About megangraff

I am currently a PYP-MYP-DP teacher-librarian in Busan, South Korea. In August 2019, I will be moving to Shekou, Shenzhen, China to be a PYP teacher-librarian. It will be my fourth international school (the others were in Singapore and Switzerland). Between my previous international school positions, I volunteered at a school in Tanzania for one year and with an NGO in Bolivia that sets up village libraries for 8 months.

Volunteers and Rights – taking part in various events in Sucre

Over the past week or so, I have been invited by Maritza, the director of BiblioWorks, to take part in (or at least observe) a variety of events in Sucre.

On Friday 4 December (the day before International and National Volunteer Day), there was a special ceremony organized by CONAVOL-Chuquisaca (a chapter of the Consejo Nacional de Voluntariado) to recognize 60 volunteers from a variety of organizations in Sucre and other places in the department of Chuquisaca. Maritza was elected the vice-president of CONAVOL-Chuquisaca in September. They are working on laws to have volunteering officially recognized and valued. I was honoured to be selected for recognition for my work with BiblioWorks but even more pleased that a lovely young Bolivian, Ariane, was recognized for her work with Inti and the working children of Sucre. She comes from a family of means and has been surrounded by books and reading from a young age. On Friday afternoons, she joins BibliWorks staff and the Inti children in the plaza for storytelling and activities. She has also accompanied the children on excursions to various sites around Sucre.



Members of CONAVOL – Lidia (secretary), Samuel (president) and Martiza (vice-president) with Ariane and Roxana (project manager with BiblioWorks).





IMG_0361On Saturday 5 December, to celebrate International and National Volunteer Day, members of CONAVOL gathered in the main plaza of Sucre with a marching band and a floral arrangement. After a few speeches and some numbers by the band, we marched and danced our way around the plaza and then to a hall for refreshments. It was neat to be a part of one of the random groups of people marching and dancing in the streets that are regular occurrence here.

IMG_0376   IMG_0380 IMG_0383 Every Tuesday afternoon, Maritza meets with a group who are working on laws to protect the rights of children in Bolivia. On Wednesday 9 December, there was third of four sessions being held to present the input of local children and youth. Maritza presented the ideas of the working children who sell Inti magazine in their own words. (The children themselves were not present because they were on an excursion organized by the canteen for working children which provides them with a free lunch each day.) They would like things like a bathroom in their house and a place to relax in the plaza after work. The country director for UNICEF (who happens to be from Korea) mentioned to Maritza afterwards that it was wonderful that she presented the children’s wishes in their own words.


On Thursday 10 December, International Human Rights Day, I accompanied Maritza to the central plaza to meet with some others working on children’s rights. If I understand correctly, members of the press gather each morning in the plaza. We had copies of a press release which was shared with them and then they interviewed Maritza and others on the spot. There was other groups doing the same on a variety of topics.


Out next destination was a ceremony organized by the Defensoría del Pueblo (Ombudsman). The Defensoría is a public institution charged with defending human rights. After a presentation recapping their actions during 2015, they recognized key players from several different organizations and then served hors d’oeuvres and wine (at 10:30 am!).


From there we headed to the Casa de la Libertad where there were more speeches (but no wine so we didn’t stay long).


It is fascinating and a privilege to be invited to attend these events. Bolivia has room for improvement in many areas and it wonderful to see the dedication of Bolivians to bring about change.

Back to Asia

As some of you know, two weeks ago I accepted a teacher-librarian position at Busan International Foreign School in Busan, South Korea. I officially start on August 1st, 2016 (but I assume I will arrive a week or two before that). Here is the story of how this came about.

Soon after arriving in Bolivia, I decided it made sense to look for a teacher-librarian position at an international school for the 2016-2017 school year. Recruiting starts early and I didn’t want to go to a job fair so by mid-October I had managed to activate my account with Search Associates. (Part of this was bugging four former supervisors and colleagues for confidential references.)

