I set out in my last post to share a bit about my students at EF Evergreen (the International School I began teaching at about six weeks ago). I got sidetracked and didn't. :)
The communities I’ve been a part of in my life thus far have been so enriching. I'm now in a church commmunity in which it at least feels like I’m playing a part in the creation of that community. It might be more truthful to say that a community is emerging that is unique based on the personalities and gifts and passions of the people. So I’m not really “creating” anything, I guess. Maybe it's better to say I’m just kind of there, nurturing a life that is growing mostly by its own ability and will.
But I’m also now a part of a community at Evergreen in which I’m far from a nurturer, though I certainly play a part in its nature and development, as I think every person adds some element to a community that changes it when they join. A community can define itself by its beliefs/values/goals/objectives, but I’d say in some sense the community is defined by the actual “beings and doings” of the people in that community. I guess I’m suggesting it might be inadequate for a community to describe itself by what it aims to be as much as what it is.
I do believe that to some extent we can define ourselves by our movement, our trajectory. I consider myself a learner, a person pursuing several various goals with my life, and this pursuit is defining. My point is not that we stop defining ourselves by goals, but that our organizations and communities understand themselves for who they really are, which is the sum of the diverse persons within the community—not the values of the CEO’s, bosses, pastors, etc. When a new person joins a church, the church should change, because they will have brought something to the group that didn’t exist before.
So the international school at Evergreen probably has changed in some way since I joined. And to be fair and hopefully not overly immodest, I think I have a personality that has influence, and I already feel like I’m experiencing—in subtle ways—the way I’ve added something to this community of teachers and students. It’s a blessing to be a part of such a group.
So who else shapes this community? I teach two classes—“Basic Studies,” a class of 17 students from all over—Saudi Arabia, Japan, Poland, Spain, France, Libya, Mexico, Columbia, and Venezuela—and more of a tutoring class to three Spanish-speaking students in which I actually get to teach partially in Spanish (it’s all coming back!) Let me share about a few of my friends…
• I have one student from Saudi Arabia, who recently asked me whether or not one of my female co-workers was single. I laughed and told him, “no she’s not. She’s married. She has a kid too.” He responded with very visible frustration, to which I again replied with a bit of laugher, “why, did you want to date her?” He very seriously clarified, “No, I wanted to marry her!” Well alright. We then had a discussion about his views on marriage as a Muslim, and he told me that he plans to have four wives, just like his father. (To avoid generalizing, it should be known that several other of my married Muslim students are one-woman men and very content with this fact).
• We had a school Halloween party last week, and I was impressed with the student participation. While some of them thought many elements of the party were a bit childish, they still appeared to enjoy themselves. Like anywhere, there are people who are comfortable enough to act silly for the sake of having a good time, and some who aren’t. Anyhow, pirates, vampires, and cats were the most popular costumes this year. But the most memorable costume? If we’re talking memorable in a bad way, it was one of my French students. At first, I couldn’t tell what he was. I thought banana, but then noticed the green T-shirt, and two somewhat round “sacks” hanging from around his knees, and I thought, “um…bottom-heavy pea pod???” Man am I slow. He was a giant penis. I was the MC for most of the party, and very begrudgingly announced his name and costume when he won 2nd place for “funniest costume," determined by student vote. While I didn’t care much for the costume, I’ll hand it to him—the guy’s got some balls.
• Caution: I’m trusting anyone who reads this to not make broad generalizations about a people group or to be overly harsh in your judgment. That said, I had to share this. Apparently a Saudi young woman at our school recently had her phone stolen. In talking with our school director (my boss), the young woman requested that the thief, when found, be killed. Such a punishment would apparently be appropriate in her culture, according to her at least (I’d have to look into that). How’s that for justice? Yikes.
• One of my male students is just completely in his own world. It’s actually fascinating…he has a bit of a hard time paying attention, which is a challenge for a teacher. But often his comments and his test answers just make him seem on a whole other planet. He recently had his apartment broken into, getting about $600 stolen in addition to his computer. And the whole time—he just maintained this lighthearted, carefree attitude, seemingly unfazed by the whole thing. I gotta give him credit for that—his ability to not be too down about anything. He just seems blissfully unfazed by a lot. And blissfully unaware at times that he is in this other world. On a recent test where I had students write out a dialogue between a waiter and a customer, he was the only one that diverged from the appropriate response to the question, writing instead about a customer at Gamestop buying a video game, ending with the store manager kicking the customer out because the customer wouldn’t pay what he thought was a high price. It was a hilarious response that I unfortunately gave him a very low score for because he missed the point of the question. A beautiful mind, indeed.
• I lived in China, which I guess makes me feel like I have more right than others to talk about Asian stereotypes (judge me if you want). Anyway, from my time in China and from observations at Evergreen, I’d confirm a well-known stereotype of the “shy Asian girl.” I experienced that. However, there is also something I noticed—at least in China—called the “no social boundaries young Asian person,” as many of my students in Xiaogan were very touchy, “hangy,” close-talkers, etc. Well, my female Japanese student is certainly very touchy, and actually seems to be attracting a following of guys from non-Asian cultures. It’s actually kind of sweet. I know better than to lump Asian cultures together, especially knowing the general distaste Japanese and Chinese have historically had for one another (it’s still there in China, I can testify, even if it’s not talked about a lot). But this girl sure reminds me of some of my Chinese students—very innocent and sweet, for sure…just a little bit ignorant of boundaries. But then again—maybe we Americans think too highly of boundaries. My good friends can testify that I certainly cross them from time to time.
• One of my female students quietly walked into class today and set her bag down, maybe 3-4 minutes before class actually began. Then, very suddenly, she jumped up and shouted, “Oh sh**!” I asked her what was the matter. She told me, “I have to go to the bathroom! I don’t really think she got the humor in her words, specifically her choice of expletive. And actually, I think she had forgotten her notebook in the bathroom, which was the real concern.
• A Saudi girl asked to take a picture of me at last week’s Halloween party, to which I of course said yes. We posed for the first picture, no physical contact. Then I gently put my hand on her shoulder, as I tend to do when I pose with others. She abruptly pulled away, and very politely said, “please, teacher!” Meaning, don’t touch me, that makes me uncomfortable. Oops. Guess I learned something about social boundaries myself this week.
• My Basic Studies students are moving up to a new level this week, and I wasn’t sure if I would be their teacher next week or not. When I told my students, several of them were noticeably concerned. “Teacher (they call me ‘teacher’), we need you…we know you, we need you to teach us,” they said repeatedly. Well, I found out this week that I will in fact be moving up with them. Which is great; I’ve developed rapport with them, and I know them. As a teacher it’s great to be able to push and challenge students and accommodate to their various levels and abilities—something that comes with relationship. They were thrilled and relieved when I told them I wasn’t leaving them. Now, to be fair, these students can be a bit like ducks, wanting to follow and stay with the familiar and scared of the unfamiliar. In that sense, it may not just be me they love as much they love what they know. But, I won’t lie…it still feels good to have your students cheer when they know they aren’t losing you.
• Finally, a picture…this is of my Basic Studies class (all but one person present):