Visit to the Museum

Going to the Museum was a new experience, for me at least. Apparently a lot of the students had already been there. I didn’t really get to talk to the students as much as I had hoped. For the first half we got a tour of a theme house, with all antique furniture, and many antique items. This was kind of cool, except that the tour guide spoke at a really slow, almost demeaning pace. It was good that she used easy words and enunciated everything, but the speed at which she spoke was kind of ridiculous. It was also kind of sad that I didn’t get to talk to anyone, because we were all just listening. Later we got to look at other paintings. We joked about how some of the paintings looked as if they had swine flu. I hope that we will have more success at bowling.

The Feast!

On Saturday, several Hamilton students and I were invited to one of the student’s houses to cook, although ‘cooking’ was an understatement. We arrived at about 2:15 to find a feast. Even though we helped cook a little, (I learned how to make Pad Thai out of cooked ingredients, while other students worked on the barbeque.), most of the cooking was already done when we got there. I was really cool to say the least. She is an amazing cook. Not only did we get to see her house and meet her family and friends, but I actually got to learn how to cook. (We met her sister who is studying to be a nurse and several other family members.) She insisted I take some home with me, (which I gladly shared with my friends at dinner). By the end we didn’t really want to leave. The only thing we felt bad about was the cost of the immense amount of food. I invited her to cook here at Hamilton this weekend. It was definitely one of the best experiences I have had so far.

Another Classroom Visit

Class on November seventh was fun. Katrina couldn’t come so I borrowed my roommate’s car, and Chip and I went alone.  When we got there everyone seemed excited to see us. The students were all working on PowerPoint presentations, but since there were only four computers, only four could work at a time. First I helped a couple students with grammar, then I tried to get some of the students to teach me how to do the origami they were doing. It was pretty complicated, so I made a fortune teller with funny fortunes and proceeded to tell students that they would ‘get run over by a heard of cows’ in the very near future. I also started a connect four tournament, which didn’t really work out because none of us could beat one another. We then played hangman, which was pretty awesome. I used the work ‘marker’ which no one, (not even the teacher) could guess without going through the entire alphabet.

Hiking and YogaBall Soccer

Despite a late start, the outing went surprisingly well. As we waited for our rides some of the guys tried to show me cool break-dancing movies, which of course I couldn’t do. Sadly, we were kind of late and didn’t really get to hike the glen as much as we had planned, but it was still fun. Originally I was a little worried about how Yoga Ball Soccer would work out. In general the guys seemed kind of shy around the girls in other activities and vice versa. But it actually turned out great. At first everyone was a little tentative about playing soccer with a giant exercise ball, but in the end I think everyone had fun. (Except for one student who said he wasn’t feeling well and another who just didn’t want to play.) As a rule yoga ball soccer works well because of the fact that its ridiculous. There is no real way to “master” the sport, so everyone is on equal footing. No matter which way you hit it, you cant really get it to go the way you planned. It also just looks hilarious, so it generally keeps people in good humor. I’m definitely glad we  played the novelty-sized-item version of the game, because I got the distinct feeling that the students could have totally schooled our class and the few other Hamilton students that came; Chris, Rosie, Rebecca and Peter, in the real version. It was also really cool because some of the girls were really good at it. They went from being shy about going after the ball, to going after it with the rest of us. The girls team actually was holding its own against the boys team for a good part of the game. It was also good because all the running kept people from being too cold. All in all I had a ton of fun and I’m pretty sure everyone else did to. (:

Visit to ESL Classroom

 

Class on Friday was actually kind of weird. Katrina and I entered to find all the students stuffing envelopes. It seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I mean, the school system would never make a normal class waste valuable class time stuffing envelopes. There were hundreds of them. The students themselves didn’t seem to mind at all. Later we got to talk with the new student from Belarus. (It was her birthday!) One would imagine that because she was an immigrant and not a refugee, her experience might not be quite as traumatic. Sadly this was not true. Although she is new, her English was surprisingly good. We came to understand that she was in her first year of college and that she was a music student. She didn’t really seem to know why her parents came. She described the big house and multiple cars her family used to have in Belarus, along with a small family business.  Here neither of her parents have jobs and they are both at the refugee center learning English. Not only did she have to leave her country, her home, her school and her friends, but she also had to leave her music behind (for now at least) because here she doesn’t have a piano. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be. I think if my parents randomly decided to immigrate to another country, I’d probably stay in school here, until I graduated at least. It is also hard because as one of the “Thai” students was explaining how most of the students are much better friends with people from the same country as them. She is the only student from Belarus. The teacher seemed very frustrated with her story. Even though I was sort of surprised by it as well, I wish she wouldn’t have been so obvious about her disapproval. I’m sure the student had more than enough to think about without adding how frustrated the teacher seemed to be.

Katrina and I were also invited to cook at the homes of one of the ‘Thai’ students next Saturday.  I’m really excited, although I haven’t yet decided what I should bring to cook.( I’m thinking chocolate chip cookies or pumpkin muffins.) She was telling us all about her dream of opening up a restaurant in Utica, then opening another one with her friend in Thailand. From what I hear, she is an amazing chef. (:

Tie-Dying on Campus!

