In The Kitchen: Colada Morada

You’ve probably heard of Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, a national holiday celebrating departed friends and family – but did you know that it’s also celebrated all over Latin America?

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in Ecuador

Here in Ecuador, families celebrate Día de los Difuntos every year on the 2nd of November by visiting the graves of their loved ones. They also make a traditional drink called colada morada which is usually served with gua-guas (from the Kichwa word for ‘child’) – a light, puffy bread in the form of a baby.

The term colada refers to any drink made by steeping, boiling and blending the main ingredients. The most common variety uses oats; in fact, it’s such a popular drink that it’s colloquially known as just ‘Quaker‘.

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in EcuadorHowever, this particular variety takes several hours and a huge amount of cutting, boiling and blending to prepare properly, and is only ever served around Día de los Difuntos. I prefer it piping hot, but some people like it tepid or even ice cold.

The base flavours come from a mix of cloves, sweet peppercorns, mortiño (the blueberry’s South American cousin), cinnamon, pineapple (flesh, core and even the skin), and monte – a collection of aromatic leaves and branches that you can see in the picture above.

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in EcuadorThese ingredients are boiled for a couple of hours in a huge saucepan full of water, until the water starts to take on the colour of the herbs and spices. At this point, it smells a lot like mulled wine, and your whole family will start coming into the kitchen, asking what you’re cooking and how much longer until it’s ready!

The top notes of the flavour come from juiced blackberry and naranjilla – the fruit of the deadly nightshade plant, with orange skin and a green, fleshy inside, only found in Ecuador and Colombia.

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in EcuadorIn a separate saucepan, harina morada (purple flour made from fermented corn) is mixed with water and heated gently until the mixture is warm and smooth. Then the branches, leaves and whole spices are strained out of the big saucepan, and the purple flour mixture is stirred in.

It takes another couple hours of boiling and a healthy dose of panela (sugar cane) before the drink is at its warm, spicy, aromatic best and finally ready to consume. Enjoy!


This recipe was kindly passed on to me by my lovely friend Christian of Mapasingue, Guayaquil.

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MOOCS: a first online learning experience

Apparently I don’t have enough to do preparing for my 6,000-mile move from England to Ecuador, so on Saturday afternoon I made a killer French onion soup and then signed up for my very first MOOC.

Jumping on the MOOC bandwagon

I know, I know, I’m about five years behind everyone else. What’s my excuse? Well, up until last year I was still busy with, y’know, real university. But after another year out in the big, wide world of work, I needed no excuse for a little extra bedtime reading and reflection. (Plus my mum runs a MOOC and she’s been going on and on about how great they are, so I thought it was about time I had a go.)

So I signed up to Coursera, filled out my profile and enrolled myself onto my first course: “What future for education?” Designed and delivered by the UCL Institute of Education, it’s supposed to make me think about the key actors in education (e.g. learners, teachers, schools) and what the system is going to look like in the future. Sounds perfect for someone relatively new to teaching!

First things first

Okay then. Week number one is ambiguously titled “How do we learn?” and the very first assignment is to answer the following question:

Reflect on your previous learning experiences. Think about one particularly successful and one unsuccessful learning experience. Consider what were the conditions that made this experience successful or unsuccessful for you and what this tells you about your own preferred ways to learn.

My first thought is that this looks very familiar. In fact, it’s basically identical to the first pre-course question I answered on my CELTA. And now I’m wondering if it’s cheating to copy and paste that answer here instead of actually doing the assignment again.

But in the name of honesty, let’s do this properly. It might even be interesting to see how my answer changes with the benefit of an initial teaching qualification and a year’s experience.

A ‘particularly successful’ learning experience

The first thing that springs to mind is the ‘French for Academic Purposes’ course I took in my final year of university. The class had a grand total of seven students and ran for two hours a week over the entire teaching year (which, at UCL, adds up to 20 weeks).

