10 Fast Facts on Mauritania

August 7th, 2014

mauritania

Recently, I saw a performance by the Mauritanian singer Noura Mint Seymali, who plays the 9-string harp, the ardin (reserved only for women), and her talented musicians at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The Skirball hosts free summer concerts bringing in international artists and performers to give us Angelenos a taste of the musical flavors from around the world. Noura’s melodic voice and music, a blend of Berber, Afro-pop, and desert blues had everyone on their feet dancing; transporting us to a desert oasis thousands of miles away.

YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HLfWoZhC7s

Influenced by its Moorish past, Mauritania has a rich and thriving music culture (as evidenced by the performers I saw at the Skirball).

In terms of geography, Mauritania (three times the size of Arizona) is situated in northwest Africa with about 350 mi (592 km) of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. In the north, it is bordered by Morocco and on the east by Algeria and Mali, and Senegal on the south. The country is 70% desert and growing because of ongoing droughts, with the exception of the fertile Senegal River valley in the south and grazing land in the north.

maur_house
Image source: Steve McCurry’s Blog

The history of Mauritania dates back to the 3rd century AD. The original settlers of Mauritania were the Bafours people. Berber tribes began migrating to the region between the 3rd and 7th century AD removing all traces of the Bafours people. The Mauritanian Thirty-Year War occurred between 1644 and 1647 when the Beber fought against the Beni Hassan tribes and Maqil Arab invaders.

Mauritania was first explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century, but by the 19th century the French had gained control and became one of the colonies that constituted French West Africa. In 1946, it was named a French overseas territory.

Now, here are some fast facts on Mauritania:

1. Mauritania gained its independence from France on Nov. 28, 1960, and was admitted to the United Nations in 1961. (Having once been a French colony, Mauritannia’s education system has been heavily influenced by the francophone system which is still prevalent today even after its independence.)

2. The capital of Mauritania is Nouakchott, which means “place of the winds.” It was designated as the country’s capital only in 1960 and is therefore one of the world’s newest capitals.

Nouakchott,
Nouakchott, capital of Mauritannia

3. Mauritania is one of the last countries to abolish slavery. It passed a law in 1981 to abolish slavery. Yet, according to 2003 estimates, despite the legislation against slavery, there still exists around 90,000 slaves in Mauritania.

slavery
Image source: http://borgenproject.org/modern-day-slavery-mauritania/

4. Majority of Mauritanians are devout Moslems and belong to the Sunni sect.

5. Arabic is the official and national language. Other languages spoken include: Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof (all national languages), French, Hassaniya (a variety of Arabic).

moslem_men

6. If you look at Mauritania from space, you can see a clear bull’s-eye-like image called “The Eye of Africa.” It is a Richat structure with a diameter of about 30 miles and believed to be the result of the simultaneous lifting of the underlying geology. It is, nevertheless, quite striking.

Richat

7. With about 40% of its population still below the poverty line, Mauritania depends heavily on iron ore exports, fishing and off shore oil wells for its economic progress. In addition to ion ore, Mauritania’s other natural resources include gold, gypsum, phosphate, diamonds, copper and oil.

8. Mauritania’s extensive coastline offers excellent opportunities for those who wish to explore the beach, surf, swim or fish in the sea.

maur_beach

9. France’s colonial influence is apparent in Mauritania’s education system that follows the francophone system. Primary school covers 6 years and begins at age six, followed by 7 years of secondary education which leads to the Secondary Education Diploma “Diplome du Baccalauréat de l’Enseignement du Secondaire” (BAC),

10. Mauritania’s University of Nouakchott offers two-year Diploma programs (“Diplome d’Etudes Universitaires Géneralés” also called “DEUG”) followed by two additional years for the “Maitrise.” There are also seven specialized institutions of higher education