Not only did I get to spend today in the classroom with my new friends, I also got to spend an additional two and a half hour with them for our first group get-together. As we were waiting for the Jitney to pick us up, I showed everyone a picture of tie-dyed t-shirts on Google images. None of them had ever tie-dyed before and few of them had ever seen it, though they were very excited. We also got on the topic of crying and whether we cry often and whether we cry when we are happy. One topic led to another and I learned that one boy was just reunited with his father yesterday whom he hadn’t seen in one year. It was such an amazing story and everyone was so happy for him as we talked about it.

I rode in the Jitney with the ten students coming to campus to tie-dye. It was a bit awkward for me since I was in the front of the van and though we were all the same age, I automatically went into camp mode making sure I had permission slips, that everyone had their seat-belts buckled, and that they were happy with the music. I wasn't sure how I felt about being in the more controlling position. I want to simply be friends with everyone, but it's difficult when you're the one who knows what is going on and is also expected to be responsible. They seemed okay with everything though. It's just a difficult dynamic for me to understand. On our way, we realized it was funny that I just got to see their school for the first time and now they got to see mine. And again, the awkwardness ensued. Hamilton is a palace compared to their school and it just doesn't seem fair that because I speak English and did well in my American high school education, I can go to such a privileged school and they are stuck in the school district office building.

But the most jolting experience thus far that day occurred in the van when I started talking more in depth with – well, since this is a blog I’m not sure if I can say names – one of the refugees. We had all been talking about family: siblings and parents and whether they were here in America or back in refugee camps when she started to describe how strange it was to come from the refugee camp to here. She said that she had never seen a plane or large buildings before. In Burma, when she was ten, terror struck her neighborhood: people were murdered, her house was burned down, and her family was forced to flee into the forest. She remembers living in the jungle for a while and escaping into Thailand. For the next ten years of her life, she lived within the confines of a refugee camp in a bamboo hut, cramped with thousands of other refugees. She described that lack of good schooling, the insufficient medical care, and the difficult decision of being offered a chance to go to America. She said how many people got so far as the steps of the plane and then decide to turn around out of fear. I asked her why her parents hadn’t come and she said that her father is one of the camp doctors and so he and her mother chose to stay to help the people there but encouraged her to go to America so that she could get a good education, get US citizenship, and then eventually return to her country to help her people.  It wasn’t until then that I realized how brave she was to have come to the US without her family – not so that she could have a better life – but so that she could eventually help others. I hope our system of education lives up to her expectations and helps her to help others. It was so amazing to me to hear this story from someone who is my age – of all that she has been though and plans to accomplish after. No amount of stories I had heard could have prepared me with that encounter. I feel so privileged to be a part of these people’s lives. I hope that I can give them something useful because I already feel that I have been changed by them.

The actual tie-dying was a blast! Every one of the refugees chose the v-neck size smalls. Though none of them had ever tie-dyed before, they were all so brilliantly artistic that their shirts came out far better than any of ours. We had fun chatting and eating popcorn and Oreos as we made our shirts. It was great just hanging out and definitely made everyone more relaxed since we were in more of a home setting than a school (we were in Marika’s suite common room). After tie-dying, we went to the McEwin swing and we all played on it together to a great deal of laughter. I’m a big fan of the quote, “Laughter has no foreign accent” and it’s so true. I think this is the beginning of a great friendship which I plan to keep far longer than just a semester. Overall, everyone seemed to have a ton of fun and I thought the event was a huge success. We are all finally getting to know each other’s names, have conversations that aren’t awkward and forced, and to view each other as friends.


 

In the ESL Classroom

Going to class on a Friday with Catrina and Chip was definitely a new experience. Everything was more chill then the last two times I went alone. The vibe was much more relaxed. I’m sure it was a result of tie-dyeing and apple picking. Everyone seemed excited to see us. At first they were finishing up a discussion about decision making, and about how after they gained citizenship they would have to decide to stay in the us or return to their home countries. Then they moved on to vocabulary. We were quickly assimilated into the vocab identification assignment they were doing. The activity really made me realize how difficult it is to explain English. Mostly we had fun trying to act out some of the words charade-style. (I tripped myself in order to explain blush.) I hadn’t realized how hard some words are to explain. For example, how does one explain the definition of soul to someone, without using complex diction? We also had some staring wars and played some rock-paper-scissors. (I lost at both.) It’s cool how some ideas transcend language.
 

First Experience in the Classroom

Who Needs Bumpers When We Have Raw Talent?!

Going bowling was a blast. I forgot how funny it is when everyone is wearing the exact same style shoes all at the same time.  Luckily, none of us were amazing at bowling, and more than half of us had never played before, so it made the atmosphere pretty easygoing. We ended up fitting all of us on three lanes next to each other, which was great for the moral support. This activity was one of my favorites, simply because it seemed like someone was always laughing. And, since I hadn’t gone to the soccer, I thought it was nice to do something with them that relied on cheering on teammates and being on a team. The only time I really got to talk to anyone about anything mildly serious was when a few of us were waiting for our turns to come up. We talked briefly about not knowing what to do in the future, but shared stress in the knowledge that we would have to decide, soon. It was just another instance of when, without realizing my preconceptions, I find that they have been overturned, yet again. Of COURSE they are thinking and worrying about making life choices and choices about their future, just like me.

