rolade's blog

To motivate, inspire and work smartly

This month, I have been coming home later than usual due to extra hours spent helping my students prepare for their international tests (IELTS – International English Language Testing System, TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language, CAE – Cambridge Advanced English and BULATS- Business Language Testing Service). These tests are designed to assess the language ability of individuals to study or work in a country where English is the language of communication. Last year, world-wide, IELTS alone had over 2 million takers who wanted to study in universities in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and tertiary institutions in several European cities, such as Paris and Amsterdam.

My international test preparation students are highly motivated, and this is because they have a goal (i.e. to obtain the required grade for university admission). Their motivation shines in their attitudes and behaviours during our lessons and in the quality of their assignment.

I believe that motivation is a major key factor of success: the more you have it, the quicker you reach your target. My students are motivated by high grades and acceptance into higher education, which can lead to a successful career that has implications on their personal and social lives.

Not so long ago, I received a compliment from our Director of Studies with these statements: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” (You can replace ‘teacher’ with parent or boss).

Online shopping

End of February this year, I succumbed to the temptation of online shopping for clothes. My birthday was coming and I thought of getting myself a gift in case my significant others fail to remember it (neither I was going to remind them nor suffer in silence). I decided to do it online because it is convenient and offers a variety of choices and fairly competitive prices.

Online shopping (E-shop, internet shop, e-store, web-store) is buying of goods and services from a seller over the internet using a browser, and the most common methods of payment are credit cards and by PayPal.

I visited 2 websites recommended by a colleague; but because I found their dresses expensive, I searched for other similar vendors. Finally, I chose a good looking website with lovely photos and clear information (e.g. size and price). While some online shops require both the billing/buyer’s and shipping/receiver’s addresses to be the same, the one I had selected allows customers to send items anywhere in the world.

Body and Organ Donation

“If the doctor had asked for the body of my daughter, I would have said yes. I don’t want any parent to go through this. Hope they’ll soon find the real cause and treatment for it.” I couldn’t control the tears rolling down my cheeks thinking of the generosity of this mother who burried her 19yo daughter three days before my visit to her home.

I had thought of donating my body parts to save lives but not to science (and why not?) The human body is the source of knowledge necessary for medical education and research. Any major or adult person of sound mind can donate his/her body for medical education and research; and there’s no upper age limitation. In all cases, a written and witnessed autorisation is required prior to death. Our family members or doctor should be informed of our decision as it’s them or our executor who notify the recipient- centre/institution. Medical and research institutions in most countries refuse bodies that resulted from a suicide, have been subjected to an autopsy or had infectious diseases, e.g. HIV. Donated bodies are cremated and family can obtain the ashes if not forbidden by the donour.

How about donating my body for transplantation? According to journal articles, my sole body (with healthy kidneys, lungs, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, cornea, bones, skin, etc) can help as many as 50 people.

Comparing food and well/ill being in 125 countries

This month, it hasn’t been easy to decide what to write as there as several interesting issues that have come my way. Should I respond to my English friends' remarks about French politics, morality and mentality? Should I share my first chess tournament experience involving nearly one hundred (only about a dozen female) players? The PISA results? How about food and health?

According to the recent OXFAM survey of 125 countries on food availability, diversity, affordability and quality, the best country is Netherlands; followed by France and Switzerland. The other top countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal. (www.oxfam.org.uk)

Unfortunately, among these 12 countries, Australia has the highest obesity level (27% of its population). Forty-two per cent of Kuwaitis while a third of Americans and Egyptians are obese. The study doesn't include the Pacific Islands; however, it notes that these nations have the highest level of obesity in the world. For instance, 72% of Nauru’s population is obese. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has the highest rate of diabetes.

Expectedly, there is very little obesity in Bangladesh, Nepal and Ethiopia; and malnutrition is worst in Yemen, India and Madagascar.

The 10 worst countries in terms of food availability, diversity, affordability and quality are Chad, Angola, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Yemen, Niger, Burundi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.

Goodbye 2013 Welcome 2014

Happy new year to you and your loved ones!

Like most of you, during the festive season, I spent a lot of time with my family and friends dining, playing board games and watching movies. I particularly like films which are based on facts or true stories, and in 2013 these ranged from horror (e.g. ‘The Conjuring’) to politics.