Once my account was activated I could see open positions advertised at various schools. I was keen to find a school with all three IB programmes and that wasn’t too huge. Many of the positions advertised were middle/high school or K-12 positions. I contacted a few friends working at the schools with positions (including in a couple instances the current librarian who was obviously making plans to leave) or someone I knew who had been at the school who was able to put me in contact with someone currently at the school. One person I contacted was a librarian I met while I was in Tanzania. She was working at an international school in Dar es Salaam and I spent a day in her library. We left Tanzania around the same time and she took a position at a school in South Korea, Busan International Foreign School.

Initially the position at BIFS was advertised as a K-12 but then it was modified to be just elementary. On Tuesday 27 October, I emailed the school and the next day I got an email from the principal offering me an initial interview with herself and the PYP coordinator the week of November 9 (as they were on holiday the first week of November). We set it up for my Monday evening (Nov 9), their Tuesday morning (Nov 10).

In the meantime, I sent an email to a school in Bangkok that was advertising a middle school/high school position (but I never got a reply and I wasn’t really surprised, seeing as all of my experience is in elementary).

Monday evening, I put on a dress (and makeup!) and headed to the BiblioWorks office because the wifi is stronger there. The interview seemed to go well. I asked a bazillion questions and was happy with the answers. Skype cooperated and we had both audio and video. The next morning I had an email from the principal about a second interview 3 days later (Nov 12/13).

Before that happened a position at the International School of Phnom Penh came up on Search. I contacted a friend who used to teach there to see if she could put me in touch with someone who was still there and she did. However in spite of being on Search Associates, ISPP asks that applications be submitted via a different recruiting site, Schrole. It meant filling out some information about myself, uploading my CV, answering some questions provided by the school and getting more confidential references. I hummed and hawed a bit. I wasn’t keen to bug my references again when I was already in the process of interviewing with another school.

Skype did not cooperate for my second interview with BIFS. We tried calling multiple times, turned off video etc but it wasn’t working well at all. They could hear me but they were garbled when they spoke. We ended up doing the interview with them typing the questions and me answering orally. It was weird. At the end, they said they were down to two candidates and asked if they could check my references. The next morning I had an email introducing me to two of the coordinators and asking us to set up a time for a short interview. I replied but figured I wouldn’t hear back until Monday at the earliest.

Sunday, November 15 I decided I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket and I started work on my Schrole application. Monday night I heard back from the coordinators and an interview was organized for their Wednesday morning (my Tuesday night). I completed my Schrole application and bugged my references (who were super quick) and applied for the ISPP position.

The interview with the coordinators was short but seemed to go well and by the time I woke up the next morning,I had an email from the principal introducing me to the head of school so we could set up a time for an interview as well as one from him directly. After a bit of back and forth, we ended up scheduling it for his Monday morning (my Sunday evening).

Thursday morning I had an email from the elementary principal at ISPP offering me an interview the week beginning 30 November as they were going on holiday the following week.

The next day I contacted a teacher who had worked at BIFS but was now working at ISPP to see what he might be willing to share about both schools. He said good things about both of them…

On Sunday, I had an email out of the blue from the principal at a school in Budapest saying she would like to talk to me about a position at their school that had just come up and wasn’t yet advertised on Search. We set a time for the next day. I wasn’t really interested in the position but I was curious about how inquiry is at the school as they are not PYP and I was flattered she contacted me. (Coincidently, the current librarian at that school used to work at ISPP and I met her on a boat on the river in Phnom Penh when I was there visiting a friend in June 2011 – small world.)

That evening I had my chat with the head of school in Busan. It was a friendly discussion and much of it focused on the salary and benefits. I walked home after, changed out of my interview clothes and made a snack. As I was eating I picked up my phone and realized I had an email from the principal asking if I had time for quick Skype. I crossed my fingers that my home wifi would cooperate and got online. Skype cooperated and she offered me the position. I asked how quickly she would need to know and confessed I had other interviews lined up. She said she would need to know fairly soon so as to not keep the other candidate hanging.

I emailed the principal at ISPP to let her know I had an offer from another school and got an autoreply that she was away all week. I took it as a sign and emailed the principal at BIFS back to accept the offer. She forwarded me a letter of intent right away. I emailed my Search Associates person because in their instructions it said to get in touch before signing anything. I got an email back from the principal at ISPP saying it wouldn’t be possible to do the interview any sooner (which didn’t surprise me) and to let her know if I did accept the offer.

