Wednesday, March 14, 2012


On March 6, 2012, our TGC group joined thousands in celebrating 55 years of Ghana's statehood in Accra's Independence Square.  Ghana was the first African nation to gain independence from Great Britain.     

President John Atta Mills spoke and each branch of the military was featured in a processional.  Student groups, the police, and fire departments joined the military in formation.  The colors of the Ghanaian flag were represented by different uniforms in the square.  Each color represents something significant in Ghanaian history.  Yellow represents gold and the nobility of the Ghanaian character, red represents blood of the nation's freedom fighters, green represents land, and black represents the emancipation of the people of the country.

The best part of the celebration was sitting near a school group, especially watching them buy all kinds of treats from the vendors.


Today I was interviewed by the Editorial Board at Tema Secondary School.  They had many questions for me about high schools in the U.S. and the comparisons I could make between their school and Catalina.  It was a great interaction with an exceptional group of young people.  At the end of the interview, I was given the chance to ask them questions.  The most important question I had was about their goals, dreams, and futures.  Esteban had the same idea when he asked about the aspirations of students.  So, here is my list for this post:
  • Elvis wants to go to university and study law or political science.
  • Grace W. wants to go to university and become an actress.
  • Jeffrey wants to go to university and study medicine to become a surgeon.
  • Eyram wants to go to university and study medicine to become a surgeon.
  • Selena wants to go to university to study business administration.
  • Lydia wants to go to university and study law or political science.
  • Priscilla wants to go to university and get a degree in human resources.
  • Alvin wants to go to university to become an accountant.
  • Grace A. wants to go to university to study business administration.
  • Jacob wants to go to university to study medicine.
This group of students has already been accepted to one of the strongest secondary schools (high school equivalent in the U.S.) in the area.  Depending on their WASSCE (West African Senior School Certificate Examination) results and family's financial situation, they will be able to attend university, at the very least.  In other words, their aspirations are probably in reach. 

Yesterday during a school visit to a middle school, I did not ask this question.  These students' aspirations appear to be tied to the results of tests that will determine if they will qualify for secondary school. 

 The word aspiration did make an appearance during a meeting with a school district official who said, "Schools exist to prepare students to reach the aspirations and demands of the nation."  I have to admit that I was surprised to hear this as a rationale for the existnece of schools.  I flipped this sentence to see if it makes more sense, "Nations exist to prepare schools to meet the aspirations and demands of students."  or "Students exist to prepare nations to meet the aspirations and demands of schools."  From what I've seen and heard from education officials, teachers, students, and administrators,  I do think the original statement is an accurate description of the educational expectations in Ghana.  My feeling is that students should play a more active role in this scenario.  If we say, "children are the future", does that mean only in regard to our country's well-being?  Should a global vision be an explicit part of our aspirations for ourselves and others?  My brain is rather full of this entire experience.  I'm wondering if any blog readers: teachers, administrators, parents, citizens can make sense of these words.

The Tema Secondary School Editorial Board with gifts from students at Catalina Magnet High School.

Students at Aggrey Road Junior Secondary School in Tema, Ghana.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Worlds of Words

As one who loves to read and talk, I find words and word choice endlessly fascinating.  Since I started at Catalina as an English language (ESL, ESOL, EFL, ELD) teacher, my fascination and delight in word usage has grown exponentially.  As Ghana is a former British colony, English is the official language and British English is in use.  An example is the use of "to let" where American English would use "to rent".  There is a sign out my window that in my confused, half-awake state of my first few hours in Ghana I read as " ware house toilet".  I figured it out but I continue to have to remind myself what it is actually saying.  The following is a list of my new favorite words and phrases I've learned, rediscovered, or have been redefined.