Bonus fact:
11. Mauritania’s Bay of Nouadhibou, hides one of the biggest ships cemeteries in the world. There are more than 300 wrecks from all nations beached permanently on its shores. (For more images of shipwrecks on Mauritania’s shores click here: http://www.fogonazos.es/2006/11/shipwrecks-on-coast-of-mauritania.html)

maur_shipwreck

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13881985

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mr.html

http://www.wfp.org/countries/mauritania

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
acei@acei-global.org

ACEI
http://www.acei-global.org

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5 Safety Tips for International Students on U.S. Campuses

August 1st, 2014

campus_safety

For many years I served as an advisor to international students and counseled them on selecting colleges that would best meet their academic, financial and social needs. Going to college is a major milestone and for international students and their parents, college in another country can be an even bigger transition. For parents of international students, the thought of sending their son and daughter to a country thousands of miles away is daunting, no matter what the benefits may be.

Unfortunately news of shootings on campus, and the recent fatal stabbing of a graduate student from China at a prominent university in California who was walking back to his dorm room after meeting with his study group have escalated concerns on the overall safety and security of students at U.S. institutions. Even though U.S. college officials have in place lots of campus safety measures, there a few steps parents and international students can take to ensure a safe college experience.

1. Check into safety statistics: A good place to start is the college’s website. Start by entering “Safety” in the search bar and hit enter and see what information is revealed. According to federal law, all U.S. colleges must disclose statistics on crimes such as rape, murder, robbery, and arson that occurred on their campus. If you are unable to find this information on the college’s website, go the Department of Education’s online Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool. http://ope.ed.gov/security/

2. Safety programs: Next, look to see what safety and precautionary recommendations the college provides. Some of these include late-night escort services that will deliver the student back to his/her as dorm room as well as and designated safe spots on campus to call for help during emergencies.

3. Research the surrounding area:

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With nearly 3000 colleges and universities in the United States, you are going to have a variety of institutions in locations just as varied, from small town college campuses in the Midwest to colleges in large metropolitan areas. One thing to do is look at the map of the U.S. and when selecting a college, find out more about the state and city its located in and do a quick study of its geography and even catch up on some local news by doing an internet search of the town. Ideally, a site visit by parents with their college-bound child would be the way to see at first hand not only the campus but the surrounding neighborhood.

4. Ask questions:

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If you can’t do the site visit, don’t hesitate to set up an appointment for a phone call or a Skype chat with the admissions and international student counselors at the colleges you’re considering and ask them about the safety measures on their campuses. You can also stop by the EducationUSA Office at the US Embassy in your country who will be able to offer you unbiased advice on questions you may have about the location of your college and any supporting information concerning the overall safety of the area.

5. Get to know your campus security:

campus_safety_4

Once you have arrived and checked into your dorm room and registered in your classes, get to know all there is to know about the college campus. Attend any orientation programs offered and find out the location of the campus security. Learn the layout of campus by getting a map and familiarize yourself with the area. Invite your roommate or others in your orientation group to go on a campus exploration tour of your own and learn first hand where your classrooms will be and other important buildings and facilities.

Student safety is number one for all U.S. colleges and they work hard in making sure that their campuses are secure and safe. College should be a memorable experience both academically and socially and though you may quickly settle into your classes and dorm life and begin to feel comfortable, it is important to always be aware of your safety and security.

You will find a slew of websites on campus safety from different colleges on the Internet. Here are a few links to articles we thought you may find interesting and helpful.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/20/us/us-campuses-wrestle-with-safety-perceptions.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/international-student-counsel/2014/05/22/follow-security-tips-to-stay-safe-on-campus-as-an-international-student

http://www.internationalstudentguidetotheusa.com/articles/safety_usa.htm

Nora

Nora K. Saidi
Executive Director, ACEI
www.acei-global.org

ACEI

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10 Time Management Tips for On-line Students

July 23th, 2014

time_running

Are you thinking of taking courses on-line? Though online learning may be convenient, it does pose challenges to students when it comes to managing their time efficiently.

