Showing posts with label ESL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ESL. Show all posts

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gezi Park Turkish Protests: Where is a "Range of Opinion?"

Protesters doing yoga in Gezi Park
What a fascinating week in Turkey as my friends have risen up and demanded their Turkish democracy be inclusive of their lifestyles and opinions too. I say "my friends" because, like most expats, I have a few friends who support the AKP and hundreds who don't. Most of my Istanbullian friends are broadly secular, supportive of the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and are internationally-oriented global citizens. So they are completely unrepresentative of the average Turk, and especially, the average Turk who voted in the AKP-majority government.
A Turkish friend who protests
In story after story about the protests, the range of opinions reported has been very narrow. It is very easy for Westerners in Istanbul to identify with the protesters, because they are asking for things that Westerners consider foundational for a democracy: respect for minority opinion, respect for diversity of lifestyle, respect for the variety of religious expression, and respect for freedom of the press. The protests started with concern about the pace of urban transformation and sense of loss for vital green spaces within one of the world's largest cities. All of these ideas that the protesters are demanding have been ably, bravely, and amply reported. The protesters' voices are heard in story upon story in the English-language press. But you'll notice, there isn't a big range of opinion there. The protesters seem unified around these thoughts.

The views of government supporters and of the government has been very hard to find. I've been trying to find those opinions, because as a library professional, my job and my joy and my mission in life is to share information on all sides of issues. While the protesters are organized in both Turkish and English on social media and are also available in the park for easy interviewing, AKP folks must be talking to themselves on Twitter and Facebook almost exclusively in Turkish. Journalists are flying in from all over the World to cover this story, but with today's news budgets, having a translator is an extra expense some news organizations may not have. I have read hardly anything reflecting the AKP view.
Six Turkish Newspapers
All With the Same Headline
Where is a "range" of opinion
(on either side)?
The Turkish media had six front pages all with the same headline in Turkish to reflect to Turkish people the 'official' government opinion when Prime Minister Erdogan came back from North Africa; this shows there is not much deviation in the AKP opinion either. Even worse for the AKP and its supporters, their opinions aren't being expressed in English.

Even at the friendship level we expats rarely hear these AKP opinions, simply because many AKP people have not taken the time to learn a global language so they can express themselves to the world.
Protest banner decrying police brutality

These narrow bands of opinion seem to be a Venn diagram of two circles, one labeled "protesters" and one labeled "AKP." The circles seem not to have overlapping parts. Because each side seems mostly to talk to like-minded friends there is also the danger of online filter bubbles.

I remember this kind of polarization in the Bush years in America. It's the kind of opportunity Obama walked into, rallying everyone around the center. I don't know if there is a center in Turkey, but it is unoccupied at the moment - unlike Gezi Park.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"Curious Souls" Gather in Istanbul for Discussion

The extraordinary painting of Setenay Özbek
at Art 350 Art Gallery in Istanbul
Breathtaking Color
Isil Musluer
One of the wonderful friends I have made through Istanbul Internations and my Global Minds Book Club is my Turkish friend Isil. Isil is an attractive, fun, positive and intelligent woman who is always uplifting to be around. 
Me with Curious Souls who were new to me
Mehmet and Tayfun
Isil recently organized a wonderful monthly discussion group through Internations called "Curious Souls." I couldn't help but think that Gertrude Stein, famous for her literary salons in Paris in the 1930s, would have been proud of Isil -- such was the delightful company of this group.
The audience primed for discussion
'Curious Souls' combined many of Isil's friends from Internations, and her friends from Istanbul Toastmasters. Toastmasters as an organization is new to Turkey. It was so fun to see my friend's ability to gather interesting people and create a wonderful atmosphere for discussion. Frankly, I was a a bit in awe of it! 
Petek in deep discussion
 We gathered at Art 350, an art gallery on the Anatolian (Asian) side of Istanbul, right on the main shopping street at 350 Bagdat Caddesi (Bagdad Street). We were surrounded by the inspiring painting of Setenay Özbek.
A discussion in full swing

 Isil invited people with these words:
 Are you fascinated with new ideas and new ways of looking at life? Do you have an insatiable desire to learn more? Do you get immense pleasure in listening to inspirational stories of great minds, and are you filled with appreciation for great talents? In short, are you a "Curious Soul"?  If you are, then, we are getting together once in a month, to watch two or three very interesting, mind-stretching and entertaining TED conferences. After each video conference, we carry a guided discussion and express our own points of view. If you are ready to experience the flourishing of diverse ideas, if you would like to express yourself, expand your horizons and grow together, and while doing these, if you would like to pass an enjoyable time together, then I invite you to come and join us.
Listening to each other
We discussed these videos:

