The English-language classroom acts as a platform to practice the skillsets of reading, writing, speaking and listening, giving students an opportunity to refine their pronunciation while honing their grammar. Formative practices in language learning encourage students to make mistakes, learn from them, and in turn, create better usage tools to help them communicate, regardless of the medium, be it a written letter or a spoken presentation.
Outside of campus, within a Chinese context, English learners oftentimes have limited access to apply that which they study inside the classroom, hindered by the rich Sinosphere which permeates their daily lives. As a language instructor, I am always looking for ways to encourage my students to seeks out linguistic and cultural opportunities for practice, and this past weekend, we found just the chance.
Organizing a group of about 20 staff members from Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), we met on a Saturday afternoon for a movie and lunch, entertained by the Academy Award nominated film, “La La Land”. Thrilling us from the opening sequence taking place on a crowded freeway in Downtown Los Angeles, working its way complexly through the relationships onstage, and highlighted the entire time by song and dance, the movie provided an insight to a feeling and place not visited nearly enough by those of us in the audience. Similarly, it gave my students an opportunity to hear English in an authentic (albeit Hollywood scripted) setting, where intonation and tone came natural to the speakers, forcing a trained ear to keep up without relying on the subtitles.
The “City of Stars” which characters Sebastian and Mia sing about is a reference to my hometown of Los Angeles, perhaps the most multicultural city anywhere, where dreams are both deferred and realized, yet continues to remain a landscape which still draws the attention of the world. It was my hope that from the scenes taking place on the Hermosa Beach Pier to the conversations between characters in Griffith Park, that my students could catch a glimpse of the culture which helps define our language. The words spoken and emotions felt on screen can’t be found in a textbook, giving credence to this non-traditional means of learning, far from the chairs and desks in Room 505.
Over the course of the semester, I will continue to look for opportunities to share with the Staff English Class where we can expose ourselves to the underlying notions which surround language, learning more about different cultures, and in turn, ourselves…
I just completed another Semester at another University in another Country on another Continent. These past few months have found me in Shenzhen, at Southern University of Science and Technology, where I am the Staff Language Instructor, working with various departments on improving both business as well as practical English. Over the course of the Semester, I worked with University Staff on English-language attainment, as it pertains to use both inside and outside of campus. Since my arrival in late-October, these past three months have been rich in terms of unlimited cultural experiences, including my professional development, again working in a demanding academic environment.
Below are two short articles I wrote for the University’s Website, one describing the contexts of my classes, and the other celebrating the successful completion of our first Semester, hosting a PotLuck Party with my students. I hope that you are able to take the time to read the short entries, shedding light on what I teach, where I learn, and with whom I share my experiences, here, far across the Pacific.
Never seeming to live in a country which matches up with Western Holidays, I will be spending the upcoming Chinese New Year in California, visiting with family and friends; enjoying many of the people and places which help frame my years abroad. So, from this dynamic city of nearly 20 million people to each of you, wherever on the globe this email arrives, I wish you a Happy and Prosperous Year of the Rooster…
Expanding Cooperation Through English Learning
As the world continues to shift towards a smaller global community, shedding the distance between countries and continents, English language learning remains as pertinent as ever, helping to bridge the divide that separates. Common goals inspire common avenues, and Southern University of Science and Technology is paving the path towards internationalization within itself to help foster a community of learners, researchers, and staff that works together, underlying the foundations of cooperative education.
Introduced this year, English Language Training for Staff is a course which brings together members of different departments for daily lessons on the both the fundamentals of English as well as many of the cultural aspects which encompass language. Learning important vocabulary as well critical thinking skills, SUSTech Staff are encouraged to think outside the classroom, applying their knowledge to practical situations which they encounter on a daily basis. Using language acquisition as motivation for social mobility, students from the Library, Human Resources, Student Affairs and a number of other offices are taking advantage of this course which promotes cooperation amongst the different departments, in turn supporting collaboration with various partners and new colleagues.
The city of Shenzhen is a microcosm of the diversity which now defines our international context, with people from all corners of China here to advance themselves through personal and professional development. A leader in creativity, technology and the entrepreneurial leadership which merge the two, the same attributes which describe our city can be applied to Southern University of Science and Technology, and the talented people involved with its development towards a global leader in education.
As SUSTech moves towards its goal of becoming a top-tier international university that excels in interdisciplinary research, nurturing innovative talents and delivering new knowledge to the world, it is through inter-department collaboration, where such visions are nurtured. The Staff Language Training acts as a strong example of fulfilling a promise which the university is making to itself to ensure an expanded global understanding on behalf of everyone involved here on campus in Shenzhen, as we reach out to an expanded global platform.
End-Of-Semester PotLuck Party
As we celebrate the completion of the first Semester of our Staff-English Class, I wanted to be sure to thank each of you for welcoming me into your culture, your community, and your classroom. A year ago, I was in the highlands of East Africa, teaching and living in an entirely different context, grateful for those experiences but equally thankful for the opportunities which a return to Asia has provided me, especially the time I have been able to work with you, the staff of Southern University of Science and Technology, practicing English in a constructive environment.
