life looks like.

The title of my project: Teachers as Changemakers: The Power of Reflection in Diminishing the Racial Predictability of Student Academic Achievement

The purpose of my project: to find ways to eliminate the racial predictability of student academic achievement.

My passion is to teach for justice. Students of color have been disenfranchised at my high school in the US, resulting in an achievement gap in which 61% of white students meet college readiness standards, while only 14% of Black students do. My goal is to find ways to diminish the racial predictability that currently exists in test scores, discipline data, G.P.As, and college graduation rates.

Students with donuts

Some of my amazing students on a surprise donut day.

I can no longer tolerate a culture that perpetuates the status quo, that teaches Black students that being academic is a “white” thing.  I have some amazing colleagues who are doing amazing things in their classrooms.  I have a division head who gets it.  I have been totally blessed to have Chala, the assistant principal, visit, teach, and mentor in my classroom 2-3 times a week for the last three years, giving me feedback, ideas, and inspirations.  Teachers are ready to make change.  And teachers can make change.  I know this because they already do in so many ways that often go unnoticed.

So, I’m no longer interested in deficit thinking.  In the media, we teachers constantly get blamed for the lack of student academic progress.  We are seen as lazy and greedy.  We know there are profound gaps in student academic achievement and socioemotional needs.  But I believe that’s the easy way to think.  It’s easy to blame, it’s easy to hang the ugly picture out on your washing line for all to see.  It’s easy to reaffirm pre-existing beliefs and expectations about our students of color.

But you know what’s not easy to do?  Turn around and face the problem.

It’s not easy to work together to find solutions.  To look at all of the positive things that are happening and share those ideas like we do Thanksgiving recipes.  Sure, there is no recipe that will fit all palates and some ingredients will need to be modified to fit the individual, but there are certain key ingredients–love, hope, high expectations, strong student-teacher relationships–that all recipes need to work.  But how do we knead, nurture, and allow these concepts to grow in such a current harsh climate for teachers?

Well, that’s my project.

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Kiwifruits and Capstone Projects: My tips for the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching application

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

‘Tis the season to apply for the 2015-2016 Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching!  Applications are due November 5th.  It’s funny to think that at this time last year this experience was just an idea, but now it has become a full reality.  What a difference a year makes, eh?

Jess climbs rock

Hiking in the Golden hour in Wellington. I had no idea a year ago I’d have this amazing experience.

It’s been wonderful that I’ve gotten e-mails recently from applicants who have stumbled upon my blog.  I’ve gotten some good questions, and I am eager to help others have this amazing opportunity that I’ve been afforded.  So my first bit of advice is, APPLY! (If you want know why I did, check this out.)  You have no idea what magical things can happen for you if you do.

Fellow Fulbright DA grantee Kate has some good general application tips on her blog called “I got it!” if you are interested in those.  Below, I’ve included a few of the questions I’ve received, along with my response to those questions.  These answers are my personal opinions, and my experiences have to do specifically with what I know–the New Zealand program–so please keep that in mind.  Please let me know if there are any other Q and A I should add.  Happy applying!

How did you make (or how are you making) your contacts in New Zealand, both university and in schools? Have you had trouble meeting people or making connections?

New Zealand is a small country.  As an American, it’s like living in small town U.S.A. It’s not too dissimilar from where I grew up in Wisconsin, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of town, where there are four stoplights that are all found on “Main  Street.”  People here in New Zealand say that there is two degrees of separation (although some argue for three) between its citizens. This means that when you are networking with someone, either she will personally know the person you’d like to get  in touch with or she will know someone who knows that person. This also means that within one week of moving into my apartment, I’d walk into a dairy (convenience store) within a two-block radius and would hear, “Oh, you must be Jessie!” Word travels fast here.