This experience, especially, created a bond for me with many of the students. It was just so… comfortable, like we had been friends for ages. Knowing that these “events” would soon end, I all at once realized how much I had begun to rely on each of them as friends, as well as social outlets. They existed as blips of unexpected enjoyment and diversion, a variation from a school life that had gets to be sort of monotonous to me at times.  It is ironic really, that these refugees have done so much for me when it is I who was supposedly helping them to learn a language, one second nature to me.  It is amazing to think that individuals who I have seen maybe one or two times a week maximum have become such a significant part of my life at Hamilton, this semester and throughout my 3 ½ years here.  It has changed who I am and who I want to be in a way that I fervently hope does not simply fade into memory.   

 

Second Classroom Visit

They remembered our names!  I am pretty sure, for me, it is because of third of our government class is named ‘Sara’, but I’m just going to pretend it is because we made such a good first impression on them. This time, we went through this language learning newspaper and read articles about generic “American” experiences like flying on a plane- things like that. I sat next to Sedin, a guy from Bosnia, worked with him and another girl from Burma. The girl seemed to know her stuff, and wasn’t really looking for any help, so I ended up spending some time with Sedin. Iearned that his dad was going to school to become a policeman, but that Sedin also worked as a mechanic with him (and construction?) before his dad completes the schooling/test.  So that was why he could never go to any of the afterschool events we hosted for them. Bummer, but good that he is busy, I suppose. It got me thinking, though, about these kids, most of them only a couple years younger than us, if that. Depending on their circumstances, as having very different refugee experiences, they all had experiences varying degrees of autonomy and a necessity to persevere. Some of them (Ivan) had already been in the military, while others had barely seen outside of the Thai camp in which they grew up. They all were facing difficult and trying times here, but with a seemingly strong sense of hope for an adulthood, for a existence, completely their own where they had built a contented life for themselves in the United States. Yet they were still just barely out of childhood.  Because of this, it felt at times like I was treating them as completely autonomous adults and at times as children in need of guidance.  In that way, as in many other ways, they are like me; in that stage of life where I feel the pressure and need to grow while simultaneously feeling nostalgia for the simplicity of a more childish past. Do we ever grow out of that? I sort of hope not.

Third Classroom Visit

Halfway through my third trip to the classroom with Kaz, I thought this time was going to end up being pretty uneventful, boring even.  Oh, was I wrong. I was sitting at the little set of tables within the larger semi-circle with a couple of the more feisty guys, reviewing vocabulary from the ESL newspaper exercise.  Then, Ivan, sitting in one of the seats, perhaps finished with his vocabulary list, perhaps not, asks me about my classes at Hamilton. Things started to get a bit heated when he expressed his surprise at the fact that we were only taking 4 classes. Apparently he was unimpressed. So, already in a slightly defensive stand it moved to the subject matter. Anthropology?? Why would I ever study anthropology?  What is anthropology, anyway? The study of cultures, eh? Interesting. What do I do with that? 

While continuing the conversation however, I realized that, after getting all worked up and defensive (his questions had hit too close to home), maybe I should use my anthropological perspective to, perhaps, see it from his point of view. What was I doing at Hamilton anyway?  What skills was I learning?  Sometimes I ask myself the same questions, but because I was taking this class, I realized I actually DID have an answer for him. I am studying anthropology to understand why people do things differently and think things differently, essentially to be able to effectively communicate in a situate just like the one I had with Ivan. LUCKILY, I realized this just in time and said something to the effect of “I want know about people who are different”, which seemed to be somewhat satisfying, if not completely making up for the fact that I am still only taking four classes a semester.  And, while perhaps helping some of the students learn the difference between ‘Misses’ sizes and ‘Juniors’ sizes in clothes from the vocabulary was not the most interesting thing, it was incredibly fascinating to learn from Ivan and all the other guys about how horrible it is to find clothes here because the sizes are not standardized, and entertaining to be told over and over “Do you really have a 42 shoe? That is really big for a girl!”  On the drive back with Kaz, as always, our conversation centered upon each little enriching experience of the morning.

Bored? I can’t remember being bored; are you sure that was me?

 

Fourth Visit to the ESL Classroom

 On my 4th day in the classroom, I was there alone. I came there a bit late, at around 8:45, not really concentrating on the moment, thinking about a project I needed to get done that week. I was so sleep deprived and worried about my work, that it was hard for me to engage with the students, even though they were always so open towards me. Even at the time, I felt bad about not rising to the event, but it was just too early, and I had just not gotten enough sleep to function. Luckily, when I came in, they were writing their own narratives, so it worked out that I did not really need to do much but help them with words or sentence structures they needed help on.   I ended up talking to Amy most of the time about speaking Spanish, actually speaking to her in Spanish (what good practice!).  It was a relief to me to be able to understand some language other than English. When I was there this time, if felt to me at moments that my only asset was my ability to speak English. Ugh! I had been present for one too many conversations that I did not understand that morning, as well, and I was starting to feel how they must feel here in the United States, left out and feeling as if I were missing something.