Your desire to discover, coupled with motivation for success is highlighted in the classroom, with each of you putting forth the effort needed to learn such a challenging subject. While there is rich history in Chinese, English is the language of this global world we live in, and it is my hope that through the lessons and discussions in our class, you are able to tint the lens through which you see into that vast beyond. Similarly, SUSTech’s path to be an international university is reflected in each of your own roles here, from the Library to Student Affairs, and from Secretaries to Lab Assistants. English stretches across each of the boundaries which separates your departments, but your participation in our class shows that you are not limited by language restrictions, instead, embracing the challenges and accepting the responsibilities.
A few months ago, at the beginning of our class, I suggested that language is only one part of culture, and that likewise, so too is music, clothing, beliefs, and food. Here then today, I am happy to have all the classes together to share some of the meals which gives credence to our past, unites us in the present, and promotes ideas about the future. It is my hope that this gathering acts as a strong ending for our first semester together, while at the same time representing a catalyst for continued growth next semester; learning together in an educational environment which fosters creative concepts about language and culture, and expands our worldview through cooperative ideas.
Having spent two incredible months in California, I now leave for Shenzhen where I will continue my teaching journey; a return to Asia after two years in Africa. Flying to Hong Kong this week with a renewed sense of wonder after leaving Ethiopia in the midst of a storm which still clouds the great Rift Valley, I am excited about the year ahead, including the cultures I will experience, the people I will meet, and of course, the food I will sample. While it will undoubtedly be different from my five previous years teaching in Korea, I remain motivated by the dynamic prospects of Asia, embracing its colorful past and promising future; challenging me while allowing growth, bringing a transformed outlook through a lens from yet another part of the world. I am grateful for these continued opportunities which my teaching profession allows, moving from a university in Africa to a university in Asia, complete with different methodologies and pedagogies, but with the same inspiration found in the students I work with.
For all the traveling that I am able to do, it is my respites at home in California which oftentimes brings the most joy. During these past two months I have been mixing pleasure with work, going to the beach on some days while visiting the Chinese Consulate on others. Getting a Work Visa for China/Hong Kong is certainly no easy task, even when compared with those lovely immigration officials I had the pleasure of meeting in Ethiopia. Yet it is the experience of scanning Passport pages which juxtaposes nicely with visiting local micro breweries, giving me a sense of where I will be going in comparison to where I am at. And while both Hong Kong and Shenzhen have a flourishing craft beer scene, I doubt I can ride my bicycle along a sun-drenched beach to get there, silhouetted by the sea circled by the circus sands.
As Summer transitioned to Fall (or at least to the extent there are seasons in Southern California), I continued to enjoy the wealth of physical proximity provided by my hometown of Huntington Beach, taking the train down to San Diego, sailing with my parents to Catalina Island, and of course, visiting Baja California, Mexico on a number of occasions. Locally, it was daily bicycle rides which took me around town as my earphones played the Grateful Dead, providing both a physical as well as mental escape from this seemingly never-ending transition I find myself in. So it is now, as I board a 15-hour flight to Hong Kong when I grow weary of escapes, tired of moving, and for the briefest of moments, wishing to settle down to a time when I don’t have to pack and repack suitcases for weather I have never before experienced. But those feelings are fleeting like the clouds I will fly above over the Pacific, as I land in a culture which will swallow me whole, reminding me once again why I teach abroad instead of domestically. America is the greatest country on Earth, but it took me living overseas to realize that; redefining my definitions of things which living back home are difficult to discover.
For those family and friends I was able to see while home, be it over dinner or drink, I thank you for taking the time to visit with me as I transition from this land to that. Similarly, for those who have kept in contact via telephone or email, again, thanks for sharing a conversation with me, as I can guarantee my stories are more interesting than the latest Facebook post about a baby, kittens or even a baby surrounded by kittens. And following, as I move abroad again, I hope that I am able to keep in touch with those who have traveled vicariously along this path with me, from the clouded peaks of Jiri San to the dirt paths of Ambo and now to the food markets of Hong Kong. It may be long trans-Atlantic flights which get me here, but it is the evening walks around my neighborhood which crowd my memory bank like a Sunday morning Sunrise.
Two months in Southern California should be anyone’s idea of a great vacation, and when coupled with time spent with loving family, it admittedly makes it hard to leave. In fact, the most difficult part about living and teaching overseas is the tumult of these next few weeks, as I once again move from home to wherever is next, leaving here and moving there, goodbyes and hellos determined by cultural hugs and bows. Yet the experiences I will get including new perspectives and insights, will hopefully go to remind me once again that the world is the classroom upon which I both teach and learn, paths across oceans, not down freeways, with my next off-ramp being a a return to Asia…
Article I wrote for The Ethiopian Herald, recounting my past two years living and teaching in Ethiopia:
After two years in Ethiopia, living and working here on behalf of a U.S. State Department-sponsored Teaching Fellowship, I will be leaving next Thursday underneath the shade of August’s Full Moon. Spending about a month or two in California before going back overseas to continue Teaching, it will be the remembrances from my time in Ethiopia which I will take with me as I continue along this journey. A historical landscape dotted with people who have taught me to think differently, I am grateful for the time I have spent learning and growing here, both as an individual as well as a teacher.
