Update on SiroccoBlue Development

Born on January 13th, 2016 and now just over two months old, SiroccoBlue has taken a few important steps forward that I’d like to take a moment to share. Importantly, all of our work thus far has been 100% free of charge to artists, writers, and event organizers (and will remain free of charge). We have focussed on writing and sharing original content only  on topics that we are passionate about: arts interventions in urban space, incredible dancers and visual artists, great musical tributes, and the theme of crossing cultural boundaries (that aspect of the Sirocco winds that is our thematic core).

During these two months, SiroccoBlue became the Fab 5, with four volunteer writers sharing some content and jumping in at times, plus me, Jacob (that Fab 5 name is based on a Michigan Univ. basketball team and came during our visit to an art studio in Springfield where the Hall of Fame is located). I am very interested in posting people’s writing (hopefully with some photography or video and around 500-1200 words) on themes relating to visual and performing arts, architecture, culture, history, translation theory, and linguistics. Also of great interest are brief writing pieces in science and technology (especially renewable energy and green tech involving wind and ocean a lo Sirocco Blue) as well as the intersection of science and social change. We’re always glad to review those writing pieces and share them: SiroccoBlue7@gmail.com

In our first two months, we offered our writing and publicity services as volunteers and without requesting that our work be promoted because we believe that if our content is good and the writing is engaging, then people will naturally want to promote our services. In other words, instead of building our writing coverage around direct, explicit exchange agreements (i.e. ‘we write, you must promote’), we have left it to the subjects of our writing to do as pleased. Because we have not framed things around such explicit exchange, the people and groups we have written about have offered all kinds of feedback that is just as helpful: different web technologies to showcase our writing, the need to organize our ideas visually, possibilities for a volunteer pilot involving CsF students in the US and adolescents in Bahia, the importance of writing in multiple languages and engaging multiple audiences, how to use social media, and much, much more. We are very grateful for that insight (as well as the heartfelt gratitude from some of our readers) so please feel encouraged to promote the blog or any of the services that we have listed here as well as provide any kind of feedback

That approach has resulted in thousands of visitors to the blog while we develop the business model and the website (SiroccoBlue is just a blog right now). Web traffic has come from mainly the U.S. and Brazil, which was expected, and also:

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Somehow Indonesia disappeared but we did receive several readers from there as well. During the afternoon of March 17th, according to our stats, we had over 12,000 readers come to the blog. We know that’s not much, but it’s a lot more people than the six that read my doctoral dissertation (which took many years to write)! One day at a time!

Because we have been focused on generating original content and promoting local events and organizations, we have not yet linked up with referring organizations nor have we done google search optimizations, but we will be doing so soon (considering that, the above number of visitors is something we’re proud of in our infant stages). In that arena of affiliation, a proposal is being reviewed by Boston.com and we will begin posting stories more regularly on Boston.com so that the editorial staff sees SiroccoBlue as an important community voice that should be on their webpage. The same is true of MassLive.com.

Perhaps most importantly, SiroccoBlue has a few projects that have moved forward over the first two months. Our services are much more defined and we’ll update according to each business line:

International Education Consulting Projects

We have started with our first (pro-bono) College Admissions Advising “client” from the marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro. We will be working to explain the US Ph.D. system in terms of admissions and scholarship/assistantship funding packages and we will be supporting the writing of the personal statement and statement of purpose documents. Our hope is that the application support is itself an educational process that taps into our years of college advising and teaching college-level writing courses. Our goal is to help our “client” understand the different types of scholarship funding types available, plan financially for the study period in the US, define a research project and express it in clear, persuasive writing, and choose the right universities to apply to and provide support through the application process. We will also recommend candidates via letter of reference to universities in the SiroccoBlue network as well as universities outside of that network. Based on the great questions coming from Rio de Janeiro, we’re going to record some important ideas on the pre-application process and will share them on the blog free of charge.