1.)  Collapse:  Tuesday, March 6, 2012, marked the 55th year of Ghana's statehood and its independence from Great Britain.  We attendance a celebration in Accra's Independence Square that included President John Atta Mills, the branches of the military, the police, the fire department and various marching and performing student groups.  I ended up sitting with a school group and noticed several emergency brigades run from the sidelines into the rows of groups standing at attention with a stretcher.  I found this process interesting and started counting the numbers that had fainted presumably victims of Ghana's heat and humidity.  This is something Tammy Stewart and Renee Shane Boyd must regularly prepare for as band leaders.  Another teacher asked one of the students sitting by us about it and it turned out she was counting as well.  She described it as "collapse" and although the word is not new, I haven't heard it used outside a description of a dire economic situation.  When I decided to check my numbers later with this student, I added a "for" in front of it.  I don't know why "eight for collapse?" made sense to me (or her, really) but it just worked somehow.  Collapse is a word I have embraced and for will probably precede it from here on out.

2.)  Overspeeding:  Yesterday we accompanied two host teachers, Jonathan and Osman and their students of Accra Girls to Cape Coast to visit Kakum National Park and the Cape Coast Castle.  It was a powerful day and a long bus ride there and back.  I found so much to see and learn from the ride.  One frequently occurring sign said, "Overspeeding Kills".  In the U.S. this word is not used.  We tend to say speeding to mean driving too fast.  I wonder if overspeeding is the same as speeding or when we actually get to overspeeding.  Is it beyond the 7-10 over the speed limit some of deem to be safe speeding? 
(I can't say whether the situation the gentleman appears to be explaining concerns overspeeding.)

3.)  Give way:  Another driving related sign is the equivalent of yield.  It has quite a nice and genteel sound to it.  I imagine it being added to with graffiti or bumper stickers as is sometimes the case with stop signs.

4.)  You're welcome:  I mentioned in an earlier post about the word for welcome used in Accra and my feeling of being welcome throughout my stay.  My visits with Ghanaian teachers and administrators,  have mostly begun with them saying to me, "You're welcome" to which I respond, "Thank you."  The sentiment is the same I would use for visitors to my class or school but the word order is different.  Starting the sentence with the pronoun, you, rather than the implied subject, you, and the verb, welcome, creates a different emphasis on the individual.  Hearing and using these two phrases in this order cause me momentary confusion as "thank you" usually precedes "you're welcome" in my life.  My first post mentions the feeling of being off-balance and the necessary shifts that happen in intercultural situations.  It amazes me that simple changes in word order can give me a chance to look more closely at words I use and the messages they impart. 

5.)  Lament:  I observed several classes on Friday, March 11 at Tema Secondary School.  A few were literature electives during which I became familiar with a few African poets including Faved Angira(Kenya), J.P. Clark (Nigeria), and Sola Owonibi (Nigeria).  During the class discussions, students were identifying and justifying the themes of each of the stanzas.  One student described a stanza as a lament.  I was so taken aback by the use of this word.  It is one that I haven't used, or seen, for quite awhile.  It was wonderful to rediscover such a word and think about that feeling.

6.)  Flashing:  My colleague and I have a sizable commute from Accra to Tema each day.  Our program consultant, Ekem, helped us to arrange for transport by taxi with two different drivers.  On our first day, he asked us to have the drive flash him when we arrived at our hotel.  Our confused looks caused one of the teachers, who had spent time in Indiana, to remind Ekem of another definition of flashing by lifting up his shirt.  They then explained that flashing is a mode of cell phone communication by which one party calls the other and hangs up on the first ring.  The communication can stop there or the person who was "flashed" calls the person back.  It is away to avoid or arrange payment for a potentially expensive phone call.  It seems to communicate a certain power structure within the two parties.  I can only imagine how this plays out within romantic relationships and the conversations/accusations it could produce.

7.)  Botel:  Part of our TGC group is spending time in Cape Coast schools and have moved down there to the Hans Cottage Botel (  Although there are botels in other parts of the world, this is my first contact with this word.  It may also be the only "botel" that has a crocodile picture on its signage and part of its claim to fame.  We will regroup at the end of the week and I can't wait to hear about life in a botel and see photos of these infamous crocodiles.