When I first arrived in the Fall of 2014, it was with an unlimited curiosity about a place which I admittedly knew little of. Yet from the Highlands of the plateaus which define the topography surrounding the capital, to the Rift Valley which cuts through the rural lowlands like a Serpent, my interest in the varied regions of the country grew, as did my understanding of the myriad of regional peoples which formulate this ever-growing population. Within my classrooms too I saw the diversity which creates beauty, Oromos sitting next to Amheras, both working in groups with Somalis. Through the students’ dialogues and discussions, it became clear that unity trumped the separation of language, with individuals working in cohesion, not difference, to expand their worldview through common threads.
In my capacity as an English teacher, I have had incredible opportunities to travel fairly extensively throughout the country, lecturing in Ambo, presenting in Hawassa, and training in Harar among other locals. From these regional places I have gained insight into an educational culture which I otherwise would not have been able to experience had I not chosen to teach under African skies. Students here possess the same desire to learn as their counterparts I have worked with in Asia and the Americas, each understanding the importance of an expanded worldview through English language attainment. And while they may not be supplied with the necessary equipment which constructs a sustainable learning environment, still, these students recognize their own valuable contribution to the class, and following, what they can do for themselves and their country with the obtainment of a quality education.
While life in Ethiopia can sometimes be challenging, I have learned to understand it more as a two-year course in changing perspectives – seeing through the clouds of despair, peering up to that peak which the Sun drenches with light. Similarly, I am thankful to all those I have worked with within the Embassy (especially PAS), providing me with resources, tools, and most importantly, outlooks, which have helped guide me along the paths I have traveled since arriving in October of 2014. Following, I now have a renewed appreciation for home, the United States of America, and the mores upon which she stands, aiding in the help of others across the world, diplomatically, economically, socially and of course, educationally.
If I never had these experiences within an Ethiopian context, I fear that I would unknowingly be travelling down the highway of regret and across the oceans of indifference. Yet as I finish up a teaching assignment which has challenged me in ways I never thought imaginable, I look forward to what lies ahead, while remaining cognizant of the lessons I have learned here, each of which has redefined who I was, questioned who I am, and shaped me into who I will become…
I have been in Ethiopia for the past two years as an English Language Fellow, yet I understand that there is still one language which trumps all else: Football. Spoken by more people around the world, with different dialects translated through their passes and shots, the Beautiful Game resonates from all corners of the globe, yelled in cantinas during Copa América and whispered in boardrooms during the World Cup. I have been in taxis in Vladivostok where I can’t speak Russian but a dialogue about CSKA Moscow has gotten me a friendly fare, or on a Camel in Egypt where a comment about El Ahly has provided me with a friendly smile. It truly is a “Global Language” and in addition to English, one which I am more than happy to share.
Recently the U.S. Embassy hosted a week-long clinic and donation in both Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, working with local youth female teams on a project of Gender Empowerment through Football. Sports are a mechanism for social change and within an Ethiopian context it is evident that Football is something which inspires, motivates, and promotes a number of different positive elements as they relate to youth. In partnership with the Embassy was the Ethiopian Football Federation who helped in the selection of local area teams, with over 200 female players taking part in the respective cities.
Leading the clinics were two esteemed Women coaches from the United States and Ethiopia, working together to develop drills which addressed both fitness and technique. From the U.S. was Lesle Gallimore, Head Coach at the University of Washington, while representing Ethiopia was Meseret Manni, Head Coach of the Dire Dawa Premier League Team. Acting as role models for the girl participants, Lesle and Meseret not only spoke to the on-field conditioning, but moreover, to the mental preparation necessary to find success, including positive self-esteem; having belief in oneself that anything is possible.
The clinics themselves were complimented by a large donation from Nike, including over $20,000USD worth of cleats, balls and uniforms for the participants. Organized over the course of a year, Nike was gracious in their donation, securing about 100 pairs of cleats, 50 balls and other equipment including shin guards, goal keeper gloves, socks and jerseys to give to the youth female players. Teams from Ambo, Addis and Dire were each able to receive these Nike donations, all of which will hopefully go to embolden them both on and off the field; for the equipment itself is only worth something if the players believe in themselves.
Football is something which has continued to play a part in my life, from when I was a small child playing organized games through AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) to years later in High School where I was able to travel to Europe to compete against some of the best youth teams in the world. I have been lucky enough to see Neymar play in Korea, Zidane play in France, and even Maradona play in America, each representing the dream which hundreds of millions of youth have, regardless of their location or corresponding circumstances. To be able to be a part of this Football Outreach on behalf of the U.S. Embassy, giving back to communities which have hosted me over the course of the past two years, truly speaks to the global power of Football and the positive lasting implications it has…