So I talked to her in Spanish about all sorts of things, such as South American politics, school, the class, what have you.  Then our conversation turned to Ko-Oo as he came up, intrigued by the unfamiliarity of the Spanish we were speaking. Ko-Oo was one of my favorite students and friends that I made there. Even though he was 14, or maybe because of it, he was less reserved in his communication more eager to talk and be funny and interact. So, anyway, we started talking about what he wanted to do after leaving the class. He had asked me before how many years I went to college, and upon my response, was a bit discouraged by 4 years. Amy seemed to think, that probably 4 years seemed a lot longer to a 14 year old than to an 18 or 21 year old. She was probably right. But it got me thinking about the futures of these new friends I had made the past few months. All so intelligent they should be able to go far, but with comparably so few opportunities for refugees, what would the future truly hold for them?  Community college?  University?  Art School? Engineering school? Straight to the workforce? I realized I really had no idea. And perhaps, neither did they.

Boo Boo's House

When Boo Boo invited us all to her house, it was completely unexpected.  We had gotten to know many of them relatively well, and I know I was not alone is beginning to see some of these young adults as real friends. This did not seem to lesson my surprise that she wanted to organize an activity for US! I was so excited, because I knew that when we got there it would be just some activity that was semi-mandatory. I was not disappointed. Boo Boo brought Wah Ler and another friend, and when we got there it was sooo much food!!! It was incredible. I tried to help on the grill with Wah Ler, and because neither of us had really grilled teriyaki chicken before, it was an adventure. I should be honest though, I really didn’t do anything but provide moral support out there. Wah Ler luckily had some good instincts when it came to the grill. If it weren’t for him we may not have had that savory dish as an option!  I loved meeting some of her family, including her brother, cousin, and sister to name a few. It felt like we were real people having food and sharing a real experience, not just students and mentors/teachers/observers (or whatever role we ended up playing in the classroom). That was my favorite day with them because, while we didn’t actually do any of the cooking (except for Marika a bit!), we were enthusiastic receivers of this gift they so freely offered us. It was a slice into their personal reality. Through this experience I was, for the first time I think, able to see them as not just students, or refugees, but as people and as friends. We were on their turf for once, and it was rich and fun and intimate. This one experience, leaving out all of the other wonderful experiences with them, made my experience with this semester completely and fully worthwhile. It was something that in college is sometimes rare: it felt as real as ‘real’ can get.

Can't Feel Blue at the Utica Zoo

The zoo was the activity that I organized.  While I was glad to get in more time with them outside of class, I was never a big fan of zoos in general, so came into it a bit skeptical.   I was also surprised at how many people came!  Luckily we took two SHINE vans!  So we got there and led them through. Most of them had already been to the zoo (to my slight frustration) so for most of them it was nothing new. We walked through the monkeys and the alligators and the lion and the snakes- we saw everything. We even went through the walking path that had a bunch of creepy Halloween decorations out and about.

This was the event where I really got to talk to Ko-Oo and Boo Boo.  I talked to Boo Boo having gone Ecuador, and missing it and wanting to go back. We talked about our common interest in learning languages, and wanting to travel and experience different ways of life and cultures. She told me about her plans to return to visit Burma when she could; I think she said 4 or 5 years from now. When I was with Ko-Oo we talked about sports and him going to school, and he asked me questions about Hamilton and what I was learning. While we were talking we saw this exotic duck that we agreed was the most beautiful and amazing thing at the zoo. A duck! But it was stunning.

  All the while, a few of them had cameras and snapping picture after picture, posing and grinning, laying in the leaves and in front of the animals. And, while I just had dessert for them, they seemed content to sit and munch when we were done, in the crisp fall air.   

I brought half of them home that day; all of us breathless and content from an afternoon in the fresh air and with good company. It was sad to finally drop the last person off and head back towards the hill.  I never would have thought that someplace like the Utica Zoo could be the site of such a marvelously good time.

First Visit to ESL Classroom

Before this class, I had almost no experience with teaching; especially English to people that were my age. Other than the occasional “this is what this means in English” when I was in Ecuador, I had no idea what to expect that first day in the classroom. That first day, the ride over there was hard. 8 am in the morning was sooo early! What were we doing?? We would see soon enough.

Kaz and I walked in as the group was going over quizzes that they had taken the day before.  All heads turned towards us, almost like a physical barrier, causing us to stop right inside the door. When the teacher saw us, we were ushered into the room with quick introductions, and invited to sit on chairs in the middle of the room in order to tell a little about ourselves. We said our names, followed by a bombardment of names that I did not even hear much less think I would be able to remember correctly.  I don’t know about Kaz, but keeping up a cheery, outgoing, ‘I’m up for anything’ attitude was difficult for me those first few minutes. I all at once felt intrusive and out of place, and pretty unsure of myself. When we told them a bit about ourselves, all I could come up with was my majors, that I played some sports, and where in the US I was from. I thought at that moment that I must sound so lame!