After researching the complex requirements both on the U.S. and Cuban side, we also built out our first study abroad program partnership in Santiago de Cuba (Cuba). We shared some of the complexities of this research in our blog posts under the category “study abroad.” This is exciting because we have secured an important operational center that will make available all kinds of short and long-term study programing for students and hard-core cultural studies travelers from all over the world: Caribbean and Cuban Studies, dance, percussion, Afro-Cuban religion, history, visual arts, trips, volunteer work, and much more.

We are currently reviewing a group of US labs (at universities) that has requested that SiroccoBlue recommend talented scholars from Latin America for a unique lab internship/mentoring program. This would involve the creation of an application and a formal recommending system—more to come on this as it would be perfect for students that have a scholarship and are already in the US.

We are also reviewing a proposal to build out a network of non-profits in Boston, Providence, and NYC geared specifically for students who have studied abroad. In short, this network of businesses would hire students who have developed strong intercultural and linguistic skills having participated in study abroad programs. In this way, SiroccoBlue would be facilitating the “entry” of students–post study abroad program and upon graduating with at least a B.A.–into positions that will allow them to use and continue to develop their cultural and language skills.

Reviews, Publicity, Promotions

Since we started, and completely free of charge, we have done 25 reviews ranging from local restaurants, major scholarship conferences, musical tributes, dance and music concerts, to local dance masters. We have additional reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well, that we’ll be growing in number. This hands-on experience doing the reviews and carefully measuring the feedback has allowed us to start packaging different types of reviews and which we will start selling to clients in May.

Content Editing & Translation 

Thus far, we have had one content editing project (a book project on identity, home, and belonging) and one project that involves content editing and translation simultaneously (a new scholarship program for Latin America). Our parameters for accepting translation and content editing may be too tight–we want to focus on projects that have cultural or historical significance, or that have some aspect of social justice– and we may consider opening up our translation and editing services to include all mission-driven nonprofits (Portuguese and Spanish into English, for now). e

Future 

Upcoming and still pro-bono

We have some incredible stories on Ciência sem Fronteiras scholars and four interviews

Original writing on Tony Gatlif’s incredible film, Vengo, as well as more writing on the Sirocco as a dynamic model for cultural exchange and crossing

A piece on an extremely talented, local visual artist, Terence Tavares

A global view of World Music of Boston’s March Flamenco Festival series

A piece on getting lost in Cambridgeport and two original poems (one on the word ‘saudades’)

As you can tell, we will be busy! If you like what you see, please “Like” us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SiroccoBlue

Also under construction and in development is our web and visual presence…

We hope to soon have a simple yet modern webpage under the name “Sirocco Blue Consulting, LLC” (or a variant of), a logo featuring the force of the wind and crossing of boundaries, and the SiroccoBlue.com blog will also be improved. If any volunteers would like to help with these three tech/visual projects, please send a line on Facebook to our primary admin account (“Sirocco Azul”) or an email to SiroccoBlue7@gmail.com

Thanks for following SiroccoBlue!

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New Content Editing Project!

Though we have taken on numerous content editing projects over the past seven years, the team is excited to announce it’s first project under the new Sirocco Blue name. Dr. Yaser Robles has sought out our feedback on his autobiographical piece under the themes of home, belonging, and identity.

Part of Robles’s topic was covered in the UUP-Oneonta Local 2190 journal article by Dr. Rob Compton. Robles’s work in progress contextualizes his experience growing up in Honduras and South Bronx and incorporates Jonathan Kozol’s writing, the construction of the Cross Bronx highway, and lived experience in multiple public schools. The young scholar describes his mother’s story of crossing the U.S. border, the opportunities that opened for the family, and he explores education as an anchor that allowed his family to make enormous strides forward while outlining some of the challenges they faced moving through multiple neighborhoods of South Bronx.

Our first reading connects to translation theory and for this, we turn to Dr. Mazen Naous, the first scholar (at least writing in English) to look, literally and poetically, at ‘equivalent’ words for ‘translation’ in Arabic: tarjama.

