Cuando el periodismo se convierte en historiografía

Siempre me ha fascinado la historia; de pequeña, leía historia de cualquier época, de cualquier país o región. Para mí – como seguro que para cualquier aficionado – la historia no era otra cosa que un cuento de más y la distinción entre ficción y realidad no era un aspecto relevante. Leía historia para enterarme de cómo vivía la gente de una época, qué tenían y qué les faltaba a las personas, qué pensaban y qué deseaban, cuáles eran los acontecimientos por los que pasaban, qué sentían, cómo se lo llevaban. Estos hombres y mujeres eran personajes – históricos, sí – en la historia de turno que leía y, como llegué a enterarme más tarde, sus historias, sus vidas, sus acontecimientos no tenían absolutamente nada menos interesante que cualquier novela u obra ficticia. Más tarde, aprendí que las historias mismas de las novelas se inspiran a menudo de la vida real – no es por nada que en castellano la palabra es la misma, tanto para el cuento como para la disciplina.

Seguí con mis viajes imaginarios durante prácticamente toda la adolescencia y la edad adulta, para luego empezar a escribir yo misma. Seguí trayendo conmigo en todas las casas que habité en todos los países en los que viví los manuscritos de la adolescencia (cuando todavía no tenía un ordenador), los textos impresos ya de la época de la uni. Dejé en la casa de mis padres los recortes de revistas y periódicos que publicaron alguna vez algunas de mis cartas como lectora, todas las entregas del periódico en el que publiqué por primera vez como periodista. Me he quedado para siempre en los archivos de la agencia de noticias para la que envié desde muchos lugares de España correspondencias y fotos durante más de seis años. Sigo escribiendo en este blog que pienso transformar un día en un diario un poco más articulado.

Pero justo en estos momentos estoy en la recta final de mi tesis doctoral – un ambicioso proyecto de análisis de la prensa rumana de España.  A pesar de las apariencias, escribir no siempre es puro placer y relajación, sino que muchas veces se convierte en un proceso dolorido y complicado, consumidor y agotador. Queda por ver si la ambición va a acabar con los intentos o con la tesis.

No obstante, al repasar un capítulo en el que analizaba los artículos y noticias de un periódico rumano que se publicó en papel durante una década en España, tuve la aguda sensación que leía ya historia.

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This Question of Colours

So, L´Oréal decided to remove words like white, light and fair from its products – all in the aftermath of global anti-racist protests all over the world.

My very first reaction was on the fun side and I eventually read it on some Facebook post: then they should also remove words like bronze, tan, brown, dark, coloured – because that would be appropriation. Just to be on the very safe side and make sure we are all politically correct.

Then I thought that logically speaking, racism – or any other -ism – is not defined by words as semantic categories (parts of speech), but by their use and the significance it is given to them. So, in order to get rid of this nonsensical headache, maybe we should try to not put the cart before the horses:  you fight racism with information, education, explanations, communication. Basically, by using your words – not by eliminating them. Language shouldn´t have to adapt to the speech; it´s the complete other way around.

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Teaching English in Times of Pandemic

A far-away society where people are taught to avoid direct contact at all costs, necessary face-to-face interaction (such as when you have to procreate) is considered dirty business, communication is performed exclusively through enhanced technology – holograms, 3D screens and the likes of it – and a deep fear of human contact is so strong that some may even consider suicide to avoid it. This was the first imagined paradigm of social distancing I ever came across in a book (The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov), many years before reality beat the life out of fiction and made us all at least consider the situation, as well as its consequences.

I am considered to be a millenial, which basically means I have come to age along with the internet. I can still distinctly remember the first time we went to an internet café in the mid 90s in Romania – there was a group of us skipping some class – to go check what all the fuss about the internet was. I remember one of my classmates who had the privilege of having a computer at home (not connected to the internet, though) sat in front of it while we stood and watched how he typed the three magic Ws to get on the first webpage I had ever seen. Soon after, another colleague taught me how to set up a free email account to keep in touch after having met in different city while taking part in some high-school language competition.

I turned 18 in the last year of the millenium and even though I can still remember those two previous moments of my discovering the internet, I can´t remember a single milestone instance ever since when I didn´t somehow rely on the internet. From the applications I sent to universities abroad, the scholarships and job interviews, the emails and facetime sessions used to keep in touch with friends and family, up to the very jobs I have had – everything ultimately depended on online connections.

