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It’s dark in China – educating with social networks

Heading to China to teach, the new life of reaching children in a country as restrictive as China. 

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For nearly a year, I had been waiting for the email that would change my life. Post-grad, I picked up four jobs, the PULP was the only one closely related to my English degree. I was eager to use this piece of paper for something other than a minimum wage job.  

That Thursday I had tagged my second item of clothing, at my second job of the day, when my phone buzzed and lit up. Across my screen was an unfamiliar email address. My curiosity always gets the best of me, and without a thought I swiped to view the message. I glanced at the Peace Corps logo and then read the chipper, “Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in China for Peace Corps service.” I read through a paragraph before my brain woke up. 

I’m moving to China to teach English. My immediate reaction was that I needed to call my parents. I also needed to tell the entire world. Everyone I know. I tagged two items of clothing before I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I called my dad and told him the great news, while jumping up and down. I shot a few texts to the people I am closest to, and then I told the world. Everyone I know. My “I’m moving to CHINA!” Facebook post blew up. Texts were piling up in my inbox. 

That kind of news is overwhelming. I couldn’t believe it, after a year, I got the email I was waiting for. After the excitement faded, I started to joyfully cry, but then that joyful cry turned to a sad cry. 

I thought of everyone I was about to leave. Little did I know that it would be the whole world. Everyone I know. 

Over the next few weeks, the excitement still burned. I spent time researching and devising clever ways of teaching college students English. I compiled ideas from some of my favorite college professors: books to read, theories to apply to writing, creative writing prompts, Guerilla Recitations, even book reports. My strongest tool would be social networking. It’s the way my professors taught me. 

I want to provide the kind of education I had. Cutting edge. So, I took everything that enhanced my learning experience and wrote it down. I researched and Googled. I surfed blogs and watched Youtube videos. 

Then, I found information that would throw a giant wrench in my plans for teaching.

China has banned Google+, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and virtually every other social network platform thinkable. Even Blogger, where I keep my blog, is out. 

How am I supposed to teach people how to communicate effectively when a good chunk of how the world communicates is banned? I’ve lost my main tool, I thought. I am doomed. And even worse, I won’t be able to communicate back home. I’ll be offline to the whole world. Everybody I know. 

I can handle two years without Pueblo Chiles, two years without the site of the Rockies, two years without driving a vehicle, even two years without the sweet luxury of Starbucks; I can even handle my future language barrier struggles, but two years without the use of GYFT? I am in no way ready to give them up, but unless I bow down to China’s only social network, MySpace, it looks like I’m going dark in June. 

In moving forward with my career, I discovered many fears and insecurities around separating from GYFT. 

I rationalized that I would not as easily talk to people, or that by the time I returned home, I would be way behind American culture. In my search for alternative teaching methods, I also found myself more and more curious about how prevalent social networks are in everyday life here and around the world. In my efforts to just ‘know,’ I was hopeful that somewhere along the way I would find a way to get past the Great Firewall of China. 

I found, well, Pew Research found, that people in other countries have the bug way worse than I do. Eighty-eight percent of Egypt’s population uses social networking sites. Both Russia and Turkey beat out the U.S. too. Seventy-three percent of Americans use social media. 

Of course, just my luck, China has the lowest percentage of GYFT users with only 48 percent. And it’s not just that they are pretty much considered non-users compared to Americans, it’s that their strict communist government doesn’t want the people to experience the power of social media. A social media site can cause a revolution, as recent events have taught us. So, the big social networking sites do not exist, but there are alternatives. 

There are networks like WeChat and Weibo, most of them in traditional Chinese. I’m still not convinced they compare to what I’m used to or will be useful in the classroom. But after learning the language, it shouldn’t be too hard to adjust to them. I signed up for Weibo, in hopes down the road that I would use it to teach. 

But in effort to learn more about networking abroad, I went to the professor who took me on my first trip abroad. Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, lifetime world traveler, and close friend, Dr. Donna McKinney-Souder calmed my wits around social network restrictions. “Seventy-five percent of teaching is listening and paying attention. The other 25 percent is actually giving a damn. You got this, in other words,” she told me.  

Dr. Souder uses social networks as a tool for educating in the classroom and has found it to be successful. Reading responses through the use of Facebook and Twitter provoked in-class discussion among the students in her class, which was a useful way to get her students involved, with not only her, but also their peers. I liked that we got to use Facebook during class; it felt like Dr. Souder ‘gave a damn’ about our generational interests. But still, I asked why she thought it was important for education.

“They’re all just a medium for sharing and communicating ideas with colleagues, students, parents, etc.,” she said, but that is pretty much a given. “Social media isn’t really any more ‘social’ than the telephone once was when it was new, or email was when it was new. It’s all an instant method for knowledge/information gathering and dissemination. Unhindered by time or space or place.” 

The important thing behind the teaching experience is intent. Not necessarily the use of social media to appeal to the generation. But I still had a strong urge to find a way to use the networks I am so accustomed to, which I voiced to Souder. “China strangles all that,” she said. “I wouldn’t try and buck that part of the system.” She’s one of the smartest people I know, how can I argue with her? Thanks Dr. Souder.