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In his dissertation project, Professor Naous shows how translation (tarjama), in an Arabic language context, implies biography, autobiography. Relevant to Robles’s work, the telling of one’s story (one’s own and one’s family story) is an activity that involves tarjama as the essence of the self is carried across into language. Sharing one’s life history is an act of translation, in other words as is the rendering of that experience into a written account. In that way, Robles journeys into family stories and impressions on South Bronx, a merging of voices and biographies that resembles a kind of translation montage (literally, in Spanish and English, and metaphorically in the Arabic sense of the word tarjama, or translation). Naous writes:

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Thus, our first general feedback as content editors pins on voice: if an essay is to explore home, belonging, and identity, why is the act of telling—translation/tarjama—not the “theory”? Can telling be the “home” that Robles explores? One of the great Afro-Futurist writers, Daniel José Older, shares the following at a local workshop:

And so, as content editors, our questions continue: When you grow up in your topic, when you are translating yourself in Naous’s definition of tarjama/translation, it seems it would be most compelling to locate the translative autobiographical act in the place itself (in Honduras and South Bronx, in the case of Robles’s essay). And this, too, has been explored poetically by none other than Salman Rushdie, who explores the Latin root for ‘translation’:

“The word ‘translation’ comes, etymologically, from the Latin for ‘bearing across’. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.” (Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991)

The statement on migration and immigration (the so-called ‘postcolonial subject’ who moves or has been moved, often by force, across or through a boundary—a fascinating topic illuminated by Dr. Stephen Clingman) also comes to mind, especially as Robles searches the contours of ‘home’ and notions of ‘belonging’ by sharing his family story.

The movement across national boundaries, much like translation, much like the movement between past and present involved in tarjama produces a new being, a new sense of being, a new “text.” If there is such a thing as translated people, if Robles is doing what Naous might call tarjama or translation in its metaphoric sense, is Robles locating his account in translation? Is the ‘home’ one of translation and therefore do the ideas of belonging and identity in his essay pin on translation?

We will continue to post on our impressions of Dr. Robles’s work under the “editing” category. Please stay tuned!

Sirocco Blue Founder & Lead Facilitator

Jacob Dyer Spiegel is founder and lead facilitator of Sirocco Blue, a Boston-based international education consulting organization with numerous business lines: study
abroad development in English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish-speaking countries; post-study abroad program job placement; translation & content editing; local arts & cultural programming; photography; real estate (residential & commercial) and interior design, following what we are defining as a “sirocco aesthetic.”

Before starting Sirocco Blue, Jacob was the head of Laspau-Harvard University’s traditional scholarship programs (2015-16) and led institutional relations with the major scholarship providers in Latin America and the Caribbean: Science Without Borders/Ciência sem Fronteiras-CNPq and CAPES (Brazil), Social Sciences and Humanities Program-CAPES (Brazil), Fulbright (throughout the region), Organization of American States (multiple countries), W.K. Kellogg Foundation (Haiti/Mexico), Innóvate Perú, INICIA Educación (Dominican Republic), BecAR (Argentina), MIT-Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina).

Prior to that, Jacob led the rebuilding of the CIEE study center in Salvador, Brazil and shortly after became resident director (2012-2015). He managed all client relations and center operations, taught university-level courses on the African diaspora in Brazil, developed the Brazilian-Portuguese language and culture program, created and implemented dozens of short-term programs for U.S. universities, and led workshops on the topic of intercultural learning. Jacob developed and supervised five other courses on Bahia and facilitated a “city as text” seminar for the students doing semester-long community service projects.

Jacob was a Fulbright Scholar in Salvador, Brazil (2011) and did research on African Brazilian religions and the role of the terreiro (the religious house or community) in housing education projects for youth. He taught in one if these projects in Salvador in 2002 and 2007. In future articles, Jacob will write about his time in the Fulbright program. His cohort, the largest to arrive in Brazil, began research one week before U.S. President Obama announced 100,000 Strong in the Americas. A few months into the research, Brazilian President Dilma announced Ciência sem Fronteiras: 101,000 Brazilians, over a ten-year period, would study in STEM fields. This was a joint-initiative involving 201,000 scholars, one of the largest mobility projects ever. Jacob participated in both of these initiatives, not only as a Fulbright Scholar in-country when the announcement was made, but also through CIEE and Laspau-Harvard University: he will be writing about the story behind the scenes of these two interconnected education projects on the blog.