I did not have any time to dwell on that however, because all at once Amy (the teacher) was handing out little clips from the Bill of Rights for them to understand and summarize. What else could we do? We just jumped right in!  Each of use joined a different group with a different phrase. How do you explain the “right to bear arms”?  Well, with MANY hand motions and noises on my end, I think I did a pretty good job in getting the gist of it across.  I met many people that day. And I learned that, yes, most of them were very familiar with “arms”, as the good ‘ole Bill likes to call them.

Even through board games, we bonded that day. I played checkers with Ko-Oo, a 14 year-old from Burma, with about 3-4 other people helping me with strategy so I didn’t fall behind. It was amazing; all from seemingly different places and backgrounds, but at that moment, during that 2 hours, we were all in it together. Each of them seemed to want to accept us as readily as we wanted to accept them, because we were all working together and getting to know each other. I realized afterward that, while at the time I felt very much an “other” in the classroom, we were not so different. All of us just wanted to get to know each other and be more comfortable with ourselves in that environment, and hopefully learn a little something along the way.

 

Third Trip to the ESL Classroom

This trip was definitely a cultural awakening.  Ivan was back, whom I hadn’t seen since my first trip and Boo-Boo too.  As Izzy was describing something to a student, she mentioned her boyfriend, which prompted the teacher to start a discussion on the different dating practices that were represented in each of the cultures.  It was interesting because you know that they exist but at least I myself have never met anyone who was actually in an arranged marriage or anything like that.  Boo-Boo said that in old Karen culture, it was traditional for the parents to pick husbands for their daughters, but that her parents weren’t like that.  Muhktar, who’s from Yemen, said that in his culture, men could have up to four wives, but most didn’t because it cost too much money.  He said that the holy book allowed it because it would ultimately result in more children.  Saeed, who is also Muslim, said that technically he was allowed to have that many wives, but no one in Bosnia really did.  Then I thought Boo-Boo made the brilliant point that marriage is not purely ruled by religious factors but by cultural ones also and that was why Muhktar and Saeed’s marriage customs were different.  It was also funny because sex was the big elephant in the room that the kids wanted to talk about but weren’t sure.  It would be interesting to see how that played into their marriage culture and how it shaped their teenage lives.  At the end of the discussion the teacher was trying to make the point that they shouldn’t think that all Americans were promiscuous just because of what they saw on TV or because of how we dress or anything else.  Muhktar interjected, “Don’t judge us because we’re different and we won’t judge you,” which was a fitting ending to a very interesting conversation. 

Party in the Classroom

I really loved going to the party because it was yet another chance for us to all let loose, have a good time and get to just hang out with everybody.  There was a new student in class; I think her name was Najid and she was from Somalia.  It was really interesting meeting her, because the class is mainly made up of Burmese and Eastern European students.  I was surprised at how good her English was.  She understood everything I was saying, and she spoke very well for only having been here three months.  I failed miserably at making a friendship bracelet, which was embarrassing because everyone got in except me!  Mukhtar was enlisted to play music for everyone and I asked him if he'd ever heard of Kn'aan.  Clearly my grasp of foreign languages and geography is very poor, because I thought he was speaking Arabic on one of his tracks.  When we finally found it, it turned out to be Somali.  But I think he liked it anyways.  A-Lit was making beautiful flowers out of paper and I made a paper crane, which is basically the only arts and craftsy kind of think I know how to do.  But he one upped me on that and showed me how to make one that flapped its wings.  It was short, but a lot of fun! 

Yogaball with Newcomers

 The ESOL students travelled to Hamilton College for an afternoon of hiking in the Glen and Yogaball soccer. I already spent the morning with the students discussing the day’s activities and received a strong sense of the student’s excitement of coming to Hamilton. I met the student’s at opus for cookies and warm tea after the hike and we chatted about the campus and how impressed they were with the “giant swing” the beautiful buildings and the facilities. Many of them thought Hamilton would look a lot like MVCC and I helped to give a brief history about the campus from the knowledge I gained from my tour guide friends. Most of the interactions were surface value and nothing delved into their experiences prior to arriving in the US. On the walk to the field I tried to interact with all the students but found myself bonding the most with Sujitha as she was the only Burmese girl wearing a headscarf, I wanted to know what influenced her to wear her headscarf, if it was a personal or cultural choice or if her father or some male figure imposed it on her.

We never touched on the subject of the headscarf but we bonding talking about how we both didn’t really enjoy playing sports but we liked walking and enjoying nature at our own pace. I analyzed the setting and recognized that discussing religion was not appropriate considering the playful nature of the activity. She complained about the cold and I shared with her the story that I was also an immigrant from Jamaica an island in the Caribbean and that the climate is always hot, with no snow. Her eyes lit up and it seemed that a moment of connection established between us. She linked arms with me and we began laughing at how excited all the boys were to play soccer.

