Bringing together the Danish and the Ecuadorian schooling system: what a mess!

(en Español)

I open this blog again in my crusade to change mistaken recognition papers from the Danish to the Ecuadorian schooling system;  eventhough, this blog is called “desde Kolding” (from Kolding) and I am no longer living there –although by heart I am still and for long will be there–.

Threes years ago I travelled to Denmark together with my family. My two children attended the Danish folkeskole, Avelina finished in Quito the 7th. grade and was received in the Danish 6th grade. Rebeca finished the 4th and was received in the Danish 3rd.  The numbers correspond to the children’s age. Their previous studies in Ecuador were accepted, as they attended the grade corresponding to their age. We lived 3 years in Denmark. Avelina finished the 8th grade and received grades for her studies, in Denmark children start receiving grades just on that year. Rebeca finished the 5th grade and received a qualitative assessment, as there are no grades under the 8th.

We came back home last August. Children started first at their old school. We were not quite happy about the education system in there, as they actually have a policy against the use of technology in class, which we were not eager to comply. Two months later we asked the International section of the American School in Quito to admit them there, and they moved to this school. Things were going well, we thought.

However, this new school said that they couldn’t receive the children until the Ministry of Education accepts their studies abroad. We visited the Ministry and they asked for the international Apostille seal in all their papers. As we don’t have a Danish Embassy in Quito, and the consulate is actually just a commercial affairs office, our requirement was sent first to Bolivia and afterwards to Chile, we didn’t receive any response from them. I decided to send the papers through certified post to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Copenhaguen. We asked the school to receive them meanwhile, as the papers will take long, and that was ok.

I must recognize that our post is really good. The papers travelled on less than 8 days and were delivered with the Apostille by the Ministry to my Danish parents’ address. My Danish parents, as always, helped me sending the papers back by certified mail to my address in Quito. This time the travel took much longer. They arrived mid-December and I took them to the Ministry of Education for their acceptance.

Before Christmas, we received the resolution from the Ministry: they accept the papers but send the children one year back, this is Rebeca should go back to 7th grade in Quito, and not 8th which is the grade where she is now, and Avelina should go back to 10th grade instead of 11th (1st. bachelor) where she is. And this is because their decision is taken upon a table that the Ministry uses for international studies recognition (see below).

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There is no correspondance in age from one country to the other, that makes the mistake to happen, and there is no 0.klasse in Denmark, the old schooling system

This table is not well designed as children have different ages in Ecuador and in Denmark on a same row, therefore 8th in Denmark is equated to 9th in Ecuador, but children are 14 years old in Denmark at 8th grade and 13 years old in Ecuador at 9th grade. The correct equivalence should be 8th in Denmark equates 10th in Ecuador. I tried by all means to explain the people from the Ministry the error, but they say that this table was done by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that if it says that 8th equates 9th it is not because children’s age, but because of the schooling they have received so far.

I realize that the table is quite old, as it does not include the 0.grade which is the starting year now in Denmark. Children actually start with 6 years in 0.klasse. The next page of this paper, the legal background to compare foreign studies, includes the Danish old 13-grades scale, which was changed on 2006 to a 7-grade scale. According to that, for example a 4 in the current system will equate a 7 in the old scale (7-trin skala) The Ecuadorian table that appears in the recognition law used by the Ministry of Education, remains with the old Danish-schooling system and scales. That needs to change.

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This is the old 13-grades scale, which was changed in 2006 to the 7-grades scale

I am trying by all means to make them see the mistake which makes my children to have studied 3 years in Denmark and just two of them are being recognized. They haven’t failed a year, they have learn lots of different things, one of those is that they have mastered the Danish language which is not easy, they have used equipment in labs that are only available at university level in here. And still our Ministry means that the Danish system is one year behind ours. Nonsense.

I have tried to talk to the Minister of Education in charge. I was sent to his lawyer, who apparently understands the problem but to make my children go into the appropriate class, the whole legal system needs to change. The Ministry of Foreign affairs has to recognize the mistake and ask for a change in the education law. Now I understand how important are international relations, and the big role that embassies have around the world. Without a Danish embassy in Ecuador, it is quite difficult … but not impossible.