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Jacob has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and an M.A. in Caribbean Cultural Studies from the first-ever dual enrolled consortium between a Cuban and U.S. institution: La Universidad de la Habana and the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB). Because he participated in so many study abroad programs at UMass-Amherst as an undergraduate (Spain, Cuba, Brazil), Jacob was honored as “UMass King of Study Abroad” by Cristina Sosa, a title he is quite proud of, and two separate B.A. degrees because he took so many courses: Comparative Literature with a Minor in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Spanish & Portuguese Languages and Cultures.

As a graduate student instructor, Jacob taught his own expository writing courses for two years and led discussion sections for courses on modern world fiction and representations of trauma in literature. His coursework and dissertation project centered on African diaspora studies and translation theory, specifically the appearance and re-appearance of the great Orishas (Yoruba: “deities”) of communication and translation–Eshu and Elegguá, sometimes Exú, sometimes Elegbara, sometimes so codified they remain unnamed yet always present—in Caribbean and Latin American literatures.

Sirocco Blue & Leadership

Following natural systems of ordering and patterning (the Sirocco and interrelated wind systems) as metaphors for cultural exchange means we do the same in the domain of “management” (though we find this word inherently problematic, man-age-ment, carrying and implying male systems of organizing with a generational twist).

Organization founder, Jacob Dyer Spiegel, never embraces fixed titles and job descriptions and, mostly because of his fascination with language and appreciation for the power of words, avoids both the creation and reinforcement of hierarchies (and their enact-ion/inaction via ‘titles’) that undercut unity.

In an interview, Jacob states that even the word ‘founder’ used above is suspect:

“Yes—with the help of family and friends, the leaders of incredible musical and cultural legacies, who patiently reminded me, sometimes not so patiently and with good reason, that I don’t belong inside of other people’s systems and that I needed to work from my own philosophical core—I may have done the legwork for implementing the business ‘plan’ and doing the writing (though the plan includes following where the writing and program design takes us) but working from the Sirocco and the ideas from my dissertation project as the source of ‘employment’ comes from them. And so who, then, is the ‘founder’? Why, just by putting into written word what they have been revealing to me for over a decade, do I suddenly take on an ownership role? They are the owners, the ideas are the owners, the languages that we bow down to are the owners. We are all facilitators.”

Since our goal is to let words take the action they should—and we have a wonderful example at the River Street Whole Foods in Cambridgeport—our work as a team is one of co-leadership at the level of facilitation. For that reason, the titles we build around have the word “facilitator” at the core.

Jacob leads all programming and relations and though he wanted to use the wind metaphor for titles, he didn’t like the ‘prevailing’ aspect of prevailing winds as a title. So he took on “lead facilitator” (no caps):

“I dislike approaching leadership as a top-down phenomenon and even more so as a science. Your work is a relationship. Your collaboration with a team involves a series of relationships. Relationships are naturally-occurring phenomena that can actually suffer when put in boxes and rigidly patrolled. Management is about relationships and they need to be free to take on new dynamics and flows. Just like the Sirocco winds. I know that facilitation in the ways and directions we plan on taking the organization depends on facilitation. Why would I arrange things around a set system and markers (CEO, Executive Director, Assistant Director, etc) that reinforces a system that works against this dynamic? Is this “mine” and not “their” project? Why are we using words of ownership when our mission is to follow the Sirocco and interrelated wind systems and illuminate cultural crossroads, build programs around those crossroads and diasporas, facilitate sharing between communities via translation in all its forms, work with students, families and organizations so that folks can travel and learn from the kind of full-immersion projects I’ve had the honor of structuring and facilitating?”

At Sirocco Blue, a virtual office that does not want one core physical space but rather work spaces, plural, in locales where publishing and contracts demand direct presence so as to strengthen relationships with partners, people develop their own functions and their titles shift so as to represent the functions, responsibilities, and gifts of each member of the team. We all write under one name because we want to! When we promote local businesses, we are doing so to highlight traits that will, hopefully, later connect so that we can architect programming around those natural ties and affiliations. When there is a topic that one of us is at the center of, we’re welcomed to throw in our name and stance and position. We don’t write “under” anyone and we don’t charge in any way for our writing. We write to share and for that reason we do so as one united voice (even with one facebook account, “Sirocco Santos,” add us and visit our Facebook Page!).