Friday, March 9, 2012


My first full day in Accra was Monday, March 5. There were many firsts for me on that day besides the obvious ones: first time in Ghana and first time on the continent of Africa, that I felt would be interesting to share.

1.) After a morning class on the history of Ghana given by our education consultant, Ekem Amonoo-Lartson, we headed to a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Accra. This was my first time at an embassy. The meeting included a few embassy officers and several Ghanaian teachers who have participated in IREX programs in the U.S. The embassy representatives were incredibly gracious and the teachers were wonderful to meet. They had a lot of information to share about their classrooms here and their experiences in schools in the U.S.

2.) One subject that typically comes up in any discussion about international travel is food. All of the Ghanaian teachers who spent time in the U.S. mentioned the leaves they were served with their food in the U.S. This was an absolute first for me. Whenever I've heard people talk about American food, vegetables are scarcely mentioned. I'm much more likely to hear about the pizza, the hamburgers, they huge portions, the cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, Twinkies, etc. but I've really never heard about the large number of leaves and other green things being served at most American meals.

Johnson, you asked whether Ghanaians love to eat American food. One teacher said he was not excited about the leaves at first but eventually enjoyed them. I have only seen one American fast food restaurant here, Kentucky Fried Chicken and it was not very crowded.

3.) Monday evening, we were treated to a performance by a Ghanian dance group, Saakumu Dance Troupe ( The show featured traditional music and dancing from several ethnic groups represented in Ghana and a few other West African countries. The group provided literature that listed their U.S. performances; they've performed in several states including mulitple Minnesota locations. The literature also described their performances as "highly participitory" which brings me to another first, dancing with a professional dance troupe. My dancing in public is my daughters' collective worst nightmare. Theirs was an incredible performance and even though my dancing is painful to watch and think about, it was really fun.  Here is a short video of the professionals. 

4.) March 5 is my daughter, Quinn's birthday. Her ninth was the first birthday that I've missed. I know that she was excited for me to have this experience but she really felt like leaving Tuesday was a better option all the way around. Happy birthday Quinn, we'll celebrate when I return.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Arrival (Sunday)

I apologize for not posting earlier.  I have been having some blog difficulties since arriving.  Apparently Google was not expecting me to log in from Ghana.  Anyway, I made it to Accra and have had four very interesting and busy days.  I have lots of photos to share and questions to answer for my students. 

This sign hangs in the hallway that connects the tarmac to the customs area at the airport in Accra.  It says "Akwaaba" which means welcome in one of the many languages spoken in Ghana.  From the start, I've felt very welcome in Ghana.

Gabriel asked how long people can stay in Ghana.  According to my visa, I am allowed to stay for three months but I will, of course, be home after two weeks.  There are some visas that allow multiple entries over several years.  There are also work and student visas that allow people to stay longer.      

I consider this my Sunday or Monday blog entry so I will be making up the days that I missed.  Thanks for reading and for your patience!

The view from my hotel room:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Symposium Realizations

On February 17-18 I attended the TGC pre travel symposium in Washington D.C.  It was an amazing and at times overwhelming experience.  I came away from the weekend with two realizations.

1.)  You can meet your heroes!
There are many who say that meeting those you've admired from afar will only bring disappointment.    One of my cousins admired Jimmy Carter for many years before standing in line at a book signing near her home.  She apparently caught him on an off day or moment and came away completely uninspired if not totally disillusioned.  A music journalist friend of mine had a chance to interview one of his all-time favorite musicians, Neil Young.  He ended up so nervous that he was mostly incoherent throughout the interview.  During the online course portion of TGC, there were so many amazing people and resources introduced to us.  The Symposium brought several of these superstars of global education to sessions and a resource fair.  They did not disappoint!