The game began and of course the boys took control of the game scoring the most goals and maximizing the ball time. They enjoyed playing with the other Hamilton students that decided to join us midway through the game. Overall the experience did not enable moments to talk but working in a team with the students allowed us to bond in a different non-verbal way. Moments of body contact with high fives and hugging illustrated to me that something new was developing, a new level of trust and comfort with the students and our class.

 

Bowling in Utica

 It was a cold, icy, Sunday afternoon when our class took two SHINE vans to Utica. We planned to take our class bowling for the last activity together. I had not been bowling in over six years and worried about my technique. However, I knew being able to discover fun things about Utica was at the heart of the excursion, not winning at bowling. We picked up the students, already waiting in the cold by the school for us. All seemed eager to participate and I would later be surprised by all their bowling skills.

The bowling alley was a large venue with over 50 lanes for beginners and advanced bowlers. After picking out our shoes and receiving our lanes the games began. We all split into teams of about 4 and 5 and everyone worked on finding the best technique of hitting down all the pins. I immediately recognized that my little talent in bowling occurred due to the lightness of my ball rather than my force. Our team began with a great streak of beginner’s luck and I began to gloat at my aptitude for the game. After a few more tries my luck began to dwindle and I barely hit any pins. The Burmese students all tried to boost my morale with high-fives and cheers but my pins stayed put. The Burmese were exceptionally talented at bowling for first-time players, but refused to show off or boast.

A certain cultural modesty was present throughout all teams. We enjoyed bonding and rooting for each other despite many failed attempts at hitting the pins. The day ended as quickly as it began and we packed up our belongings and shuffled out the bowling alley. The Burmese enjoying yet another fun event together, allowing a chance to escape from their home live and just be relaxed. I could tell that the opportunity to just purely be in a leisure mode was greatly appreciated.

 

Cooking with the Burmese!

 BooBoo invited us to her home to cook traditional Burmese food with her family. What we didn’t realize was that we would just be watching her prepare rather than assisting in the cooking process. When we arrived to her home in the afternoon, a feast was already prepared for us including: sushi, soup and deviled black eggs laid out neatly in the dining room. We walked in just in time to catch her making noodles and a dish called Pad Thai consisting of shrimp, bean sprouts, soy sauce, rice, egg and for me tofu. Watching BooBoo maneuver herself so effortlessly around the tiny kitchen was amazing to watch. I understood immediately that she had a talent, often when people cook they have a frantic and worried countenance, but BooBoo showed no signs of stress or anxiety, she worked quickly and neatly.

Her sister in law, niece, and sister came to the dinner party and we all dined together alongside each other like we had been friends for years. The teacher of the ESOL classroom also came, bringing cookies and juice for us to share. The food was delicious and proved more than enough for all the guests. I was left with a huge doggy bag to take home, overflowing with flavor and spices. It was important to see the Burmese in their own element with family, often times we are most at ease when we are at home. BooBoo and Waller seemed to glow from within just being able to cook traditional dishes in the U.S. a new country they were trying to make their own.

It was also wonderful to see how special family was to BooBoo, as each individual had a warm story to tell about her impact on their lives. For example, whether it was cutting hair, making tea, breakfast or simply listening and watching after the baby, she contributed. BooBoo played an integral part in her family basically the glue, bonding them together and it was nice to be a part of her private life.  

My Fourth Classroom Visit

 I always feel bad when I visit the classroom and I lead a student down the wrong path.  Now I’m not talking serious life choices paths here, rather, when I try and help out students and I find out I’m actually giving them the completely wrong answer.  The students were reading a slightly doctored version of “A Telltale Heart,” by Edgar Allen Poe and one of the questions was something like, why does the young man kill the old man?  Many of the students were struggling between two of the multiple-choice answers, one being, because he was crazy and the other being, because of the beating of the heart.  I thought it was because of the heart, thumping away where only the young man could hear it.  However, once Amy went over the answer it turned out to be the other because the young man was only hearing the heart because he was crazy.  I felt so bad!  At least three students had asked me with help on that question and I felt as though I’d failed them in someway.  I’m sure it wasn’t that big of a deal to them but I guess I felt pressure to always have the right answer.  But maybe on the flipside it’s more of a comfort to them to know that even Americans don’t always have a complete grasp on concepts and the English language. 

 

My Second Visit to Newcomers Classroom

 Since it was my second visit to the classroom, I was a lot less nervous making the trip.  It was really nice to be able to walk in and say people’s names and know they recognized me too.  There was a new student from Eastern Europe named Ira and a boy I’d never met before named Coo-oo.  They were discussing the meaning of Thanksgiving and Izzy and I got to share our Thanksgiving stories.  I must have looked ridiculous jumping up and down and flailing my arms around as I tried to describe the Macy’s Day Parade and the balloons that go along with it.  I think my favorite part of this trip though was when we asked Ira which of the field trips she wanted to go on.  The teacher had to try and explain to her about the permission slip and asking her parents, but since she was so new to the class it was almost impossible.  So she asked Mikolai to step in.  It was interesting and incredibly cute to see the interaction, because there is such a strong boy/girl divide in the class.  Mikolai resisted heavily at first and then gave in, asking her in Russian (I believe) if her parents would allow her to go on such a trip.  He was clearly nervous but trying to play it off by acting macho and barely looking at her while he threw words in her direction.  It will be interesting to see if the boys and girls in the class get past the gender barriers eventually.