The success of it was at least partially due to the small class size and the immediate availability of great learning resources (access to a legal deposit library, round-the-clock IT services and support, well-equipped classrooms). But mostly it was down to our teacher, Mireille.

The importance of rapport

It’s very common in adult foreign language teaching to be on a first-name basis with your teacher, and perhaps that helped to establish a good rapport right from the beginning. But the academic relationship we developed had started two years earlier, when she had taught the first foreign language class I’d ever taken at university. Thanks to that year, I already had a great deal of respect for her as an academic thinker and an effective teacher, and she was already familiar with my particular style of thinking, learning and working.

So the groundwork had been laid, but what about the actual lessons? She more or less followed what I now recognise as the CELTA skills lesson format, that is to say starting by setting a context, introducing and analysing an academic text, delving deeper into the vocabulary presented, reacting to the reading material and then producing a critical piece or oral debate as a response. The methodology was textbook, but it never felt repetitive or predictable.

Context is everything

Choosing a context can make or break a lesson in the first ten minutes, but the possibilities are often limited by the scope of the course and the level of the students. Not so with this course, which aimed to prepare us for postgraduate study in a French-speaking institution; we were extremely high-level students open to any possible research area.

Instead of trying to cater to this impossibly broad range of study, Mireille chose topics that was clearly excited to teach: politics, gender studies, the European Union and sociology. Her subject knowledge was nothing short of encyclopaedic; her unfailing enthusiasm elevated what could have been memorising dates and treaty names in a foreign language to the pivotal study of the formation of a new world power, all from a fascinating global viewpoint. This was also the first time I’d been presented with gender studies as an academic discipline and it led to me (a Mathematics major!) producing a 4000-word piece on the state of the glass ceiling in France, in French. The examiners gave me 75 for that essay and I’m still oddly proud of it today.

Choose your words carefully

As for the texts themselves, she had personally collected every single one from academic journals and specially collated them just for our class. I once showed the booklet to the Parisian law student who lived across the hall from me; she couldn’t believe how advanced the language was. There was no holding back, no aiming too high, and Mireille’s certainty that we could cope with the material meant that we just did.

The choice of material was also very intelligent for a university with a large proportion of international students and a heavy emphasis on gender equality, which meant that the productive tasks at the end of the lesson had a ridiculously large range of cultural influences and viewpoints, and would frequently veer off into side-discussions about 1980s French government and the like. And I, against all odds and totally contrary to my fiercely logical, analytical nature, discovered that I actually liked the social sciences.

The story so far

So what do we gather about my personal learning preferences? I obviously value a teacher’s subject knowledge, the setting of high standards, and engaging material to learn from (even if it’s outside my main area of study).

But I think what I loved about Mireille’s class was her willingness to go above and beyond for us, her learners: taking the time to hand-pick authentic source material, pushing us to perform far beyond our own expectations for ourselves by encouraging high-level debate on advanced issues, and drawing out the vast range of experience and influences present in the class to create a much richer and more diverse learning experience for us all. In short, I think what I value the most in a classroom is the unfailing dedication of the teacher to their learners.

This is a strange conclusion for me to arrive at, mostly because I know I am fiercely independent in all things, not least in the classroom. I think Mireille’s constant support gave me the courage to develop my own opinions and present them with confidence; without that, I would have been quite happy to sit in silence at the back of the class, cram for the exam and leave with a decent grade but without actually engaging with the course.

And on that note

Well, that got a little out of hand – I’m surprised how much I had to say! I’ll leave the ‘unsuccessful learning experience’ for another blog post. In the meantime, you’ll find me making a start on the actual course material for this week, and maybe packing my bags for my intercontinental move on Monday …


Have you ever taken an online course? What did you enjoy about it? What would you do differently next time? Would you try a MOOC, if you haven’t done one before? Let me know in the comments!

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How to teach yourself about international development

If you, like me, are planning to break your way into one of the most competitive and oversubscribed industries out there, you’ll need all the help you can get. Here’s the good news: if you have the will to learn all you can, the hardest part is probably over. The bad news? I have about as much idea what I’m doing as you do – but I’m writing this post to outline the strategies I’m going to use to teach myself about international development.