We’d like to offer the following tips to on-line students to avoid common time management pitfalls.

1. Keep family informed

family

If you’re planning on enrolling in an on-line program, sit down with your family and explain to them your schedule, and let them know you will need to dedicate a certain amount of time and space for your studies. If your studies will keep you from doing all your chores, this would be the time to let them know and ask for their help. It’s always a good idea to keep everyone in the loop so there are no misunderstandings and hard feelings.

2. Keep a schedule

time_management

It’s important that as an online student you designate for yourself specific hours to do your studies. Having structure and a calendar dedicated to your studies is a great way to stay on course and not fall behind and lose momentum.

3. Do not procrastinate

procastination

One of the biggest time management mistakes is procrastination; waiting until the very last minute to start working on an assignment, project or even preparing for an examination. Also, if you need to reach your teacher by email, don’t do it late at night, respect their reschedule.

4. Stay focused

focus

Make sure that when you’re on-line and studying, you are only accessing sites that are related to your studies. One way you can get sidetracked is by spending time on Facebook or other social media sites that rob you of the precious time you need for your studies.

5. Stay logged into your class

online

By checking into your on-line class on a daily basis, you’re helping yourself to stay on track and feel less overwhelmed with assignments. It also helps you stay abreast of any changes the teacher may make to the syllabus or postings about special projects.

6. Speak up!

speak

The odds are that you may get sick or a personal or work-related event will take you away from your studies and cause you to fall behind. It’s really important that you contact your on-line instructors and let them know what’s going on so they can help you with rescheduling your assignments.

7. Maximize your time

maxtime

Take advantage of time you spend waiting at the doctor’s office, appointments or waiting in the car to pick up the kids or friends and use them as study opportunities or checking in with your online class for any updates. Don’t let these so-called in-between times be wasted.

8. Create a study space

studyspace

Make sure you create a space for your studies that is quiet and away from distractions. Finding a quiet place to study would be ideal. If you can’t study at home, check out your local library or even visit one at your local community college. You may be studying on-line, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be isolated from the world.

9. Keep a calendar

calendar

It’s really important to record all the due dates for your assignments on a calendar with reminders. This way you will stay on top of your studies and never miss a due date.

10. Prioritize your studies

prioritize

First, dedicate a set number of hours for your studies, this way you will respect and honor this study schedule, no matter what tempting invitations are thrown your way by your friends and family. When you have a schedule, you can plan your workout and/or social activity around your studies so that they remain the number one priority, but you’re also not depriving yourself of some fun. Find ways to keep your studies front and center in your home and study space by leaving inspirational messages and books related to your course at different spots to serve as your constant reminder that your classes are your #1 priority.

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15 Fast Facts on Higher Education in Armenia

July 17th, 2014

armenia

Brief Overview: Armenia is the smallest of the former Soviet republics. It sits landlocked and earthquake ridden in rugged mountains tucked between Turkey (to the west) and Azerbaijan. It covers an area of 29,743 sq km.(slightly smaller than Maryland). It has a population of 3,060,631 (July 2014 est.) with 1,079,000 residing in its capital, Yerevan. The languages spoken are Armenian and Russian. Its religion is Armenian Apostolic. In A.D. 301, Armenia became the first Christian nation.

In the communist era, Armenian education followed the standard Soviet model of complete state control (from Moscow) of curricula and teaching methods and close integration of education activities with other aspects of society, such as politics, culture, and the economy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia gained its independence on September 21, 1991.

Here are some fast facts on higher education in Armenia post 1991:

1. Per 2012 figures, Armenia allocated 3.3% of its GDP to education.

2. The Ministry of Education and Science is the authorized state body for education and responsible for developing and implementing state policy/strategy and for legislation in higher education. The Ministry is also a source of funding and exercises an oversight and auditing function.

3. The State Licensing and Accreditation Service were established by the Ministry and are responsible for the central accreditation system.