The last one I saw in 2013 was ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ While queuing my attention was directed at the classification notice, and I wondered why it’s not allowed for viewers under 12 years old. My husband chose this film and since I didn’t read the reviews, all I knew was that the main actor was Leonardo di Caprio (playing Jordan Belfort) and it’s about the world of finance and stock market.

After 20 minutes of the 3 hours, I thought of the under 12yo restriction. How can it be only ‘-12yo’; it should be at least ‘-18yo’. Upon returning home, I told my 18yo son that this is not worth his while -- there’s unnecessary show of drug use, sex and swearing. He looked surprised and mentioned the talent of the director. Well, to be objective, I pointed out that there are only two positive things in this movie: 1. You can start from scratch and be successful (but contrary to what Belfort’s said, I believe money does not automatically make you a better person); and 2. Crime doesn’t pay (Belfort made millions by defrauding others. In his Dad’s words “someday you’ve to mend the broken pieces”. I watched it in French so this may not be the exact phrase in the English version).

On the other hand, my 12yo and 18yo sons have watched “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom” and I’m glad they did. At first, I was skeptical due to the scenes of violence (which really happened; e.g. police brutality and ‘Soweto uprising’ in 1976). To date, we still continue to talk about it; especially issues regarding human rights, equality and what make a ‘great person’ – discussions that have led us, so far, to exchange views on Gandhi and notable presidents.

Generosity, Politics, Economy and Disasters

Like most weekends, my last Saturday was spent talking to family and friends in Australia. Our conversations focused mainly on Halyan, a category 5 typhoon that hit the Philippines badly on November 2013 causing deaths, injuries and destructions. One of these friends was still saying goodbye to her guests when I called. They had a birthday party and instead of gifts, she requested cash donation for the typhoon victims. The A$1,000 she collected will be used to buy nails, lumber and other basic construction materials for three families whose houses were destroyed. When there’s a disaster, no effort or help is insignificant.

Overall, the global community has been kind to the Halyan victims and there are reports of many Governments that pledged to send cash: e.g. the USA US$20 plus massive military rescue operations; Australia A$10M; Japan A$10M; European Union about E13M; UK £6M – just to name a few. As well, there are international, national and local NGOs; banks; companies and individuals whose generosity hasn’t made headlines. On the contrary, China – the second largest economy in the world – has attracted world’s attention due to its original pledge of $200,000 (which was increased to $2M after global criticisms – i.e. “peanuts” compared to a Swedish furniture chain’s offer of $2.7M through its charitable foundation). Meanwhile the Canadian Government matches every dollar donated by its citizens to the Halyan victims.

Is giving aid or helping others (during disaster or not) culturally- and nationally-driven?

Literature & Arts or Maths & Science?

I bumped recently into an acquaintance, who with an obvious sigh of relief on her face, announced that her high school daughter is doing Literature. We’re in France, hence I would like to talk first about the secondary schooling in this country.

Secondary education in France consists of Collège (junior high, 11 - 14 years old; 4 years of schooling) and Lycée (senior high, 15 - 18 years old; 3 years of schooling). Like in most high schools in developed countries, the core subjects in Collège are Math, Science, History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Physical Education and languages. At the Lycée students prepare for the Baccalauréat (known as ‘le bac’) which opens the door to a tertiary education or the workforce.

The Lycée is divided into general (for university studies), technology (for short-term studies) and professional (vocational qualification). During the first year at Lycée (known as Seconde), students choose a stream (série): S – Scientific, ES – Economic and Social, and L – Literature. The S is mainly high level mathematics, physics-chemistry and biology-geology. The L is heavily focused on French language & literature, foreign languages & literature and philosophy. ES covers economics and social sciences.

Taxes, taxes, taxes

There’s no half a day when I don’t encounter newspaper articles, radio reports, TV documentaries and talks about taxes. Every tax payer I come across sounds unhappy with how much they contribute to Government services.

Late last year, in France, there was the famous (or infamous) decision of one of its film stars, Gerard Depardieu, to take a Russian citizenship for tax reason, i.e. in response to the Socialist Government’s introduction of 75% tax on earnings above 1M Euros. Paying taxes is an act of duty and solidarity, but …

When we think of taxes, we often have ‘personal income tax’ in mind; but there are many other national, regional and local taxes, such as those imposed on capital gains, land and residential properties, corporations and specific situations (e.g. inheritance and lodging taxes in France). It’s true though that we mostly pay taxes on our personal income and purchases (VAT - Value Added Tax).

