From South Africa to Calgary Canada for my first SEE Summit, a recount of my experience so far
By Cordelia Nkosi
Its 19h30 in South Africa and as my grandmother is praying for a safe journey I can’t help thinking that I am forgetting something. As we all hurry into the car it finally dawns on me that I am about to go on my first overseas trip. My legs start shaking as I consider the prospect of getting lost at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam… “Remember Dutch is just like Afrikaans”, I tell myself and immediately I feel better.
After dinner with the family at the airport, I bid them farewell and get ready to face the unknown. I can’t explain or comprehend the excitement I feel. And at 22h50 we start boarding the plane. At this stage my body is telling me it is quite close to midnight so I had a floating feeling walking into the plane – partly nerves but mostly the excitement. “Seat 33D, an aisle seat”, the attendant says to me “score!” I think. A lovely lady settles down in the other aisle seat leaving an empty seat between us. As the plane takes off I think, an aisle seat and an empty seat for me to stretch my legs on Friday the 13th is just unheard of.
As I get chatting to the lady next to me, I find out that she is a medical doctor from Uganda who migrated to Canada five years ago. She had spent 20 years in South Africa and had a successful practice. It took all of about an hour for me to fall asleep and sleep I did, until of course I was woken up by the announcement that we needed to fasten our seat belts because there was quite a bit of turbulence over the Sahara desert. Having never been in a plane, I thought my worst nightmare was about to come true, and that we would be going down. Somehow the idea I had of wearing my flippers, goggles and life jacket on the plane didn’t seem so ridiculous anymore. Rosemary, the lady next to me reassured me that it wasn’t as bad as I thought and kept telling me what a pity it was that I missed dinner because the food was good.
Saturday 14th July
It took more than an hour this time to fall asleep, but eventually I did. Before I knew it, there was the announcement to get ready for landing in Amsterdam. When we got off, Rosemary helped me find the correct terminal, gave me a hug good bye and wished me well. I wanted her to come with me but her plane was a little later. The consolation was that I got yet another aisle seat to Calgary. No empty seat this time but a really nice lady and her daughter sat next to me.
I was welcomed in Calgary by the loveliest people in white hats. They are the true ambassadors of the city and I already felt sad about having to leave Calgary in a week. One of the first things I did was call home when I landed. One of the other things I did was make a number of friends with the friendly white-hatters. I probably spent an hour at the airport chatting with them about South Africa and why I am in Calgary. When I arrived at Hotel Alma, I finally figured out what it is that I had forgotten, the converter, the plug converter. “How am I going to charge my laptop?” When I arrived at the hotel, I fell asleep almost immediately. But one thing I had time to do was look around the hotel to admire the beauty around me. If I am going to be that far from home, staying at Hotel Alma seemed to make it a little bit better. The staff at the hotel were fantastic and I knew I would love staying there.
Sunday 14th July
First thing I did that morning was call Deena Zenyk, SMART’s Program Manager and organizer of the SMART Exemplary Educator (SEE) Summit, to let her know that I had arrived and that I didn’t have a plug converter. She was absolutely fantastic and met me in the hotel lobby to take me to the local Walmart. We didn’t find the plug converter we needed but I was introduced to Walmart, something that would fascinate me for the duration of my stay. I went out shopping later on but all the while the conference, SEE’s, SMART staff and all I would benefit from the conference was playing around in my head. I imagined what the SMART headquarters looked like inside and what new technologies were being developed there as we drove past the building earlier that day. After a bit of shopping, I got ready to go to the welcome dinner. At around 17h00, my roommate, Kate walked in. I remember reading that one of the SMART Exemplary Educator (SEE) Peer Mentors was Kate but I wasn’t sure if she was the one. I heard Kate before I saw her and that would be the nature of the relationship I would share with Kate. In about 2 seconds I realised that I was going to love living with her. When she said she was from Philadelphia, I knew she was a peer mentor and realised that the luck I had in getting an aisle seat twice and an empty seat once, was still continuing. I knew that I was going to learn as much or even more from her than the presenters at the conference. Her enthusiasm shone through and I felt like being in her class must probably be the best thing for the kids she teaches.
Dinner started with meeting and greeting the other SEE’s sitting around me at the table. When Deena told us the ice-breaker would be hard, I thought how hard is it to remember two facts about the person sitting next to you. When it was finally my turn to tell the group something about Kate, I realised that Deena couldn’t be more right. But the ice-breaker helped me remember a number of names because when you attach a name and a fun fact with a person, it makes the name much easier to remember. I thought the dinner was a great start to the conference. I was ready for bed quite early on in the night but I also wanted to sleep so the next day would come faster…at least I thought.
Monday 15th July
The bus left at 07h30 pronto as promised and that began the conference. Meeting SMART’s Interim President and CEO, Tom Hodson, was a great start to the conference. It is always good to know that the higher forces at SMART share the same vision as the SEE’s and that they appreciate the work done by SEE’s. We received a lovely welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation by David Lapides, Director of Product Management. I found his concept of technology integration in education being an evolution and not a revolution very profound and I felt that would be the spring board for my report back to my administrator and headmistress. Finding out about the new products and the different features got me thinking about what would work for our school in terms of necessary features and cost-effectiveness. Being introduced to SMART Response interactive response system was also great. It also alerted me to the fact that other than the SMART Board interactive whiteboard, in South Africa, we don’t make the most of the other SMART products available. Finding out about the different products made me think that we could easily be two or three years behind when it comes to collaborative learning.
That didn’t get me down at all, in fact it made me more excited to go back home and share my new knowledge with everyone. There has been some apprehension in the school about installing new versions of software, SMART Notebook 11 collaborative learning software in particular because of how resource intensive it is. Being here has helped me find new ways to get around that and I understand now that SMART is comprehensive so it becomes less costly over time and offers low maintenance products.
I was introduced to SMART Notebook 11 software a few weeks before I left for the conference so in playing around with it and watching the tutorial I knew of the new features but seeing it in practise and being able to play around with it here at the conference gave me the confidence I needed to start training the staff at my school to use SMART Notebook 11 collaborative learning software.
Read Part 2 of my post – Simple but Extraordinary
About the author
At the age of 23, just six months ago Cordelia Nkosi completed her teaching degree at the University of South Africa and is now teaching Maths and Mathematical literacy at St. Andrews School for Girls in Bedforview, SA.
Nkosi is a SMART Exemplary Educator and she was shortlisted for the prestigious Young 200 South African Achievers Award in 2012. To learn more about Nkosi, watch this video that she created as part of her submission to attend annual SMART Exemplary Educator Summit. It’s quite entertaining and not to be missed!