Sirocco Blue | Services & Future Projects

The Sirocco wind system develops in the Sahara Desert, moves from North Africa to Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece, and continues on as fast east as Iran. Depending on the geographical area, the wind system can carry hot, dry air and even dust and sediment from the Sahara.

800px-Sirocco_from_LibyaWhat is striking is that the Sirocco moves across an area of the world already deeply connected (though those connections are often purposefully omitted) by shared cultural histories, languages, music and dance tradition, architecture, aesthetic values, and much more.

In that way, the Sirocco serves as a fluid, metaphorical embodiment of a broad, interconnected cultural territory despite colonial and neo-colonial agendas to, for instance, submerge the Islamic history of southern Italy, Spain, and Portugal; divorce Mediterranean language and arts forms from the Romani people; and, even more radically, declare such forms as flamenco as the national music when its producers continue to be persecuted and marginalized (a story repeated across the planet).

By using the Sirocco wind system as a natural model, Sirocco Blue uses a fluid system of crossing to document and promote cultural, linguistic, and historical exchange.

In addition to the writing on cross-cultural connections and diasporic ties, Sirocco Blue builds innovative educational programs of all lengths around them. We do this primarily for U.S.-based universities and study abroad organizations. Our short and long-term study abroad programs celebrate cultural continuities through full-immersion language and intercultural learning. Beginning with intensive Brazilian-Portuguese language and culture studies in Brazil (2009) and most recently a Cuba program for a U.S. study abroad organization (2016), our team has seven years of study abroad development and management experience in Latin America and the Iberian peninsula. We also develop “study away” programs in Puerto Rico, New York City, and Boston on Sirocco and African diaspora themes.

Because we are committed to building high-impact, experiential learning programs, we are also dedicated to “re-entry” programs that allow participants to use their language and intercultural skills to gain meaningful employment with organizations that value working across cultures.

As we see language (and access to information often submerged in colonial and neo-colonial omissions) as the key to opening communication between diasporic communities, we take on a select number of translation projects that hold cultural or historical importance. In addition to translating between languages (Portuguese, Spanish, English), we offer translation strategy consulting: we help organizations with missions that we support understand how communication will translate cross-culturally before the actual process of translating begins. This ability to assess branding, advertising, and the public communications of organizations through the lens of translation and the translatability has led to great savings for our partners. We also take on content editing projects in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Before founding Sirocco Blue, lead facilitator Jacob Dyer Spiegel, served as the head of Laspau-Harvard University’s traditional scholarship programs for Latin America and the Caribbean. In that function, Jacob led institutional relations with the major scholarship providers to students from Latin America and the Caribbean (Science Without Borders, Fulbright, Kellogg, OAS, just to mention a few) and he oversaw the selection and placement processes for all programs. Central to college admissions and to scholarship applications, especially when standardized test requirements have been waived, the importance of the personal statement and statement of purpose has only increased. Based on this, Sirocco Blue offers comprehensive college admissions consulting as well as a specific methodology for developing and improving the statements needed to gain entry into institutions and with full funding. Our services include preparatory schools at the secondary level, as well.

Sirocco Blue staff reviews and promotes local businesses (starting with Boston and the 5-Colleges) that either participate in or are related to the cultural and linguistic “territory” of the Sirocco. Our objective is to highlight services and create natural synergies between local organizations.

As we approach what we term “Sirocco aesthetics” and attempt to build toward a moving Sirocco Theory, our staff—especially seen in our photography and art installations—works in partnership with a major Boston-based commercial and residential construction company, and an architecture-interior designer on Space and Spatial Management projects. These two organizations work from the concepts of open, adaptable space that is built around natural light, wind, and completely eco-friendly and green.

Finally, in partnership with local engineering students, Sirocco Blue is raising funds for a renewable energy pilot based on wind, naturally. Over the summer we hope to unroll and describe this new program! Please stay tuned for more writing on the topic!