4. The National Centre for Professional Education Qualify Assurance Foundation (ANQA) which was established on December 2, 1008, is an independent foundation responsible for promoting quality at higher education level.

5. The Council of Records of State Higher Education Institutions and the Council of Rectors of Private Higher Education institutions are advisory bodies to the Ministry.

6. There are 26 state higher education institutions. The number of private Universities as of 2011 is counted to be 41.

YSU
Yerevan State University

7. In 2004, a system based on two cycles: Bachelor (bakalavreat) – four years and Master (magistros) – two years was introduced by the Law on Higher and Postgraduate Professional Education and by a government decree.

8. Since 2005, all state and private universities in Armenia have transferred their programs to the two-cycle systems.

ASU
American University of Armenia

9. The status of the previous specialist’s qualification (five years) has been equalized to the Master qualification.

10. Ph.D. program is also implemented within the framework of high education. The first level of Ph.D. studies starts with the researcher program which lasts three years. A Ph.D. student engaged in doctoral research, prepares scientific thesis and on successful defense of a thesis is awarded with a Ph.D. (Candidate of Science) degree.

11. Postgraduate education is conducted through two scientific degree systems: aspirantura (candidate of science) and doctorantura (doctor of science) requiring three years of full-time and five years if part-time/distant learning.

12. The types of tertiary education programs and institutions offering these programs include:

a. Vocational Colleges – known as Middle Professional Education Institution (Midjin masnagitaken usumnakan hastatuluuner) such as colleges (koledjener) and Craftsmanship colleges (arhestagortsakean usumnaranner);

b. Universities – offer bachelor, master and postgraduate and doctoral degree programs and provide opportunities for scientific research and study.

c. Institutes – offer specialized and postgraduate academic programs and scientific research in a number of scientific, economic and cultural branches

d. Academies – focus on offering programs aimed at the development of education, science, technology and culture in an individual filed, as well as postgraduate academic programs.

e. Conservatories – prepare individuals in the field of music, providing qualification development and postgraduate academic programs.

YSM
Yerevan State Medical University

13. To qualify for the Bachelor/Master degrees, assessment is based on a mid-term exam and an exam at the end of the semester, upon which the final mark is defined. Progress to the next semester/year of study requires a satisfactory final mark of 8 out of 20.

14. According to legislation, staff at the higher institutions is divided into the following categories: professors, associate professors, candidates of sciences and doctors of sciences. Staff is selected by open competition.

15. At this time, the National Academy of Sciences is favored over universities as it provides better research conditions. The various research institutes coming under the NAS receive direct funding from the government, while higher education institutions receive their funding through the Ministry of Education and Science.

Sources:

http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/tempus/participating_countries/overview/armenia_tempus_country_fiche_final.pdf

http://www.unicef.org/ceecis/Armenia.pdf

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/am.html

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/armenia-facts/

ACEI
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Empathy: Is it Teachable?

July 10th, 2014

empathy

Empathy: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Everyday we wake up to news of shootings in schools, children and teens bullied by their peers, gang violence, violent attacks against women, homosexuals, immigrant-bashing, brutalities inflicted on humans by other humans. We go to sleep to more news of violence around the world and the cycle continues. And, we wonder, who could do such heinous acts? What kind of a human being is capable of inflicting such pain and suffering on the innocent? Clearly, these are individuals unable to feel empathy.

In a recent post on the blog Mindshift the question is raised as to “Why its important to teach empathy to boys.” Why only boys? I believe it is just as important to teach empathy to girls as it is to boys. Here’s why. In a May 26, 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, it was reported that girls show more aggression than boys in schools because they are “generally more socially developed and verbal than boys.”

Psychologists and educators are increasingly noticing children as early as kindergarten or even younger forming cliques and intentionally excluding others and displaying acts of aggression toward those excluded. Steps are being taken to curb this behavior by teaching empathy in elementary schools in order to diminish “relational aggression” which is a psychological term to describe “using the threat of removing friendship as a tactical weapon.” In addition, children are also receiving guidance on how to stand up for themselves against bullies and helping others subjected to social exclusion.