I am an English teacher now and what seemed to be the source of some extra income when I was a student turned out to be a profession of choice. I love teaching English, so when I was faced with the interdiction to leave the house because of this pandemic, I didn´t think too much into it. I didn´t even consider there might be anything to think about, or any difference, for that matter. I sent my students the invites to the virtual classroom and got on with it. Besides, I could also consider myself lucky: of all the jobs that could NOT be done remotely, teaching was definitely not one.

The fall from my zen-induced grace came soon enough: from the open mics and consequent partial loss of hearing because of the plain rustling of papers at the other end of the connection to the sheer lack of savvy of some students, everything opened up to a world of miscommunication, misdeeds, mistakes, misunderstandings, and misconceptions. I was blissfully (and shamefully) unaware, so I decided to get some inside information and facts.

What follows is the result of the friendly contribution of 59 EFL teachers from all over the world who kindly agreed to answer 18 questions on the effects of the pandemic on teaching English. Here are the raw data. And here goes my completely biased interpretation of it all.

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Vuelta a la (nueva) normalidad

normalidad oms

Esta era una foto que ya circulaba por allí hace tiempo – no es nada nuevo – pero, más allá del chiste, lleva algo que anime a pensar. ¿Qué es lo normal? ¿Hay una definición de lo que es, o más bien de lo que no es lo normal? ¿Hay niveles o grados de normalidad, o es una noción tajante: sí o no?

Hace un par de días hablaba con una amiga que me decía: <<Jo, a ver si pronto salimos de esto, para poder abrazarnos, darnos besos, tocarnos. Ha sido una pesadilla esto del aislamiento: ¿cómo le puedes decir a un español, a un italiano, mantener la distancia, no tocarnos, no respirar cerca…?>>. Personalmente, veo con mucha dificultad dónde cabe tanta ansia por no solo estar en larga y amplia compañía, en la calle, en una terraza, sino por estar cerca de alguien(es), por tocarse, por darse besos y abrazarse. Pero esto es lo mío: aun después de más de una década en España, sigo sin haberme acostumbrado a este actuar tan (demasiado) cercano, tan físico y personal; algunas veces lo he percibido incluso como un poco invasor de mi espacio personal, físico y mental.

Desde el principio de la cuarentena en España, más allá de los ánimos y eslóganes de solidaridad y <<esto lo paramos juntos>>, <<quédate en casa y salva vidas>>, lo que más eco tenían eran las palabras que vislumbraban un futuro no muy lejano en el que íbamos a dejar todo esto atrás, para volver a la normalidad, volver a lo de antes, a llenar las plazas, las terrazas y las playas. Como si todo fuese a ser un paréntesis: abrimos el paréntesis, lo pasamos mal, pero hacemos nuestros deberes cívicos, respetamos las reglas, escuchamos a los especialistas y las autoridades, para luego cerrar el paréntesis y volver a pasarlo bien. Como en el colegio y la época de las promesas sencillas, los pactos con los padres y los maestros: sed buenos y tendréis recompensas; si estudias, eres buen alumno, disciplinado, dedicado y te esfuerzas, vas a tener muy buenas notas.

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What We Should Learn from This

When you need perspective, you take a step back. What is right now probably not easily visible, because the foreground is currently centred someplace else, could become less so in the weeks to come. And it would be a shame to waste such an opportunity to make everything digital available to more people.

This crisis, that is as a health-related one, could soon turn out to have social intricacies. Barely had we survived a weekend under quarantine.  Next, we have been literally flooded with free online resources: courses and classes, theatre and opera plays, movies and books, advice and expertise on how to videoconference and take your business online.

I would like to think this was rooted in a sort of cultural and educational solidarity. When you have time to spare on your hands, what do you do? You read, you watch movies, you take up a course, you brush up on your foreign language knowledge, you sign up for a yoga class, you learn some tricks on digital marketing to boost up your client base.

Yet, when this time to spare is forced by circumstances, when you must stay in with this invisible sword hanging over your head, doubled up by counting the days before you can get back to your job, because this is not actually a holiday – then you can´t even be bothered to check what opera house has opened its virtual doors to all or what highly praised and awarded movies are out there free to watch from the comfort of your couch and secured by the speedy wireless internet connection in your home.

And even if you can be bothered: we all know this is going to go away as soon as we are all allowed to go back to our jobs. This is an exceptional situation and it´s all nice and generous we are all sharing and caring right now, but how is this going to work when we must all go back to charging and paying for everything, including education?