Okay, so I’m very obsessed with my American social networks. It’s one of the main reasons I want to use them in the classroom. But to be quite honest who isn’t obsessed? Ninety-one percent of the U.S. population uses cellphones and more than half of those cell phone owners have a smartphone. 

PEW says that by 2020, Americans are still going to be disclosing their thoughts, opinions, and timeline events for all to see. Not surprising.  Some say that’s bad and some say it’s good. Professionals are repeatedly claiming that the use of social networks has negatively impacted proper grammar usage, has exposed people to more pedophiles and predators, has contributed negatively to ADHD and has a negative effect on how potential employers view people.

But it’s a part of life, so I can’t see not using it, and other professions have the same view point. 

Educators, rather than fighting the increased popularity, have found ways to incorporate them into their curriculums for class credit. GYFT are the fastest ways to spread and learn new information than any other form of media. Law enforcement agencies use GYFT to track and find criminals. Musicians and artists uses GYFT to expand their fan base without having a record contract. Any of America’s GYFT have even provided millions of new jobs to people around the world. And among many other positive things, GYFT provide a way for people to communicate with others across the world, which is really the whole point anyway, and even if less than half of China’s population uses some form of social networking, I know deep down we, as people, want the same things. 

We want to be happy, we want be loved, we want good jobs, we want a good education, and we want to feel like we’re important. But as countries, we are oh so different. Nothing can properly prepare me for the extreme detachment that comes with leaving my country. How can your prepare for something you haven’t prepared for your entire life? I think of it this way.

Remember your first day of school? That’s all China is for me, my first day of school. I get to learn as I go. I get to practice my skills and become  proficient. I’ll learn to use Weibo. I’ll do the best I can to teach my future students. The only worry now on my first day of school is, I hope everyone likes me.

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Denver’s Wes Watkins dynamic new future-funk EP is from another planet

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Future-Funk Party Starter | Wes Watkins

Dreams Out from Denver’s best kept secret Wes Watkins wears so many musical hats it needs a rack; downtempo G-Funk homage and sweltering nee-Soul / Rn’B are all over this release, all covered with a thicc pop glaze and a penchant for electronic-sonic experimentation that keep every song fascinatingly adventurous while maintaining a danceability and groove that easily, easily warrants multiple listens. Don’t sleep on this one.


Lo-Fuzz Folkie | Hoi Ann

The beauty of Hoi Ann’s Tangenier lies in both what you can hear and what it may want you to not hear. Lo-fi folk and bedroom-pop are easily tangible on its surface, but the buzzy electronic tones that sparingly flourish the 5 songs of this release lie low and create a unique aural atmosphere for listeners, like hidden secrets for your ears only.


Indie-Punk Sweeties | Gestalt

The pop-punk shred-bois in Gestalt are back at it again; The irresistible combo of the Get Up Kids earnest midwestern-emo and smart pop-punk wit of the Wonder Years is strong on the tracks that encompass LongBoix, as is an acute fondness and growing appreciation for the finer indie rock of yesteryear. Well I guess this is growing up.


Psych-Rock Screamcore | Gone Full Heathen

On their criminally good self titled EP, Fort Collins heavies Gone Full Heathen friggin dare you to try and trap them in a single genre. Nice try, but they’ll just chew right through your puny ropes using a gnashing blend of crushing stoner-rock laced hardcore punk and overdriven psych-rock / post-metal induced bite like the righteous rock and roll wolves that they are.


All releases available for purchase now thru Bandcamp. Go Local!

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The Haze Craze for Lazy Days

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There are many different styles of beer. Ranging from light lagers (think Bud Light) and ales to sours, stouts, and IPAs.

Within those styles, however, are varying styles.

For example, one would think a sour beer is a sour beer, right? Wrong. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, which defines every style of beer, there are six recognized European sour styles.

For IPAs, there are seven. American beers have four; stouts have three… You get the point.

Even with viewing the list of recognized styles, it’s not a complete list.

Take New England IPAs (NE IPA), as a prime example. Many breweries are currently mass producing this style of beer, and it’s selling like crazy.

You may have heard one of your annoying beer loving friends talk about drinking a “juice bomb,” or a requesting a “hazy IPA” at the pub, and shrugged it off. It turns out, they (sometimes) know what they are talking about.

What makes NE IPAs so popular when compared to a more traditional, West Coast IPA? NE IPAs have all of the hop flavors, without an overabundance of bitterness.

Instead of constantly adding hops throughout the boil to achieve a fruity flavor balanced by bitterness, the NE IPA has a small hop addition at the begging, and then nothing else until after the boil has finished.

That translates into a beer with very little bitterness, and plenty of hop aroma and flavor. Hops like Citra, Mosaic, Mosaic, Galaxy, and El Dorado are most common in NE IPAs, according to the Homebrewers Association. Those hops tend to impart a fruity, and dare I say, juicy flavor profile.

Between the juicy flavor and the seemingly natural haziness to NE IPAs, it’s not far fetched for an NE IPA to look like a tall glass of orange or grapefruit juice, only carbonated and full of alcohol.

