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Saturday, August 30, 2003

 
Background Details
I figure I should probably give some explanation of what I'm doing, where I am, and why. It is not inconceivable that some people who read this are not fully aware of my life beyond Japan, Grinnell, or of my obsession all things linguistic.

About a month ago, I left Japan (clicky for the year that was). I truly enjoyed my year there, overall, and should you ever be in my physical vicinity in the future, I will be frighteningly happy to show you my pictures. If you followed the Japan saga, you will be happy to know that Danola now has a blog as well, so I shan't have to spend all my time updating people about the lives of people I left behind in Japan, since she can do it for me. I think I'll miss Japan sometimes, and I'll certainly miss my friends there, but thanks to technology, I can keep up with them as I move on to the things that I should be doing now, namely, grad school.

Before I got all the way back to the US, though, I took 10 days to finally, finally, finally go to Europe. I lived in Chile for 5 months, I've been to Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica, Taiwan, and Canada, but never anywhere in Europe, and I was getting tired of being asked whether I had been. Conveniently, I have/had friends living there. Jan, the ex-German assistant from Grinnell, lives in Berlin, and asked why I didn't come through there "on my way back" to the US. (Yes, it is the wrong way back around the globe, but let's ignore that.) It also turned out that my friend Heather's parents are now living in Lyon, France, and she was staying with them for the summer, sort of running a Grinnellian boarding house of visitors. I split my 10 days between the two of them, and despite the many misadventures on airplanes (a child throwing up behind me, being stuck in Frankfurt for 24 hours when the travel agency lost my ticket), I had perhaps the best vacation ever. Jan and I spent the whole time bonding over the ALT experience, since that's basically what he was in Grinnell for the German department, and while he was showing me all over Berlin and being a marvelous host, we talked a lot of linguistics and language acquisition theory. While I was in France, I reveled in the sun and warm weather as Heather toured me all over Lyon and we lived on bread and cheese and chocolate. (Oh, how I had missed real bread and cheese in Japan. For that alone, I would have fallen in love with Europe.) I have pictures of that, too, just to warn the actual humans out there.

But the idyll had to end, and I eventually made it out of Frankfurt, and then out of Philadelphia, to home in NC, just in time to pack all my stuff and move to Michigan. Which is where the story really starts. I am in East Lansing, MI, to attend Michigan State University in the MA TESOL program. While I don't really want my specialty to be teaching English, this is the department where they stick all the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) classes, which is my true love. My current plan is to get dual MAs in both TESOL and Applied Linguistics. Prof. Polio, the woman who worked so hard to get me to come to MSU and be in the TESOL program, has all sorts of plans already to get me an assistantship with the Linguistics department two years hence. She is some sort of superhuman advisor, I am convinced.

For my current assistantship, which is paying for all of my grad school experience, tuition and all, I am teaching at MSU's English Language Center, henceforth known as the ELC. The ELC runs English programs for international students, in two flavors. The first is the Intensive English Program (IEP), in which the students take 20 hours of English classes a week and no other MSU classes. A lot of undergrad students from universities in Japan and Korea do this as their semester/year abroad. Other students do this because they didn't pass the TOEFL with a high enough score to meet MSU's English proficiency requirement, and need to do so before they can officially enroll in their program. The other program is the English for Academic Purposes program, which students can take after they complete the IEP classes, or I think in conjunction with actual MSU classes, to improve their note-taking, lecture-listening, and composition-writing skills, or something like that.

I teach in Level 1 of the IEP courses. There are four levels, and 1 is the lowest. Usually, most of the students in our programs are Korean, or have been for the past several years, but this year we have a large contingent of Japanese students from Hosei University. 11 of my 19 students are Japanese, which I find rather amusing. I have two guys who I mentally call my "look-alikes," because they have hair dyed the exact same color, wear the same style of clothes, are always together, and one day even came wearing their baseball caps at exactly the same gangsta'-style angle on their heads. The other funny thing about them is that their abilities compliment each other, because Keita is good at speaking, but not so good at comprehending, whereas Jack (his chosen nickname) is good at understanding other people and translating into Japanese. Ha (a Korean girl) and Kozue are my two organizers, who can be counted on to take charge of large group activities or tell me when someone is sick. Jeon and Ken are the two Korean guys who always sit up front and want to answer every question. Jeon is going for a PhD in cello performance and music teaching, while his wife is a composer. Hang is my shy, quiet astronomer, but he seems to understand a lot, and when I call on him, his spoken English is good. Marthe and Kadi I feel like are my prizes. They are both from Mali, majoring in agroeconomics, and I know Marthe at least is aiming for her PhD here. They add an entirely different kind of internationalism to the room, breaking up the Asian hegemony with their African French accents.

My job is to teach these people Listening/Speaking class and Grammar class, from 12:40-2:50pm, every day except Wednesdays. Level 1 is the only level to have a specific Grammar class, and I'm also the only TA, as opposed to regular ELC staff person, teaching an L/S class. L/S will be fine; I did that all last year. The only problem I might have with that is not grading them accurately, since they all actually speak English when I assign them groupwork, as opposed to lapsing into Japanese. I know this is just a product of teaching ESL rather than EFL, but the novelty hasn't worn off for me just yet. (In case you were wondering, ESL means teaching English in an environment where English is the dominant language, whereas EFL is teaching English as a Foreign Language, in the student's home country.) Grammar, on the other hand, is going to be a real challenge. While I do think that being able to coordinate the L/S and Grammar classes will be an excellent thing later, right now I have no idea where to start. I've spent the last two days teaching them metalanguage terms like "verb," "noun," "subject," and "object," just so I'll have somewhere to start talking to them about grammar in English. I'd better get it figured out soon. I can only talk to them about the wonders of adjectives and articles for so long.

As for the rest of my life in grad school, I also take classes. I've had one of each of my three classes now, and I like them all. I don't really know much about them yet, though, and teaching duties have kind of swallowed my life this week. Thus, this weekend, I am taking off for Madison to go visit Ann, my erstwhile Grinnell roommate, and various and sundry other Grinnellians in Wisconsin. We're everywhere!

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