It may seem like an impossible task, but it goes without saying that you should learn what you love. So let your passion for development work drive you to teach yourself as much as you can about the field, and give yourself a fighting chance at the career you’ve always wanted!

1. Explore your options

Start by asking a few vital questions. What are the current priorities in international development? What goals are international organisations trying to achieve? What does the sector need now, and what will it need in the near future?

Use the answers to single out job types, specific roles and responsibilities, and even geographical areas of focus that interest you – then work out what qualifications and experience are needed for each one.

Now decide where you fit in. Do you have the relevant skills and experience to pursue your dream job? If not, how can you get them? Your career isn’t going anywhere unless you know exactly what you want from it, and more importantly, what you don’t want.

How does this work in action?

Here’s an example from my career aims: the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals place a huge emphasis on equal opportunities in education all over the world. NGOs are projected to be some of the biggest facilitators of basic education in the near future, spending huge amounts of time and money on education projects. One day, I want to use my teaching background to design and run one of those projects.

This probably means I need several years of project experience, some knowledge of the current research in education, top-level management skills, a knack for working with people, a Masters degree, and the list goes on … but you get the idea! Now we have something specific to focus on.

2. Get your hands dirty

Accept that you will have to work on a volunteer basis for a while. When it comes to development work, you’ll hear time and again that there is no substitute for good old-fashioned work experience, and there just aren’t enough well-paid entry-level jobs to go around. So learn how to trawl Idealist, sign up for Devex email alerts, and suck it up.

It doesn’t matter how much you’re earning, as long as you’re getting that priceless insight into the day-to-day of development, from the perspective that interests you. Maybe you’ll have to work another part-time (or even full-time) job to make ends meet; do what you have to do.

How does this work in action?

Here’s the issue: I have a full-time job. That’s 40 hours a week, non-negotiable, dedicated to fulfilling my contract of employment. However, the chance to stay involved part-time with a nearby educational outreach programme was too good to pass up. Yes, I do this on a volunteer basis. Yes, this means I’ll end up working a minimum of 50 hours per week. But it’ll be worth it in the long run – and when you’re having this much fun, it barely feels like work anyway!

3. Expand your mind

Read, read, read. Get the daily roundup of news stories delivered to your phone every morning, swipe subject-specific reading lists from related university courses, search the “development” tag in your WordPress Reader, scour the social sciences section of your local library, print out journal articles for bedtime reading. Remember: great minds discuss ideas!

The internet is your best friend. As if there weren’t enough books in the world, you also have YouTube, iTunes podcasts and distance-learning university courses at your disposal. Swap Buzzfeed for something that will measurably improve your career prospects, awareness of current events and pub quiz knowledge all at the same time!

4. Widen your circle

Get some contacts in the industry. I have a confession: I genuinely didn’t know a single person working in international development until I got my first bit of volunteer experience. Once I made my first friend, it was infinitely easer to meet more people who then helped me shape my mental picture of my future career. It never hurts to ask for help from people who know!

Follow people you admire on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Be honest about your intentions and career ambitions. Admit your inexperience and ask for mentorship. Don’t be annoying, but most of all, don’t be scared to ask – all leaders have to start somewhere.

5. Find your voice

Start a club. Know anyone else interested in international issues, development work or your specific area of interest? Get them involved! Whether it’s a casual chat by the water cooler on a Tuesday lunchtime or a scheduled dinner date to discuss the latest news stories in development, make sure all that new knowledge is getting actively used and dissected and applied.

Write a blog. Here’s one I made earlier! Jot down everything you’ve learned this week, give your opinion on current issues, raise awareness about your cause, formulate ideas and solutions, provoke thought and debate.

And last but not least, keep going. The learning cycle never ends!



Do you have any top tips for young professionals just starting out in international development? Share them in the comments below!