NE IPAs are starting to gain momentum here in Colorado, with breweries turning their focus to the haze craze. Specifically, Odd13, WeldWerks, and Epic Brewing coming to mind.

Odd13 is based in Lafayette, Colo. and has a long list of NE-inspired IPAs constantly rotating through the tap room and distributed throughout the state. Codename: Super fan and Noob are two beers that are found in cans, and both offer a different approach to the haze craze.

WeldWerks is based in Greeley, Colo. and has accumulated a cult-like following in just a few short years for its Juicy Bits NE IPA. The brewery just started self-distributing locally, so you’ll have to make the trip to the brewery and pick up a crowler or four. Be sure to check the WeldWerks Facebook page for availability and limits. Yes, they have to place per person limits on how much you can purchase.

Epic Brewing recently announced its NE IPA, which will rotate between four different flavor profiles throughout the year. The cans will look the same but will be different colors as a quick way to tell identify which version you have.

So the next time you walk into a brewery or liquor store, it’s OK to ask for a hazy or juicy IPA. It’s a thing, and, frankly, they are damn good.

On Tap: By the time this hits newsstands, ThunderZone Pizza & Taphouse will have opened on the CSU-P campus. Located at 2270 Rawlings Blvd., the ThunderZone features 32 taps, a carefully curated tap list, and is locally owned.

At the opening, the tap list includes tasty brews from the likes of Florence Brewing and Lost Highway.

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Senators upend GOP health care bill in true Trump style… Twitter

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WASHINGTON — When Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran decided they were in ready to disrupt the GOP rewrite of the health care law, they chose President Donald Trump’s favorite medium.

They could not support Senate Republicans’ plan, the somewhat unlikely pair of conservatives tweeted at 8:30 p.m. Monday night, giving no heads up to the White House or Senate leaders before pressing send.

The story behind the statement reveals two senators willing to be branded as bill killers and seemingly unconcerned with trying to soften the blow with party leaders.

The announcement, coming after some 10 days of conversations between the men, stunned official Washington and left Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate from being able to move forward with the GOP bill, effectively sinking the measure. It landed shortly after Trump dined with a group of senators to discuss strategy – unwittingly plotting a plan that would immediately become outdated.

Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican leader, found out about Lee’s defection after the White House dinner of rosemary-grilled rib eye and summer vegetable succotash. He “had no idea it was coming,” Cornyn said.

Another Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, found out from TV news.

Moran, a second-term lawmaker from Kansas who isn’t known for making waves, and Lee, a two-term senator from Utah who has clashed with Trump, have been talking over the past 10 days about the health care legislation and agreed the GOP bill did not go far enough to repeal Obamacare or address rising health-care costs. They decided to announce their position to make the bill’s fate clear and allow senators to move on, Moran said.

“It could have been prolonged for days or weeks while no one said anything,” Moran said in an interview.

Moran, who oversaw the Senate Republicans’ 2014 election campaigns, concluded last week he wouldn’t vote for the latest version of the bill but “gave myself a weekend in Kansas to think about it,” he said.

Lee had helped draft an amendment, along with fellow conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones to lower costs. Cruz agreed to some changes in wording by GOP leaders, but Lee thought the new language allowed too many Obama-era regulations to remain in place.

After talking again, Moran and Lee agreed Monday night on a statement drafted earlier in the day. They issued their statement shortly after a White House dinner attended by seven GOP senators – all likely yes votes on the health care bill. Neither Lee nor Moran attended.

A Lee spokesman said the statement – and its timing – “had nothing to do with the White House dinner. It was not a reaction in any way.”

The statement was made public as soon as it was ready, the spokesman said.

Neither Trump nor McConnell received advance warning about the statement, although it’s likely that neither the president nor the Senate leader was completely surprised.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spent the weekend calling lawmakers, including Lee and at least seven other GOP senators, according to the administration. Trump talked politics, while Pence discussed policy.

Trump called Lee on Saturday, and Lee told the president he was leaning against the bill, for the reasons he later made public.

Lee told Utah’s KSL Newsradio that he had a great conversation with Trump, when he told the president his “consumer freedom” amendment had been weakened and that he wasn’t sure that he could support the bill.

“He was encouraging to me and said, you know, ‘Just see what changes you can make to it,’ ” Lee said.

Lee and McConnell did not talk over the weekend, but Lee spoke twice to Cornyn, R-Texas, the majority whip.

Trump, who frequently takes to Twitter to announce proposals or denounce opponents, was blindsided by, of all things, a tweet.

He told reporters Tuesday he was “very surprised when the two folks came out last night, because we thought they were in fairly good shape. But they did. And, you know, everybody has their own reason.”

Moran said while he remained committed to repealing the health care law, Congress needs to make a “fresh start” on writing a replacement bill in an “open legislative process.”

“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” he said, in a statement that followed the tweet.

In his own statement, Lee said the GOP bill does not repeal all the Obamacare tax increases and “doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

Both explanations were issued on social media.

“Twitter is a nice medium to get your message out,” Lee’s spokesman said.

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