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success.
Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story
Neil Harbisson: I listen to color (so appropriate given our surroundings)
Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.
 What is the single story told about your country?
I volunteered to moderate the discussion generated by Chimamanda Adichie's "The danger of a single story" since I had read her book "Half of a Yellow Sun" in our Global Minds Book Club. 
That video is the gift that keeps on giving, as a discussion could be had for hours on what is the single story about your country, or your race, or your class, or your religion, or your family, or you. We only had time to discuss what is the single story about your country.
I explained that before I came to Turkey, I didn't even have one single story about Turkey -- I had no stories. I knew nothing about Turkey as a nation, probably because our national histories don't bump up against each other.
I gave as an example the Bosphorus Bridge, a bridge every bit as beautiful as the Golden Gate Bridge, yet I had never seen a photo of it before coming to Turkey. Turkey has a long way to go until the other side of the world has even a single story, let alone multiple stories about it.
The insight I gained from the discussion is that if Turks tell a single story about each other, it's based on where they are from. They ask each other, "what city are you from?" and some decide immediately what someone's values and ethnicity are based on their image of the town.
I've seen that happen quite a bit actually; I've even had friends asked "what city is your husband from?" in job interviews. I could completely identify with this problem coming from Iowa, which generates the single story of "flyover country" if it generates a story at all.

 I felt trusted

It felt great to lead the discussion there; I felt trusted. Here we were discussing something so close to Turkish hearts in a language foreign to them. Out of the 30+ people there, only two of us were from another country. Could you find 30 of your friends able to discuss a topic all in the same foreign language in your home country? I could not.
Not a single person brought up the Turkish "single story" that used to drive Turks crazy for years as recently as five years ago: the story told in the movie "Midnight Express" about an American imprisoned for drug charges. I asked a woman about it later and she said "I thought about it though!"  That old single story about Turkey, while new to me, has been left behind, which I am sure, cheers the Turks. Their story is much, much bigger now.
Another great discussion
led by Alper Rozanes
generated by Alain de Botton's video
"A kinder, gentler philosophy of success"
 You know the discussions are good when you almost hate to see the next video start up.

Another insight I had from the combination of videos watched that day is how there seems to be a dominate "single story" about what constitutes success around the world: career success and wealth. How useful for the world's corporations.

Yet, there are many other ways to be successful, each an expression of human excellence. Think of success in marriage, or as a caregiver, or as a parent, or as a creative. We too often care too much about that dominant single story of success, rather than listen to our own drummer.

Isil's idea of a 'Curious Souls' discussion group would be an inexpensive idea to replicate anywhere in the world, wouldn't it? It's exciting the range of content available on the Internet.  It's no longer necessary to settle for what's on TV. We can skip the violence and go straight to intellectually uplifting.
 One last glorious painting by Setenay Ozbek

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Discussing Books with the Istanbul Global Minds Book Club

I was proud to moderate
George Orwell's brilliant book
"Animal Farm"
at Global Minds Book Club
One of the Istanbul-based groups advertised on the Internations expatriate social network that attracted my attention was the fairly new “Global Minds Book Club.” I love reading and discussing books and have belonged to several book clubs over the years. The organizing mission of this group was to read books from all around the world and discuss them with people from all around the world who were currently residing in Istanbul.
Sinan, second from left,
moderated our discussion
of Harper Lee's
"To Kill A Mockingbird"
Global minds discussing global books: what an exciting idea! That was different than most book clubs organized in our home countries which feature friends of similar demographics discussing titles that are often targeted at that demographic. Those can often be a “great minds think alike” club.

