November 10, 2012

Reflection: a grad school luxury

A few years ago, I'm sure that I pictured my life at 25. I have no idea what I thought it would be like, though it probably included more money and maybe more fame than I have now. It certainly did not include spending four nights a week in an elementary school gym teaching Saudi guys how to play volleyball. But, here I am.

The volleyball phenomenon at PIE started on a whim this summer. Since then it has morphed into a fairly constant event. Especially now that the weather has changed and we've moved the net into the gym. Now we have a court with lines and we can fill the gym with pop music. By the way, our favorite song (yes, OUR, as in mine and the Saudi guys') is "Hotel Room Service." Pitbull, you write a dirty, though catchy tune! I'm having trouble finding the right way to describe how much I appreciate volleyball. In the endless work cycle of grad school, volleyball is the only time when I can think about something besides writing assessment or lesson planning or job searching.

Tonight marked a distinct shift in volleyball. I asked the students if they would rather just play, or if they wanted to learn. To my surprise, they voted for learning, so I taught them how to pass and set. It helped--that wasn't a surprise. I've proposed some type of volleyball-based instruction (VBI for you TESOL nerds--you know who you are) as my practicum assignment next spring. Pending some insurance issues, I'll get to design a language class based on volleyball. It's perfect.

I can't say enough good things about the people who come to volleyball. There is a core group of people who I would definitely consider friends (Facebook will back this up). Then, there are the people on my intramural team (a.k.a The Crocodiles or Krokotiili) many of whom also fall in the friend category. Finally, there are students who drop in occasionally. What's really great is that I get to know so many of the students who aren't in my class. Volleyball has made me very visible at PIE. Most of the time I really enjoy it. "Miss Jena!" "Hi, Miss! Volleyball today?" "Miss, kill them!" (the last one refers to my serves). I really enjoy having students know me and talk with me during the day. From a language learning point of view, I'm thrilled that they are talking with a native speaker for a real purpose (yes, volleyball is a real purpose). I'm also learning some useful (some not) Arabic phrases, such as "I swear on my mustache [I will do it]!" "I swear!" "Come on!" "Work harder!" etc. I still can't say "Hello" or anything like that, but if you want to talk volleyball in Arabic, bring it on.

Seriously, I feel so lucky to spend time with these guys. With all the turmoil between the US and the Middle East, it's nice to have such a positive view of Arabic-speaking cultures. I spend most of my free time with a bunch of Saudi guys, and I think that's pretty cool.

Grad school coupled with being a TA is totally distressing. There is too much to do, no time to do it, but that's no excuse for doing it poorly. We are under pressure from all sides. Our physical and mental health suffers the consequences of too much stress, not enough food or sleep, and no time to reflect on it all. Clearly, I have two incredible (and simultaneous) opportunities: attend a prestigious TESL program AND get teaching experience in a top-notch IEP.

Tonight, I grateful for the PIE and its volleyball net. I think bump-set-spike has saved my sanity in Flagstaff.

To Coach Genrich--wherever you are: your practices were killer, but I'm so glad you taught me these skills and gave me this love for the game. If you could see me now!