 

Farewell Party at Newcomers Classroom

 I really loved going to the party because it was yet another chance for us to all let loose, have a good time and get to just hang out with everybody.  There was a new student in class; I think here name was Najid and she was from Somalia.  It was really interesting meeting her because the class is mainly made up of Burmese and Eastern European students.  I was surprised at how good her English was, she understood everything I was saying and she spoke very well for only having been here three months.  I failed miserably at making a friendship bracelet, which was embarrassing because everyone got in except me!  Mukhtar was enlisted to play music for everyone and I asked him if he’d ever heard of Kn’aan.  Clearly my grasp of foreign languages and geography is very poor because I thought he was speaking Arabic on one of his tracks.  When we finally found it, it turned out to be Somali.  But I think he liked it anyways.  A-Lit was making beautiful flowers out of paper and I made a paper crane, which is basically the only arts and craftsy kind of thing I know how to do.  But he one upped me on that and showed me how to make one that flapped its wings.  It was short, but a lot of fun!

Apple-Picking at North Star Orchards

 Apple picking went extraordinarily well.  As much as I enjoy hanging out with the kids in the classroom, it’s hard to get one on one time with all of them and learn their personalities, simply because they have to focus on their work.  As we all crowded onto the hay-ride, we shared jokes about the nippy weather and spoke about various things, including the pumpkins that were in abundance all around us.  Shadid said that in Thailand, they cooked them and they were extremely spicy, which I thought was a funny contrast to the sweet pumpkin pie we so traditionally make.  As we bumped along, a mystery student pulled out these funny little squares wrapped in plastic and handed them out to everyone.  They turned out to be little candies, made of peanut butter, something hard and were covered in sesame seeds.  All the kids laughed at us as we tried in vain to bite through the sticky outside.  True to form, A-lit had his camera and took multiple videos of us pulling the apples off the trees.  I was definitely the most squirmish about eating them, but everyone else had at least two or three.  Even though it was chilly we were laughing hard and moving fast so the weather was the last thing on our minds. 

 

Me, You and the Utica Zoo

Sunday was a beautiful day for a trip to the zoo, and since Utica has one (for what reason I’ll never be sure…) it was fortuitous that that’s where we, in two minivans packed with the students who had signed up,  were going. The Utica Zoo was quite the place. Although almost all the refugees had been before, they were still excited to go. The animals were a mere sideshow, however, to their copious conversing and picture taking. Back in my day, kids used to hang out in the mall, but I guess a zoo is just as good.

            Apparently, for most of the students the trip was just a great way to get out of the house and have a social life. When we were in the reptile house (which, much to their delight, had a Burmese Python) I asked the students what they had done over the weekend. Over half answered they had spent Saturday holed up in their house, playing games alone or talking to friends online. They either lived too far away from friends or lived in neighborhoods not exactly conducive to hanging out outside in. To me  this was very sad, but the kids took an upbeat attitude to the situation, commenting that the time inside let them work on their HiFive accounts(a social networking site I wasn’t previously aware of) and it made their social outings more fun. Most of the girls spent the entire time taking hundreds of pictures with their very nice digital cameras. I know we created some great memories, and I can only hope we created some good profile pictures as well!

 

Pachbao-Yin-Chu

October 23rd was my second visit to the class of refugee students I was working with through Friends Without Borders and Govt202 at Hamilton College. The awkwardness of “first contact” had been vanquished a week before, so I strode into the classroom knowing what to expect: cool names and cool kids. My first assignment from the teacher of the class was to work with the students on a vocab assignment from their current unit. I worked with Ko-Oo, a Burmese refugee. He was eager to work on vocabulary and we jumped right in, knocking out half a page before Marika (a fellow volunteer) pointed out that we were doing the wrong assignment! This loss of progress obviously demoralized Ko-Oo, who resorted to looking in the back of the book for the answers and telling me he didn’t need help anymore. Even if he had taken the setback in stride, I would have been bummed enough for the both of us. I felt genuinely bad for contributing to him falling behind (even if it was only 5 minutes).

While the class was reviewing the answers with their teacher, I ventured to the bathroom. After a minute or two of search I found the student bathroom and entered. The bathroom was empty, but all the stalls were locked from the inside. After my initial confusion subsided and I made sure they weren’t occupied by students who just weren’t answering knocks or through-the-door inquires, I snaked my arm under and unlocked the door. This process took about 5 minutes longer than it should have and Marika and the teacher would later comment that my brief absence was conspicuous. I had to relate me tale multiple times in order to prevent myself from being labeled a “slacker” in the eyes of my colleagues.