I knew it would be a different type of book club when the first meeting I went to started with shots of melon liquor. While we may not have educational diversity (many members have graduate degrees) we do have national, religious, racial, ethnic, tribal and sect diversity.
Stalwart members
Matt and Işil
For the Turkish people who come to the meetings, it is often their first book club experience as there is no tradition of book club discussions in Turkey. There are many reasons for that. Widespread literacy is less than 100 years old in Turkey due to the change in alphabet. Stories in this part of the world are often shared orally rather than on the written page. The idea of discussing art, culture, politics, and life in a good-natured way with all kinds of different people that one doesn’t know very well is often considered a new and very foreign idea, especially when the premise is that the discussion takes place over a book. I tip my hat in appreciation to people of all nationalities who come to the club to discuss a book in English, frequently their second or third language.
Clarence Nartey, Founder
Global Minds Book Club
leading our discussion of
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's
"Half of a Yellow Sun"
Clarence Nartey, the man from Ghana who started the “Global Minds Book Club” is uniquely suited for the role.  As a marketing manager for a multinational corporation he has traveled all over the globe in his professional roles with visits to 20 countries (Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Togo, South Africa, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia,Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Turkey, UAE, France, UK , Spain and Israel), sometimes living in a country for a month at a time, and other times living there for a couple years. I remember when I got my first emails from him detailing how the group was organized, what we were reading, and when. I thought “this is MBA-level organization for a mere book club.”  Joyfully, our book club is both relaxed - often meeting poolside or in a picnic venue, and organized within an inch of its life!
We met under the gazebo
at my place
last summer to discuss
Haruki Murakami's
"After Dark"
We frequently meet in our different homes. This has prompted our members to travel all over Istanbul and gets us into neighborhoods we would not have a reason to visit otherwise. The club has become so successful that Clarence has considered dividing us into two groups, with a meeting simultaneously held on each continent. There are over 240 people on the email list, with around 15 responding positively that they will come, and a usual 8-10 actually making it. Not bad considering that coming to a discussion can involve up to a two-hour trip each way as people cross continents!
We were supposed to go swimming
after this meeting
but the discussion was so good
we never got in the pool
Clarence says, “what thrills me about reading now is not the act of reading a book, but now reading a book, organizing friends to share it and using the book as a springboard to elicit multiple and diverse perspectives from fellow readers.”  He has done that so beautifully and created such a lively community of book lovers here in Istanbul . Wanting to extract every bit of value from the experience, he has also asked the members to donate the books after the discussion to interested libraries or groups to help them broaden their reading horizons too.

Eventually, even the expatriates we rely on the most, like Clarence, must leave. That’s the nature of the expatriate experience – a short time together of meaningful intensity.

He has told the Global Minds Book Club that within a month or two he will be transferred to the continent of Africa. He is excited about returning to his home continent, but oh, will we miss him! In keeping with his tradition of stellar management, Clarence already has his replacement “Global Minds Book Club” organizer lined up. 

Our reading list to date:
Global Citizens - Mark Gerzon ( non-fiction)
Little Bee / The Other Hand - Chris Cleave (fiction)
Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell ( non-fiction) I joined here
Life of Pi - Yann Martel (fiction)
To Kill a Mocking Bird - Harper Lee (fiction)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan S. Foer (fiction)
After Dark - Haruki Murakami ( fiction)
The Gambler - Fyodor Dostoevsky( fiction)
Animal Farm - George Orwell (fiction)

The White Tiger -Aravind Adiga (fiction)
Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger (fiction)
Shah of Shahs- Ryszard Kapuscinski (non-fiction)
Half of a Yellow Sun -  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (fiction)

 This book is easily my favorite discovery through the club!
Future Titles:
New York Trilogy - Paul Auster (fiction)
Cairo Modern - Naguib Mahfouz (fiction)
Sammarkand - Amin Maalouf  (fiction)
Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell (non-fiction)
Do you have an expat book club? Or a book club devoted to reading international titles? What has made it fun? Do you have a book recommendation for our club that your group enjoyed?

You may also like these posts:

Making Expat Friends Through Internations

Africa Day @ Global Minds Book Club

All my posts on books


Friday, November 13, 2009

Free Beer and Chillin' with President Vaclav Klaus

One of the blogs I love to read is Czechmate Diary, by Tanja, a Czech immigrant to the United States. Tanja is in love with all things Czecho and is so proud to be Czech! Her wonderful subtitle to her blog is "Small Bohemian Steps to World Domination."

Someone in power must have recognized this because she was recently invited to a party in Washington D. C. to meet Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Tanja's enthusiasm on her blog for preparing for this party and getting to this party are a delight to read. Every woman will identify with her plaintive cry "what shall I wear???"

On her last post, she featured a link to her husband's take on the event. I enjoyed reading it so much I decided I had to link to here. Tanja's husband also got me to watch the nine minute interview Vaclav Klaus did with Glen Beck (sorry Mr. Beck can't pronounce 'Vaclav' properly, Mr. President) . It was the first interview I've seen in English with the Czech President. He made me think. And as a librarian, I couldn't help but agree with his contention that the marketplace of ideas needs all voices.