I have tried to talk to the Danish embassy in La Paz, Bolivia which is intended to work for all the Andean region. I hope that they will find this issue important and will lend me a hand. Maybe if from Denmark there is a petition for them to take this issue could be easier. Therefore, I asked my friends in Denmark to whom I should contact in the Ministry of Education in Copenhagen, they sent me to the Board for Education and Quality (STUK – Styrelsen for Undervisning og Kvalitet). I haven’t received yet a response, but the automatic-response from the machine.

The officer at the Ministry of Education in Quito means that the tables are right, I argue with all the Danish documentation published in their website that they are not. She says that of course we cannot be the only case, and that if there was a mistake there must be a bunch of cases awaiting for resolution. I think that other people that have faced this same problem in the past, have just given up. These mistaken recognition tables have the same unequal ages for all the Scandinavian countries, I checked those of Sweden, Norway and Finland. I do not intent to give up.

There is a mistake and it needs to change. I am in my right to make their studies abroad be recognized and my “mission” is to be a not-named ambassador of Denmark in Ecuador, that makes us realize how wonderful for my children was to learn abroad from an amazing country that needs to be known, recognized and take it seriously by our government.

I will not dismay, but do need support from the Danish missions abroad, and from friends and family that instead of asking me for resignation, support me and put me in contact with the people that could indeed modify this anachronism in the Ecuadorian education system.

(en Español)

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Nykøbing Falster

These two last weeks in Denmark –note that the time reference shall be understood precisely in its double sense: both as the former weeks and the very last of my life in this country—we have been “homeless” leaving in a summer hut at the beach of Marielyst, in the island of Falster.

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This was an agreed selfie I took while looking to the CT Scan.

On the 2. August, the knee immobilizer I got after my operation was removed in Kolding. Unfortunately, I must keep walking with two clutches the next 4 weeks.

Today, I received by mail a DVD with all the X-Rays and a detailed report of the approach. Once in Quito a trauma surgeon will need to go through it –probably as experienced, but never as handsome as my Danish doc–.

I was sent to physical therapy right after the immobilizer was removed. The health system in Denmark is worthy to praise. As I notified in Kolding that I was moving to another municipality, the hospital sent the information to Guldborgsund kommune. I started two phisiotherapy sessions this week at an incredibly well-equipped rehabilitation center.

It was in this fountain that we danced after graduating 25 years ago. Now my family enjoys it :)

It was at this fountain we danced after graduating 25 years ago. Now my family enjoys it.

When in Nykøbing F. I feel at home. Here no one speaks English nor any other language apart from Danish to me, and being Ecuadorian in Nykøbing F. is quite normal. For instance, the lady weaving baskets at the Middelaldercentret we visited three years ago had just sent his grandson abroad to Ambato, Ecuador as an exchange student.

Though the best happened on Monday. Nikolai, my physiotherapist, told me he had been in Guayaquil, Ecuador for 11 years ago visiting his girlfriend from that time. He met her in school. She was, as me, an exchange student at Nykøbing Katedralskole. We had a nice chat. He is very sweet and patient and made for me a very good program to continue physiotherapy upon arrival and until I find professional help at home. The health system in Ecuador is quite different, but I hope that I will be entitled to visit the physiotherapy center at my University in Quito.

On my way back to the summer hut, I asked my Danish dad to stop at my old high-school. It looks almost the same as 25 years ago when I left it. The surroundings have changed a little, but the building looks the same. I took this picture at the front door in the same place where all my class made a group picture wearing our graduation caps. Mine was a “fake” hue, which I bought myself and put it on, since I did not take the exams.

Nykøbing Katedralskole.

Nykøbing Katedralskole.

It is quite weird that 25 years after, if the defense of my dissertation succeeds this Friday, I will finally achieve a real Danish degree.

Guldbryllup

Finished sign, Avelina's design

Finished sign, Avelina’s design

There are many things in Denmark that are unique, one of them is the golden wedding celebration (guldbryllup) and its æresport (arc of triumph). The 23rd of July my Danish parents celebrated their 50th anniversary and my two sisters together with the neighbours arranged the details for the big day to come. We were in charge of making the sign that was placed on the decorated arch at the front door.

