English Is Crazy
Performed by the one and only Pete Seeger. Making me giggle a lot this morning.
Particularly appropriate after I spent a good 10 minutes yesterday trying to explain what a driveway is to my beginners. I didn't understand why it was such a difficult concept but English is "the only language where you drive on a parkway and park in a driveway."
Favorites (part 1)
One of my favorite places in Erbil is the music store beneath the citadel, across from the bazaar. Its a tiny room filled with instruments, run by two friendly men who are also incredibly talented musicians. In the picture, its the door with colorful windows furthest to the left (right above the pedestrian's head).
I bought a baglama (the instrument pictured above) and am learning to play it. The man at the shop does not speak any English (and I only know a couple words in Kurdish) so the lessons are non-verbal. He plays and I try to copy. Always a highlight of my week!
Outside the Citadel at Night
City center at night. The Citadel in the background is said to have been continuously inhabited for over 8,000 years.
When you are off on an adventure overseas, epistolary correspondence is supposed to limited to cheerful topics: the ways in which you are having the best time you've every had, how life is just grand smooth-sailing. Aside from a cultural revelation or two, and perhaps a moving experience whilst volunteering in a poverty-stricken area, you are simply supposed to communicate your excitement, prove how good you are at being international. You are not supposed to talk about discomfort, or missing home other than in a wish-you-were-here sort of way. You shouldn't make people worry, or seem like you are not up for the challenges that come your way.
We are at a very particular moment in history in terms of how much of our lives are displayed publicly. Different people handle this in different ways; some avoid internet activity (though this is becoming more and more difficult), some police the ways in which they interact online, some religiously update their Facebook security settings (actually, this one is probably a good idea for everyone; Facebook is notorious for changing what information is publicly viewable without notifying their users). Other people pay it no mind, figuring that in a few years, there won't be anyone who doesn't have something embarrassing online, essentially canceling out each other's faux pas and creating an entirely different expectation of professionalism.
When I write non-fiction, these sort of issues are even more in focus; the fact that this blog is on my professional website heightens my awareness of the ways in which I curate my internet persona. If a potential employer reads my blog, will she or he view me as less professional if I've articulated moments in which my self-confidence waned? But as a reader, who wants to read guarded, polished prose? When I read, I want something revealed. I want less public persona, and more inner human. Isn't that why we read, go to the cinema, watch plays, look at art, listen to music in the first place?
After mentioning the challenge of teaching English with no previous experience, I find myself bending to reassure you that I'm doing well, tell you that I like my job, reiterate what a blessing it is not only to be on an adventure, but to be challenged to the fullest, learning immersively. (Not many teachers in the US have the freedom I've had to try, fail, succeed, keep trying, fail, and succeed again on a daily basis; to learn trust both themselves and the innate human capacity to learn). I'm even tempted to brag about successful lessons; to tell an inspiring anecdote about a student's improvement; to pass along the positive feedback I've received, in order to not only prove my ability as a teacher, but my confidence in that ability.
But that is self-serving and boring. I trust you, dear readers, to infer those things. And when I speak of challenges, both professional and personal, take that as a token of my trust. You are privy to my inner human, and I'll assume you understand my outer persona could market itself flawlessly if that was the goal. I am sure the world will require it be in the future, so let's enjoy the intimacy while we can!
Check back soon for more...
Lessons about lessons.
Salutations, beloved readers!
(Am I allowed to call you my “readers,” as if I've written more than one entry?)
This is just a quick entry (why am I calling this an “entry” as if it's a diary? I think “blog post” is the 21st century term) to give a bit of info on the technicalities of what I am actually doing. Now if I can stop making self-conscious parenthetical asides, we can begin.
As I mentioned in my last post (post! See, I'm learning. Oh dear, another parenthetical), I am teaching English to employees of the Kurdish Regional Government. My students work for the Protocol Unit, which is the section of government responsible for the well-being of foreign ambassadors, VIP guests, and the smooth operation of important government events. They have a range of jobs; drivers, bodyguards, accountants, Protocol Officers (Protocol officer are the people responsible for greeting guests at the airport, and escorting them through Kurdistan), office workers.
There are four English classes total. I teach beginners in the morning and a more advanced class in the afternoon. The other teacher, Sara, is an NYU student and my comrade in this adventure. We met a couple of times in New York in preparation for our job, and flew over together. She has an intermediate class in the morning, and another class of beginners in the afternoon.
In the first few weeks, the numbers in our classes kept fluctuating, but now my classes have settled at about 10 beginners and 6-10 advanced students. The advance students often have to miss class when work gets too busy, because class is in the middle of the workday, and many of the advance students have important jobs. This presents some challenges in terms of teaching continuity, but I've gotten used to it. They will learn what they learn and miss what they miss. They'll learn more than if they didn't take the class at all.
These English classes are a pilot program, the brainchild of Bekah (my roommate who hired me) so Sara and I have enjoyed all the freedom and chaos that entails. There are no experienced teachers here to tell us how it's done, but also no test to teach to. In the two and a half weeks between when I found out I got the job and the day of my arrival, I spent hours scouring the internet for ESL resources, researching language teaching theories. I arrived armed with a bit of theoretical knowledge, and some strong opinions but little practical knowledge, or even a set curriculum. The first few weeks were mildly terrifying. I gained infinite respect for every teacher I have ever had, bad ones included.