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Los aplausos que dan pavor

El primer día fue emocionante – lo confieso abiertamente. Sólo con pensar que tú estás aprovechando la tranquilidad y seguridad de tu hogar para protegerte, mientras que otros van a trabajar, y además muchos voluntariamente, para luchar contrarreloj con un virus, arriesgando sus propias vidas por vocación profesional, bueno: todo esto tiene que emocionar.

Personalmente, sólo pude asemejar la situación con la de hace nueve años ya, cuando el desastre de Fukushima nos hacía llegar noticias horrorosas sobre una parecida lucha contrarreloj de los trabajadores de la central que se habían quedado atrás, tratando de paliar los efectos de la radiación. En aquel momento recuerdo que pensé, como todo el mundo: pero esa gente ya sabe que va a enfermar, que se van a morir, y allí siguen, sacrificándose.

No pongo en duda el sacrificio del personal sanitario de España – pero sí la motivación de los que salen en los balcones cada noche. A mí me dan pavor.

El primer día fue emocionante.

El segundo día, empezaron a ovacionar como pidiendo un encore en una obra de teatro.

El tercer día, escuché silbidos – de reconocimiento, claro – como en las pocas ocasiones que fui a ver un partido de fútbol. Es decir, como en un estadio.

El cuarto día, me llega en uno de los grupos de WhatsApp ya petados con memes y vídeos del confinamiento y del “cómo me aburro en casa” un llamamiento de profesionales de apoyo a las personas con discapacidad que piden respetuosamente a la gente que desde los mismos balcones-estadio les insulta e increpa – que deje de hacerlo. Piensen ustedes, se apunta en el llamamiento, que, si ven a alguien andando por la calle con apoyo, será porque esa persona recibe una ayuda terapéutica necesaria, y son las fuerzas de seguridad desplegadas en las calles quienes deciden quién debe o puede estar allí. Estos profesionales también están trabajando; ellos también se están sacrificando y exponiendo a la infección, también por vocación. ¿A ellos quién les aplauda u ovaciona cada noche?

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Viața pe plantație în vremea coronei

Și am vrut să-mi păstrez zenuiala, asta v-o jur – iar eu nu prea jur cam nimic și pe nimic în viața de zi cu zi. Dar deh, acuma ne trăim viața în vremea coronei.

Pentru început, pot spune că e o viață obișnuită pe plantație, la fel ca în vremurile relativ normale când puteai să mergi cu metroul la muncă (pe alocuri chiar neaglomerat dacă poziția căpătată pe plantație îți permitea să ajungi la birou la ore mai târzioare așa, în jur de 10 dimineața), să pui mâna pe bancnote dacă era musai, să faci cumpărăturile fără să stai la coadă, dar gândindu-te la ce carte mai ai de citit când ajungi acasă, ce idei de gătit ți-au mai venit sau ce conversații de politică externă sau filosofie te mai așteaptă vineri seară, când ai voie să ieși de pe plantație vreme de două zile jumate, să faci ce vrei cu cine vrei.

Unii dintre mai fericiții zilieri supracalificați ai secolului 21 au ajuns chiar la un asemenea nivel de sănătate mintală că se puteau bucura în pace că, după peste 15 ani de supraviețuit în câmpul muncii în trei țări europene și în tot atâtea domenii de activitate, creierul lor a învățat să se deconecteze total și să nu piardă nici o secundă în plus procesând informații legate de munca de a doua zi.

Ce mai, înainte de corona, plantația era plantație, munca rămânea acolo și nu îți rămânea decât să te gândești la ce mai poți face în timpul liber (nu cred că acest loisir care sună așa frumos în franceză, că nu am vrut să-l evit, a fost vreodată mai plin de semnificație ca acum) pe care ți-l asiguri cu garanții – se părea – pentru că muncești șapte ore pe zi cu spor și voie bună. Viața în vremea coronei cam șterge orice urmă de limite (pentru ale căror stipulări unii au murit, alții au luptat, unii au ieșit în stradă, alții s-au revoltat) între plantație și viața după ce se stinge lumina pe zisa plantație. E vorba de limitele dintre ceea trebuie să faci în fiecare zi ca să-ți poți asigura o lume interioară suficient de bogată ca să nu te scufunzi în disperarea monotoniei și rutinei și momentele când apuci să te bucuri de această lume interioară ignorând fericit restul.