I'm also always struck by how good the President's English is each time I hear him (well actually, the only other time I've heard him was when he started the Prague Half Marathon race). The hardest thing for Czech learners of English is to understand native speakers using normal native speed when they talk. The President followed Glen Beck's English perfectly. Usually someone of his age in the Czech Republic has perfect Russian as a second language, not English. He has really invested the time in his English language. I want to give President Klaus his props for that.

Click on my title to read Tanja's husband's blog post about their visit to Washington D. C.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Recession places gag on languages

This week in the Prague Post there is an article about how the recession is affecting language learning. Cost-saving cuts to employee benefits are hitting the industry hard.

The great thing about language teaching is that a language teacher's revenue comes from multiple streams of income so that if one company cuts their language benefits the teacher's job isn't entirely gone. A teacher then just works to fill that missing 10% and it's usually replaced quickly.

Click on my title to read the story.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wonderful English Language Theatre in Prague

One of the nice things about having a large English-speaking population in Prague is that expats have started to create and grow their own institutions. We are like the population of a smaller town within a larger city. We can keep the doors open to special gathering spots like bars, restaurants, and theaters on our own.

This weekend a friend and I went to see Glengarry Glen Ross, the Pulitzer-prize winning play by American David Mamet. It was presented by the Prague Playhouse under the direction of Brian Caspe. The play was held in a cozy theater called Divadlo Inspirace. The theater holds about 70 people in the gothic basement of Malostranske namesti 13, a stunningly beautiful part of town. The whole place, including the foyer where beer was sold, had the feeling of a secret clubhouse. Who else should be there but Blogging Gelle and a whole row of his pals, which was a fun surprise.

When I saw this play as a movie with Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon, I found the language so brutal it was hard to get passed it. But as Mamet said when he wrote his play set in a real estate sales office in Florida, "this is how real estate guys really do talk to each other." This time I was prepared for the language and was able to see the humor and the humanity of the characters.

There is a masterful opening monologue by actor Curtis Mathew, who played Shelly Levene, "the Machine" who tried to persuade his boss that he had just hit a selling dry spell and only needed the best leads to turn it all around. Throughout the play, Curtis did a great job showcasing the ego dejection of his dry spell and the ego inflation of turning it around.

If you've every been around a sales team, or managed a sales team, you will thoroughly enjoy the point-by-point account of how he closed a sale. Who hasn't heard a business war story retold in detail like that in real life? Heck, who hasn't told one!

There is another monologue I love in this play where one man accuses another of "being like a child" but I won't tell you anymore about it. I have to leave some surprises, right?

As usual, the Prague price for this professionally-acted theater is fantastic: 200 kc or $10 a seat. Brian predicts the show will sell out. Click on my title if you are interested in seeing the play on the remaining three dates that have seats available.

I would like to ask Czechs learning English if hearing and seeing an English language play is easier to understand than hearing an English-language movie? What do you think, my dear Czech friends?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My First Week of Teaching English

I have just completed my first week of teaching English and it's been really fun. My class load is twenty hours a week, which is just right for me. It makes me full-time in my company. Usually teachers teach between 23-30 hours, but since I'm new to lesson planning, I would like to stay at this level for awhile until I speed up. In our TEFL course, we averaged about six hours of planning for every hour taught. Obviously, that's not sustainable in the real world!

My friends who have visited Prague or the Czech Republic during communism or shortly afterwards always use the word 'bleak' to describe the place. The beauty of arriving here twenty years after the end of totalitarianism is there have been twenty intervening years for the place to be fixed up. I must say, my classes are in beautiful, stunning locations.

One class is in an ancient building with castle type doors overlooking formal gardens. Several others are in a brand new corporate headquarters with wonderful light. Yet another is in the Czech Republic's tallest building on the highest floors.

Everyone is nice. They are surprised when I display any knowledge of Czech culture (like knowing who Svejk or Smetana are). The beauty is, with such a homogeneous culture, that everyone sitting around the table knows the name of their classic book character or who their classic composer is. Not everyone around an American business table would have the same cultural knowledge and background.