Picture of silver fern

New Zealand’s national symbol

As a result of the tight knit nature of the Kiwi Community, meeting people really depends on who you know.  They are a bit like a Kiwifruit ironically, a bit hard to eat because you must cut through a tough outer layer, but once you do, they are incredibly mushy and wonderful on the inside. (I am in no way endorsing cannibalism) . It was quite hard when I first arrived, as I wasn’t culturally ready for how careful and standoffish Kiwis would be (although I haven’t had this experience when meeting Māori men and women–who have opened their doors and felt like Whānau (family) right away–but I’ll write more on that in another blog post).

The good news is that once you are in, you are in.  And the Fulbright family really is a family that will help you get “in.” The support I’ve gotten from Fulbright Scholars and Fellows  (thanks especially to Brenda, Ben, and Sarah) is amazing.  They were able to formally introduce me to key people, who have in turn introduced me to key people, and my small world here has just been expanding to something delicious (I think I’m still thinking about that kiwifruit).

So yes, it was hard at first.  Kiwis are perplexing because they are so kind and giving,  yet they can be difficult to get to know on a personal level. But if you can get to know one in the field you are interested in, you are set.  I  spent the first three weeks feeling like I was the new girl in the cafeteria, sitting awkwardly alone with my bruised banana, looking at every passerby with eyes that read, “Will you please be my friend?”  But now that I have made some important contacts, the invitations to homes, to meetings, to conferences, and to hopefully lifelong partnerships, is overwhelming.

It will take patience, a dazzling smile, a little bit of luck, and the help of some of your fellow Fulbright family members, and you will break through the figuratively hard shell of the Kiwifruit to find much sweetness inside.

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7 Things I Learned the Hard Way in Wellington

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

I’ve been given the most amazing experience I could ever have dreamed.  And it has been wonderful.  But as with any transition to a new culture, it isn’t always easy.  There are hiccups, embarrassing moments, and cultural misunderstandings. I’ve definitely cried into a jar of Nutella. But that’s all a part of the journey.  I won’t grow if I don’t encounter obstacles.

The following are the seven things that I’ve learned the hard way in the first month of living in Wellington, New Zealand. Some are small, some are big.  Some might be funny, others more serious.  But all will contribute to my growth.  I can’t wait to walk away from this experience a more confident, mature, and culturally competent woman when I step on that plane back to my homeland.

  1. Snapper cards

Bus rides took me a bit to figure out. You use a bus card (called a Snapper card) to tap against a machine when you get on and then you tap off it when you exit (they call it tag on/tag off).  You then get charged by how long you ride, similar to the zoning on the London Tube station.

The first time I rode the bus, I  happened to sit behind a college-aged student who was explaining to her parents that you had to tag off or you would get a fine.  Oh. I thought.  I would never have thought to do that.

Picture of Snapper card and Garbage bags

Here are pictures of my two frenemies: my red Snapper card and yellow garbage bags.

But even with her helpful advice, I just can’t seem to get into the habit of tagging off. Once, when my flatmate Tricia and I were riding to the Karori campus, I slipped my Snapper card into my wallet and stuffed it in my coat pocket. When we got to our stop, I hopped off without even thinking about my Snapper card.  I looked back to see what was taking Tricia so long, and my eyes bugged out of my head when I saw her taking the time to tag off.  In panic, I fumbled my hand into my pocket in an attempt to retrieve my Snapper card, but by the time my fingertips felt the red plastic, the bus was happily pulling away.

A few days later when I rode the bus again for the first time since my mistake, the tag on/tag off machine shouted for all to hear, “Penalty applied.”  So not only did I get the full cash fare fine for not tagging off, but I also had everyone in the whole bus hear my transgression.  If kiwis had judging eyes, I’m sure I would have felt them on me as I walked down the bus aisle to an open seat. Now, whenever Tricia or I forget to tag off, we will call the next bus ride experience the “walk of shame.”  As in, “oh man, I really hope there aren’t many people on this bus because I have to do a walk of shame today.”

I’ve now taken to holding my Snapper card in my hand within my line of vision so that I do not forget to tag off.  However, last week, there was a spout of warm sunshine that sparkled out of nowhere. I felt like an audience member on an “Oprah’s Favorite Things” show. Soon, I found myself stripping off my winter coat, feeling pleasantly and unusually warm. As I daydreamed out the window at the beautiful hills rolling outside, I suddenly snapped to reality in the tranquil bus and realized we had reached my stop.

