October 31, 2011

More good advice

Grad school seems like a hibernation of sorts. A time period in which I have given up my right to a life outside of TESL. Two years of hard-core studying, after which some new segment of my life will begin.

This paradigm is problematic.

In my professional development seminar, a counselor who specializes in grad student issues gave us a reminder that school isn't everything.

It's not about what happens after this time period. It's not about waiting for grad school to be over to let your life "begin".

This is your life, she said. Right here. Right now. Don't let grad school block that out.  Flagstaff is an awesome place to live. Take advantage of it!

Ever a sucker for a profound thought, I think this advice is important. It's so easy to devote yourself to school, and to get caught up in the semester projects that seem to divide your life into neat little sections.

The Killers have a song called "This is Your Life" that carries a similar meaning to that of the counselor. If you read my blog regularly, I guess you already know that The Killers have a song for every occasion.

Anyway, I just wanted to put out a good thought today.

October 16, 2011

A dose of my own medicine.

I got some good advice today.

It was from a stranger and it kind of hurt my feelings, but I think it was good advice. The young American girl with the killer German pronunciation said to me, in English: Don't introduce anything that you are about to do as bad. Just let it speak for itself.

This stranger and I met because we were both attending Oktoberfest as non-German majors. We were waiting for the professor to come back, and we had been speaking German. My German comes and goes. And it was particularly halting today during our conversation. The words felt funny in my mouth, and so I apologized for my unintelligble speech. That's when she switched the conversation to English, and  gave the advice. As my ego crumbled, I realized that I always tell other people exactly what she just told me, but I am so often guilty of selling myself short before I even have a chance.

She is wise for a seventeen-year-old who spent a year in Berlin learning to speak some of the best German I've ever heard an American speak. Later she confided that she wished she could just call herself "German" because, having spent a formative year in Deutschland, she felt somehow "German". My advice to her was just go for it. Tell people that you are German and see what happens. This was not advice in a serious sense, but in a party trick sense. She liked it. I think this is an identity crisis that every devoted language learner/study abroader encounters at some point, and role-playing when you meet new people is a lot of fun. I've definitely pretended to be a Scandinavian foregin exchange student before--which works a lot better if real Scandinavation excahgne students aren't around to call my bluff...

I'm tempted to write about the mess of theories that explain what I experienced today as a language learner, but I am not up for self-punishment at the moment.

To conclude, I would like to thank the universe for introducing me to a wise stranger who gave me a much-needed dose of my own medicine.

October 9, 2011

AZ-TESOL Conference in Prescott Valley

Academic conferences are important for professional development, and they are also fun. My friends/colleauges from NAU and I attended AZ-TESOL (Arizona chapter of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in Prescott Valley, Arizona. It was a smaller turnout than I expected, but I got to spend time talking with people from my classes who I hadn't had time to get to know.

The sessions ranged from textbook sales reps to highly interactive activities to use with students. I enjoyed watching some of my new friends present research on best practices in the classroom. It was nice to see people's real passions, and not the day-to-day stuff that we are often bogged down with. I also invested in some wonderful ESL materials from a session about teaching lower level ESL. I decided to invest a little in these fabulous laminated cards that have words color-coded by part of speech. The cards have magnents, so they will stick on newer white boards, filing cabinets or other metal objects. The cards are great because they are easy to read, the students and I can move them around, and the color-coding helps students associate words within a category. I'm trying to figure out a way to use them in my freshman composition class becuase I'm just so excited about them.

My excitment level about some laminated cards should tell you a lot about my life right now. Focused. School is on my brain non-stop, and I like it. I had a great time at the conference because I went with friends, and we had been awarded enough travel money to cover much of our costs, and we had a little time to just relax and enjoy our intellectual selves.

This post is sort of boring. I'm sorry about that. I don't have much to complain about! The funniest part was in-car dancing to Gaga's "Born the Way" at about 6:20 AM on Friday. I also enjoyed our random detour to the Dewey-Humbolt Pumpkin Festival on the way home this evening. County Fair, anyone? The best food was a tie between our dinner out at the Tajmahal restaurant and the home cooking of my Turkish colleague (yes, practically tailgated at the conference with a cooler, paper plates and everything).

Yet more reassurance that I might be on the right track (thanks Gaga). Perhaps I was born this way?

October 2, 2011

Overdue fun-making of Flagstaff, but also of myself.

A Personal Essay from Flagstaff:

Flag is, like, one of the least pretentious cities in the world. Seriously, I'm from SoCal, so I know about pretentious. 

I decided that I would use the water I was saving by not washing my hair to water my raised garden. I'm growing my own alfalfa sprouts. My hair looks really cool now that the back is dreadlocks. I cut really short bangs in the front. They make my eyebrow piercings stand out. A lot of people have their noses pierced, but that looks so lame. I got some glasses from the thrift store. They're from, like, the 1960's or whatever, so they look really vintage.

By the way, I almost lost a Birkenstock while I was riding my bike to Macy's after my hike. This Subaru just came out of nowhere when I stopped in the middle of the intersection to get my dog's leash out of the bike chain. When I got to Macy's, my dog was super tired, so I ordered him an iced coffee. He kept barking at the other dogs and at the customers, but I didn't really care. He's a dog, so he's going to bark or whatever. I took out my MacBook Pro and did some homework for my sustainable communities class, but I had to check Facebook, too, so I didn't get my homework done. Then I was hungry, so I totally ordered the veggie sandwich because it's, like, so rude to eat animals or whatever.

Then I thought that some girl from Nebraska was calling me pretentious, but I couldn't really tell because my dog was barking so loudly. 

Okay, so I've been dying to write about some of the ridiculous stuff in Flagstaff. The official name for this phenomenon is "culture shock". It's in one of my textbooks on page 195. In this stage, I'm feeling intruded upon by the host culture, and I seek solace in people who are similar to me and I take comfort in complaining about the host culture--hence my essay.

When I'm not making fun of the people of Flagstaff (I wear Birks, I ride a bike that gets stuff caught in the chain, I go to Macy's, and I check Facebook), I am loving life here. Grad school is is high gear and I'm learning so much about learning that I can't help but be a better student. Learn how to read textbooks, Jena, or else you will get a 60% on the quiz. Yep, welcome to graduate school. I'm learning about phonetics and phonology, and about communicative language teaching and the critical period hypothesis. The phonetic symbols have finally worked their way into my dreams, as have the assignments I give to my ENG 105 class. Somehow this stuff has permeated into my deeper consciousness. Terrifying.

I'm writing two papers at the moment. One on World English in Cambodia, and the other on Language Anxiety in the Foreign Language Classroom. Speaking of anxiety and pretense...Actually, grad school isn't as bad as I thought. Although, I'm glad it isn't as bad as I thought because I would definitely be in tears if I had anything else on my plate at the moment.

I've made some friends, thank goodness, who look out for me and tell me to go home when I've been chained to my office chair all afternoon. I do fun stuff occasionally, like unpretentiously hike on mountains.

So I hope that is enough of an update to say that I'm still alive, I love what I'm doing, and I'm still able to pick apart a host culture like it's my job.

Keep it real, Flagstaff. And wash your hair.