We left Kolding at six in the morning to be able to catch the early train and arrived at eleven the previous day, with the finished sign in our bags. There was an add about my parents anniversary in the local newspaper, so guests were expected to show up for breakfast next morning. Everybody was busy at home putting up tents, polishing cutlery, baking cakes, arranging tables, etc.

At 2 o’clock, we left the busy house to join at least 30 neighbours that were building a huge arch for the main door and a smaller one for the back door. They all were amazingly talented for the job fixing the basic structure, trimming branches and flowers, binding them to the arch and putting on lights. It was a very nice working evening with  lots of chatter, beers, coffee & cake.

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A little past nine the neighbour’s tractor opened a parade that brought the arches and flags. It took almost until mid-night to fix everything. My parents were not allowed to leave the house, as this is a surprise for the couple.

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Next morning, at 8.30 three trumpets woke up the wedding couple followed by a morning song that more than 50 neighbours, friends and family sang. Afterwards we all shared breakfast with home-made bread and pastry.

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The party took place in the afternoon, at a local restaurant in a restored old sawmill run by Jane, their neighbours’ daughter for whom I helped serving in her confirmation 25 years ago. We had a wonderful dinner enhanced by songs and speeches. A very traditional way of celebrating in Denmark is writing personalised songs and handing in copies of the lyrics to all the attendees. I had a little say in my sister Stine’s speech, and my two daughters accompanied with flute and harp a personalised version of the old Danish song “Der stode tre skalke” written by my sister Rikke.

It was a privilege to take part in this celebration, to be a daughter of “another kind” as Far said. We had a great time, met many friends from the past as well as new members of the family. My parents enjoyed the party,  although the celebration is still not finished for them, as the tradition says that the neighbours will gather again to put down the door arches, and food and drinks will be served once more 🙂

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Sydtrafik

Fifteen days have gone since my leg operation. Today is my first day out. Sun shines and the wind is not chilly. The neighborhood is empty; everybody is on vacations.

I was not entitled to borrow a wheel chair from the hospital, as I got both clutches and a walker to move at home. I tried my best to lend a chair somewhere else in Kolding, but it was impossible. The cost of renting a wheelchair for a month is basically the same as buying a new cheap one at the big supermarket chain. I think it is weird to buy a chair just for a month, actually not more than 4 or 5 journeys and then drop it away. So no, not “discardable” wheelchairs for me.

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SMS: “Her er dit køretøj. Kh far og mor” (Here is your vehicle. Love, dad and mom)

I came to Denmark, for the first time 25 years ago as an exchange student and lived together with a Danish family in Lolland. I guess that my Danish parents were not quite aware of what an enormous task was to foster an exchange student at that time. I came back to Denmark for my PhD together with my own family three years ago. Since then, we have had a wonderful time in Denmark and I am incrediby grateful for my Danish family, who have always been eager to share their lives and love with us. Once again I beg them for help with the wheelchair issue.

And as always, they found a way. They lent a wheelchair in Lolland, from an NGO that collects and fixes used items to send abroad to developing countries. It is a pretty, purple, ultra-smart wheelchair, provided with a holder for clutches which is extremely useful.

As I don’t want to spend all of my last month in Denmark at home, a wheelchair and a lovely husband to drive it are a bless. Today was the first time I used it. We went by wheelchair to take the Danish public transportation to the hospital. There, a caring nurse got rid of the stitches in my leg and let me fold the knee 30°.

IMG_20160707_083506City buses being run by Sydtrafik (a private enterprise) are well equipped for the handicapped. The middle door opens and sinks down to be almost at ground level. Furthermore, a ramp can be unfolded so that you can drive in the bus without any help. The bus has a designed area for wheelchairs, so travelling in buses is actually easier than taking a taxi. The hospital is incredibly well equipped: doors automatically open as you approach them, or are provided by hanging door-openers at a considerable distance.  This type of doors are also found in public buildings elsewhere, and I thought of them to be pretty fancy. Now I understand that they are actually designed for the handicapped. I am very happy and grateful for them.