Jumping up, I went to tap my Snapper card against the machine and realized that I had somehow wrapped my scarf around the hand that held it.  In panic, I tried to use my semi-free hand to untwist the scarf free, but my effort was made difficult by the fact I was juggling my lunch box and laptop case.  It seemed that the harder I tried, the more I couldn’t get my hand free.  A couple of people in the back of the bus started giggling at my obvious frustration that I couldn’t find my hand.  Finally, I waved at the bus driver to go to the next stop so I could calm myself enough to figure out how to free my hand.  He shook his head at me, letting me know he would wait.  I took a deep breath, figured out that I had somehow created a knot around my hand in my panic, unknotted and wrestled it lose, tagged my card, and walked out into the now, suddenly misting Wellington air.  Man.

Lesson I learned: get the mini Snapper card that you can attach to your key chain.  And laugh at yourself when your hand gets eaten by a piece of cloth.

  1. Mold

Mold is now my greatest enemy.  My mouth fills with venom whenever I think of it.

When I first arrived, I lived with or Axford fellow Ben before he moved on to travel the world.  Those first couple of days before he left, I noticed that he always had the curtains open and would even go so far as open the windows.  Who is this guy? I would think to myself as I shuddered in the winter wind. He must be Wolverine.

After he left, I shut the windows and closed the curtains to try to keep the fleeting summer rays trapped inside each room.  But one day when I set my laptop back down and opened my bedroom door, I was slammed in the face with a putrid smell.  Mold!

Sailboats in the rain

Even though the weather is sometimes cold and windy, Wellingtonians will still brave the weather to sail. Amazing!

I opened the curtains to see that there were tiny black spots dancing along the edges of two of the curtains. I clutched my chest thinking that I was surely dying of a black lung.  I did what many people do of my generation: I jumped online and googled the harmful side effects of mold on the human body. After reading about the various neurological and respiratory diseases that can come from mold, I had to leave my apartment to gulp the fresh Cook Strait air.

Later that day, I met up with my new friend Max, and I very dramatically told him about my mold infestation.  Now, I know I was being melodramatic–I mean, I understand that having a few spots of mold on a curtain does not equal a spore takeover–but I had assumed that I’d get more than a “meh” from Max. But that is really all I got–a noncommittal, so-what-“meh.”  Apparently, mold is just a “thing” in New Zealand.  Because it is so cold and damp here and most don’t heat or insulate their houses (and many houses in the valley are in the shade), mold is just kinda an everyday problem here.

Max taught me that I have to open my curtains each day to let the sunlight in and that I should crack the windows during the day and shut them at night.  So that “strange behavior” I noted when I first arrived is actually quite normal behavior in New Zealand.  In fact, there are whole documents that give you tips on how to prevent mold.  And when you talk about mold with New Zealanders, they’ll just look at you blankly like, “so what?”  It’s just part of life here.

The good news is that I won’t die of a black lung while in New Zealand.  After talking with our landlord, we discovered that the mold on the curtains already existed.  We are lucky in that we are located in a place that gets sun all day long (when it’s sunny), so we rarely even think about the mold anymore.  The place where we actually do have a heater–although it took me a week to discover it–is in the bathroom, so we don’t have to worry about the moisture there.

Even so, Tricia and I have been super paranoid about mold. If there is anything slightly dark on anything, we will shriek “mold” and shake our fists to the sky.  Most of the time, it’s just a crumb or a sequin.  But just today, Tricia washed her water bottle and left it out to dry in the morning. By the time we arrived  home to cook dinner, our most hated enemy had found its way inside because grey clouds had blanketed the sky.  Curses!

Lesson I learned: Read about a country’s climate before arriving in said country.

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Midnight Walks and Golden Pins: Fulbright Orientation in D.C.

Jessica Stands by Fulbright sign

I had just arrived in D.C.!

