by Belén Albarracín
If there is one event in my life that was so far-fetched and that I could have never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams, was that of winning a travel grant last December to attend the CyTEA Conference in Cyprus.
When I received the email that my Project “Student Empowerment through the Integration of Virtual Reality” had been selected to present at the CyTEA Conference, I was genuinely thrilled, but at the same time overwhelmed by a feeling of uncertainty that only larger than life events hold. There are 12,875 km separating Argentina from Cyprus and it took three planes to get there. I can mildly put it into words as getting from a remote location, as in ‘the end of the world’, to an island in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Before and after Cyprus
Attending the Cyprus Teachers of English Association Conference (CyTEA) thanks to the travel grant awarded by the IATEFL Learning Technologies SIG has been without a doubt one of the highlights in my professional career. It was the first time that I have been given the opportunity to present at an International Conference in front of the most diverse audience one can imagine. So I felt ecstatic in a foreign country with all these ideas to share with teachers, who came mainly from Cyprus but also from Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Israel.
I rely a lot in the synergy that is generated by the professionals who attend a conference and the one that permeated the CyTEA Conference was truly awesome. Maria Diakou, the host of the CyTEA Conference was into every detail and she made me feel very special from day one by mentioning me in the opening ceremony and throughout my stay in Cyprus. Christina Giannikas, the Development Administrator of the LTSIG was very supportive in my first workshop abroad. Everybody was genuinely warm. When they discovered that I had travelled all the way from Argentina, their jaws dropped and they were even more welcoming.
One of the main topics as regards Perspectives and Challenges in ELT was certainly that of Multiculturalism in the classroom. I found this topic certainly enlightening when it came down to the reality in this part of the world when “home is the mouth of a shark” and how relevant it is in this context to foster empathy in students above everything when you have different cultural backgrounds in the classroom. Dr. Daniel Xerri shared the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire in his opening plenary and this was utterly moving and raised my awareness on this fact. Dr. Julia Sarris also dealt with this topic and offered interesting ideas on how to make this transition and adaptation smoother for kids.
I also had the chance to meet amazing teachers such as Micki Zaritsky, Mona Siksek, Vassiliki Mandalou, Tasoula Katsiami, Evangelia Vassilakou, Elena Kyprianou, Vivian Constanta among many others who made my stay there unforgettable and with whom I exchanged ideas about teaching, technology and similarities and differences in our countries. All these teachers share the same drive, passion and critical eye when it comes to education and in many aspects we were on the same wavelength.
Just say YES: Why Travel grants should be pursued and seized
The travel grants offered by IATEFL LTSIG are unique professional opportunities we need to seize to broaden our horizons. In a globalised world, it is so enriching for us to grow as multicultural teachers because this has a direct impact in our teaching and students. There is no way one can stay the same after listening to other educators sharing their passions and realities. And even though I am all for the use of Virtual Reality and its integration in the classroom, these cultural exchanges one gets to experience face-to-face are irreplaceable. They definitely and fortunately permeate our teaching practice.
Belén Albarracín is an English teacher from the Joaquin V. Gonzalez Teacher Training College in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is a Sworn Translator (UMSA) and a University Expert in e-learning at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (UTN). She teaches the subject Global Perspectives in 7th form and she is also a Facilitator of ICT at Bayard School in Palermo. She won the Robert O´Neil Scholarship 2018 IATEFL to attend the Conference in Brighton. She was awarded a Travel grant by the Learning Technologies SIG to attend the Cyprus Teachers of English Association Conference (CyTEA) in Cyprus in December 2018 where she delivered a workshop on how to integrate VR technology in the classroom. This year she presented a talk on the same topic at IATEFL Conference in Liverpool.