A couple of my students need to talk and be understood by native speakers in Britain or America but most need to speak to other people in countries like Spain or India who are speaking English as a second language. The first time I confronted this, I was so stunned and impressed that one of my students needed to speak English as a second language (her first language being Czech) to someone else in another country who was speaking it as a second language (their first language being Finnish) that I couldn't help but admire the level of commitment it would take to not only know the second language but the linguistic quirks of the other first language spoken (an example is Czechs always forget to use definite and indefinite articles in English because they don't have them in their language).

I told that to other teachers and both said, "oh no, it's much harder for someone speaking English as a second language to talk to a native speaker than to someone else speaking English as a second language. When they both have it as a second language, they use ESL English in conversation which is slower and less complex than a native speaker's language." Still, when you see people 40-60 years old valiantly working on their 15th year of learning English, often learned in bits and pieces along the way, you can't help but be impressed by their commitment. They are lucky that their companies are paying for them to learn English (it is the official language of all sorts of companies) but that also makes it harder to learn because they can't completely leave work behind in the classroom and relax. They are liable to be pulled out or called away in the middle of a lesson.

I'm really excited to learn from my students all about their culture and their interests. Czechs are the most well-travelled people I have ever met. One student told me that their parents constantly goad them to travel because the parents couldn't do so under communism. I routinely meet people who have been to exotic places like Cuba, Nepal, Tibet, Bolivia (pretty darn far away for a Czech!), and even the Kamchatka Penninsula (you mean, that's a place you're actually allowed to go visit??? I thought it was a Russian military zone!).

Their version of Mexico (an inexpensive place to visit for a week of sun) is Egypt. Visiting Egypt for a week of sun sounds incredibly exotic to me. Going there would be a major undertaking for an American leaving from America but apparently there are all sorts of cheap and routine flights from Prague. It's all in where you're starting out from.

One downside when beginning teaching is directions are often incomplete. The first thing I did was assign all of my students homework creating a written description of how to get to their office because anyone substituting for me is not going to go through what I did trying to find these places! This week has also been freezing cold so I'm running around Prague in heels, lost, with frozen fingertips and a runny nose while carrying a laptop. Next week calls for some adjustment!

I will also forever be nicer to foreign people because of my experience here. I will pop into an office asking for directions and the lady or man there will sit me down while they print me out a map of exactly where I'm going. Day after day, ordinary Czechs show me lovely kindnesses without a second thought. Czechs make this experience fun.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Meet My Flatmate

Canadian Ian MacMillan on the Black Sea

My flatemate, Ian MacMillan, and I are sharing a flat for the one month we live in student housing while we take our TEFL course. Saturday, November 29th was his birthday so I decided to interview Ian to celebrate his 27 years of wisdom.

Where did you grow up?

Penticton, British Columbia, a city of 30,000 people. My dad was an immigrant from Scotland who originally moved to Australia where he met my Canadian mom. She was on vacation there. They settled in Penticton.

What’s your city known for?

An American movie from the 1960’s called “My American Cousin” was filmed in Penticton. They used our peach-shaped concession stand in the movie. We’re known as the peach city because peaches grow nearby.

Penticton is between two lakes. One lake is known as Okanogan Lake. The Loch Ness monster’s cousin, the Ogopogo, lives in Okanogan Lake. We even had a Japanese research team investigating it. They have a $1,000,000 reward for anyone who comes forward with evidence of the Ogopogo’s existence.

What connects the two lakes is “the channel.” People from outside always call it the “canal.” It’s not the ‘canal’ it’s the “channel” and you can float from one lake to the other.

We also have Ironman Canada, which is held in Penticton.

Why did you decide to go to Budapest, Hungary for graduate school?

I read an article in the Economist Magazine that said lots of new, private universities were opening in Eastern Europe that were innovative and different. That got me thinking about Europe.

A professor told my undergrad class in Canada if we were interested in history and thinking about graduate school we should go to Europe and see where the history took place.

Central European University had the best website of the universities I looked at.

Tell me about Central European University. How did it start? What is the mission of the university?

George Soros, a Jewish billionaire born in Hungary, started it in the early 1990s. He donated $700 million to get it off the ground. It’s the second largest endowment in Europe.

There were three campuses. One was in Prague, one was in Warsaw, and one was in Budapest. His mission was to create a university based on liberal democratic capitalist principles and to promote those principles in post-Communist countries. There is now just one campus in Budapest.

The higher reaches of the administration hire professors who innately believe in those principles and promote them to the students to create change in their home countries. They view each student as an agent of micro-change throughout the region. I’m not sure a university should have such an activist attitude.