I went to bed and tried to sleep. By the next morning, I hadn’t heard back from the Search person and as it was already night in Korea, I decided to give him 24 hours. I went ahead and signed the letter and attached it to an email but didn’t send it. (I did go ahead and cancel my interview with the school in Budapest though – I didn’t feel it was right to take up her time when I wasn’t considering the position.) By that evening, I still hadn’t heard back but I went ahead and sent it anyway (and then emailed the principal at ISPP to cancel our interview).

I am still waiting for it to sink in that I am moving to Korea and that I already have a job lined up for next year. However at the same time I want to take advantage of the time I still have in Bolivia and not spend it planning the future. That will be my juggling act for the next 6 months or so.



Random Arts

Yesterday evening, I wandered out to see what events were on offer as part of the Festival Internaciónal de la Cultura that is currently going on in Sucre. An online search had proved fruitless so I went by the Casa de Cultura to see if I could pick up a program. I didn’t see any so I checked the giant version and nothing took my fancy.

On the way home, I walked via a small plaza that has a theatre building at one end, Teatro Gran Mariscal. There were barricades around the end of the plaza facing it as well as some lights on platforms and a sound board set up. There were also some people milling around the entrance. I was curious about what might be going to take place so I sat on a bench to see what I could see. After a while I was joined by an older woman who asked if I knew what was going on. I told her I did not and she suggested I accompany her to find out. She seemed harmless so I decided to go along. First she wanted to buy some candy (and this being Bolivia someone with a cart selling various sweets was set up right by the entrance). She offered me some and I declined but she insisted I take one saying she had bought them for me. (I put it in my pocket.)

We went toward the entrance but then she decided we should sit on the bench for a bit longer. She introduced herself as Teresa and asked me a bunch of questions (including if I was married and if my hair colour was natural). She also shared that she was single but a 23 year old son. I am not good at ages but I think she looked like she was in her late 50s. 

After awhile she decided we should try going into the theatre. No one stopped us and they were handing out programs.


We went in and found seats in a box. I perused the program and discovered that we were at the closing ceremonies for a three day arts education conference. However the program said it was supposed to start at 6 pm and it was already after 7 pm… It eventually started around 7:30 pm and consisted of a variety of dance and musical numbers interspersed with the presentation of certificates or diplomas for people who had made a difference in various domains of art education (music, dance, theatre). They were calling them masters of arts but from what I understood they were honorary degrees (and most of the people receiving them looked like they had already had long careers). It all wrapped up about 10 pm. Teresa suggested we go for tea but I begged off and instead we exchanged phone numbers. I am not sure if I will hear from her again or not…

Wine Tasting in Bolivia

On Wednesday, a group of seven of us set off from Sucre for Villa Abecia. We have been in the process of setting up a library there for over a year but the official inauguration was Thursday. Our group consisted of a family of three from Canada who will be volunteering there for about six months, Maritza (the director of BiblioWorks) and two American volunteers, Kristen and Deirdre.

Wednesday evening, after we dropped the Canadians off at their apartment, Maritza, Kristen, Deirdre and I picked up a bottle of wine from a local winemaker. He had two kinds – a sweet white and a port. We went for the port.

The next day, the inauguration was in the morning and in the afternoon we explored some local water holes called “pozos”. 

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Around 5 pm, Maritza headed off to Camargo to catch up with family and friends and a bit later Deirdre, Kristen and I were picked up by a taxi headed to Tarija.

I was quite out of my comfort zone, knowing that we would be arriving in Tarija after dark without accommodation reservations but decided to put my trust in Kristen and Deirdre and go along with it. The taxi dumped us out at the side of the road and we managed to flag down a taxi that took us to the main plaza (after I dug out my Lonely Planet to check the name of said plaza). It took a few tries but we eventually found a cheap hotel with a room available. It wasn’t great but we decided it would do for one night.

In the morning, we set out to find breakfast, a new hotel and to book a wine tour (in that order). We were successful on all three counts.