We have had three wonderful years in Denmark. Three years of different types of learning. This last stage makes me realize how important is to understand the “public” in the broader sense. I am incredibly grateful for the Scandinavian welfare, which comprises not only the public health system but also the provision of public transport, ramps and well-finished sidewalks for public use, and bike paths. I will really miss Denmark.

Visiting hours

piernisBy now, I have been an entire week at the hospital. The first days were just exams and consults. The operation took place on Wednesday. It was a major surgery for which I thought I was prepared , as I have gone through this before. But I really wasn´t. The human body is very smart, it forgets entirely the worst things. I have forgotten all the pain. I am not sure if it is the cut on both sides of my leg, the holes in the bone to place the plate and nails, or the broken bone, or the mixture of all of this…

I have been moved to three different rooms during this time. It was good though, that the night after the operation I was in a room alone . But yesterday, I moved to a third room, together with a grandma who has a plastered arm. She must be in her nineties. She never looks at me. Probably I am too exotic to share a room with her. I really don´t feel like talking nor sharing with anybody. But I was taught to be gentle, and say “good morning”, “good afternoon” and “good evening”. I never get a reply back when I pass in front of her bed in my way to the toilet. The screen that divides the room is closed and I don´t see her the rest of the time. But I hear her, and all her family.

Visiting hours in this area are only on the afternoons. The reason is clear: we all have been through horrible treatments and need time to get cleaned, receive medication, exercise movement and rest. Grandmas’ acquaintances don’t care. They arrive at 10 in the morning and start talking, talking, talking, and talking. Yelling and laughing. My nurse gently asked them to move to the waiting room, they rejected. They have travelled from Copenhagen to visit her and are in their right to be here, they argue. My nurse is gentle and young; Grandmas’ Copenhagen son who raises his voice and makes his will threatens her. I hate them.

Grandma is fine today, she must go home. But she does not want to go home alone. Here, her family visits her; she enjoys having them. Early in the morning she asked the nurse to keep her here until Monday. I just want to sleep. I received morphine, the leg doesn’t hurt any longer but I feel dizzy, tired and horrible. And I can’t rest, soon it will be 10 and the Copenhagen party will start again. I am going home after lunch.

Never, ever in life disdain schedules and visiting hours. Please remember me.

P.S I am not going anywhere today, first tomorrow if the pills work 😦

Operation Sundhed 2.0

radioI am programmed for surgery early tomorrow, to stabilize a tibia fracture resulting from a bike accident last Thursday.

This will require fixation of two titanium plates in my right leg. I already have two plates and two nails in my body, which allow me to walk and write, after a car accident more than 10 years ago. I know how painful operations can be and how horrible it is to depend on crutches. I would have preferred not to repeat it ever. But… such is life.

On the morning, I received a typical “medical visit”. In less than five minutes the procedure and timing was explained and before I digested the information, the doctor had already left. Actually, on his way to the door I managed to ask for his last name, since I couldn’t read it as the card on his pocket was upside down.

A quick Google search provided me with his e-mail address, 3 papers on ResearchGate (on topics not precisely related to my case) and his title as “overlæge” (chief surgeon) at this hospital.

I sent him an e-mail, asking to show me the x-rays, the CT scan and to explain me “pedagogically” the procedure. At the same time, I wrote to my freaky-geek friends at my department, asking them to take part on what I named as “Operation Sundhed 2.0” (Operation Health 2.0).

Modern “miracles” happen. Suddenly the Wi-Fi went down. I called the nurse, just as if I were at an office. I made fun with her and said that I had a “technical problem”. She told me the Wi-Fi was gone in the whole building. A second after, my doctor came into my room. He said he saw my email but did not had time to read it and then he had no longer Internet and couldn’t work. He decided to come by. He couldn’t bring the exams as there was no Wi-Fi, but would like to make a drawing of the procedure. Pen and paper in hand.

dibujoHe went through the drawing, explained how the bone was injured, and why he will like to install two titanium plates on both sides of the bone. He sat down long, explained carefully and left. As soon as he left, the Wi-Fi signal came back. Smile.