After the day of lessons, I'd come home to spend 6 more hours lesson planning, on the internet looking for resources and ideas. I really want to be a good teacher, and I felt like I had the potential to be one, but was not yet. I took comfort in the fact that simply listening to me talk, they would learn something. Most of my beginner class are absolute beginners, so I couldn't even give them directions to a lot of the types of activities I found online.
At the end of the first two weeks, exhausted from the combination of long-hours planning and teaching, and the mounting anxiety I'd get each night finishing lesson plans at 12am, I had a really great discussion with Sara on her strategies (she was only spending about 40 minutes planning), and adopted a few of them.
Through trial-and-error, I've started crafting my own methods, messing together some found resources. Some lessons go better than others. But my students are learning (I can tell from the beginners who can now tell me why they will miss class, and- in the past tense!- what they did over the weekend), and my level of anxiety is considerably lower.
That's all for tonight, because I need to take a shower and get dressed. I'm meeting my advanced students at the cinema to watch Monsters' University as late-night field trip. The movie stars at 9:15pm, and yesterday I was in bed by 10:30pm, so wish me luck staying awake tonight, and through classes tomorrow!
My Kurdish residency card. Proof that the tales are true!
Hello Friends, Family, Random Strangers Who Happen Across My Blog!
This post has been a long time coming; I've been teaching overseas for more than a month now, and meaning to blog the whole time. The first few weeks, I was too busy scrambling to figure out how to do my job and adjust to a new culture. And then I wanted to write a really in-depth clever post about why I'm here and what I am doing, which became intimidating and I just thought about writing instead of actually writing. So this post is my “just-do-it-even-if-it's-not-your-best-writing” post. This way, I'll have something started, and then it will become easier to add bits and pieces more frequently (I hope... I'm only here for two more months, and a two-post blog isn't much of a blog at all...).
But what exactly is a blog? How polished should it be? This is being published on the internet with my name attached to it, so it should be good. But are we talking about a good first-draft, 'that's-the-best-email-I've-read-in-a-while' good or well-crafted nonfiction essay good? I don't know! I'd like it if all my writing was New Yorker worthy, but but in the interest of actually posting something before the end of my time here, I'm gonna go for more of the 'rambling email' standard. I might then go back and use some of it as source material for future writing. So think of this more as being privy to my notes in (more-or-less) real time, and less as polished prose.
As Julie Andrews once said “Let's start at the very beginning.” But Julie, I don't have time to explain the entire history of the universe! Let's actually skip ahead to “where are you and why?”
I am in Kurdistan. I'll pause while you google that. (I'm not trying to underestimate your geography skillz, but if you are like I was in February when my former roommate told me she was moving here, you'll have enough of an idea to be like “Oh yeah, Kurdistan! Totally.” But then Wikipedia will be really helpful.)
Back? Okay, I'll summarize: Kurdistan is the homeland of the Kurdish people, and it includes parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Kurds are a minority group. I am in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is a semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq. Up until the US invasion in 2003, the Kurdish North was being bombed by Saddam Hussein, and many Kurds left to lived in Iran, Turkey and other parts of the world. In 2005, the Kurdistan Regional Government was formed, and they now have control of nearly all internal affairs.
The country is young and, by Middle-Eastern standards, quite moderate. Every Kurd I speak to about religion loves to tell me how there are many religions here; most Kurds are Muslim, but there is a Christian district in Erbil (the capital city, where I now reside); I have not met any Kurdish Jews (Jewish Kurds? I'm not sure which is correct), but I've been told they exist, and I've also heard of many old religions whose names I've not yet learned, but which are practiced in particular areas. People seem proud of their diversity and tolerance.
Among the Muslim Kurds, there is a spectrum of how observant, and in which ways. My workplace is heavily male-dominated, but of the (six?) women there, about half wear headscarves and half don't (actually, because it is Ramadan now, nearly all of them do, but before last week it was about 50/50, not including us Americans). Most people fast during Ramadan, but not everyone. I get the sense that, as in America, a lot of it is personal or familial preference.
So, why am I in Kurdistan? Adventure and employment, mostly.
The whole thing happened rather quickly. As a second-semester senior graduating from the theatre department- nay! As a young person with any sort of degree- I had little hope of gainful employment straight out of school. But my former roommate who graduated early had, through a string of circumstances (she didn't like her job) and connections (her friend's father knew someone in who needed an employee), been hired to work for the Kurdish Regional Government's Protocol Unit. She was trying to set up a pilot English Language program for employees of the Protocol Unit, and that how I, in my last week of undergraduate classes, learned that I had a job. (I did, of course, put together a CV and apply for it...but I it was still a shock when I found out).
On May 25th I graduated from NYU/Tisch, and by June 9th I was flying Turkish Airways to Erbil via Istanbul. With a job waiting for me, and degree metaphorically in hand (the actual diploma has yet to arrive; it will be mailed to my mother's house later this summer, inshallah*), I lacked only an adequate knowledge of Middle Eastern culture and politics (I knew about as much as your average college grad not studying a related field; that is, what I hear on NPR occasionally), and any earthly notion of how to teach English.
Stay tuned for more, and Happy Ramadan!
Oh, and Happy Bastille Day to all you French patriots out there.
*inshallah is an oft used phase meaning "God willing".
is a freelance adventurer. She lived in Erbil, Kurdistan (Iraq) from June-August 2013.