What was your thesis about?

My thesis was on Scottish history and how the idea of liberty changed in the 18th century. Because of this change, Scottish nationalism did not develop. Scottish liberty had always been based on martial ability. People’s liberty was protected by the nobility.

In the 18th century, Scots went bankrupt. The Scots were starving and the British House of Commons ensured their liberty and gave them access to trade. Scotland went from being a feudal society to a modern society through commercial trade.

The Scots don’t have a “nation state” per se, is there Scottish nationalism today?

My opinion is Scots don’t need a nation state to know their Scottish.

The Opera House
in Odessa, Ukraine

Where do you live now and what is it like?

I normally live in Odessa, Ukraine, a city of 1,000,000. It’s a resort town on the Black Sea. It has a very beautiful opera house. The Odessans always say "we have the second most beautiful opera house. Everyone knows. The architect was the same one who did the Vienna Opera House and it's the most beautiful. We are second."

Odessans are known for their sense of humor. One of the biggest holidays there is April Fool’s Day. They have a big parade on that day. Their sense of humor isn’t for me. It’s too simplistic.

Ian and Sasha on the Danube

How did you end up in Odessa?

I met my wife in Budapest. We studied in the same program. She ignored me for a month. We started talking at a party. We didn’t talk the whole next week. We went to another party and started talking again. Then we went to a Halloween party together. She was dressed as a princess and I didn’t have a costume. I had my KGB shirt on which was good enough and very funny for everyone. We really started dating when I showed her pics of the Halloween party.

Sasha and I decided I should move to Odessa, her hometown. She is working on her Ph.D. in history there. People from Odessa love Odessa.

What is your job there?

I’m an English teacher in a private language school. My students are teenagers and adults. I usually teach adults one-on-one.

How have your studies about nationalism and language impacted your understanding of Ukrainians and Russians?

It made me understand both sides of the argument of “what is Ukraine.” Some Russians don’t think Ukraine is a country and doesn’t really have it’s own history.

Ukranians, like Slovaks, are known as a “non-historic” people because they didn’t have a kingdom of their own before becoming a nation state.

In Canada and America, our citizenship is self-defined. If we say we are a Canadian or an American and we have citizenship, we are. But a Russian or a Ukranian will always think of himself as defined by ethnicity not nationality. There is no difference for them between ethnicity and nationality.

A Russian passport for a Moscow native of Georgian parents would be stamped “nationality: Georgian.” A Slav who came to one of our countries would always be thought of by Russians as a Czech, or Russian, or Ukranian, not as an American or a Canadian.

We don't consider this ethnicity. Canadians think that a person who is of German descent who is born in Canada would never be thought of as German. He's Canadian. And a person who's lineage is East Indian born in Canada would never be thought of as East Indian; he’d be thought of as Canadian. Russians don’t think I’m from a ‘real’ country because I’m from a nation of immigrants. They would view me as Scottish, not Canadian, because that’s my heritage.

There isn’t necessarily pan-Slavism though, the way there is pan-Arabism or pan-Africanism.

Russians love Russia passionately, but they try to leave whenever possible.

What other cultures are known for their strong nationalism?

Serbs. Western Ukranians, they are militant about Ukrainian independence. Americans.

Why don’t Canadians inspire dislike around the world?

We stay out of the way. We’re culturally aware.
Americans are culturally tone-deaf.

What’s your favorite thing about Prague?

The Czech sense of humor. It’s very dark.

Different landscape views of the castle and other sites that I saw with Sasha.

Where else have you lived or taught English?

South Korea. My experience there was not very good. In a different time of my life, it would have been better. It’s for young people. Teachers work 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then they party. And you have to teach kids. I don’t like kids. South Korean kids are not allowed to be kids because of the highly-competitive over-scheduled lives they have. In every class of older kids I taught, everyone knew someone who had committed suicide.

Why did you go to South Korea by yourself if you were already married?

I went there to make money. I received free airfare, a free apartment, and $2,700 a month plus overtime. I only had to pay for food. I worked there for four months and came home with $9,000 in savings.

Where else would you and your wife Sasha like to live?

We’d both like Scotland, Italy, France.

I would like to live in India. Maybe Dubai, if the money was good.

Sasha would like to live in Prague. She loved it here.