He sounds as an interesting and competent doctor. My geek friends came out with a number of other publications and research, as well as activities and associations in which he has been chair, and information about other people that have worked together with him. My worries about the medical procedure are all  blurred after a nice comprehensive offline talk with MY surgeon.

bambiThis is the longest day of the year. Sun still shines and a raindeer was standing just in front of my window. Have I mentioned that my surgeon is also handsome? Operation Sundhed 2.0. Completed!

 

 

 

From PhD to Postdoc

Last week I attended the seminar ‘Transition from Ph.d. to postdoc’ organized by Det Unge Akademi at the University of Århus. I have to confess that I had really high expectations for this seminar, willing to find a way to come back to Denmark in the near future. The seminar and the venue were just perfect.

Before attending I was warned by my friend Thomas, who went to this seminar last Spring -it is weird dividing the year into seasons, back in Ecuador there are just two: winter and summer, the first meaning lots of rain and the second lots of sun, and when I say lots, it’s LOTS of both. So 4-season references make me doubt when they actually happen- and suggested 3 take-homes: leave Denmark, learn to handle rejection and you’ll probably fail and never make tenure.

As my aim is to go beyond that first take-home and actually come back to Denmark, I was quite discouraged, but still made my way to the seminar, enjoying the good mobility in Denmark both referring to the superb public transportation  (I know that people claim for train delays some days … but that is not often and the service is always good) and the possibility to move from one university to another.

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Århus – train station

Århus has no bus terminal, I was alerted by my friend Kjerstin, who made her best to explain me how to catch the bus to the University. What I didn’t figure out was that there are different bus stops along Park Allé which means that buses 2A and 16 stop around the corner on this same street. Anyway, I took the next bus and arrived to Århus University’s iNano building.

In my way to the building, with Googlemaps in hand, I found a couple of students, visibly lost. As I approached I heard them speaking in Spanish. Both were from Venezuela, on their last year as industrial PhDs at Århus and Ålborg, respectively. I got ‘shocked’ when after telling them that I come from Ecuador, Nestor, the Ålborg PhD, said: “great, so we have another Bolivarian fellow”. It is not that I couldn’t understand the words, but … I have NEVER think of me as being ‘Bolivarian’ and all that social imaginary of the ‘patria grande’ (big homeland) … Stop tissing!  So anachronic! No, we have gone beyond the independence. It happened for precisely 192 years ago a 24th of May back in 1824… no, no, no Bolivarian. Ecuadorian! Forget reviving the past. We have moved forward. We are not the same as Venezuela nor Colombia. I was so shocked  that I didn’t say a word, but mumbled this the whole day as the seminar started.

The first key-speaker, from the Carlsberg Fund, which is known by its support to research, had a last-minute cancellation. Sad. Then the next speakers encouraged us to apply to high-ranked universities, improve our profiles in LinkedIn and network, network, network to find the postdoc position of our dreams but … outside from Denmark.

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Astonishment face

Then it got hilarious … as a way to say. The next keynote-speaker had a wonderful profile, got a postdoc position at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin and back in Denmark she decided to leave academia for a very interesting job at Vestas, the Danish global wind energy company. Then, in her presentation, she used the metaphor of the ladder, to scale positions in an organisation, and contrasted to the interconnected jungle-ladders of children playgrounds where she, together with her kids spend lots of time nowadays as she ought to quit her job and is entirely devoted to homemaking.

Homemaking is a very respectful activity, but I chose academia. I like teaching, I love researching and reading and studying and learning, and writing … why do the organizers bring as a postdoc exponent somebody that does not share the interest of the rest of us, around 100 PhDs from a wide variety of disciplines, looking forward to continue studying? Strange.

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25.05.16 17:10

The best of Århus was the cycle-meter standing in front of the building of the Faculty of Law. A little more than 100.000 bikes have crossed this year that corner, and the screen changed to 768 bikes for that day, right after the picture was taken when a bike rode by.

And from the seminar, as my take-homes I got the presentation card of the Vice-Dean of the Arts Faculty at Århus University, and I am sure I will continue watching my daughters climb jungle-ladders some place, leave the past in the past and persist in this academic journey with failures and hopefully sometime also with success.