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

The Fulbright orientation was pretty dang career affirming. Forty-three teachers flew, drove, and trained in from all over the U.S., and 11 international teachers arrived from India, Singapore, Morocco, Finland, and New Zealand.

When we landed, it was pouring rain.  I was kinda excited because I would get to try out my fancy new Patagonia raincoat I had bought on Ebay for a quarter of the retail price. I lasted about seven and a half minutes before my entire bottom half was soaked and stuck to the insides of my thighs. Yuck. But, I will say, my top half was pretty dry when I later peeled off the shell in the auditorium of the national capitol building. So I will count this as a success!

Jessica stands with Lincoln bust

Drying off at the State Capitol building. Hello there Lincoln!

The highlights of the orientation:

The people: By golly, these are just amazing people. If you interact with me daily, you know I can be goofy and outgoing. My dad describes me as “expressive” (I’m not sure if this is a compliment or not). But I found myself at orientation fairly quiet because I was a bit overwhelmed by the energy and talent of these amazing leaders in education. I also kept questioning myself: “Is this really happening? Do I really deserve this award? Did they make a mistake in choosing me?” as I shook hands and talked over coffee and sticky notes. These are people I hope I can use as allies, contacts, and friends for the rest of my life. In general, Holly and Becky, who worked for IEE (and were also responsible for choosing us on behalf of the Department of State) were wonderful. If it would have been appropriate, I would have been constantly hugging ’em.

New Zealand teachers stand together

Here are the amazing teachers that will go to New Zealand this year!

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“So What’s a Fulbright and Why’d You Want It?”

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

In the past few months, I’ve found myself exclaiming, “I’m going to New Zealand on a Fulbright!” to the grocery clerk, Jiffy Lube employee, random student in the hallway — pretty much anyone who has to interact with me for more than three seconds. But in these interactions, I’ve realized that not everyone knows what a Fulbright award is.

There are different types of Fulbright awards, but they are all U.S. government-sponsored international exchange programs that are designed to increase the mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The award that I applied for is the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, and they chose 43 teachers to go to 11 countries to do research projects on topics they are passionate about.

The history of the award holds a lot of meaning for me. Essentially, after World War II, the U.S. had a surplus of supplies, vehicles, and food. If you think about it, what does one do with all the leftover arms after war? A comparatively easy fix was to sell it to our allies. And the Fulbright award was born from the sale of these leftover arms.

What an amazing thing, that we sell our symbols of destruction for an exchange that fosters cross-cultural understanding, making the world a smaller, more peaceful place?

In a nutshell: The government will cover expenses for me go to New Zealand, build relationships with teachers and administrators, learn about Maori and Pacifica culture, research about the systemic racial and cultural inequities in New Zealand, find ways in which New Zealand has been successful in eliminating those disparities, and then bring back a figurative airplane load of ideas, contacts, and strategies to solving the racial achievement gap at Oak Park and River Forest High School.


Not only is it my ultimate passion, but it’s also something I could never financially accomplish on my own. Pretty much a dream come true.

Jessica wears her Fulbright Pin proudly

Getting my Fulbright pin. I am so happy!

So why’d you want it?

I’ve always admired the Fulbright program. I mean, it’s good company! Forty-three have received a Nobel Prize and 78 have received Pulitzers. And I love the idea that the U.S. government still believes in building relationships in order to create peace and understanding.

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Students, I Am Not Crying Because of You

Disclaimer: this is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

April 16, 2014. I’m sitting, laptop open, listening to my freshmen students give historical and cultural presentations about Iran as pre-reading for the graphic novel Persepolis.

Because my cursive handwriting is far too enthusiastic — it often looks like an acrobat flipping through the air instead of A, B, Cs — I often reach for my computer to type my feedback to the students. And there I was, typing and listening to the social implications of the veil, when a new e-mail popped up on my screen: “Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program Selection Notification.”

My first sensation was that I was going to throw up. I glanced over at a student sitting near me, and he looked back at me with a quizzical look. Oh gosh, I even look like I’m going to throw up, I thought.

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