The wine tour was supposed to be at 2 pm but one of the women in the office told us to come at 1:30 pm. We did but ended up hanging out on the street corner until 1:50 pm when our guide, Jorge, came by and introduced himself and then a driver showed up shortly after. We picked up a couple from La Paz at their hotel and then we were off.


Our first stop was at the Campos de Solana winery. We had a pretty standard tour, starting off by seeing tanks and barrels.


Then we headed for the tasting room. Here things were a bit different. After our tour guide showed us the various wines they have, we were told we needed to come to a consensus as we would only be trying one wine. We chose a rosé that was quite nice.

Our next stop was at Casa Real, a singani distillery. Singani is a spirit made from grapes and it is usually mixed with ginger ale. 


We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the distillery or the bottling plant. At the end, we each got a glass of singani mixed with ginger ale as well as a taste of one of the special ones straight.

Our third stop was again at a winery. This one is located in a house that is more than 400 years old (but with more recent additions) and it is appropriately called Casa Vieja.


It was super busy there. Eventually we were herded into a tasting room with about 25 other people and told to make a circle. The man leading the tasting poured 12 or so glasses of wine and told us what each one was. He then started handing them to the person closest to him and the idea was to take a sip and pass it on. It was rather surreal but also sort of like communion. The whole time he was encouraging us to pass faster. The wines were all pretty sweet and I was rather relieved when we got to the last one.

Other Tarija highlights were the Museo Nacional Paleontológico Arqueológico, with more glyptodon fossils as well as other large prehistoric mammals, a shrunken mummified person and various rocks and minerals; a set of waterfalls with more pozos; tasting little freshwater crustaceans (I let Kristen and Deirdre do that) and a buffet lunch at the only vegetarian restaurant.








Last night we took a bus that left Tarija at 7:30 pm and arrived back in Sucre around 5 am. The big buses tend to be double decker but with only baggage (and the driver) on the lower level and people on the top. We had the front row (which freaked Kristen out as we speed down the highway in the dark) but I put a scarf over my eyes and tried to get as much sleep as possible.


Saving Your Parking Spot in Sucre, part 2

Since my previous post about saving your parking spot in Sucre, I have spotted yet more objects being used to reserve stretches of the street.

Some are variations on the cement with metal sticking out of them:

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Wooden poles can be placed parallel or perpendicular to the street:

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Stumps work too:


Or you can use whatever is handy!

A big box:



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And sometimes it is best to use a variety of materials:

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Maybe you can even practise your patterning!


Oh and don’t forget to chain your pylons to a post so you don’t lose them when they are not saving your space:


Books and Music in Yamparaéz

Last week, I was able to spend a day in our library in Yamparaéz with two American volunteers who are doing a special music project in several of our libraries. Kristen Ford is a singer/songwriter and she and her partner, Deirdre, are spending three months traveling in South America after spending 15 months touring all over the U.S.

We took a micro to the Parada Tarabuco (the Tarabuco bus stop in Sucre) and from there got on a minibus. The minibus will drop you off in Yamparaéz but charges the same as if you were to continue on to Tarabuco (10 Bs). Once the minibus was full, it departed. (It was full by Bolivian standards – one person per seat – but not by Tanzanian standards.)

I have a had a few conversations with foreigners and Bolivians alike about littering. There are signs around both prohibiting dumping of trash and encouraging good behaviour but they don’t seem to be having much impact.

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Unfortunately this sign on the minibus telling you to throw your rubbish out the window rather than on the floor of the bus seems to sum up the attitude of many people.


We arrived in Yamparaéz after about 30 minutes.

Kristen and Deirdre has spent the previous day there (with Silvia from BiblioWorks) promoting their workshops at the school. There was one secondary music class scheduled to come with their teacher before lunch and an open session for primary students in second grade in the afternoon.

We had a bit of time before the first group arrived so I took a look around the library. The non-fiction books are organized using a simplified Dewey system (numbers only and only to the tens place) and I smiled to see that the picture books been given the call number “1000”.



The secondary class didn’t show up right away for their session so Kristen and I went over to the school where we found them getting organized and they eventually made it to the library. After introductions and a bit of music, Deirdre read a picture book to the group “El ocaso” and then had the students generate a list of things that happen in the evening. Kristen used their ideas to create a song and the students joined in with various noise makers while she played the guitar and sang (and tried to get them to sing as well). The group was a bit timid at first but after the singing and some drawing, they warmed up a bit.