Thank you, Ian, for sharing your Canadian perspective.
I wish you and Sasha the best in your future travels.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My First Class of Students

Pre-intermediate students and teachers

Yea! This is me with my first class of students. They came in for two weeks to let new TEFL trainees practice on them! They were wonderful. May they all go out and use the past continuous tense with aplomb. That was my best lesson!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Best and the Worst

This year I had an incredibly thought-provoking experience when I facilitated a group discussion among a bunch of ESL students. It reinforced to me how fun it could be to teach English for a living overseas. There were kids from Ukraine, "Turkish" people from Russia (they had never actually been to Turkey - yet they made a point of noting they were not Russian), Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Karon people from Burma (they made a point of noting they were not Burmese even though they grew up there), Yemen, Palestine, and China.

My first question I asked them was "if you could bring anything to America from your home country, it could be a belief, some sort of infrastructure, a food, a game, anything, what would it be? What is something we could adopt from your country that would make America better?"

Oh my, the floodgates opened.

To a person, the number one thing they felt would make America better that they admired from their home country was....

guess....can you guess it?

The number one thing they felt would make America better is respect for authority, teachers, and parents. It literally hurt them to see classroom minutes chewed up in attitude and disrespect. These students didn't understand the point of it. In class, here is someone trying to give you an education, and frequently what they see is American students not appreciating it or stepping up to the plate studiously to take advantage of it. They felt most American kids did not think past 'who is dating who and what shall we do this weekend?'

They also viewed Americans as remiss in taking care of their parents. They were appalled by the idea of nursing homes. I shared with them that I once had a Ukrainian exchange student in my house who described one of her friends as afraid he was going mentally ill because the toll of caring for him mother was so burdensome. Her point was that in the Ukraine, he may go crazy caring for her, but he did it because it was his duty. All of the students nodded in agreement and respect with this thinking. You can be darn sure I called my mother that night and effusively thanked her for raising me!

Of course it is easy to guess the next thing they feel would improve America. Soccer. They wish, wish, wish, Americans loved soccer. I told them, "there is, only one person in the entire world who could probably get America interested in soccer." Who? Who? Who? They wanted to know. Who could make this magical thing happen? "David Beckham." They laughed.

The third thing was scooters. Why do Americans have to drive cars EVERYWHERE? They felt Americans were obsessed with having their own car and these students felt most in-town driving was completely unnecessary. "You Americans drive to McDonald's! Why can't you walk or ride a bike?"

One student from China said one thing that would improve America is high-speed trains. He said there is a high-speed train in Shanghai that travels 300 mph and gets people from downtown to the airport in five minutes. "Could you imagine?" he said, "we could all be in downtown Chicago in five minutes?"

I explained that if there was anything the people in my town lusted after, it was a train of any sort to downtown Chicago, even one going 50 mph! Currently it takes around 1.5-2 hours to drive into downtown Chicago depending on traffic. Mass transit has just not been a priority in America but I believe that will change with increasing gas prices.

The other thing they didn't understand is why Americans insist their children are "grown" and adults at 18? Why can't kids live with their parents for a lot more years? And why don't Americans lend money to each other and help each other out? Why must everyone be so independent?

The Africans students, conversant in two or three languages each, asked "why do the black students here refuse to speak English properly? They always call us 'whitey' when we use proper English." One of the Liberian students asked "why did white people start slavery?" Wow. That's a lot to answer for!

When I asked what is the one thing you wish your home country had or could benefit from that you see here in America?

The answers varied less. Can you guess what they said?

Got your answer? See if it matches:

The first was education, especially higher education. They were blown away by the quality of American higher education. They loved that everyone in America had access to education and that anyone could go on to college. Being accepted to college (of some sort) didn't depend on smarts, connections, or being the right age.

The second thing they admired was that the education and the diploma involved was real. To a person, they all said, in my country, if you didn't do well on the right high school test, one would just pay off the teacher with a bribe and he would fix the grade. They found the lack of corruption in America surrounding education and life in general, astounding. Kind of makes me want to always have an American dentist, surgeon and pilot!

I asked them to take this discussion to American teenagers which they did not want to do. Americans rarely hear this stuff because so few of us ever leave our country. I cited some research that said 14 million people come to the States every year from all over the world to study at our universities, yet only 250,000 Americans go abroad to study each year. Most Americans are never put in a position to compare their culture with someone else's. I'm grateful to have experienced this comparison. They remind me to say:

Thanks Mom.

If I haven't told you this yet today, Mom let me say it now -- you rock.
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