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Which leads me to ask the next set of questions: is it up to schools to teach empathy? Are we to assign teachers and schools the responsibility to teach our children to develop the positive character traits such as kindness, compassion, helpfulness, generosity, and consideration? Does empathy start at the school or at the home? What about the parents? Who teaches them empathy? Who teaches the teachers?

teachingempathy

Is empathy something we’re hardwired with at birth or can it really be taught? In that same note, if some humans are hardwired with the ability to be empathic are some, such as psychopaths, hardwired to be void of empathy? Psychopaths are defined as individuals who suffer from a personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse.

As a non-scientist but a layperson interested in neuroscience and involved in education, I’ve always been fascinated with the question as to why some people are able to experience empathy while others are not. I look at our politicians some of whom display some elements of altruism while others proudly demonstrate their lack of empathy with their matter-of-fact slashing of social programs intended to help the needy and underprivileged, or the bankers who glibly make fortunes through the cleverly plodded loopholes and lets not forget those who brought the country to an almost economic collapse during the recent mortgage crisis, I still remember a banker interviewed on the radio as to whether he felt any remorse for what the banking industry had done to which he replied an emphatic NO! His rationale was simple, he saw himself as the smart one, the one who was able to figure a way to make boat loads of money. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said something to the effect of “suck it up people, we’re just smarter than you, that’s all.”

In his book, The Psychopath’s Test, Jon Ronson, explores the characteristics of psychopathy and how a psychopath is not necessarily the cold hearted serial murderer, but it is also the cold-hearted CEO or political leader who is capable of inflicting psychological harm on his/her employees or constituents.

Up until now, I was under the impression that you’re either capable of experiencing empathy or you are not. That is, you’re either born with it or you’re not. In a study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, reports that “when individuals with psychopathy imagine others in pain, brain areas necessary for feeling empathy and concern for others fail to become active and be connected to other important regions involved in affective processing and decision-making.” Yet, new research by the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience shows psychopaths in fact have the ability to switch on and off the ability to feel empathy ‘at will’. Given the discovery of this “on” and “off” switch has led the researchers to conclude that therapists can in fact teach psychopaths to be more empathic.

brains

According to the scientists involved in this research study, “the human capacity for empathy is rooted in the operation of ‘mirror neurons’ which are parts of the brain that activate when we do something but also when we observe someone else doing the same thing.” In other words, if we see someone getting hurt it triggers in us the vicarious sensation of pain which causes us to refrain from inflicting pain on another and prevents us from engaging in antisocial behavior.

Children need guidance from an early age to help them develop empathy otherwise they can become callous adults who are oblivious to the hurt and pain they cause others. Empathy, according to researchers is something that must be learned and an important role for parents is to guide their children from infancy by setting an example of empathetic behavior. Parents are in fact, their children’s best emotional tutor.

Several years ago I attended a three-day workshop lead by Rabbi Michael Lerner who spoke about a “New Bottom Line.” According to Rabbi Lerner, we need a new bottom-line instead of the old paradigm where money and power represent success. In this new paradigm, money and power are not the sole barometers of efficiency, productivity and success at corporations, governments, public institutions, and schools “but to the extent they maximize love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and our capacities to respond with awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation.” This is empathy. One of his ideas for progress had to do with our school system. Much of our public schools resemble factories and even the process of educating our children looks like an assembly line. Rabbi Lerner suggests that we allow older children to serve as mentors or tutors for the younger ones. He mentioned a school in NYC that had adopted this technique and the results were phenomenal. The older children felt responsible for the younger ones and were there to help them with their homework and school-related projects. The cooperation and camaraderie between them encouraged a friendlier and more harmonious school environment. It helped build the character traits that bring about empathy.