A few students were interested in trying out the guitar. 


Then it was time for lunch. We stopped by the town hall ostensibly to use the washroom but also to check out the glyptodont fossil that is on display there.

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Then we headed to a park to eat our sandwiches (the day before the local lunch place had run out of food so we brought our own). There is a statue of a glyptodont in the middle of town.


The afternoon group of younger students were more animated and involved in the singing. They too were interested in trying out the guitar. 








To return to Sucre, we headed out to the road and waited for a ride. The day before, Kristen, Deirdre and Silvia had gotten a lift in the back of a pickup but we were picked up by a guy in an SUV. He did a lap of town to collect more passengers and then we were off.

Kristen and Deirdre spent the rest of the week in Yamparaéz. Yesterday and today they have gone to the school library in Pampa Aceituno. Tomorrow afternoon, along with Maritza (the director of BiblioWorks) and a Canadian family of volunteers, we are heading to Villa Abecia for the official inauguration of BiblioWorks’ 12th library (it has already been open for nearly a year but the official ceremony has been delayed). We have chartered some transport for the 7 hour journey. Monday is a holiday (All Saints) so I am planning to go from Villa Abecia to Tarija and check out Bolivia’s wine region.

The Search Begins

job search

I have been in Bolivia for nearly two months and it is already time to start looking at options for my next step. I am still planning to volunteer with BiblioWorks until May or June but the international school recruitment cycle is such that jobs for August/September 2016 are starting to be posted. It seems too soon!

I have signed up with Search Associates. They hold quite a few international teaching job fairs around the world but at this point I have decided not to register for a fair. Instead I am keeping my eye on the jobs posted on in their database and will be contacting schools about them directly. I have already spotted a few positions that have peaked my interest enough to reach out to people I know who have or who are currently teaching at those schools. This is time when I am grateful for my vast web of connections!

As of now the majority of library positions I have seen are in Asia (many in China). Going back to Asia has its appeal and so is going to a school that is keen to recruit early in order to increase its chances of a large pool of candidates. However I am also curious about what other positions might be posted over the next few months. It is tricky to know when to bite as many schools will fill their positions when the right candidate comes along so I don’t want to wait too long if a position interests me. I think my strategy is going to be to make contact with schools as they post positions and then see what unfolds. As with any job search, applying does not necessarily result in a job offer (or even an interview…) I have been very lucky during my teaching career and I can only think of one position for which that I interviewed and did not get (and I got another job offer within the same school board later that day). Perhaps this is the year that all changes.

Wish me luck! (Though if I don’t find a job, I could just travel for a year…)


Image Credit:
CC licensed (BY 2.0) Flickr photo by Yolanda DeLoach: https://www.flickr.com/photos/juliewalraven/9224605544

More Migration Fun!

As part of my role as the BiblioWorks volunteer coordinator, I now get to help incoming volunteers sort out visas and the like. Good thing I made friends with the man at the migration office!

Last week, I went with an American volunteer who needed to get a 30 day extension on her and her daughter’s tourist visas. When I had inquired for her several weeks ago, I was told that she could get two 30 extensions and that they would each cost Bs 210 (about $30 USD). We went in and I spoke to the man at the door, he said there was no fee but that she needed photocopies of the passport information page as well as the page with the entry stamp and the green piece of paper they give you when you enter Bolivia that you are supposed to hang on to and give back when you exit the country (mine went missing during my residence permit quest so I will have to pay a fine when I exit). We went off to make the photocopies and then came back to wait. (The official at the door asked me for help with his smartphone while we waited. It wouldn’t connect to 3G and the language choices on it were English, Japanese and Chinese so he was keen to have an English speaker take a look. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sort out the problem.) After a bit we were called up to the edge of a desk where someone else was being helped and there was a flurry of stamping. Back outside we took a look and there were two 30 day stamps in each passport. So not only was there no fee, she wouldn’t have to come back after another 30 days to get another extension (however she will be leaving Bolivia before then anyway).