There are national similarities and differences when it comes to taxes and how these are spent. In France, its citizen-residents have to pay taxes on their world-wide income; whereas non-residents must complete a return only if they receive income from letting properties in the country. Similarly, in Australia, non-residents are taxed only on their Australian-sourced income.

Beggars and begging

While watching the French Chess championship in Nancy last month, a lady sitting next to me said that she regrets giving one Euro to a teenage beggar with a non-French accent. According to her, in less than a second the one Euro disappeared from the beggar’s palm while a 10-cent coin emerged from his sleeve. She was embarrassed being told in public that the 10 cents won’t buy half a loaf of bread thus she grinned, “You won’t get a penny from me again.”

Recently, while entering a supermarket, a young woman with a baby caught my friend’s attention and thought of giving them some money on her way out. Fair enough, an hour later there was a woman with a baby at the same spot; however, they had different faces and other physical attributes, hairstyles and clothes. She concluded that the ones she saw earlier on had finished their shift.

I’m ambivalent when it comes to beggars: my heart says give while my mind dictates otherwise. A few months ago, I read an article about an Austrian Police’s revelation that beggars in Vienna are tied to the Eastern-European mafia. Apparently, the mafia requires women, children and the disabled from Rumania to bring in 80 Euros a day by begging and subject them to violent abuse when they fail to do so. Consequently, a new law has been introduced to make professional begging illegal in Austria.

Preventing Strokes

A stroke occurs when brain cells die because of lack of oxygen impacting on the person’s mental and physical abilities. This happens when: a) blood clot blocks an artery carrying blood from the heart to the body; or b) blood vessel breaks interrupting the flow of the blood to the brain. Its effect on the patient depends on which part of the brain the stroke takes place and how much damage has been done. Those with a small stroke have minor problems and recover completely. Serious strokes can lead to disability or death.

According to www.medicalnewstoday.com (seen on 26/7/13), the risk factors of stroke are: over 55 years old, middle-aged women with clinical depression, male, family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking cigarettes, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, high levels of amino acid in the blood, cocaine use, birth control or use of hormone therapy, heavy use of alcohol; men from divorced families have a higher chance.

The prevention of stroke is based on a healthy lifestyle. Studies have shown that walking for at least 30 minutes each day reduce the risk of stroke for women. The food known to help fight against stroke are: tomatoes and other antioxidant fruits and vegetables, beans, oats, almonds, soy, salmon and other fatty fish, and those rich in potassium (e.g. bananas, potatoes, prunes, raisins) and magnesium (e.g. barley and cornmeal). Meanwhile, the bad triggers are processed food with fatty or unhealthy ingredients in the form of preservatives and colourings.

...selected paragraphs from BRolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com

Our world is indivisible

It’s supposed to be summer here in France but last week it felt like 10°C, there was a severe flooding in the south-west and it’s overcast most days. Summer heat waves in Australia have increased over the last 50 years. The world’s average temperature is now 8°C warmer than a century ago and such increase can lead to even more extreme climatic events, such as very hot days with bushfires and substantial storms and rainfalls.

The Earth is wrapped in a layer of greenhouse gases which makes conditions right for life (for us to live) by keeping our planet warm and protecting it from cold (known as greenhouse effect). Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main actor of the greenhouse effect. When excessive amount of CO2 is released in the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) for our energy use, climate change occurs; and inefficient use of this energy damages our planet.

On 17th June 2013 I went to a public meeting on climate and energy. The speaker, Mr. Pierre Radanne, spoke about ‘transition energétique’: the reconstruction in 1996, the petrol crisis in 1973 and the current situation (i.e. global obligation, national responsibility and individual action).

He emphasised that we’re paying for the ignorance and behaviours of previous generations, and this should stop. In France, for example, the consumption of energy are: residential comfort (e.g. heating) – 27%, food 18%, information & education 8% and leisure 8%. How can we reduce these figures? Someone from the audience divulged how her school managed to reduce its energy consumption by 50% by changing heaters and appliances.

Global education on First-Third World divide

Last week when I was tidying up our computer room, I noticed that our son’s Year 7 (5ème in France) History and Geography textbook was opened on pages with articles on health and education in Mali and Finland. There were statistics on income, life expectancy and literacy rate (i.e. 15-24 years old in Mali it’s 36% for men and 23% for women whereas in Finland it’s 100% for both groups).