Empathy is, therefore, a learned behavior that can be taught. As humans, we are, after all, social animals. We learn by observing. Parents, older siblings, peers, and teachers can teach the children from an early age the basic character traits of kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion, consideration, helpfulness and by setting an example through demonstrating how to feel empathy.

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Steve Taylor, a lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University and the author of several best-selling books on psychology and spirituality says it best: “Just as the lack of empathy makes cruelty and oppression possible, the presence of empathy heals conflict. The ability to empathize makes us truly human, and the wider it stretches – from victims to offenders, from one ethnic group to another, from nation to nation and religion to religion – the less brutal and more harmonious a place the world will become.” Yes!

globe_hands

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei-global.org

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Fourth Of July Fun Facts

July 4th, 2014

flag

The Fourth of July: The day Americans celebrate their country’s independence.

It’s a day you probably know well, and one that you anticipate with pleasure; but there are probably a lot of fun facts about the nation’s birthday that you aren’t familiar with.

Click to see slide show of 10 interesting facts about July 4

Towering Pyramids: Bonfires on July 3rd

bonfire

Before fireworks were mainstream, huge bonfires were built to celebrate Independence day.

The bonfires reached monumental proportions, but none matched the 100-foot pyramid built for the Gallows Hill bonfire in Salem, MA.

Read the article on The Atlantic

As American as Apple Pie

apple_pie

One American tradition; two very different ways of preparing it – one of them doesn’t even have apples in the ingredients!

Get the recipes:

Mock Apple Pie

Traditional Apple Pie

Favorite 4th of July BBQ recipes

Here are some unique recipes to make your BBQ even more special with your family and friends this July 4th.

Fun 4th of July BBQ recipes

Happy Fourth from ACEI!

This independence day brings forth a new hope to make our tomorrows most beautiful and cherished. Wishing everyone a very happy 4th of July from all us here at ACEI!

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Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.
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RIP: Maya Angelou

June 26th, 2014

Last month we lost the great Maya Angelou. Our guest blogger, Tom Schnabel, had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Angelou in 1995 when he hosted the radio show Cafe LA at KCRW, the public station housed at Santa Monica College. We’d like to share Tom’s recent blog about having Dr. Angelou as a guest on his show.

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou: 1928 – 2014

I interviewed Maya Angelou on January 7, 1995. She visited Cafe LA as a guest DJ. She was wearing Malian mud cloth slacks. It was an El Niño year and it was pouring buckets outside. I welcomed her to sunny Southern California. The guest mike wasn’t working, there was no engineer on duty to fix it, but I had prepared and was ready. She did correct me, however, when I pronounced her name “Angelou” with the long “u”; she preferred “Angeloh”.

Since she wore so many hats, I asked her how best to describe her. She said it would be as a writer. Given the technical problems with her microphone, we turned to her first choice as guest DJ, “Stormy Weather” by Sarah Vaughan. Maya was a friend and fan. We talked about her trip to Europe as a cast member of Porgy and Bess, her journalistic work in Cairo (she learned Arabic too). It was during the Nasser era of the 1950s, and she sang a song by the great Oum Kalsoum in praise of the Egyptian president. She sang it with perfect diction, right there in the studio!

We talked about her friendship with James Baldwin, the effects of being an African American living abroad and what she learned. Maya then read a poem she wrote for James Baldwin.

Calypso

She had a commanding voice as she read it. She then picked duet song of Hank Williams, Jr. and Ray Charles. Her love of music was obvious. She even recorded an album of calypso classics back in the 1950s. She then featured the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in a Chopin scherzo. It reminded her of children playing, having fun on a Sunday afternoon. Maya then featured a buoyant, joyous Steve Wonder track.

We lost both the Ellington jazz crooner Herb Jeffries and now Maya Angelou. I have my aircheck cassettes out on my desk and will now proceed to transfer them onto CD for future posts. As I listen again to this aircheck from almost 20 years ago, I am happy we hit it off. My having been a comparative literature major in college and a music fanatic sometimes pays off.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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