As the class ended and we waited for the bus to bring us and the refugees to Hamilton campus, I experienced the coolest and most surreal things that have happened to me in the program thus far. The coolest happened at the end of the Rock-Paper-Scissor tourney organized by Marika. The champion, Eh Do Doe, turned to me and told me they had played this game in the Thai camp she had grown up in. In Thai, the game was called Pachbao-Yin-Chu but all the handmotions and rules were the same. Discovering the universality of rock-paper-scissors was pretty cool and now I can play in TWO languages. Then the surreal part occurred. Ivan, a Russian refugee with military training (he told us he was being groomed for officership before coming to America) overheard my conversation with Eh Do Doe and decided to tell me about a game he played back home. I forget the Russian name, but as soon as we had started I realized we were playing what I knew as Bloody Knuckles – a game often played during my middle school years to defeat boredom and prove that elusive “manliness”. Six or seven taps in it occurred to me that I was playing bloody knuckles with ex-Russian military. Now that is something that doesn’t happen every Friday!

 

Yogaball Soccer Reflection

 

The ESOL students travelled to Hamilton College for an afternoon of hiking in the Glen and Yogaball soccer. I already spent the morning with the students discussing the day’s activities and received a strong sense of the student’s excitement of coming to Hamilton. I met the student’s at opus for cookies and warm tea after the hike and we chatted about the campus and how impressed they were with the “giant swing” the beautiful buildings and the facilities. Many of them thought Hamilton would look a lot like MVCC and I helped to give a brief history about the campus from the knowledge I gained from my tour guide friends. Most of the interactions were surface value and nothing delved into their experiences prior to arriving in the US. On the walk to the field I tried to interact with all the students but found myself bonding the most with Sujitha as she was the only Burmese girl wearing a headscarf, I wanted to know what influenced her to wear her headscarf, if it was a personal or cultural choice or if her father or some male figure imposed it on her.
We never touched on the subject of the headscarf but we bonding talking about how we both didn’t really enjoy playing sports but we liked walking and enjoying nature at our own pace. I analyzed the setting and recognized that discussing religion was not appropriate considering the playful nature of the activity. She complained about the cold and I shared with her the story that I was also an immigrant from Jamaica an island in the Caribbean and that the climate is always hot, with no snow. Her eyes lit up and it seemed that a moment of connection established between us. She linked arms with me and we began laughing at how excited all the boys were to play soccer.
The game began and of course the boys took control of the game scoring the most goals and maximizing the ball time. They enjoyed playing with the other Hamilton students that decided to join us midway through the game. Overall the experience did not enable moments to talk but working in a team with the students allowed us to bond in a different non-verbal way. Moments of body contact with high fives and hugging illustrated to me that something new was developing, a new level of trust and comfort with the students and our class.

My First Experience in the ESOL Classroom

 

September 29, 2009 
My First Experience in the ESOL Classroom
On the drive to Utica, I kept reminding myself this is not your first teaching experience and it surely won’t be your last. Despite my attempts to boost my self-esteem, not knowing how I would be perceived by the students gave me great fear. The aspect that made me the most nervous came from the students being so close in age with me. Entering the school with my friend Sara in tow, we anxiously opened the door and found twelve students awaiting our arrival. Then the anxiety quickly trickled away, similarly as I put down my bag and found my seat in front of the other students. I introduced myself, my ambitions and my preferred leisure activities and instantly the faces in the classroom lit up and connections were obviously being mentally formed. The classroom seemed like any other classroom I visited, with charts and maps on the wall and American cultural references. I believe the teacher seemed relieved to have some fresh input and assistants in her classroom. We commenced the lesson with instruction on the Bill of Rights, trying to break down the otherwise complicated text into easily understood phrases. The students for the most part seemed to understand what I said but I could see when concepts like “double jeopardy” and “right to bear arms” caused confusion.
I enjoyed talking with the students when the break time came, discussing, music, food and cultural aspects they missed while being in the United States. All the students believed in the opportunities America presented an individual with; the opportunity to rise from nothing and become someone successful despite cultural group membership. The time passed quickly as soon as the students began to relax and open up about their childhood and family. The teacher then motioned that our time was coming to a close and the students needed to return to their lesson. Sara and I left the classroom with a feeling of connection to each and every one of the students, referring to little antics or comments we liked from each student. I left the classroom and started my Friday morning with a feeling of perspective on my life and my responsibility as a student and human being in the greater sense of existence. This experience only solidified my career aspiration of becoming a U.S. diplomat to hopefully someday aid in the security of refugees and immigrants.

Welcome to Friends Without Borders

This blog will begin as a place for students in GOVT 202: Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S. to post their comments about the service-learning project associated with the course, along with reflections related to course material.  We're working directly with 17-20 year-old refugees and immigrants in an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Newcomers Program, which is provided through the Utica City School District.  These public school students are recently arrived (within the year) in the U.S. and will not be attending regular high school classes, nor do they quality for adult education courses (age 21 restriction.)  

The students in the Newcomers class are primarily from Burma, identify themselves as Karen, and were resettled from the refugee camps in Thailand.  Other students are from Yemen, Dominican Republic, Bosnia, and the Ukraine.  Hamilton students will be volunteering in the classroom as assistants or providing one-on-one tutoring, and they have arranged for six social events to bring the Utica students outside of their classroom, with opportunities to relate to a peer group and to integrate into community activities. 

 

 

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