I thought it was an opportunity to expand the subject, but why question on the reasons for such differences was met with resistance expressed in these phrases: "We’ve not learnt that yet," "It’s not included in our lesson" and "Our test won’t be on that."

Formal education (school) should not only be about learning by heart facts and figures and passing exams, but applications and making connections. Three billion people, which is almost half of the world’s population of 7 billion, live on less than 2 Euros (US $2.55)/day and many of them don’t have adequate education, shelter, safe water for drinking, and access to health and social services. Since most of us in developed (First World) countries don’t belong to this group, why should we bother, especially that we also have our own problems? It’s because we live in a globalised Earth and are both part of the problems and solutions.

In one of my previous articles, I discussed poverty in developing and Third World nations and their high birth rate due to the necessity to have children who can help provide and care for families (children are social and welfare insurances, especially during old age); historical and political experiences (e.g. colonisation, wars and conflicts, natural disasters, poor governance and corruption); and global realities (e.g. unfair trading, policies and practices in rich First World countries. Thus, there’s no need to repeat it here.

Ethnicity and Crime

The media have reported, and continue to focus, on two “ethnic Chechen” brothers, who have lived legally in America for 10 years, as perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three persons and injured about 200 people last April 14.

The emphasis and interest on their “ethnic origin” has brought back memories of my PhD thesis. Based on survey of public perception, content analysis of newspaper articles and examination of police and prison statistics in Queensland, Australia in the 80s, I concluded that:

Newspaper reports on Asian criminality reflect public perception more than the official records (police and prison data) and that Asian-born migrants had lower crime rate than the Pacific Islander-born and the general Australian population.

(Media reporting should be socio-culturally sensitive, non-discriminatory and not contribute to negative stereotyping, prejudice and victimisation of law-abiding immigrants and refugees).

In the USA, there’s an over representation of African-and Spanish-Americans in the criminal justice system. There are economic, psychological and ideological reasons why an individual commits a crime. Members of immigrant and ethnic groups may not be more criminal than the majority in the population; however since they are more visible, they attract more police attention and their deviancy or criminality becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Are you emotionally gifted?

Are you emotionally gifted?

Last week, in our Business English class, we had a role play on hiring the best person for a middle level position, i.e. choosing one of these 2 job applicants: A) a qualified person with little experience but is more likely to integrate well in the workplace; B) a highly experienced and technically savvy individual. Without hesitation, my 3 students explained why they would choose applicant A, who they described as “the more emotionally intelligent of the two.” When I asked for further explanation regarding emotional intelligence, they spoke vehemently about good interpersonal skills, ability to manage emotions, resilience, foresight, quick thinking, effective decision making and optimism – a cocktail of personality traits and cognitive & emotional intelligence.

Personality is one piece of the human triangle that defines us as a unique individual. It is made up of patterns of feelings, thoughts and behaviours that remain stable throughout our lives. Like personality, cognitive intelligence (Intelligence Quotient – IQ) doesn’t change. In my book “Intelligence, Giftedness: Pre-cradle to Post-grave” I explored the subject of IQ as ability and potential - the brain. In this article, I concentrate on the third side of the triangle known as emotional intelligence/quotient (EQ) - which is about awareness and 'touch'.

Horse meat and lies on our plates

Indians eat snakes, Thais - insects (such as crickets), Japanese - sharks, Chinese - dogs and cats, Filipinos - balut (fertilized chicken embryo) and bagoong (putrid-smelling fermented fish or shrimps). So, what’s the fuss about horse meat?

About a kilometer from where we live there used to be a butcher that specialised on horse meat. Coming from Australia, I thought it was weird to think of horse as “la viande”. I supposed this butcher shop closed down because of declining consumption and competition from less expensive meat products. This lean source of protein and iron was from horses bred and killed in France for human consumption. As we know, with globalisation anything can find its way from and to any parts of the world. For example, between the Romanian abattoir and the French supermarket, there are: food brand Findus, food manufacturer Comigel, meat processor Spanghero and a Dutch trader.

As well, with the economic crises some companies look for supply chain opportunities that may include unethical practices. Accordingly, it is vital to impose international food labelling standard that provides a level playing field for food producers and sellers, and for consumers (wherever they are) to get information about their food that is clear (i.e. easy to understand, legible and visible) and not misleading.

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