On the weekend, a family of Canadian volunteers who are planning to spend 6 months in Bolivia arrived. Monday, the mother and I set out to see what we could find out about the residency permit process for a child. The good news was that children don’t need police reports. The bad news was that it is necessary to have their birth certificates translated and stamped by the Bolivian embassy in their home country. We also learned that since she and her partner aren’t married, they didn’t need to provide a marriage certificate. As a family, there was another letter they would have to get written up by a lawyer to the director of migration.

From there we stopped by Interpol to see if it was really necessary to have the rental contract and letter to the director of Interpol signed and stamped by a lawyer (no).

The volunteer was quite discouraged by the news of needing to send the birth certificate to Canada. She decided to call the Bolivian embassy in Canada to find out more about how much it would cost ($50 for the translation, $50 for the authentication) and how long it would take. It took a few hours before she got through but when she did the woman was quite helpful. She said it is possible to extend the special purpose visa for an extra 60 days (giving 90 altogether) and then leave Bolivia and come back as a tourist for another 90 days. This sounded far less painful than the residency permit process (and fit with their plan to stay for 6 months) so I went back to migration to confirm this. My buddy there said the extension is actually for 90 days and confirmed that you can then leave and re-enter Bolivia as a tourist and stay for 90 days. So if that is true, they will have nearly 7 months in Bolivia. He checked the price of the renewal and it is about ½ that of the one year residency permit. It’s good to know there is another option!

While I was there the second time, I also asked some questions for a volunteer from the UK who arrived at the beginning of October but doesn’t have a flight back to the UK until mid-January which ends up being more than 90 days total. My buddy confirmed that she can overstay her visa and pay a Bs 25 (about $3.50 USD) per day fine for every day past 90 when she leaves the country. However she has mentioned she might want to go to the U.S. to visit a friend over Christmas (I think she might change her mind when she sees the price of flights…) so I wanted to check how many days of her 90 she needed to have left to be allowed back in the country. If I understood correctly she needs to have at least 10.

I am starting to think I should set up a side-business offering help with visas and residency permits for foreigners…

Does it matter how many books there are in the library if no one is reading them?

I recently visited one of the school libraries supported by BiblioWorks and was again reminded of how lucky teacher-librarians in international schools are to have budgets that allow them to chose books that fit their curriculum as well as the interests of their students. They have access to a variety of suppliers from whom they can order quality books from a wide-range of publishers by amazing authors. They can weed books that students are not interested in, that are out-of-date or that are not in good condition. (Not all of them do this weeding but they should!) They are not reliant on donations. International teacher-librarians can engage in discussions about how best to arrange and catalogue their books to suit the needs of their students. They can (and should attend) PD by people like Kevin Hennah about library design, displays, signage, layout and more.

When BiblioWorks sets up a library, they purchase new books for the library. Last week books for a new library in Villa Abecia arrived in the office. And when Silvia and I went to Presto, we took books that had been purchased on behalf of the municipal government for the library there. 



Books are donated as well. Quite a few books on this shelf were donated by the US Embassy in Bolivia. And while many of them are Spanish translations of some great books, I don’t know if any of the students have the reading level or interest to read them. Also as the books must be used in the library (ie not borrowed), I can’t see that anyone would be keen to read a novel.

IMG_9080 I suspect these Enid Blyton books were also donated. Do they have any appeal for the students using this library?


Seeing them reminded me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story”.

And who knows how these relics ended up in this library (or the last time someone opened them). And who thought a primary school library was a good place for them? 




Even if this one does mention educating children…


Someone has carefully covered these books, I assume to protect them, but if you can’t see the title, why would you take them off the shelf? 


(Other than the old religion books, I didn’t look at the non-fiction books that make up most of the collection. I suspect many were text books.)

The challenge taken up by BiblioWorks to spread the love of reading in rural Bolivia should be made easier by having libraries full of books but as teacher-librarians know, it doesn’t matter how many books you have if no one wants to read them. And if you have good books but they are hidden among old, boring ones, will anyone find them?

Thankfully BiblioWorks has some excellent employees and volunteers who spend time in the libraries sharing good books with the children they serve and hopefully inspiring the librarians and teachers of those communities to do the same.