Ei bine, aceste diferențieri devin invizibile de când cu telemunca. Chiar dacă plantația își desfășoară activitatea într-un domeniu în care aceasta se poate continua fără probleme de acasă, cu un laptop, un telefon mobil și sfântul internet (ferească cine-o fi să ni se taie netul), lucrurile nu stau strălucit.

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Inglés B2 con temario a 100€

La primera vez que un alumno me comentó que se dice por allí que hay un cierto número de temas en la parte de Writing de un examen oficial de inglés y que talvez podríamos trabajar estos temas en concreto durante las clases, pensé que se trataba de un gran malentendido.

En un segundo capítulo, una alumna me preguntó en clase si tengo conocimiento de la validez de unos 10 temas de la parte de Speaking que una señora le ofreció vender en un grupo de Facebook por 100 euros.

La tercera parte baja el telón sobre una perfecta escena de teatro del absurdo. Una profesora me cuenta que verás… sus alumnas del grupo de preparación del C1 están en un grupo de Facebook. Oh, boy! —se me escapa. That´s what I thought —me comenta la profesora; y sigue: que sus alumnas que están en ese grupo de Facebook se han enterado que en la parte de Reading del examen toca uno de tres textos sobre (en este orden): los osos panda, Singapore y algo sobre los micro créditos. Y que si por favor ¿podríamos preparar estos temas, con vocabulario específico? Ah, y por cierto, ¿no habría una lista de vocabulario para exámenes oficiales?

La curiosidad me pica.

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What One Can Learn from Teaching

There is this book I have been reading, The Death of Expertise, whose pompous subtitle The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters initially made me think it´s going to be an <<unputdownable>>. The author argues that in times when everybody not only has an opinion, but that opinion also has to be respected as such by everybody else, here we are facing the situation where the lines between fact and opinion are awfully blurred and even more so, knowledge is something everybody has, on any topic whatsoever. Tom Nichols defends the expertise and experts, making a pretty convincing point that by sheer definition, it is that difficult to be an expert on any given field as it is easy to be the superficial owner of some very questionable degree of knowledge you can force on others to respect under the newly discovered virtues of tolerance and individual freedom of opinion. He blames among other factors the (American) higher education system that grants more people than ever access to a degree, thus invalidating the differentiation that the name itself bears. Okay, all good so far, at least good enough to keep reading. But then he goes on and says something that falls within the lines of downright shaming teachers who claim “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me”. He explains that “with due respect to my colleagues in the teaching profession who use this expression, I am compelled to say: if that´s true, then you´re not a very good teacher“.

Well, I beg to differ. This is when I do put down the book and can´t help but think that is not at all accurate. Leaving aside the “very good teacher part” — an utterly subjective matter of opinion nonetheless which asks for an entirely different conversation about peer review and student feedback (the author also argues in a bit of a questionable way that student evaluation is too subjective to be reliable enough) and the relevance and relativity of both when it comes to assessing educators — I do feel that I learn a lot from my students.

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When Hate Catches You Unaware

When I first decided to share my first post on several Facebook English teaching groups, little had I suspected I was already on a bitter path. The kind of path that you find yourself on when you ask for opinions and what you get is an open personal attack based exclusively on where you were born. One could also say I was looking for it, just by being there.

Did I not know there are people who still think like a century ago when it comes to language, race, culture or religion? Did I not at least suspect that there are people who are still willing to use nationality or birthplace to label, judge and condemn all at once? Did I really expect to have a decent conversation, however controversial? Absolutely. What I never intended was for a question about the appropriateness of teaching English as a non-native speaker or what and how native speakers feel about sharing a profession with non-native counterparts to lead to aggressive verbal attacks from some of the former.

However annoyed a native English speaker might have felt when reading my question, did that even begin to justify my being called “you and your people are the scourge of Europe and nothing will get the smell of campfire out of you”? Did that somehow explain my receiving private messages with pictures of poorly dressed people in front of an ATM, allegedly trying to rob someone and supposedly sharing my nationality, only to help make the point that my countrymen know nothing better than stealing as if that were somehow a fact? Did my question actually justifiably provoke people to lash out on my English accent, even though they had never heard me speak? Did that somehow logically result in a discussion about the wrongs of immigration, the reasons some voted for Brexit or what a mistake the EU was?

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