  • Craig Perrier:  Craig was our online instructor and guide through fantastic resources and challenging assignments.  Craig and I sat at the same dinner table the first night and I so enjoyed talking with him!  He has a great sense of humor and I found him to be interesting and interested-two traits that don't always go together.
  • Julia De La Torre : Julia presented a webinar to our class on global education that was phenomenal.  It was informative, practical, and dead-on!  She was received so positively by our online community that I actually feared that meeting her in person would be too much for us all.  When I caught up with her in-between sessions, she couldn't have been more gracious, smart, and just all-around awesome.  
  • Susanna Halliday Miller and Kristin LaBoe:  Susanna and Kristin are two of the most visible of the TGC team.  They were so helpful to me throughout the course and in setting up travel and negotiating with my district.  I worried a bit about our meeting after my many questions and "situations".  They are lovely and incredibly competent women.  I am so happy to get to travel with Susanna, in three days!
  • TGC Fellows:  What an interesting group of truly dedicated professionals.  I could have spent most of the weekend looking at and discussing the work they are doing in their classrooms or their fascinating schools and lives.  I feel fortunate and humbled to be included in this outstanding group. 
2.)  Wearing a name tag with a fact on it is a great way to get your head around something BIG.
My symposium name tag said:  Meg Riley

Yes, the word, Arizona, prompted many conversations about the state of education and politics in our state and district.  More importantly were the comments about my future travel.  Over and over I heard, "You're going to Ghana!"  My response became, "Yes, in two weeks."  I have known that I am going to Ghana since December but hearing it over and over again made it real.  It was an incredibly effective way to keep something in the forefront on my mind.  So effective, in fact, that I've considered wearing a name tag like this as a way to process all the major events and impending dates in my life.  My name tag could say things like:                
                                                        Meg Riley
                                                        Mid-Quarter grades are due on Friday
                                                        Meg Riley
                                                        Capstone Project due in October

or  even                                           Meg Riley
                                                        My daughter will be a teenager (officially)  in 1.5 years.

Right now my name tag now says, "school starts in one hour" and "you have at least 3, 000 to do before leaving for Ghana in three days".  Thanks for reading, my next post will hopefully be written in Accra, Ghana.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


This is my first attempt at blogging:  a requirement for Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) fellows.  TGC is a program under IREX (International Research and Exchange Board), a division of the U.S. State Department.  TGC is a course designed for secondary educators who are working on globalizing their teaching.  I am proud to be one of 60 some fellows who make up the inaugural group of this amazing program.

The title of my blog may require some clarification.  It is not an international real estate site or the latest HGTV program.  Instead, it is a mash-up of recent conversations with colleagues and the way in which my brain processes and functions best (?).  I am a dedicated, and at times, compulsive list-maker.  I write lists on scraps of paper or in various books made expressly for that purpose. Lists bounce around in my brain, and I even use a method described by one of Amy Tan's characters involving assigning one item to each fingertip.  Lately I've had several conversations about the best method to present information such as a department budget or a justification for an international professional development opportunity.  We've wondered whether people really read narrative or are they more likely to read and comprehend information presented in bulleted format.  I don't know that I will be able to answer this question definitively, but the list format makes sense to me for now.

Another interpretation could be made based on a definition of listing:  to incline to one side; careen.  This is one of my mom's favorite words. She uses it when we have one of our inspired room rearranging sessions usually involving picture hanging.  At first, global leaning seemed to underestimate my current work, worldview, and overall commitment to global education.  Through my TGC coursework, I realize I have work to do.  It is important for me to think critically about my practice and use the tools I have been provided to evaluate and reflect on what I am doing.  I'd like to think of listing as heading in the right direction-a way to get from here to there.

Finally, listing connotates an instability or imbalance, even discomfort.  In my experience, feelings of discomfort are a crucial part of changing behavior and practice. Change is difficult, often confusing, and uncomfortable.  This is the beauty of it.  As I work on globalizing my classes and hopefully assist others to do so as well, there will be those moments of imbalance and discomfort.  Does growth ever come without these feelings?  I will keep this close as I prepare for my upcoming trip to Ghana:  a journey that will undoubtably provide many moments of imbalance and discomfort and ultimately growth.